COVER

SOME BOYS!

Brian D. Johnson August 8 1994
COVER

SOME BOYS!

Brian D. Johnson August 8 1994

SOME BOYS!

COVER

BY BRIAN D. JOHNSON

It is disconcerting to meet Mick Jagger in the flesh. Like most living legends, he confounds expectations. Showing up for an interview with Maclean’s, he walks into an empty dining room at Crescent School, the private boys school in North Toronto where The Rolling Stones spent most of July rehearsing. Looking pale and dishevelled, he is dressed in an untucked terra-cotta shirt, light beige pants and running shoes. Although he is known to be short, and impossibly slim, his slightness still comes as a shock: the chicken-bone chest, a few baby hairs peeking through the half-buttoned shirt, his frame a squiggle under the clothes.

The face is familiar—the puppet head that seems too big for the body, the delinquent mouth. But in repose, the exaggerated features seem slack, a mask waiting to be animated. The eyes look fatigued. Yet the lines seem softer, more delicate than in

The Stones are still rolling and still hot as they launch a Voodoo tour

the photographs, the cheekbones less gothic. It is a face that does not quite add up, a picture of restless adolescence one moment and jaded middle age the next.

He is ushered into a classroom with no desks, selected by the publicist for privacy. “Oh my gawd,” mutters Jagger, looking aghast around the barren room. Finding a little red plastic chair in a comer, he sits down to talk. His voice, the melted English drawl, is as rubbery as the face, the voice of a man with a terminal fear of being bored to death by the same old questions. I zt.É The band’s handler has warned Maclean’s

that the Stones are fed up with the media’s fixation on their age, and that Jagger will walk out “if one more wanker asks what’s it like to be 51 years old.” But, inevitably, the A-word comes up. “Everybody brings it up,” sighs Jagger. “I don’t really care.” Age, he states, does not cramp his performance. “My singing’s better than it ever has been. I can’t quite do the sort of jumps I used to. But I do other things, different dances. And I can still cover a lot of ground, so it doesn’t really worry me very much. I can do everything I did five years ago, just as good, if not better. I have a lot of control.”

So there.

Like their front man, The Rolling Stones keep defying expectations. They are a living, breathing paradox—ancient youths and ragtag millionaires, a filthy-rich gang of corporate rockers who still manage to look lean, mean and freakishly unwholesome. And as they embark on their yearlong Voodoo Lounge world tour this week—it kicks off in Washington on Aug. 1 and comes to Toronto on Aug. 19 and 20 and Winnipeg on Aug. 23—the Stones can still make a plausible claim to being the greatest rock ’n’ roll band in the world.

Now in their fourth decade, they are certainly the world’s oldest great rock ’n’ roll band. Jagger, who is a grandfather, turned 51 last week. Cohort Keith Richards is 50. Drummer Charlie Watts is the eldest at 53, guitarist Ron Wood the youngest at 47. (Bass player Darryl Jones, who replaced 57-year-old retiree Bill Wyman, is just 32, but he is not officially considered a Rolling Stone.)

Harking back to the era that started it all, the Stones are rock’s unofficial royal family. And while their longevity has been the butt of jokes, it has also become a tangible asset. “This is one of the things we’re proud of,” Richards told Maclean’s, “to keep a band together this long and still deliver new things. We’re not on a nostalgia trip. We’re not playing for people who remember when they got laid to one song in the Sixties. We’re trying to connect then with now and keep going.”

With their new bassist, a new album (Voodoo Lounge), which many critics are hailing as their best since the 1970s, and an ambitious tour under way, the Stones are enjoying a renaissance. And their mystique seems only enhanced by the years. During the six weeks they spent rehearsing in Toronto, Stones sightings became an obsessive media sport. The Toronto Star set up a “Stones watch”—and one day, more than two dozen readers phoned to say they had spotted Jagger browsing through the electronics section of a Canadian Tire store. And when the band gave a surprise concert at RPM, a downtown nightclub, on July 19—their first Toronto club date since the infamous El Mocambo gig attended by Margaret Trudeau in 1977—the city was consumed by Stones fever. Those lucky enough to get in witnessed a raw, energetic performance that cut through the hype to the bottom line: after all these years, the Stones still deliver like no one else.

The evening before the RPM performance, Maclean’s attended a rehearsal at the school and conducted separate interviews with Jagger and Richards. The two bandleaders are a study in contrasts. Jagger is all accent and inflection, onionskin layers of self-conscious irony. Richards is gregarious, chatty and bristling with sound bites. Jagger seems to take pleasure in deflating the myth surrounding the Stones; Richards seems to incarnate it.

Asked if the band will do anything very different on the current tour, Jagger says: “No, it’s the same old thing, really. It’s a very limited medium in a lot of ways. You like to think of all these wonderful things you can do. But the reality of it is that, aside from a few little twists, it’s a rock ’n’ roll stadium show and you’re not reinventing it. The songs change, the set will be different, but essentially it’s people up there playing guitars.”

Asked the same question, Richards says: “No one’s ever taken a band this far, and that’s one of the fascinations with this gig. We’re on uncharted territory. It’s always new. It’s not just stepping out in front of a football stadium every five years. You’re always learning. It’s never the same.”

The Jagger-Richards partnership is one of the longest-running rough marriages in show business. Since meeting as schoolboys in Dartford, Kent, England, friction seems to have held them together. For much of the 1980s, their relationship was on the rocks. The band did not perform for seven years. Mick and Keith hurled insults back and forth in the media. Jagger called the

Maclean’s: Is there anything more at stake in this particular tour than in the others?

Jagger: No, it’s the same amount of throw-of-the-dice. You’re staking a certain amount on your reputation every time you go out. Richards: We could collapse on stage and croak. There. That would be the end [laughs].

Maclean’s: Do you still get a big thrill when you go out on stage? Jagger: A tremendous thrill. It’s a big buzz. It must be like playing football.

Maclean’s: Could you give it up? Jagger: Oh yeah. I didn’t do a show for seven years and I didn’t really miss it much.

Maclean’s: The Stones used to be considered subversive. Do you think they still are?

Jagger: No, The world was such a straight place that you could be subversive very easily without even wanting to. I don’t think we wanted to be subversive.

Richards: I would say that rock ’n’ roll and blue jeans had more to do with the Soviet Union collapsing than all of those missiles, in the long run.

Maclean’s: What are you reading these days?

Richards: Volume six of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Incredible stuff.

Stones “a millstone around my neck,” while Richards called Jagger “a lunatic with a Peter Pan complex.”

Then, rejuvenated by a fat cash guarantee from Toronto-based promoter Michael Cohl—reported to be more than $60 million—Mick and Keith made up, and the Stones staged a triumphant comeback with their Steel Wheels/ Urban Jungle tours in 1989 and 1990. Now, Cohl is promoting and directing the Voodoo Lounge safari, which is set to wind through Mexico, South America and Japan after the United States and Canada. Cohl, in fact, is one of the reasons the Stones decided to rehearse in Toronto (page 44).

Money was another—if they had rehearsed in the United States, they would have exceeded the number of days that U.S. immigration law allows them to work there without paying taxes. (Richards is based in Connecticut, but Wood lives outside Dublin, and Watts in Devon, England, while Jagger divides his time among a Thames-side mansion in London, a château in France’s Loire Valley and a villa on the Caribbean island of Mustique.)

The band members have also said that

they like Toronto, although they stayed at a safe distance. Cohl billeted them and their families in separate country homes north of the city, near Nobleton and Aurora. Only Watts elected to stay in a hotel downtown. Jagger and his wife, Jerry Hall, showed up in town at a restaurant once or twice. But they spent most of their time in the country house with their three children, aged 9, 8 and 2. “It’s very nice,” says Jagger, “because it’s not a hotel, which the next year is going to be. I enjoyed the countryside—I saw a bald eagle.”

Monday evening, the final rehearsal before the RPM gig. The Stones start drifting into Crescent School at about 6

p.m. They usually hang around for an hour or two before settling down to work. The atmosphere is relaxed and cozy. In a lushly upholstered lounge with video games, Ping-Pong and pool tables, a soap opera plays on a vast TV screen that the band has set up to watch World Cup soccer games. There are no groupies in evidence, no hangers-on. The band’s personal staff is small, tight-knit and protective.

By 8:30 p.m., the Stones have assembled in the school auditorium. Their equipment is set up on the floor, with blue curtains around the walls to baffle the sound. Tonight, they are breaking in a new horn section, with the help of the Stones’ veteran saxophonist, Bobby Keys. In the far comer, Jagger sings scales with the two black backup singers. He flirts with the female one, Lisa Fisher, who is constantly giggling. At one point, he goes over and gives her a kiss.

Then, it is down to business. Taking his place at a microphone facing the band, Jagger quietly calls the rehearsal to order—“So we do each song twice.” And the Stones launch into I Can’t Get Next to You, a punchy rhythm and blues standard by The Tempations. Jagger finger-paints the air as he sings, moving to the rhythm without making a show of it Richards bends studiously over his guitar, drawing long chords out of its neck, as if

he were working with a large needle and thread.

Flanking him, Wood trades slinky riffs back and forth, while Jones lays down a cautious groove on bass.

Behind the drums, a fit-looking Charlie Watts sits up as smartly as a schoolboy, administering the backbeat When the song ends, Jagger takes a swig from an Evian bottle and says the tempo needs to “speed up just a little bit near the front.” Richards hoists a beer and shrugs. “It’s a Monday,” laughs the guitarist, exhaling a cloud of cigarette smoke. After doing the song again, Jagger straps on a black guitar and croons Brand New Car, a burlesque catalogue of automotive metaphors for a woman’s body:

“Jack her up baby, go on, open the hood/I want to check if her oil smells good/Mmmm, smells like caviar.” Jagger delivers the outrageous lyrics as posturing farce, the unrepentant bad boy in an age of sexual correctness. Then, he strolls over to study the brass section as it tries to nail the horn part, a sliding line that stretches out like taffy to mimic the vocals.

The band works through some old tunes: Tumbling Dice, Rocks Off, All Down the Line, Honky Tonk Women. The rehearsal is efficient and good-natured. Between songs, Jagger and Richards share a private joke, Watts twirls his sticks and grins. The band hits a snag over the ending of Heartbreaker—is it eight “doo-doo doodoos” or four? “Depends how you count it,” says Jagger. For a moment, they could be any band rehearsing anywhere, seasoned professionals discussing doo-doo doo-doos.

At one point, Richards spots a visitor who has just walked in: an old, bandy-legged man with a potbelly who is dressed in shorts, moccasins, white socks and a T-shirt with a sailing ship on it. He has muttonchop sideburns and shaggy white hair sticking out from under a black captain’s hat. “Bert!” shouts Richards, who runs over to embrace him. Bert? An old roadie from the Sixties? A retired drug dealer? No, he turns out to be Keith’s father, 78-year-old Bert Richards, a former factory foreman who now lives in the gatehouse of the guitarist’s Connecticut mansion. Taking a seat in a corner, he sits puffing on his curved pipe, and watches the rehearsal like a proud parent checking out his son’s garage band. Suddenly, The Rolling Stones do not look so ancient after all.

Keith Richards takes his tum in the interview classroom, smoking Marlboros and nursing a vodka and orange juice. The face, which has come to resemble the skull ring he wears on his hand, is as lined as a dried-up riverbed. But strangely enough, he looks good. There is a vital spark in the deep-set eyes, an exuberance in his laugh. He has just returned from a weekend at actor Dan Aykroyd’s grand country house near Kingston, Ont. “It’s like Valhalla,” says Richards, “a cross between Valhalla and a lodge.” Otherwise, Richards has been staying in a house north of Toronto with his wife, Patti Hansen, their two children and two dogs. He has not even ventured downtown. “I haven’t been in the slab,” he says. “That’s Dan Aykroyd’s word for this town—‘Relax, boys, we’re out of the slab.’ ”

To hear him talk, it sounds as if the band is just beginning to take off after a mid-life crisis of feuds, drug abuse and creative inertia. “I’ve been dying to do this for years,” he says. “This is the culmination, the rebirth. With Steel Wheels, I was happy just to get ’em back together. Now, we can do something with it.” In the 1980s, adds Richards, “the Stones’ juggernaut had become so big it was defeating itself.” We invented it, but nobody was in control. Now, I feel we have our hands on the driving wheel again. With Darryl in there, it’s a fresh engine. I’ve never seen Charlie more involved. And Ronnie’s playing his ass off, the dear little boy.”

Richards, the prodigal son, has turned into the band’s benevolent patriarch. The former junkie has mellowed. “After 30 years on the road, you collect a few kids and a few dogs and you drink more water,” he says. Yes, he has cut down on alcohol, but would never give it up altogether. “Interviews,” he adds, “demand a drink.” Richards thanks Toronto for helping him to kick heroin—he was convicted for possession there in 1978. A blind woman, a fan who used to hitchhike to Stones shows across North America, visited the judge at home and persuaded him to sentence Richards to play a concert for the blind rather than go to jail. “Somehow she worked that magic on the judge,” says the guitarist. “She just came and went, that blind flash.” He recently had her tracked down in Quebec City: her name is Rita Bedard, she is 39, and the Stones are arranging to bring her backstage to a concert. Richards has made her part of his legend—“my blind angel.”

The quintessential rock ’n’ roll survivor, Richards seems to relish the Stones’ mythic stature, and often talks about them in the third person. “They’re wiry little blokes,” he says. “They don’t look like much. But they’re as tough as nails, man. They’ve got energy to bum, and they know where to put it now.” The guitarist seems bemused by the fact that Jagger does not share his vision of band solidarity. “Mick doesn’t like the idea of a gang,” he says. “He always likes to feel that he’s independent. But he’s one of us. And he’s never going to escape. Mick and I couldn’t even get divorced if we wanted to. We could shed our old ladies—maybe. But Mick and I would still have to meet each other.”

If Richards sees the band as a gang, Jagger treats it as a club—with different classes of membership. Jagger, Richards and Watts each own a piece of the Stones, but Wood is a salaried employee. Jones, meanwhile, is not even a member. “As far as Charlie and I are concerned,” explains Richards, “if you’re onstage, you’re one of The Rolling Stones. I guess it’s negotiated between Darryl’s people and ours. But sometimes the way contracts are worded can really put stuff up your nose.” Richards laughs. “This is racial discrimination—the guy’s black! Darryl, you should sue the motherf—ers, you should sue mel” He is joking but then adds, “I guess if there’s anywhere Mick and I disagree, it’s on how to handle things like that.”

They also have musical differences. Jagger likes fast tempos, Richards slower ones. And the guitarist gets suspicious of his lead singer’s infatuations with pop-chart fashion. “I find it interesting,” says Jagger, “that it’s almost impossible not to be influenced by what’s fashionable in music. Keith will tell you ‘not in a million years.’ But whether it’s coming through me, or through [Voodoo Lounge producer] Don Was, or through Charlie, or through the air-conditioning, The Rolling Stones do get influenced by what’s going on. It doesn’t

COVER

Maclean’s: Do you feel vulnerable onstage? Do you ever feel In clanger? Jagger: Well, sometimes. I was doing this show In New Zealand when someone threw a gin bottle at me. Paffftl I was flattened. I really went out for a while.

Maclean’s: It hit you on the head? Jagger Yeah. You’re quite vulnerable. It can be funny. They were throwing shoes at me in Anaheim, [Calif.]; sneakers and sandals [laughing]. They were all whizzing past me. So I said, ‘OK, throw all your shoes and let’s get it over with,’ and they threw hundreds of pairs of shoes. I really asked for it.

Maclean’s: You don’t fear something more sinister?

Jagger People do stupid things sometimes. People do walk around in the United States with a lot of weapons.

When we played the Superdome [New Orleans] last time, they confiscated over 500 weapons at the door [more laughter],

Maclean’s: But it isn't something that keeps you from sleeping at night? Jagger: No, but America’s a very violent society.

Jagger: [after reading a stack of Voodoo Lounge reviews]: There was one I read this morning-talking about ‘his unbidden irony’ in the line ‘I was a hooker losing my looks’ [from the song You Got Me Rockin’], I wrote that completely as a joke on myself. It was obvious. Maclean’s: Do you worry about losing your looks?

Jagger: There’s nothing you can do about it.

Maclean’s: Have you ever had cosmetic surgery?

Jagger: Get out of here! What kind of magazine is this?

Maclean’s: People want to know those things.

Jagger: Even if I had, I wouldn’t tell you.

mean you have to be slavish to it.” With Voodoo Lounge, he adds, the band tried to make “a more human record” by moving away from “the slick sound of the Eighties.” The tracks were recorded more directly, with fewer overdubs. “At the moment, it’s more fashionable to be like that,” he says, “to be human.”

On Voodoo Lounge, the band also dips into a more eclectic variety of styles than usual, from the Tex-Mex lilt of Sweethearts Together to the vintage-Stones balladry of Out of Tears and the madrigal-like New Faces. “I used to sing in a madrigal choir,” says Jagger—whose persona, after all, borrows from both black music and English affectation—“so I’m just as happy singing madrigals instead of blues.” He is also

playing harmonica and maracas again for the first time in ages, for which Richards takes some credit. “I got Mick playing harp early on in Barbados,” he says. “I thought, ‘He’s not going to go for this, but I’ll try.’ ”

While recording the album last November in Dublin, Richards put up a cardboard sign in the studio saying “Dox Office—and Voodoo Lounge”—alluding to himself as “the doctor” and to a stray cat that he had adopted and named Voodoo. Three months ago, the band was still desperate for an album title. “The record company’s screaming at us,” recalls Richards. “We need a title, an angle, artwork. Then, suddenly, Mick turns around and says, Tour sign.’ ”

What had begun as a whimsical gesture was magnified into a mass-market image. By then, however, the band had already developed a radically different concept for staging their concert tour. It was the brainchild of British expressionist designer Mark Fisher, who also created the set for Steel Wheels and the most recent Pink Floyd and U2 tours. Last month, Fisher could be found supervising the erection of the Stones’ new stage in an aircraft hangar at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport.

The hangar is shrouded in tight security. Inside, it looks like one of those enemy headquarters in a James Bond movie. Dozens of technicians are milling about—riggers, welders, forklift drivers. At the back of the hangar, rising like megalomaniacal vision, is the 200-foot-wide stage, with a wall of stark metal gridding behind it—a backdrop built to resemble a vast sheet of curving graph paper. Lights are embedded in each of its hundreds of joints. In

the middle, a giant video screen plays a computer animation graphic of the Stones’ trademark tongue rippling luridly in and out. It is spiked, like a blowfish. And thrusting up from stage-left is a tower of quilted stainless steel that, when completed, will become a 100-foothigh cobra. The hangar can accommodate only 60 feet.

After the Steel Wheels stage, a vision of industrial decay, Fisher says, “We wanted to try to represent the invisibility of the new information technology.” The designer based the graph-paper design on “the sorts of diagrams people create when they try to portray time or the behavior of subatomic particles.” To integrate the Voodoo Lounge concept, and humanize the set, he created a comic tableau for part of the show featuring a mock shrine of giant inflatables. They include a black friar, a madonna, a one-armed baby, a goat’s head, rosary beads, some furry dice and a 45-foot doll of “someone who looks a lot like Elvis—although we are not allowed to say so because he’s copyrighted.”

Compared with the stylistically “puritanical” U2 and the “conservative” Pink Floyd, Fisher says that the Stones have allowed him to be “astonishingly bold” with stage design. But in the end, he adds, the band “will be the centre of attention—there’s a big empty space for these guys to fill up.”

Seeing a Stones concert spectacle, however, cannot compare to the rare thrill of glimpsing them up close, on a nightclub stage, with no special effects. On the morning of July 19, a small sign goes up in front of RPM saying “ROLLING STONES $5.” Word spreads quickly. By midday, hundreds of fans are gathered out-

side the club, queueing up for the plastic wristbands that guarantee them a ticket. Most of the 1,100 who finally end up inside have lined up for nine hours in sweltering heat. Many are young, male and unemployed. But there are also office workers playing hookey and amateur scalpers getting more than $200 a ticket. One businessman boasts that he had bought a wristband from “some poor teenage kid” for $160.

Inside, the air is thick with sweat and smoke as the crowd waits for the band. Young men have shirts off. The floor is wet with beer. There are surges of chanting and clapping, then finally promoter Michael Cohl steps out to introduce The Rolling Stones.

Jagger gives the audience a sharp salute, grabs the microphone and the band rips into Live With Me, a seamy rocker from the album Let It Bleed (1969). He bites off the lyrics with startling ferocity—“Don’t you think there’s a place for you/In between the sheets?” His narrow hips, shrink-wrapped in black spandex, are fluid with rhythm, his face and neck muscled taut. Suddenly, all the fuss about Jagger’s age seems beside the point. The man onstage bears no resemblance to the laconic interview subject from the day before. He looks, quite simply, like a man possessed. A breeze rippling his hair from a fan at the edge of the stage enhances the effect, making it look as if he is singing into a storm. When a spray of beer from the crowd arcs past his face, he does not flinch. A bra comes flying out of the audience and he catches it without missing a beat. He stuffs it under his belt.

The band makes some mistakes. A guitar plays out of tune; an ending disintegrates. And Richards halts Love is Strong in the first few bars, then starts it over again. But the imperfection seems to enrich the value of the occasion, like a flaw on a stamp. And it is reassuring to be reminded that the world’s oldest, greatest and richest rock ’n’ roll band is, in the end, mortal. □