THE STONES AT 50
Mick and Keith may go solo—but they still have plans for the Stones
He is persistent. Mick Jagger’s first two solo albums, She’s the Boss (1985) and Primitive Cool (1987), received a critical drubbing, drawing barbs even from his band mate Keith Richards. But with his third solo effort, the aptly named Wandering Spirit, Jagger may have found some satisfaction at last. A rich, eclectic cabaret of Jagger’s talents, the album skips through rock, funk, country and blues. It even includes a sea shanty (Handsome Molly). On Sweet Thing, the first single, Jagger gooses his voice into a fetching falsetto. And in a duet with Lenny Kravitz, he juices up the rhythm-and-blues standard Use Me.
The album’s themes reflect dangerous times, on both the social and personal fronts. Mother of a Man, a satirical hard-rocker with echoes of Gimme Shelter, is about the urban rich arming themselves after the 1992 Los Angeles riots—“My wife she don’t feel safe/Since we had a lot of trouble near our place.” Meanwhile, Jagger’s wife, model Jerry Hall, has had her own share of trouble. Last year, she announced that she was leaving him over his alleged infatuation with a 23-year-old Italian model—and Jagger’s departure for Thailand the day after the birth of their third child, Georgia, now 1. Jagger and Hall have apparently reconciled. But Wandering Spirit is full of separation songs. And in Evening Gown, a sweet country ballad, Jagger proposes an ambiguous truce: “I can still paint the town all the colors of your evening gown, while I’m waiting for your blond hair to turn grey. ”
Jagger recently spoke to Maclean’s by phone from London, on the condition that he not discuss his personal life:
Maclean’s: When you have a band like the Stones, why do you need to do solo albums? Jagger: Why does anybody do anything? It’s just what I do. I had a break between Stones records. I enjoy doing the solo albums. It’s quite a lot of work. In the end, you either get all the credit or all the blame.
Maclean’s: Did you feel chastened by the disappointing reception to the first two? Jagger: It wasn’t that disappointing, really. The first one didn’t do too badly. It sold three million, which was more than the previous two Stones albums, Dirty Work and whatever the one before that was . . . Undercover.
Maclean’s: But they also took a lot of
flak — and Keith was one of the critics. Did you feel stung by his comments?
Jagger: Naaaw. He probably didn’t even listen to them. I was very polite about his, I thought.
Maclean’s: A song, Mother of a Man, from your new album sounds like it was written in the wake of the L.A. riots.
Jagger: It was. I found a lot of my friends went out and bought guns and joined local gun clubs. I was around for the Watts riots . But this time they were not contained in just one neighborhood. Nowhere was safe. It didn’t go into Beverly Hills, but that’s what everyone was worried about.
Maclean’s: Do you carry a gun?
Jagger: Noooo. Though there have been some situations where I’ve carried one.
Maclean’s: What kind of situations?
Jagger: Dangerous situations.
Maclean’s: You once sang,
‘Summer’s here and time is right for violent revolution. ’ Do you worry now about preserving the social order?
Jagger: That song you just quoted,
Street Fighting Man, is really about how people don’t do too much street fighting. Do I feel like preserving the social order? Not particularly. I think the social order quite often needs changing. Whether you change it by throwing chairs through windows is another matter. The L.A. riots don’t seem to have done a lot of good— nothing has really happened in their wake.
Maclean’s: Wired All Night—in this abstemious era, it sounds like an epicurean call to arms. Is this your answer to Just Say No?’
Jagger: It’s the end of the 1980s. I think people really like to party. All that stuff about being careful and everything is just for a small subgroup. I haven’t noticed this in real life. Maclean’s: So you’re not going to bed early after the evening news?
Jagger: I only get to bed early when I stay up late, if you know what I mean. Maclean’s: There are a lot of breakup songs on the album. Don’t Tear Me Up, Put Me In The Trash. Do you feel your best stuff often comes out of pain?
Jagger: Put Me In The Trash is comedy. It’s not supposed to be taken too seriously. It’s
about a guy who’s down on his luck and has lost his home in the recession of the 1980s. And he sees one of his ex-girlfriends walking into a fancy place and tries to hit her up for money. I don’t really consider that a great emotional tug. It’s a New York kind of song. Maclean’s: There’s a lot of caricature in what you’ve always done, social satire and self-satire. How far can you stretch that before it snaps?
Jagger: With this album, I didn’t really do much self-parody. I tried to play it very straight, really. Like, on the country tune, Evening Gown, I didn’t do the country parody
Mick ’n’ Keith. They head what has con to be known as the greatest rock ’n’ r band in the world. It is certainly tl most durable: The Rolling Stones have be( rolling for 30 years. Mick Jagger and Kei Richards both tum 50 this year. And, after decade in the doldrums, the Stones gained a se ond wind in 1989 with a hit album, Steel Wheel and a hot tour. This week, Jagger releases h third solo album, Wandering Spirit. Last wee Richards rocked Toronto’s Massey Hall as part a 14-city tour to support his second solo albur Main Offender. Meanwhile, Jagger and Richan plan to begin writing a new Stones album the spring—the first in a mega-deal wii Virgin Records estimated at $50 millioi Recently, Maclean’s Senior Writer Brian I Johnson talked to both Jagger and Richards separate interviews.
I usually do. I played it pretty straight. Maybe I feel more confident doing country music. Maclean’s: As the world gets more ironic, Mick Jagger is finally discovering sincerity? Jagger: I think it’s good to take on different personas, especially with an album that has a lot of different styles. In Mother of a Man, it’s not really me talking, so to speak. Maclean’s: Now that Bill Wyman has quit, where do The Rolling Stones go from here? Jagger: Oh, God, what a tragedy. Of course, I’m joking. But it will be quite difficult in a way. Though Bill’s choreography was somewhat lacking, he fit in very well with [drummer] Charlie [Watts]. So, the most important thing is to make the drums and bass work well together. I’m not looking for a
bass player who just pleases me. Richards: I never did, no. I was well aware that many others did. But I know myself better than anybody else. I’m made of tough stuff, I found out. It felt like a very 19th-century thing—‘I’m a laboratory, let’s see what this does.’ It was my own experiment. I must admit, I guess, that it went on too long. When I knew I couldn’t do this any more, I stopped. People like to scare you to death— ‘Once a junkie, always a junkie.’ That’s bullshit. If you have to stop cholesterol, you don’t eat it. If you know you’ve taken it too far, you do what you gotta do. You can do it. Anybody can do it.
Maclean’s: Are you looking for another silent, immobile bass player?
Jagger: I don’t care about that. Mind you, I don’t want a leaping soloist who’s going to suddenly take centre stage and start ripping off bass solos in an uncontrollable way. Also, it’s going to be somebody you can get on with.
Maclean’s: Is being in the Stones like surviving a long marriage, where you feel the need to get out and... ?
Jagger: Groove around? Yeah, I guess so, if you want to draw that analogy. Yeah, I think that it does help your work with a band if you work in other ways with other people, because you learn different things. If you stay with the same people all the time, you do get stuck.
Maclean’s: You and Keith seem to have a very productive creative tension. Lennon and McCartney were not exactly peas in a pod either. How does that friction work? You and Keith are obviously very different people. Jagger: Yeah, we are very different in lots of ways, and quite often different than the stereotypes that people imagine we are. Maclean’s: How so?
Jagger: Keith has a really strong ballad streak in him. He’s always the one who is imagined to be the heavy rocker, where quite often he enjoys the slow ballads more. Both of us bring a lot of different ideas into the mix. There’s always friction, but it’s just a question of having the right amount. Too much friction and things don’t work. A little bit makes it work.
Maclean’s: There’s also an image of Keith as the guy who lives and breathes rock V roll, while you are the calculating businessman. Jagger: If only it were true. I really don’t enjoy business. I never do business, apart from The Rolling Stones. I’m not interested in playing the market. I find that very dull. But you have to do a certain amount of business, or you just get ripped off, or you end up having to do things that you don’t realize you were asked to do. And Keith—Keith’s a great family man. He takes them all on the road, his mother-in-law and whatever else. He’s not generally perceived as such, but he is very family-oriented.
Maclean’s: And yourself?
Jagger: I’m not like that. When I go on the road, I like to be on my own, more or less. Because I can’t function, I can’t concentrate.
I love my family and I love to see them. But I don’t think I would like to live like Keith. Maclean’s: You called your new album Wandering Spirit. Where do you feel most at home?
Jagger: I’m very at home with lots of places. But that song is really about what happens when you lose your roots so to speak, both physically and mentally.
Maclean’s: Do you ever just want to chuck it all and settle down?
Jagger: No [laughs]. In a word, no. Maclean’s: How far can you push the Stones?
Jagger: I don’t want to push it so far that it falls off the edge. I just see it as far as the next big project is concerned, the next writing, the next recording and going on the road with it.
Maclean’s: You don’t think about what you will be doing when you’re 64?
Jagger: Not really. I let other people worry about that.
Maclean’s: What drives you at this point? Jagger: When I write something or when I perform, it still gives me a lot of the same • charge I got when I first started. I don’t think it needs to drop off in yearly increments. You have a creative energy and you just want to let it come out somewhere—one way or the other.
hile Mick Jagger is the voice of The Rolling Stones, Keith Richards is its soul. And since his 1977 arrest for drug possession in Toronto—and his subsequent rehabilitation —Richards has thrown himself into his role as band leader with renewed vigor. As well as breathing new fire into the Stones, Richards has made two raw, energetic solo albums, Talk is Cheap and Main Offender, with his high-class garage band, theX-Pensive Winos. Richards lives in rural Connecticut with his wife, model Patti Hansen, and their two children:
Maclean’s: When you get song ideas, how do you draw the line on what to keep for a solo album and what to give to the Stones? Richards: Good question. I was starting to tailor-write for Mick. I would make it more straight—you know, chorus-verse. I was starting to fall into a rut without realizing it. Basically when I’m writing for myself, I can throw in different kinds of moves. So maybe when I work with Mick again, I can get a little fresher.
Maclean’s: People might assume that because you play lead guitar and Mick sings lead, that you write the music and he writes the words. But it doesn’t work like that, does it?
Richards: Not really. I’ve tried to figure that out over the years. We toss lyrics around. Sometimes they’re all mine. When I’ve tried to dissect that thing and remember who did what, sometimes you’re writing a song over a period of months, even years, and it ends up fifty-fifty.
Maclean’s: When you’re doing a solo album, do you feel you have something to say? Richards: I don’t know if there’s any coherent message. Songs have to touch you. I like ambiguity. Suggestion and insinuation is a deeper way of touching people than trying to be explicit. Unless you’re writing a straightahead thing like, ‘I coulda stood you up’— sometimes you use the sharp blade. But I don’t think rock ’n’ roll is especially made for preaching.
Maclean’s: Have you heard Mick’s album? Richards: No, but from what I’ve heard
about it, it sounds like that’s what he should have done the first time. The scuttlebutt about it is very good, which makes me happy. Maclean’s: Do you guys feel any sense of competition between your solo projects? Richards: No, but people are going to want to pretend there is. And, if they do, there is a competition whether you like it or not. Whatever we do is still tied to a Stones schedule. So if we’re going to make solo records, they’re going to come out around the same time.
Maclean’s: Do you ever feel the band has become much bigger than the people in it? Richards: You mean, the Frankenstein monster effect? Maybe for a little bit in the early 1980s that was the thing that put Mick and I through the whole grinder there. You couldn’t just hang around. You realized you were working for this juggernaut and you created it. This monster has taken you over. And maybe that was one of the things that made us take a crack at each other and work outside. The only way to keep the Stones going is to keep the guys working when the Stones aren’t working.
Maclean’s: The band is so much part of the culture now, it is almost like an artifact of the times, as well as a living band.
Richards: There’s loads of people alive under 30 who don’t know the world without The Rolling Stones. Of course, I knew a world without the Stones. It started for me when I first heard Little Richard and Elvis and Buddy Holly. Without that, there’s no way we would be talking now.
Maclean’s: You have compared your partnership with Mick to a marriage. Most marriages don’t last this long. What is your secret? Richards: If I really knew, I’d be bottling it. Mick and I, we’ve been through a lot together. We’ve known each other basically since we were four years old, off and on. Which is a long time to know somebody. I remember sitting in a little sand pit with him in a playground. When you know somebody that well, your friendship is very deep. Sometimes, you go to the opposite extremes. Mick and I know what it’s like to go hard knocks with each other. It’s a tough and bitter battle, a war of attrition. But you can do that with good friends. Once we sit down in a room and we have work to do, with guitars, and we’re into our thing, it has always amazed me, and it’s always fun, and it’s always a turn-on.
I guess when I really realized that was Steel Wheels, when I started to write for that in 1989. The minute we got together with a cou-
ple of guitars and a cassette player and a piano, we started laughing—You called me an asshole, man, in The Daily Mirror.’ Yeah, but that’s because you called me—’ Maclean’s: Do you deliberately talk to each other through the press?
Richards: It’s like a family squabble, but it’s all carried out through the front pages. You’re sending salvos every time you’d talk to a guy. When Mick and I realized what we’d been through, we just broke out laughing. And within half an hour, we’d written Mixed Emotions.
Maclean’s: You appear to have very different styles. In the music, he seems to be playing with irony and contrivance, while a lot of the time you seem to be pushing a raw spontaneity.
Richards: Mick has tended to be more influenced by current trends, and my view is to be more traditional. This is what the Stones are good at, and once we try to play the guessing game of pop music, I have a problem with that and I know that Charlie Watts does too. What The Rolling Stones are good at is that particular feel, the spontaneity of the music, and never trying to second-guess the public and I ask what they want. I Because that’s not what they
8 want. The only criteria that 9 have ever worked with what g I’ve done is, ‘Do I like it?’ § Maclean’s: But we could always see trends in the Stones’ music, whether it was disco with Miss You, or whatever. Richards: If they seep in, naturally that’s another thing. What goes into a musician’s ear usually comes out one way or another. Maclean’s: On the cover of
Main Offender, you’re sucking on a cigarette, with your skull ring plainly visible.
Richards: Same old pose.
Maclean’s: What’s your most serious offence these days?
Richards: Let me see. Actually I gave up all the most serious offences. It’s funny, when you’ve done it all. I’m such a good boy these days, I guess because I’m working more than I have done maybe since the very early 1960s.
Maclean’s: So, you’re slowing down on the self-abuse front?
Richards: Well, yeah, because I did all that. That’s so far behind me. But I still love my drink and I’m still smoking like a chimney. Maclean’s: With the heroin, do you ever feel you came too close to the edge?
Maclean’s: The Toronto bust turned you around?
Richards: I sort of looked in the mirror and said: This is it man. It’s now or never.’ And it might have been too late already. Because at the time I was pretty sure I was going to have to do some hard time. But for my sentence, I had to do the concert for the blind. Maclean’s: What was that like?
Richards: The concert was great. But it had to be one of the most bizarre sentences of all time. ‘He was caught with an ounce of heroin and he got sentenced to do a concert for the blind.’ That one’s got to be in the annals of legal history somewhere, right? But the case dragged on for two years. So I’d been clean for two years by the time this trial came to an end. I’d done everything I could do to get my act together. But what really did it was this blind girl. She was from Toronto. And she would be at every Rolling Stones gig. All by herself. She would hitchhike. I got a hold of one of the truck drivers and said: ‘She’s going to walk the road no matter what we do. And she’s going to get run over.’ So I’d make sure she got a ride to the next town. She became like a mascot with the crew, and they’d all take care of her. And one night she went to the judge’s house in Toronto and told him
the story. And that’s how I got I sentenced to do the concert for the blind.
Maclean’s: Do you think about the legacy that you ’re leaving for younger musicians? Richards: They’re there. What I find amazing is that with all of the technology, it should be easier to make records. But it’s at least as hard as when we started. You’re talking big money, mini-movie budgets, before you even start. And the technology is stuck in the toy department. Get it up to hardware. It should be a tool, not some little wind-up doll.
Maclean’s: You are one of those singers who can’t rely on technique. I think of your voice in the same breath as Dylan, Robbie Robertson, Tom Waits—they have some tire tracks on their voices.
Richards: Yeah, or Louis Armstrong. To me a voice is a means of expression. And any idea about purity or technique—I mean, there’s millions of great voices out there, but they chill me to death. It’s a matter of whether you can touch with it, you know. Maclean’s: On this tour with the Winos, you play Massey Hall in Toronto. Last time you were here with the Stones you played SkyDome. Where do you feel most comfortable? Richards: Massey Hall anytime. Give me four walls and a ceiling so I hear those drums coming off the back wall. So you start to play the room. With the Stones you’re always out there on the cutting edge doing something that’s better done in a garage, but you’re doing it in front of 100,000 people. Maclean’s: Why is Bill Wyman quitting? Richards: I’m still puzzled. He says, ‘I just don’t want to do it.’ After 30 years, that to me
is not an adequate answer. So I’m kind of pissed with him a bit. But I love the old sod. And there’s no way I want to drag a reluctant bass player along with the Stones. Maclean’s: Will it be the same without him? Richards: It’s not going to be the same. The Stones will be out there with another bass player. This is it. You’re down to the hard core.
Maclean’s: Guitarist Brian Jones [who drowned in a swimming pool in 1969] is the only other original member who is no longer with you.
Richards: It’s not easy to get into the Stones. It’s even harder to leave.
Maclean’s: Do you have hobbies?
Richards: I always read a lot.
Maclean’s: What kind of stuff?
Richards: All kinds of stuff. I like biographies. Casey’s, Edgar Hoover’s. If you read two or three on the same guy from different angles, then you can start to put the guy together. When you’re interested in how horrifyingly bad things are run—yeah, I’m interested in history. I’ve got a book right in front of me called The Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun.
Maclean’s: Do you evergo to the gym? Richards: I’m onstage with that guitar around my neck, and I defy any gym to come up with a stronger regime than that. Maclean’s: Will we ever see Keith Richards playing golf?
Richards: Maybe on a video game. I think the way I play guitar has ruined my swing. □
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