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Topic: Mick rolls alone Return to archive
27th October 2007 07:24 PM
Ten Thousand Motels Mick rolls alone
The Rolling Stones frontman reveals why his solo career is the foundation of his artistic life
Interview: by Graeme Thomson
Oct 27, 2007
Sunday Herald

ASIDE FROM his status as a Rolling Stone, Mick Jagger is way beyond the reach of easy categorisation. He is, famously, an interesting bunch of guys, never settling for one persona when he can pick and choose from (among others) Alabaman blues shouter, hard-headed businessman, doting dad of seven, and camp, vaguely degenerate aristocrat. Today, in London soaking up the last rays of a brief Indian summer, he opts to vacillate between chirpy, Cockney-fied mateyness - "Swelterin', innit?" - and a side he displays less frequently in public: the thoughtful, committed singer-songwriter.

Jagger has just come off nearly two years on the road with the Rolling Stones' A Bigger Bang tour, the highest grossing rock tour of all time, and will shortly be off to the US to complete work on Martin Scorsese's forthcoming film about the band.

Clearly, the Stones remain Jagger's principal concern, but over the past 30 years he has carefully cultivated another, altogether less prominent patch on the landscape; a kind of musical allotment. That, too, means rather a lot to him. Discussing The Very Best Of Mick Jagger, a collection of his solo material spanning 35 years, Jagger reveals a prickly affection for a body of work which, though it never quite convinces in relation to the best of the Stones output, is more enjoyable and substantial than is acknowledged.

As you might expect, left to his own devices Jagger flaunts his magpie tendencies far more brazenly than he ever does in the Stones, where Charlie Watts and Keith Richards, in particular, tend to keep things rattling down an old familiar track. Forcing himself away from those old certainties was one of the reasons he sought a solo career in the first place - even now, he'll only allow himself one blatantly "Stones-ey" sounding song on a solo record; no more than that.

The other impetus was sheer necessity. The Stones are a relatively harmonious unit these days, but it hasn't always been that way. Although Jagger made a handful of solo singles in the 1970s, it wasn't until the band bickered itself to a standstill in the mid-1980s that Jagger's thoughts turned to making an album on his own. He is wary of expressing his desire for a solo career in terms of his disillusionment with his day job, but there was clearly a bit of that.

"I started doing a lot of writing and I just felt I needed to stretch out a little bit," he says. "The thing is, when you're on your own you can go from doing a track like Checking Out My Baby, which is Chicago blues done in a very authentic way, and then go and do a Latino disco track like Charmed Life, and no-one's going to argue with you. You don't have to worry about anyone's opinion, and it brought me to realising that you can bring all these things into the rest of your life - you don't have to sit around with five people in a room and write a song.

"This all sounds like I'm knocking the Stones and I'm not. It's just that when you do these things you learn an awful lot."

You wouldn't expect Jagger to execute an excited double-take every time he enters the studio with the Rolling Stones, but the fact that he acknowledges only a slight change in emphasis depending on whether he is writing and recording solo or with the band he has played with for 45 years, is still slightly surprising.

"It's just making music for me," he says. "Of course they're very close to me in every way, but if you go into a room with the Rolling Stones or you go in with another set of musicians, as a singer it's not that dissimilar. I don't want to sound insincere about it, but it doesn't really matter who it is. It's nice to have Keith in the room, but if it's someone else I'm quite happy to do that as well."

His collaborators have been, for the most part, safe choices with strong individual identities: Lenny Kravitz, Dave Stewart, Rick Rubin, Bono, Nile Rogers, Don Was. He says he listens to them all and closely considers their views, pointing out that music is a co-operative enterprise and "you want their opinions and their input and, in the end, their approval".

For a man hardly lacking anti-establishment credentials - even if you have to travel some way back in order to locate them - Jagger has a surprisingly dominant conventional streak. On The Very Best Of Mick Jagger, he often sounds like a follower rather than a leader, looking to the mainstream for his ideas rather than branching out and experimenting in the manner of others. The career of David Bowie, for example, who camped it up with Jagger on Dancing In The Street, has been an object lesson in restless progression and staying one step ahead of the pack.

In reality, of course, carving out a distinct solo identity in the shadow of one of the world's biggest bands is near impossible. Jagger professes that he "doesn't really know or care" whether people are able to leave the baggage of Satisfaction and Brown Sugar at the door when they approach his solo work, although he does admit that "sometimes people don't really listen". But what really touches a nerve is the accusation that he somehow doesn't put his heart and soul into his music, that it's merely a tossed-off adjunct to a life primarily concerned with partying and lady-killing. Any suggestion that his music can come over as guarded and rather bloodless clearly irks him.

"That's bollocks," he snaps. "I have other interests but music is my principal one, and it's all very revealing. Too revealing. I find it embarrassing, if you really look at it. I mean, in my opinion you're not supposed to be telling things in a totally revelatory way, you're supposed to be cloaking it in a few metaphors, using poetic licence. But songs like Old Habits Die Hard or Evening Gown are, I think, very revealing. They're written from experience. Some of it is tongue-in-cheek - it's rock music, it's supposed to be fun - but the more serious, ballad-ey ones are very revealing."

He appears, however, to draw the line at allowing the music itself to become more nakedly intimate, which is a pity. The career move that many people would like to see Jagger attempt as he heads towards his 65th birthday next year - namely, to draw the curtains, lean in close and allow his musical shirt-tails to hang out a little - doesn't seem to interest him.

When I suggest that he might consider making a stripped-down album, perhaps just voice, guitar and piano, he concedes rather dismissively that: "People like that sort of thing, don't they?" The inference is clear: it wouldn't go down too well on the dancefloors of Manhattan and St Tropez. "I never play records like that, personally," he continues. "I've actually been asked to do a record like that, but I'm not sure if I could keep it up. It might be nice for a few songs but I'm not sure about a whole album."

The probable reality is that Jagger isn't a particularly downbeat or reflective man. "I write what I feel, to be honest," he says at one point. "And if it's sometimes a little bit immature then maybe that's what I'm like some of the time."

He's certainly full of the kind of bouncing optimism that can't easily be manufactured, and he's funny, too, drily hilarious about the spate of Stones impersonators currently doing the rounds ("Fair enough, we can't be doing that big wedding in Northumberland while we're down the O2 dome") and by no means immune to a sense of his own ridiculousness.

"The videos are a real snapshot," he laughs. "My children go, Wow, look at that shirt, Dad!' The Dancing In The Street video, which was a big video at the time, you just look at it now and think, Jeeeeesus! I know it was done in 10 minutes but you could have done better than that. Music does reflect the time. That's one of its jobs."

In the case of Let's Work - Jagger's up-and-at-'em 1988 single that sounds like it was co-written with Norman Tebbitt ("No sitting down on your butt/ The world don't owe you") - it reflects the times so accurately, it has become almost unlistenable 20 years on. But music also reflects the nature of the person making it. Many of Mick Jagger's solo songs are at the mercy of his desire to try to keep up with the times, but those with the patience and tenacity to scratch beneath the surface might find it possible to get a slightly better view of the private man scribbling away behind the many public masks. And for that, at least, they have value.
The Very Best Of Mick Jagger is out now on Atlantic/Rhino

[Edited by Ten Thousand Motels]
27th October 2007 07:34 PM
mojoman i drink alone....
28th October 2007 03:10 AM
Child of the Moon Let's Work... UNLISTENABLE!? Fuck, no...
[Edited by Child of the Moon]
28th October 2007 09:31 PM
Bitch MICK is so funny to say "bollocks", lol, that was a good read.

I like MICK's new CD.
28th October 2007 09:57 PM
gotdablouse couple of singles in the 70s? Ah, like what?
Other than that a pretty good read, thanks.
28th October 2007 10:44 PM
stonedinaustralia thought that too but 'memo from turner" and "don't look back" (sort of solo - at least not stones)

so that's two - which is a couple
28th October 2007 11:23 PM
aladdinstory mick went solo, at least from what i read in the "hitmen" book because then sony prez yetnikoff thought he had more potential solo then with stones, sure mick was itchin' to do solo work, but it was yetnikoff's assertion of solo success is a big reason why he did a solo album and also why the stones signed with sony. the stones had already established themselves as an eclectic group by this time, the idea that mick had to write "stonesy" material is absurd. sure, the two chord rockers were part of the mix, but not the center of the bands sound on either ER or UC. in retrospect the band suffered due to mick's solo "career" he wound up writing more compelling lyrics on his solo material and as a result his stones lyrics after She's The Boss were often vapid or very rudimentary. an example of this, is that, lyrically at least, an album like WS is stronger than any other Stones album released after mick went solo. his loyalties were split and it shows in the music. this doesn't mean that i think dreck like "Let's Work" would've been a Stones song, that is a bit extreme. but a song like "Don't Tear Me Up" definitely.
29th October 2007 04:09 AM
corgi37 Anyone know the current sales stats of his much awaited solo retrospective?
29th October 2007 04:48 AM
Doxa That was one of the best articles written about Jagger I've seen for a long time. Thanks for sharing it!

The article gives a good hint why the Stones stigmatized musically in early 80's. Before that Jagger had lead the band to act relevant, follow the trends etc - which brought up mostly wonderful results, such as Some Girls album. When Jagger decided to direct his artistic ambitions into solo career, the Stones musically freezed, and finally transformed into world's biggest touring nostalgy act. This secure conservatism seem to offer a nice, safe daily job income and 'place in the spotlight' for Jagger, who can express his artistic intuitions elsewhere.

- Doxa
[Edited by Doxa]
[Edited by Doxa]
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