||November 25, 2001
Mick Jagger Is Off And Rolling Again
By ANTHONY DeCURTIS
I MESSED up!" Wyclef Jean said after flubbing a note in the Spanish guitar part he was working on for a song he was helping produce for Mick Jagger's new solo album. Mr. Jagger, who had been dancing around the control room as the song's bass-heavy chorus thumped out of the speakers, stopped, smiled at Mr. Jean and grabbed a handful of grapes from a fruit bowl nearby. He popped a couple in his mouth and took a seat on a couch in the back of the room.
Mr. Jean, however, was still thinking about his mistake, and the potential source of his distraction. With a nod toward the reporter taking notes in a corner of the room, Mr. Jean asked Mr. Jagger, "Is my man a writer?" Mr. Jagger, amused, acted as if he'd just become aware of the reporter's presence — as if anyone could have been in that room without his express approval. "Who are you writing for today?" he asked, idly.
That night in July, Mr. Jean and Mr. Jagger were working on "Hideaway," a song for "Goddess in the Doorway" (Virgin 7243 8 11288 2 4), the fourth solo album by Mr. Jagger, the notorious lead singer of the Rolling Stones. As the music came up on the speakers, Mr. Jagger again moved in time to it, and Mr. Jean resumed working out his guitar line. "This song's different," Mr. Jagger said. "Every song on the album provides a different element."
Three months later, Mr. Jagger sat in a Manhattan hotel room and further reflected on "Goddess in the Doorway," which was released last Tuesday. Much had changed since that night at the Hit Factory with Mr. Jean, one of the many musicians, old and young, who join Mr. Jagger on "Goddess." Mr. Jagger was in town on this occasion to perform with his fellow Rolling Stone Keith Richards at the Concert for New York City, a benefit for the victims of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. It was his first visit to New York since Sept. 11. (Until recently he owned a town house on the Upper West Side.) As he has since the days when John Lennon famously dubbed him "the king of the scene," Mr. Jagger instinctively resists earnestness of any kind. So his initial response to a question about what the Concert for New York City might hope to achieve was blithe. "I was harangued into it and finally gave in," he said, settling down on a couch, his striped shirt unbuttoned at the bottom to provide glimpses of his board-flat, muscular stomach when he moved. "It just seems like a good time to me. What the point of it is, I don't know. I wasn't one of the organizers. I just showed up."
Still, as if aware of how callous he might sound, he went on to recount how struck he was by the changed mood in New York. "The city is still reeling, isn't it?" he asked, concerned. "I can sense it. I didn't think I was going to feel that, because it's nearly six weeks afterward. It's very tough and shocking, and very traumatic for the people who live in this town. For everyone else as well, of course, but much more so for the people here. It's incredibly stressful."
It's also an odd moment for Mr. Jagger to be promoting a new album. On one hand, the more sober-minded cultural atmosphere after Sept. 11 has brought renewed attention to older artists like Paul McCartney, the Who, Elton John and Sting, who have stepped forward to play reassuring roles in a time that offers few certainties. But the calming gestures of an elder statesman hardly suit Mr. Jagger. Despite his stature as one of the giants of rock 'n' roll, his obvious intelligence and sophistication, a personal wealth estimated at half a billion dollars and seven children (with four different women, including two former wives), Mr. Jagger, at 58, still styles himself as a bad boy. Living a lifestyle that involves perpetual motion between "London, Paris, New York, L.A. and back again," in his description, often in the company of a young model or actress, Mr. Jagger hardly presents the comforting image these times seem to require.
"Goddess," meanwhile, is a mature record that explores themes of romantic disenchantment, erotic longing and the inexorable passage of time. It is musically adventurous, with strings, dance beats, lush balladry and uproarious rockers all finding a place amid the album's 12 songs. In other words, it's precisely the sort of multifaceted work that has a nearly impossible time finding its way into a marketplace dominated by hormonal youths or cuddly veterans.
Virgin, Mr. Jagger's label, maintains that the video for "God Gave Me Everything," the first single from "Goddess," will be shown on MTV's "Total Request Live," the influential show that is more typically the home of fare by 'N Sync and Britney Spears. Can that possibly be where Mr. Jagger's commercial hopes rest? Their merits aside, Mr. Jagger's three previous solo albums, "She's the Boss" (1985), "Primitive Cool" (1987) and "Wandering Spirit" (1993), sold respectably, but generally came and went without making much of an impact.
Mr. Jagger, characteristically, affected a languid disinterest in the topic. "I find promotion the least enjoyable aspect of what I do," he said. "I like performing, writing and recording, but I don't like doing television and all that. The amount you're expected to do is huge, so you have to be discriminating about it. But I don't know if being discriminating really works for you. It's probably, the more you do, the better. If you do too much, though, tackiness takes over and people begin complaining that you're everywhere."
To help call attention to "Goddess," Mr. Jagger turned not to MTV, but to the director Kevin MacDonald, who won an Academy Award for "One Day in September," a documentary about the terrorist attack on the 1972 Munich Olympics. The two men collaborated on "Being Mick," a one-hour film about a year in the singer's life, which was scheduled for broadcast on Thanksgiving Day on ABC. (A longer version will be shown on VH1 later this year.) Mr. Jagger also performed a highly publicized club set in Los Angeles, which is likely to be the only live show he will do this year.
The many guests on "Goddess" provide their own promotional oomph. In addition to Mr. Jean, Mr. Jagger called on Bono, who sings with him on "Joy," and Pete Townshend, who plays guitar on two tracks. Not coincidentally, Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20, who jump-started Carlos Santana's comeback a couple of years ago by writing and singing on the hit single "Smooth," also wrote, with Mr. Jagger, "Visions of Paradise," the album's opening track. Lenny Kravitz produced and wrote "God Gave Me Everything" with Mr. Jagger. It is the song most reminiscent of the Rolling Stones on "Goddess," a sonic overlap that Mr. Jagger typically has tried to avoid in his solo work.
"I wanted to kick his butt with some rock," Mr. Kravitz said about working with one of his heroes. "His first reaction to what I had written was, `Well, it's a bit raucous.' I just kept saying, jokingly but seriously: `You're Mick Jagger. Nobody can mess with you. Go out there and tear it apart.' He nailed that song in one take. The hair on the back of my neck stood up."
Mr. Jagger may be "rock 'n' roll royalty," in Mr. Kravitz's phrase, but, unlike many of his contemporaries, he rigorously resists dewy-eyed strolls down memory lane. In a line he calls "my disclaimer" in the ballad "Too Far Gone," Mr. Jagger states his position as clearly as he can. "I always hate nostalgia/ Living in the past," he sings.
"It's just a way of pouring cold water on whatever's going on at the moment," Mr. Jagger said of people's obsession with the old days.
"The first thing people say is always something like: `Do you remember when Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers were really big? They were great.' Fine. But the next line is always: `Not like these kids today. They don't even sing anymore. And look what they wear!' I listen to that and think, `You idiot.' To my mind, the resemblances between then and now are remarkable."
The Rolling Stones are, of course, among the staunchest survivors of then to be active now. It has been widely reported that the band will be touring again next year, but Mr. Jagger refused to be specific about any plans that may exist. When asked about the Stones, he repeated the band's name slowly to himself, as if trying to recall exactly who they were and their conceivable relevance to him. He then said: "I'm going to begin working soon on the next Rolling Stones project, which I'm not being very forthcoming about, I realize. But I don't want to jump the gun. I have to do some work on what they could be at this stage."
As for the fortunes of "Goddess in the Doorway," the man who made satisfaction his byword was philosophical. "There's three things about any project you work on," he said. "If it's a success for yourself, you've got to be pleased. Then you hope to please a small group of people you know will listen to it with discernment. Then you've got the public.
"Commercial success is ephemeral, and it's a strange time. I'm a realistic person, and I always aim my sights low in that regard. I've also had a long career, so I'm not like a kid who's waiting on the sales figures every week."
He bristled a bit. "Obviously, I hope that it's going to be successful," he said, with a cold laugh. "If it's not, I'll let you know then how I feel. What else can I do?"
Anthony DeCurtis is a contributing editor at Rolling Stone magazine.