Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Being Mick Jagger requires 'tyranny of cool'

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Mick Jagger

By Philip Norman

Doubleday Canada, 640 pages, $35

It appears that Mick Jagger is content to do what he's basically always done -- lording over the business end of the Rolling Stones, the band he's fronted since 1962, and shtupping any young babe who catches his gaze, at least according to this latest unsanctioned biography.

Author Philip Norman has been around the British music scene for almost as long as Jagger and his band. He portrays him as the first pop performer to stand alone on a stage without an instrument to strum, using only his famous lips and shaking hips, to drive five decades of his fans wild.

"Since the onset of Beatlemania, the young girls at pop shows had screamed dementedly whatever acts were served up to them, male or female, but until now had always stayed in their seats," Norman writes of the Stones' early shows.

"With the Rolling Stones came a new development: they attacked the stage."

And still do -- except they're a tad older now.

Norman gives us an in-depth look at a man who personifies the best of rock music, its look, its feel and its groove and its uglier side, its narcissism, greed and misogyny.

Only on-and-off-again sidekick Keith Richards holds a candle to him.

And if planned 50th-anniversary celebrations this year are any indication, neither shows any sign of slowing down as they head into their 70s.

Norman gives us more than just a passing recitation of Jagger's life. It's a more detailed and more elegantly written book than this past summer's Jagger bio by American Chris Andersen.

For instance, Norman fills in the holes of the big drug bust of the mid-'60s -- the Stones were supposedly set up by British intelligence agency MI5 in a plot to discredit them -- so much so you can smell the pot.

Then there's Altamont, the 1969 outdoor show that saw 18-year-old Meredith Hunter stabbed to death by a Hells Angel while Jagger and the band performed Under My Thumb.

Norman writes that the fallout from that event unfairly tarnished Jagger as a selfish coward. In fact, Norman says, Jagger tried as best he could to calm the crowd and insisted the band finish the set despite the danger they were in, not even aware of the violence just in front of them.

"To have stayed on that stage and carried on performing needed the balls of a lion," he quotes promoter Sam Cutler as saying.

If there is one quibble, Norman does speed through the last 20 years of Jagger and the Stones' career compared to the '60s and '70s, but that may because they haven't done as much.

There was a time a couple of decades ago Jagger tried to write his own life story (he even hired "word engineer" to help him), but had to give up a £1 million advance when the "eternal 18-year-old" couldn't find the words or even interest.

"This isn't working, is it," Jagger reportedly told his publisher, Norman writes.

It'd be up to his songwriting compadre Richards to do it in 2010 in his autobiography, Life. The Stones' original bassist, Charlie Wyman, had his own kick at the cat in his 1990 autobiography, Stone Alone.

Neither Wyman nor Richards had kind words for Jagger, but if he was hurt or even cared, Jagger didn't show any signs.

Which is one reason why Norman describes Jagger and his outlook on life as the "tyranny of cool," a way of life where being Mick Jagger outweighs everything else, including wives, mistresses and his band mates, and showing no emotion to the outside world.

Norman does take his shots at Jagger, mostly for his many infidelities, but at the same time recognizes that without him and his band, our iPods would be kind of bland. Think how quiet things would be if (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction or Sympathy for the Devil were never written, never sung.

Bruce Owen is a Free Press reporter and longtime fan of the Rolling Stones.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 10, 2012 J7

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