[11 September 2011]
Marc Spitz begins his insightful, important, and newly released book, Jagger: Rebel, Rock Star, Rambler, Rogue, by asking, “Can we continue to worship and desire a man whom we don’t really like anymore?”
From that point on, Spitz skillfully leads readers through a tour of Mick Jagger’s carnival life fronting the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band in the world, acting in several films, and breaking many more hearts. It becomes obvious at a very early point in the book that the use of pronoun “we” in Spitz introductory question is dubious. Spitz not only likes Mick Jagger, he loves Mick Jagger.
He convincingly argues that the force of Jagger’s creativity and cool is of equal importance to the brilliance, success, and longevity of The Rolling Stones as that belonging to the poetic pirate Keith Richards. Jagger is not merely a sexually suggestive song-and-dance man, but also a charismatic entertainer, a deeply versatile singer, and a highly inventive songwriter. Spitz defends Jagger against critics who claim he is a sophisticated, soulless sellout by pointing out the obvious facts that Keith Richards “cashes all the same checks” and that Jagger, despite endorsement deals, marketing gimmicks, and routine ego-trips, has protected his music from corruption, whether with The Rolling Stones or with Dave Stewart or with little known blues bands, he has pledged his fealty to the muse of music.
Although Spitz does make a few missteps—his defense of Jagger’s acceptance of knighthood from the queen of England as “bringing the establishment to him” is charitable to the point of naïveté—and his insistence that Jagger has an equally pure rock ‘n’ roll musical heart as Richards is akin to kicking a field goal on third down. The tougher and better play is to make the argument that Jagger’s experimentation with dance beats, technology, and genre-bending hybridization makes the Rolling Stones a much more attractive, appealing, and ambitious band than what would have existed if Richards won every argument on behalf of the blues. “Miss You”, “Worried About You”, “Emotional Rescue”, “Fool to Cry”, “Undercover of the Night”, and several other bold productions strengthen and deepen the Stones catalogue. It’s bizarre that Spitz often praises these songs individually, but neglects to categorize them together as a cohesive collection that demonstrates the necessity for and power of Jagger’s inspired experimentation.
The music of the Rolling Stones and the independent endeavors of Jagger combine for an absorbing topic. Few subjects, however, are as fascinating as the wonderfully elusive man behind the microphone.
Jagger is a libidinous trickster from folklore; full of complication, complexity, and contradiction. Handling his life story requires delicacy, empathy, and sensitivity to the emotional and cultural dynamism that Jagger creates, inculcates, and represents. Spitz proves he is more than capable. He wisely and comically navigates the landmine-filled terrain of Jagger’s lothario sexual persona by separating him from Warren Beaty, Wilt Chamberlin, and other men famous or infamous, depending on one’s perspective, for their promiscuity. Jagger, Spitz concludes, is irresistible to many women because he is hypnotically confident in his own sexuality, which creates an aura of mystery around the question, “What is behind that bodily comfort and sexual confidence?” Jagger is also forward to the point of absurdity. Spitz rightfully calls this seduction style camp—like something out of a farcical comedy sketch that only an androgynous Rolling Stone could pull of without inciting unfriendly laughter.
Without hesitation, Spitz also confronts the code of The Rolling Stones that many writers, including me, have written about. The code—the lifestyle of rebellion that provides a loose ethical system of behavioral provocations and limitation—is entirely Richard’s creation. For Jagger, The Rolling Stones is a vehicle for him to discover his own identity and to gain deeper insights into his unreachable soul. There’s a photograph of Jagger wearing a T-Shirt that says, “Who the Fuck is Mick Jagger?” Spitz makes it clear that Jagger cannot really answer that question, and everything he does—from singing to acting to womanizing—is a search for a new clue to his most inaccessible mystery. For this reason, Spitz claims, Jagger is almost incapable of looking into his past with an objective and reflective eye, and will therefore never write his own memoirs.
If Spitz’s prediction comes true, Stones fans and popular music readers can rest comfortably knowing that Jagger is not only an engaging biography, but also a compelling work of cultural criticism. The book is at its best when Spitz devotes an entire chapter to describing, scrutinizing, and analyzing the famous “We piss anywhere” incident when The Rolling Stones, early in their career, stopped at a petro station outside of London to use the washroom. The attendant, who described Jagger, Richards, and company as “shaggy haired monsters”, refused out of fear for what these hippie maniacs might do once inside. Jagger took command of the situation and said those immortal words announcing his self-governed universal urination pass. The band proceeded to literally piss anywhere, while they danced and chanted the lead singer’s new refrain. Spitz shows his perceptiveness by making this incident the centerpiece of the book. It’s the moment that the myth surrounding the Stones was born and it was the moment that captured the threat and excitement of the sound, persona, and attitude of the band.
Spitz, for all his brilliance and insight, stops too soon, however. “We piss anywhere” is also the moment in which we can begin to answer the two questions that loom large over the entire narrative of Jagger as told in Jagger. “Can we still worship and desire a man we don’t really like anymore?” and “Who the fuck is Mick Jagger?”
The only person who can answer the latter question in the private sense is Jagger, of course, and Spitz persuasively makes the case that even he is lost. The public Jagger, however, is discernible and identifiable. Identifying the public Jagger answers the former question regarding desire and worship.
Mick Jagger is the devil. He’s the devil that millions of people continue to desire and worship, but cannot be sure if they like. He sings the devil’s anthem, proclaiming his wealth, taste, and presence at some of the greatest evils committed in the history of humanity, but more importantly and significantly, he’s the avatar for the swaggering, lethally self-assured hedonist who will piss anywhere with a cocky smirk written all over his face that only confirms there is nothing you can do to stop him. He’s the avatar for the devil that resides everywhere at once and builds a house within every heart. He’s the avatar for the devil within us – the devil that we simultaneously love and hate – the devil whose existence we simultaneously work to affirm and deny.
Richards has gained heroic status as the defender of rock ‘n’ roll and the avatar of purity, because despite his drug abuse and troubles with the law, he has the integrity to appear on stage with Jagger as the devil’s conscience. Our better nature tells us to desire and worship Richards, but the devil kicking his hooves on our hearts and poking our imaginations with his pitchfork wants us to desire and worship, and that is why we can never let him go.
Like the devil, Jagger possesses the spirits of those who travel too close to one another. The entire group shouted “We piss anywhere” at the direction of Jagger like a psychotic band of demons. Arenas full of women went into chaotic convulsions of libidinal rage when he moved his hips. Spitz gathers stories of Jagger stealing girlfriends from Richards, Brian Jones, Bryan Ferry, and Eric Clapton. Mere mortals are helpless to defend against the temptation of Jagger’s majestic magic that weaves spells to communicate directly with one’s darker impulses.
Christian theology teaches that the devil is omnipresent. “We piss anywhere” can easily transform into “we piss everywhere.”
I’ve often been complimented or accused, depending on the company, for dancing like Jagger. A friend of mine once told me a story about running into an ex-girlfriend when he was drunk and deciding to approach her in an arrogant style after deciding that that is what Jagger would do. A different friend told me that once at a boring wedding reception, he jumped on the dance floor and did his best to impersonate Jagger’s patented chicken walk dance, hoping to inject life into the party. The devil got us all, and will get us all again. The devil will also get millions more when the lights are low and the spirits are high.
It’s easy, but pointless, to condemn the morality of the devil and question the morality of any act Mick Jagger inspires.
Jagger is a genius and a giant, and a figure of immeasurable musical and pop cultural importance. Spitz has done an invaluable service by celebrating the brilliance and stature of Jagger in an act of sympathy for the devil. Spitz has also reminded his audience of the need to acknowledge the devil they know lives inside of them. The act of acknowledgement comes from the recognition that the public Jagger is worthy of desire and worship for reasons that go beyond his artistic accomplishment.
Psychologist Carl Jung said that all people live in shadows and light. The ultimate danger facing us is if we deny the shadows, because then we will lose our ability to distinguish between shadow and light, eventually losing all light while deceiving ourselves into believing that we covered in it. Jagger: Rebel, Rock Star, Ramble, Rogue introduces us to a wild, dancing, seductive shadow.