Repulsion was the attraction with Mick Jagger. It must have been 1976 because Hot Stuff was on Countdown and the greasy geezer with the slippery lips and obscenely gyrating butt, loosely packed into silver pants he couldn’t keep his hands out of, was conjuring steam from my dad’s ears.
”He really is obnoxious,” were the magic words that made me sit up and pay attention.
I can’t imagine how the Rolling Stones had been exiled from the previous 13 years of my life. The Beatles were part of the living room furniture. Kiss and Alice Cooper snarled from bedroom walls. Somehow, the most obscene and obnoxious of them all had been hermetically banished from the house. That’s how dangerous these guys were.
By that time, as the first rumblings of ’70s punk started filtering into the Australian suburbs, snide calls for the Stones’ retirement were already running at a steady, snickering pitch in the music papers. Nobody played rock’n’roll at 35. Most of my friends agreed with my dad on that one. It was a disgrace.
Today Jagger turns 70 and he’s still a disgrace. Obscenely rich. Obnoxiously aloof. Still shaking his skinny butt at screaming girls and boys on the Rolling Stones’ massive 50th Anniversary world tour.
Critics among the 100,000 who caught their recent Glastonbury Festival show were mostly euphoric, though safe, sardonic distance was just a tweet away.
”Glad to see that comedy is now such a prominent part of the program,” one Telegraph writer quipped. Subsequent comments included: ”Sounds like a geriatrics’ love-in”, ”Night of the living dead” and ”Why don’t these sad old fools just give it up”
Whether affronted by his rude physicality or scornful of an uber-socialite knight of the realm still cashing in so flamboyantly on the music of the (poor, black American) people, the Stones’ frontman is routinely derided by tutting old-timers and young garage rockers alike – who tend to find Keith Richards’ hand-me-down heroin chic a more comfortable fit than Jagger’s designer suits.
But a cursory glance under the uniforms reveals Jumping Jack Flash – not Johnny Depp’s cartoon pirate godfather – as the bona fide Satanic Majesty of rock’n’roll. While Richards has nailed a loveable static archetype to the corner of the bar, the man he calls ”Brenda” remains a dynamic irritant on the world stage.
Jagger’s high public profile, his remarkable supermodel addiction, his death-defying forays into screen acting and overreaching musical collaborations – most recently the critically massacred SuperHeavy project with Dave Stewart and Joss Stone – are all signs of a perpetual restlessness that a man of his achievements might reasonably be expected to have exhausted.
Jagger’s original sin was humorously illustrated by his friend Pete Townshend on another landmark birthday long ago. ”On the Nature of Aging and Rock & Roll” was the title of an article in the London Times in 1983, in which Mr ”Hope-I-die-before-I-get-old” gallantly defended Jagger for the shocking transgression of turning 40.
”He was wriggling like an eel when I first laid eyes on him,” Townshend wrote of the night in ’63 when his band, The Who, opened for the young Stones at St Mary’s Ballroom in Putney.
”He was throwing his arms from side to side, pursing his lips and making the girls around him laugh. His bum, such as it is, was thrust out like a baboon’s … Before the curtains even opened, he was at full tilt – a complete exhibitionist.”
Whatever cocktail of adrenalin, testosterone and other substances unleashed the dervish in this middle-class 20-year-old economics student from Dartford, the result can’t be overestimated.
A couple of years later, now in the world spotlight, an insightful Canadian police officer put it succinctly to the Vancouver Sun:
”[Jagger’s] bumps and grinds are really what you would expect an adult to be watching in a burlesque show. It is not only vulgar, it is disgusting. It’s a tribal dance. Its purpose is to get the youngsters sexually excited.”
Such primal urgings were trouser-deep in the Stones’ sources, of course: in the orgasmic wail of Little Richard and the holler of Muddy Waters and the moan and stomp of any number of Mississippi and Chicago blues singers.
But Elvis Presley’s hips were but a vague suggestion compared with Jagger’s utterly combustive, frequently ludicrous dance, which remains the benchmark by which every exhibitionist on the rock’n’roll stage is judged to this day.
Biographer Philip Norman has observed that the Stones invented the rock band performance blueprint, largely because Jagger was the first frontman to be liberated from an instrument.
”Suddenly, with Mick, the moves were part of the show,” he said in an interview after last year ‘s massive worldwide success of Moves Like Jagger, the Maroon 5/Christina Aguilera song on the lips of millions of kids who knew the feeling, even if they couldn’t name a single Stones track.
”Every other rock vocalist that came along really had to follow him. There was nothing else to do. Even today, a new vocalist in a new band … is Mick.”
The good ones make it look easy. Although boundaries had to be tested and punishments endured for Jagger to become the world’s most conspicuous physical embodiment of liberation from all decorum and authority.
It was the Stones’ early manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, who conceived the brilliant strategy of marketing his boys as polar opposites to the sweet and cuddly Beatles.
Brian Jones would pay the ultimate price for years of establishment retaliation in 1968, but Jagger and Richards also narrowly avoided prison terms for petty drug possession offences, zealously pursued by an affronted constabulary to curtail their influence on the youth of Britain.
And again Jagger, as the perceived ringmaster of the disastrous Altamont Festival of December 1969, would be widely credited with what pop commentators never tire of calling the death of ’60s idealism.
The Maysles Brothers’ film Gimme Shelter is a bracing document of that infamous debacle east of San Francisco, in which Hells Angels reputedly hired by Jagger murdered a man named Meredith Hunter at the foot of the Stones’ stage.
The last sequence in the film, in which Jagger watches the salient footage dispassionately, then stands up and leaves the editing suite with trademark insouciance, might be its most chilling scene.
In the convenient blur of pop mythology, the murder happened while the Stones were playing Sympathy for the Devil, the song in which Jagger’s dark genius as a lyricist reached its zenith.