Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Rock star, sex god, rebel, cad: the many faces of Jagger

Among the big names signed up by America's magazines to cover the 1972 Rolling Stones tour was Truman Capote, waspish author of Breakfast At Tiffany's and In Cold Blood. They didn't hit it off.

Nonetheless, Capote joined the tour and, from his privileged position on the band's private plane and in the wings at 80,000-strong shows, loftily inspected the singer.

He is, concluded Capote, "a scared little boy, very much off his turf ... Mick has no talent save for a kind of fly-eyed wonder ... He could, I suppose, be a businessman. He has that facility of being able to focus in on the receipts in the midst of Midnight Rambler".

Poor Mick. He's 70 next July, and has five decades being adored and found wanting in equal measure. For 10 years, from 1962 to 1972, he rose to a stardom never before seen in showbiz: rock star/ sex god/dance king. Since 1973, he has mostly been regarded as a canny, tight-fisted franchise-manipulator, exploiting past glories.

Philip Norman, in this long but hugely readable biography, gives us both incarnations but is keen to confront received opinions. He reveals that the young Mick was shy and slow to show affection.

Norman's earlier group biography, The Stones (1983), often gave the impression he disapproved of Jagger. In this new work, he radiates sympathy for the old devil. We learn that everyone thought Mick was too ugly to succeed, his voice was "too black" for the BBC, that Marianne Faithfull's first impression was "a cheeky little yob".

As he retells the Sixties years - the 1967 drugs bust, the death of Brian Jones, the conquest of America, the violence at Altamont - he always takes Mick's side.

He offers a fresh perspective on Altamont Speedway, where Hell's Angels killed a young black man while Jagger sang Under My Thumb. Norman says Jagger was brave to keep going before grabbing a helicopter out.

Mick's relations with women were more anguished than advertised. And though Mick entertained scores of interchangeable blondes at his London love nest, he preferred a friendly bunk up with one of his female staff.

Jagger comes across as a cautious, diffident, old-fashioned Englishman with "an insatiable thirst for social status". He body-swerved trouble and forgot calamities. While band mates smoked, snorted, shot up and swallowed every drug, Jagger practised moderation: "Even LSD gave up in despair after finding no inner demons".

The only force to which he was in thrall was the requirement to be a rock star. "I was a victim of cool, of the tyranny of hip," Jagger said. It made him abandon "kind, thoughtful, generous and chivalrous" impulses and be a cad.

Norman sometimes overdoes his special pleading. And he overdoes the Mars Bar gags.

But otherwise his book is a fascinating study of an invented rebel who re-invented himself as a self-controlled conformist.

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