Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Mick Jagger: an appreciation
This is bound to be controversial, but I’d rather watch Mick Jagger stand still and read “The Cat In The Hat” than look at most supermodels naked.
The calculus changes if the supermodels are in motion on a trampoline or if Jagger is singing “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” something I’ve heard him sing about 1,000 times.
He is the most mesmerizing performer in recorded history.
I realized this after watching for a second time him host “Saturday Night Live,” a show that’s been so uneven for the past 15 or so years I usually find it unwatchable.
It’s all there in the opening monologue. His every gesture, his phrasing, his posture, his winking acknowledgement of his scandalous history -- it’s impossible to take your eyes off him.
Hoover Dam is less electrifying.
I love both Elvis and Frank Sinatra, but we’ve never seen anything like Jagger, a singer songwriter of some of pop culture’s most indelible hits and the frontman for the band that’s performed live for more people around the world than anyone in history.
Biographer Laura Jackson wrote, “It is impossible to imagine current culture without the unique influence of Mick Jagger.”
Hollywood will be unable to make a credible movie about Jagger or the Stones until the minds of anyone who’s ever seen them have gone mushy. Because no actor can play Jagger.
Only Jagger can be Jagger. He cannot be duplicated
I thought about saving this for July 26 when Jagger will turn 68, but he could be dead by then. So could I.
Heck, we all could.
Well, all but Keith.
But here are some performances and essential Jagger references, trying to avoid the obvious, that never fail to start me up:
• “American Pie,” by Don McLean, 1971 -- Jagger, at the time a self-described anarchist, dominates this classic, one in which he’s never mentioned by name.
So, c’mon, Jack be nimble, Jack be quick
Jack Flash sat on a candle stick, ‘cause fire is the devil’s only friend
And as I watched him on the stage, my hands were clenched in fisted rage.
No angle born in hell could break that Satan’s spell
And as the flames climbed high into the night
I saw Satan laughing with delight
The Day the Music Died
This is prophetic allegory. Forty years later, nothing has broken Jagger’s spell and a recent chart topper is Maroon 5’s hit “Moves Like Jagger.”
• “You’re So Vain,” by Carly Simon, 1972 -- Throw out all the speculation about who the subject of the song is, the star of the song itself is Jagger. He’s the background singer that really kicks it into a higher gear and steals the song -- and I’m always surprised how few people realize it’s Jagger so distinctively singing background.
I love how Carly has maintained the mystery of the song’s subject, and has often denied it was Mick. Of course, she, too, denied she and Mick were ever lovers while she was married to James Taylor, a lie that’s since been acknowledged. So he did sleep with Carly -- the rascal -- and is rumored to have modeled the “Hannah Honey” character after her in the sublime, “Memory Motel” from 1976.
• “Ned Kelly,” 1970 -- One of the most fascinating aspects of Jagger is his utter inability to convincingly act like anyone other than himself. No where is this more apparent than in this, one of the worst movies ever made. It’s about the Robin Hood-like antics of the historic Australian bushwhacker and features a soundtrack by Waylon Jennings. So it’s 20th century movie about a 19th century Australian starring an English rock singer featuring songs by an American country outlaw. It’s proof drugs were prevalent in Hollywood long before shows like “The Flying Nun.” Yet, I always tune in for even a little bit whenever it’s on. It’s Jagger.
• “Don’t Tear Me Up,” Mick Jagger on SNL, 1993
The only thing derided more than Jagger’s acting are his solo albums. I don’t find them as objectionable as most but, like Keith’s solo efforts, each seems like something is missing -- and that would be the other Glimmer Twin.
But in 1993 Jagger released the credible and entertaining, “Wandering Spirit,” which bats a little better than .500 in catchy tunes, the best of which might be “Don’t Tear Me Up.” He performed it live on SNL with what Keith Richards later described as “some little jerk-off band.” But his performance is fantastic. The song starts off slow and then, like so many great Stones songs, explodes in exuberant fury.
This show also features a hilarious skit where Mick pretends he’s Keith and Mike Myers plays Mick as the two feud over street cred: Best line: “Keith” argues one point by starting, “Mick, you ignorant slut.”
• “Champagne & Reefer,” The Rolling Stones, “Shine a Light,” 2008 -- This is the kind of song that convinces me the Stones will be playing the blues in dive bars if the crowds at the arenas stop showing up. It features the harmonica-wielding Jagger trading riffs and vocals with the great Buddy Guy. Two giants playing the blues.
• “Tattoo You,” music videos, 1981 -- Music videos were in their infancy when the Stones filmed these stark videos of “Start Me Up,” “Hang Fire,” and “Worried About You.” Done in one take, they barely bother to lip sync the vocals. It’s gloriously haphazard with just the band pretending to play instruments in a barren room. It shows just how dominant Jagger can be without even the slightest of props. The best is the often-overlooked gem, “Worried About You,” a song that starts out sweet as Motown and ends up being a massive musical monster. It remains to me among their most compelling videos, second only to the playfully sexy “She Was Hot.”
And, in conclusion, some of my favorite Mick vocals on Stones classics, again hoping to avoid the obvious:
• “The Storm,” b-side from Voodoo Lounge, 1994 -- The gritty kind of song that makes me wish they’d huddle in the studio for 10 days and bang out nothing but blues. With apologies to Carly Simon, nobody does it better.
• “Rough Justice,” A Bigger Bang, 2005 -- One of my favorite Stones lines:
One time you were my baby chicken, now you’ve grown into a foxxxxxx . . .
One time I was yer little rooster, now am I just one of yer cockssssss . . .
• “No Spare Parts,” Some Girls, 1978/2011 -- I almost had to pull the car over when I first heard this on satellite radio last year. It’s a country leftover re-release snagged from the “Some Girls” sessions. Jagger re-recorded the vocals to this and others like the equally great “Do You Think I Really Care?” He’s never sounded better. It’s taken more than 40 years, but he’s actually learned how to sing.
• “Monkey Man,” Let It Bleed, 1969 -- If for no other reason other than to hear him sing the incendiary line, “Well, I hope we’re not too messianic or a trifle too Satanic . . .”
• “Star Star,” Goat’s Head Soup, 1973 -- Hard core gangsta rappers have never managed to be as reliably filthy as every line in this song. The profane title’s sanitized so they could include it on the album. Like “You’re So Vain,” only with dozens of obscene references, this one debases Steve McQueen, John Wayne, Ali McGraw, Polaroids and tricks with fruit. It’s Chuck Berry’s music, but it’s Mick Jagger’s life.
We should all be glad we’ve been able to see so much of it.