Friday, September 28, 2012

Review: 'Mick Jagger' by Philip Norman

Philip Norman’s biography The Stones first appeared way, way back in 1984. Nearly thirty years later, it’s still one of the better examinations of the definitive Rock & Roll band, but it’s one that requires a good deal of support from other sources. Victor Bockris’s Keith Richards—and to a degree, the guitarist’s own factually questionable Life—are essential in gaining insight into Keef’s unique modus operandi. Bill Wyman’s Stone Alone is an important glimpse into the lot of an eternal sideman in Rock & Roll’s biggest circus, as well as a handy document of facts, figures, and errr, sexual conquests. Elliott’s Complete Recording Sessions and Karnbach and Bernson’s It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll are important references about the band’s work, even though the two books’ details often clash. Meanwhile, you’ll find no better history of Mick and Keith’s 1967 bust than Simon Wells’s Butterfly on a Wheel.

Maybe someday we’ll really get a complete, accurate, all-inclusive book about The Rolling Stones (assuming such a tome wouldn’t be so massive that perusing it would guarantee hernia). Until then, we’ll just have to keep piecing their story together from multiple sources. Decades after he published The Stones, Philip Norman has now provided another important piece in the band’s biographical jigsaw puzzle. Mick Jagger is a 600-page study of that most high-profile yet oddly private Stone.

As Norman delights in reminding us, Mick’s autobiography is among the most sought-after items in the publishing world. However, the singer’s own declared abhorrence of “rummag[ing] through [his] past” means that slot in the puzzle will forever remain empty. Norman’s book suggests that Mick’s reluctance does not merely hinge on the fact that such rummaging would have to touch on the least savory chapters in an infamous life: his ongoing, generation-spanning womanizing; his need to question the paternity of some of the kids he sired, no matter how big their lips may be; his stinginess. Granddaddy Lucifer would probably be just as embarrassed by the details that contradict the nasty image he’s been cultivating for fifty years: his stealth philanthropy and his insecurity and his tendency to take nearly as much abuse from the women in his life as he is known to dole out.

Mick Jagger naturally covers a lot of the same territory as The Stones, so it is not an ideal supplement for the less obsessed fan who has already read the earlier book. Norman makes some errors (Paul McCartney starred in The Rutles? Bill Wyman didn’t receive credit for “In Another Land” on the first edition of Satanic Majesties? My copy of the record says otherwise) that may call into question the credibility of his grander assertions. Some of his writing quirks get tiresome real fast, such as his insistence on spelling Jagger’s lyrics phonetically (“Ah was bawn in a crawss-fire hurr’cayne…”), his overly labored analogy between manager Andrew Oldham/Jagger and Svengali/Trilby, and his incessant, tasteless references to the “Mars Bar” myth. The little space Norman devotes to Mick’s music is often tainted by baffling misinterpretation (“Satisfaction” is about masturbation and menstruation? The phrase “get off of my cloud” means “look but don’t touch”? Funny, I always thought it meant “fuck off”) or harping criticism (I could have done without the constant declarations of how awful he thinks Satanic Majesties is).

Mick Jagger has its issues, but there’s enough information on its pages to fascinate fans, and perhaps, even force the Jagger-adverse to rethink him a bit: his kindness to Keith’s son Marlon, his charitable work alongside Bianca in Nicaragua, his tendency to get slapped around more often than Pete Campbell from “Mad Men”. Jagger isn’t all good, but he ain’t all bad either: in his own words, he’s “very complicated.” While the Stones-devoted keep chasing the definitive story of their favorite band, another piece of the puzzle falls into place.

Get Mick Jagger at Amazon.com here:




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