MICK JAGGER, Everybody’s Lucifer ExcerptPosted on February 2, 2012
By Tony Scaduto
New York, New York
Copyright © 1974, by Anthony Scaduto
All rights reserved
All rights reserved which includes the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.
New York, New York
Table Of Contents
Table Of Contents
For Lillian Lager
Thank You, Mr. Tambourine Man
1941-1956: Time Passes Slowly
1957: The Man In Me
1958: If Dogs Run Free
About The Author
whose voice fills all the silences, like the wind’s soft loving.
And for Lillian Roxon, whom I miss very much, and who has left us all feeling so empty because we’ll never see her again.
What is evil? I don’t know how much people think of Mick as the Devil or as just a good rock performer. There are black magicians who think we are acting as unknown agents of Lucifer and others who think we are Lucifer. Everybody’s Lucifer.—KEITH RICHARD
BRIAN JONES WAS still alive back then. But just barely so. His drugged and wounded and forlorn figure hung like a ghost over everyone connected with the Rolling Stones. Even Mick Jagger had finally become concerned about Brian’s deterioration, and his concern seemed rather remarkable: The one trait noticed by all who know Jagger is his ability to sidestep personal problems and postpone facing up to them by pretending the unpleasant will go away if ignored long enough; of being able to “abstract” himself, as he’s put it, from emotional situations. But the problem of Brian Jones refused to go away.
The public Jagger was submerged now, Marianne Faithfull later recalled. Here in his town house in Cheyne Walk, near the Thames, he appeared worried about Brian. Jagger. Head Stone. The great rock Father. The androgynous yin/yang totem who figures in the sexual fantasies of little girls and big men. The jagger (Old English for knifer, he once said), whose enormous talents as a performer rest at rock bottom on his ability to portray both raper and raped and to insinuate himself into the psyches of all who desire to ravish or be ravished.
This was another kind of Jagger, she felt, in one of his rare moments of sensitivity. He was concerned about Brian because of the drama that Marianne was enacting before him in their kitchen. Marianne had asked the I Ching a question about Brian and was tossing the coins for the answer. Jagger had often told friends that religion and the occult were meaningless, despite the superstitious streak in him that made him often believe in astrology, the Tarot cards, handwriting analysis, and the I Ching. Apparently he believed, but he didn’t want to believe because the superstitious nature clashed too violently with the other Jagger.
That other Jagger is composed of an irrepressible energy that forces him to constantly be on the move, and that is not satisfied unless he is camping it up on stage or working in a studio with his band. And, most of all, a driving ambition that appears to totally dominate him. Jagger is the man John Lennon has said is still “king of the scene” after ten years because he has a power lust and because he has never lost that adolescent need for ego-gratification that more mature pop stars eventually turn their backs on. In the beginning of the fantasy called the Rolling Stones, when the group was formed and she would go to watch them play in small clubs, and grew close to Jagger, Chrissie Shrimpton understood that he appeared soft and vulnerable on the surface, but that he was hard and tough deep inside. Others caught a feeling of cruelty and ruthlessness (their words to describe him). That contrast between the hard and the soft was one of the things that made Jagger so appealing, Chrissie remembers; if he had been totally hard he wouldn’t have been a sympathetic person. Chrissie, and other women and men in Jagger’s life, recognized something else about him: that he had a strong ambition, was unscrupulous, didn’t want anyone to stand in his way, and actually got rid of those who did get in the way of his need to dominate his group and the pop music scene.
But the hard, ambitious and urbane Londoner that most of his closest friends knew seemed to Marianne now transformed as he somehow became open and receptive to the I Ching, let its subtleties and vibrations flow over him. Marianne tossed the last three coins, seeking an answer to the question that had nagged at them all for months. What was going to happen to Brian now that he had been formally, but not yet publicly, fired from the Stones, the group he had helped create?
Marianne interpreted the coins, drew the final line to complete the hexagram. She leafed through her worn copy of the Book of Changes and found the hexagram that corresponded to the one she had drawn. Hexagram 29, the Chan Hexagram. She read aloud in the cultured voice that she knew had enraptured Jagger through the three years they’d been living together.
“It’s about the nature of water.” Looking sad and a little frightened, almost like Ophelia, she said Brian was a Pisces. The water sign. And it said Brian was going into a dangerous defile. Where the water was. A pit, a perilous cavity. There would be evil, it said. And the second line warned that he was in all the peril of the defile, but soon he’d get a little of the deliverance he sought. What deliverance? Water closing over him?
Jagger seemed annoyed to Marianne, possibly because he thought she was acting. But she wasn’t acting. She was quite horrified by what she was reading. She read on now, more quickly.
She saw that the third line said everything is peril for Brian, and unrest, anything he tried would lead him deeper into the cavern. The fourth and fifth lines were a little better, they said the water hadn’t completely filled up the cavern yet. “And there will be no error.”
Marianne took a deep swallow from her glass of red wine and quoted the book’s interpretation of the last line of the Hexagram:
“The topmost line, divided, shows its subject bound with cords of three strands or two strands, and placed in a thicket of thorns. But in three years he still does not learn the course for him to pursue. There will be evil.” She told Jagger that the book stressed evil and that Brian would die. And there was one part she hadn’t read. It said that if someone didn’t teach him about the seasons of peril Brian would never come out of it. “The book’s telling us to go to him,” she said.
“Let’s drive down there.” Jagger’s Yardley-red lips, almost a caricature of the Jean Shrimpton ads in the pages of Vogue, seemed to her to have suddenly been brushed with chalk. Within minutes they were in his white Bentley driving across the Albert Bridge and into the country. It was one of those early spring days in England that makes the dismal, rain-sodden winter worth living through, the warm March sun intensifying the gold of the daffodils that bloom everywhere to announce the arrival of the season, daffodils in sooty window boxes, the borders of suburban tract homes, and the formal gardens of the aristocracy. Jagger drove fast. His driving usually frightened Marianne, and almost everyone who was forced to suffer through it, but Marianne’s fear for Brian made her forget to worry about the always-real possibility that they would smash against a tree or a wall.
“Mick, do you think he’s going to die?”
Jagger pulled round a Morgan, almost the precise copy of the custom car he had owned and loved and finally stopped using because he had ordered one of his aides to get a new paint job done on it and, after the original paint had been stripped away, couldn’t make up his mind about the new color for almost a year. He was like that in so many things, postponing decisions almost as if he hoped they’d resolve themselves. Women of whom he’d grown tired would be especially hurt when they realized Jagger had mentally ended the relationship long before the actual break, but had been unable to inform them it was over.
“I wish Brian wasn’t staying at Redlands.”
Jagger didn’t respond. There was no need to. Redlands is the thatched mansion south of London in which Brian was temporarily living while the home he had just bought was being renovated and made ready for him. Redlands, with the moat all around filled with water. The “perilous cavern” of the I Ching? Marianne wondered. Keith Richard’s mansion, and Anita Pallenberg’s. She had once been Brian’s woman and now was Keith’s, was expecting Keith’s baby in August. Keith and Anita—the thicket of thorns? Marianne shuddered, trying to concentrate on how to save Brian from the fate so delicately and cruelly etched by the I Ching. Save him, really, from his own death wish, so obvious to all who knew him.
From the very beginning, even before the group came together and before Brian had suggested the name Rolling Stones, from the title of a Muddy Waters song, Brian would deliberately drive himself into situations which would get out of hand. Violent situations with which he couldn’t cope. Brian was completely uncertain of himself, since the earliest days. He was always telling other members of the group, “I don’t know whether I should continue trying to be a musician,” and he was easily the best musician among them. Sometimes, during the early months, when the group couldn’t get club dates, Brian would break down and cry and say, “I think I’ll give it up ‘cause we’re never going to get anywhere.” His insecurity made it necessary for him to prove something. He would pick an argument with a customer in a club, knowing he was certain to get beaten up, knowing he was physically weak and emotionally fragile, and he would take a terrible beating. He was the most aggressive of them without being built for it physically, and it seemed to friends that he was asking for destruction; a slightly built 145-pounder, he always picked on 200-pound giants. All the needling of the audience that went on when the Stones were first beginning to excite crowds was done by Brian, jumping to the edge of the stage and snapping a tambourine in their faces, leering at them, daring them to attack him, and then dancing back out of reach. His performances made his friends wonder about Brian’s balance. And for every beating he took, and every hurt he inflicted on others, the insecurity he was trying to fight seemed to grow deeper.
But it was more than Brian’s self-destructive nature that made his friends feel strongly, this early spring of 1969, that Brian would soon die. It was, also, the neglect of friends. The cruelty and revenge they inflicted on him. It was incidents that seemed small, almost hilarious, at the time. Such as sneaking him out of the hospital after he became ill from a drug overdose, and immediately feeding him the acid that was destroying him. And the major incidents: Keith Richard taking from Brian Anita Pallenberg, whose constant presence with the group as almost a sixth Stone was a reminder of what Brian had lost, acting like a corrosive that ate away his self-respect. Even Brian’s parents knew how deeply he felt about Anita and realized that little pieces had begun flaking off Brian’s soul when she left him for Keith.
And Brian’s feeling, not far off the mark despite his extreme paranoia, that Jagger was jealous of his musical ability. Brian played a special role in the band, a musician’s musician who seemed to be everywhere at once, whose function within the band was to use all the instruments he had mastered to create the ringing harmonics that gave to the Stones’ music the texture and embroidery that made them the so-called “greatest rock-and-roll band in the world.” Brian’s music was the strength and the weight that brought the Stones together in the beginning and held it like glue through the trip to super-stardom. Brian had always felt he started the group, and was its leader. During those early years he was the only real competition to Jagger, the only other member of the group with a real identity of his own. In Germany and the Scandinavian countries Brian was the star of the group, its raunchy public image. All the others, even Jagger, were part of the pale background color. At the start it didn’t matter very much, and no one disputed Brian’s leadership. Only when the fame and adulation and wealth overtook them, and it became worthwhile for someone to dispute his leadership, did Jagger, Keith, and the Stones’ manager, Andrew Oldham, ease Brian into a secondary role.
The entire time that she lived with Jagger and knew the Stones at close hand, Chrissie Shrimpton realized that none of them liked Brian. It was difficult to like him because he was frustrated in so many things. Although he was a fine musician, he couldn’t play as well as he wanted to play and was unable to get into his music the sounds he heard in his head. He was almost strong enough to control the group, but not quite strong enough, and often compensated with a flash of ego. At one time Brian used to travel in a Rolls with his girl friend during concert tours, while everyone else jammed into a mini.
Jagger, Keith, and Andrew reacted by criticizing him constantly, criticizing his stage performance and his personal life. And the other members of the band would go along because they didn’t know how to stop the flow of bad feelings. Several times Chrissie saw Brian try very hard to get back into Jagger’s favor, as she puts it, but Jagger had grown suspicious of him. And eventually Brian believed Jagger was trying to destroy him, out of jealousy, hoping to remove the only real competition.
Actually, by the time Brian was dismissed from the band there no longer was a place in it for him, because his musicianship had deteriorated so appallingly that he couldn’t play even passably well. The drugs contributed to that, of course. And the police, who seemed to sense that Brian was weak and couldn’t take harassment, and who frequently raided his home and arrested him for possession. On at least one occasion the drugs appeared to have been planted in his flat; Brian swore to closest friends to whom he had no reason to lie that the cannabis found in his place had been brought there by police, who promptly threw him in the nick as a public menace. And everyone who knew what was happening understood that the authorities were trying to break Brian, one of the symbols of those dirty Rolling Stones, as the American police broke Lenny Bruce.
Yet even more critical than the drugs, in Brian’s deterioration, was the way Jagger and Keith continued to undermine his shaky confidence even after there was no longer any question about Jagger’s leadership of the group. It’s time for Mick to stop torturing Brian, Marianne had thought after reading the I Ching. Perhaps it wasn’t conscious, or deliberate, but it seemed a form of torture. Jagger and Keith would call the Stones into the studio for a recording session without letting Brian know, and later would instruct him to go in alone and lay down his own track, of tambourines, sitar, flute, dulcimer, or guitar. At other times, if Jagger did tell Brian of a studio date, he would be forced to sit in a corner or a small room, alone, while the other band members worked in the main studio hall. Brian wouldn’t be able to play. He’d sit on a hard folding chair, his head in his hands, crying softly, and no one would go to help him. “It’s us and him,” Jagger on one occasion said to the other band members, which now included studio musicians playing horns and piano to fill the void left by Brian. And once Jagger told Brian: “You’re not a good musician, man. You’re just not good enough to play in the band.” Brian didn’t play more than a few bars on the last two albums that bear his name in the credits, because he wasn’t wanted. Until all the strength had been sapped out of him, and he was fired from the greatest rock-and-roll band in the world.
“We must help Brian,” Marianne said as Jagger slowed the Bentley and pulled into the entrance to the long driveway that led to Redlands. “At least stop the evil flow between you.”
Jagger said that’s why they had driven down.
“It’s gone far enough. It’s time for you and Brian to be friends.”
Tom Keylock, Brian’s chauffeur, opened the front door and smiled quickly to hide the frown that flickered across his face. He had originally been Keith’s chauffeur but Keith had become annoyed at some of his habits and let him go. Now he was Brian’s man: fifty quid a week and all the fringe benefits that come with working for a superstar. Keylock led Marianne and Jagger into the drawing room, where Brian was sitting before the fire with his girl friend, Suki Potier. Marianne went to Brian, kissed him, held him close. Tried to examine him without appearing to do so. He wore a gold brocade Arab caftan down to the floor. His gold-blond hair, cut in bangs, almost covered his eyes, as if he were trying to hide those drug-dimmed eyes that had once sparked with mischief.
Marianne chattered a bit, nervous, trying to put Brian at ease. She had, after all, come to save his life, and how do you tell someone like Brian that he’s going to die soon if he’s not careful? The first rush of words from Marianne trailed off, and Jagger picked it up. “Just wanna see how you’re doing,” he said.
“I’m okay. Off drugs and getting back to drinking, like in the old days.” He waved a bottle of Guinness.
Jagger laughed and said he was pleased. The four of them laughed. But Brian’s laughter was cut short, and what he was feeling and wrestling with poured over Marianne, for she knew him intimately enough to understand, without a word passing between them. Brian had always been as paranoiac as any man can be, but in the last year or so his suspicions of everyone and everything around him had grown worse. Brian’s emotional and psychological balance rested on such a precarious fulcrum that he trusted no one, nor what they said to him. It was almost impossible to make a straight statement to Brian and have him believe it because he was always working out what was really meant, what the motivations behind the statement were. Much of the time he decided that what was said actually meant something else. Something nasty and vicious.
But he let Jagger’s remark pass this time and asked his chauffeur to open some wine and cook lunch. Jagger said they couldn’t stay that long. They had just dropped in to see how he was doing. Brian insisted that they eat with him. Jagger didn’t argue the point. He seldom knows how to say a firm “no” when he wants to turn something down, because he’s never certain that he should. And by not refusing from the outset he makes it appear he is agreeing. When the refusal does finally come it often leaves wounded feelings.
They talked for a long while, about drugs and musicians who had become junkies, and then backed away from that subject because it was too close to what Brian had gone through. He had been on pills, acid, heroin, every form of narcotic a man can screw into his brain, and at least a small part of him blamed Jagger, Keith, Anita. Blamed them for robbing something from his soul, destroying his ego, turning him into a drugged-out vegetable. A man who no longer believed he was a musician, or even a human being. Yet Brian never understood what it was all about—that everyone was carving slices out of everyone else and because he was the most fragile and the most breakable he would be the one to die. And it was strange, because Brian had seemed to be the strong one in the beginning. When he began to weaken, to disintegrate, Jagger had been too busy with career and the business side of pop music, and was not sensitive enough to understand that enough slices had been carved out of Brian to feed all the flashing egos in the pop industry.
Marianne deftly turned the conversation away from drugs because she herself had just been hooked on heroin, four jacks a day and “friends” to shoot her up because she couldn’t stand to shove the needle into her arm, and though she was certain Jagger had not yet become aware of her addiction she didn’t want to risk his discovering it now through some offhand remark in her talk with Brian. Jagger doesn’t take drugs, except for occasionally snorting coke, because he has an excess of energy anyway and because he’s afraid drugs will spoil his complexion and his figure. Marianne began talking about her acting, to get out of the dangerous waters they’d been treading. She was excited about her role as Ophelia in Tony Richardson’s production, a role that won her good critical notices. “Tony’s going to film it soon, at the Roundhouse. It was so weird, playing Ophelia. Because after a while I wasn’t just playing a part. I was Ophelia.”
“Yeah, me ducky,” Brian said. “And I’m Hamlet: ‘Get thee to a nunnery.’ ”
“Methinks all me years in a fuckin’ nunnery were enough, methinks.”
Brian laughed, skipping about for a few steps, his eyes almost beginning to light up that brilliant blue they once had been. He seemed to be coming alive. “You’ve been out of that convent school for five years and you’re still bitchin’ about the nuns!” he shouted, holding his arms out to her with a feeling of joy. But just then Tom Keylock came into the room carrying a large Moroccan tray with a roast and several steaming casseroles on it, said that dinner was ready, and Jagger rose from his cushion in front of the fire. He pulled Brian aside and asked him not to let Tom know, but that he couldn’t eat his cooking. He said that everything Tom cooked always looked so grimy to him, and everyone knew how he was about food.
Brian’s translucent skin flared into a pale pink. “You just don’t want to eat with me,” he whined. “You really can’t stand to be around me.”
Jagger denied it, and it wasn’t true; he simply would not have been able to get down the meal because he is as fastidious about his food as he is about his clothing and makeup, and he didn’t consider the chauffeur a proper sort of cook.
“Look, we’ll come back later,” Jagger said. “I really want to talk with you.” He turned to Marianne: “Let’s go. We’ll come back a little later.”
“Oh, Mick, please let’s stay.”
“I really can’t. Must run a few errands.”
Marianne couldn’t tell Jagger what she was feeling. Not in front of Brian, and not to a man she’d been living with for years but was still unable to communicate her real feelings to because, she had always felt, he didn’t really want to hear them. She wanted to say it now, but she couldn’t get it out: If you refuse to eat with Brian you’ll destroy all the good you’ve been trying to do. Why can’t you see that?
Jagger said they would be back in a couple of hours. He took Marianne’s arm and propelled her toward the door. Brian simply stared at him.
They returned about two hours later, after eating and drinking in a local pub. As Jagger walked across the drawing room toward the table on which lay the remains of the roast he had spurned, Brian picked up a steak knife and waved it in front of him. His voice was shrill and painful to hear: “I’m going to kill you. You don’t deserve to live.” Jagger smiled, uncertainly, but the smile was quickly erased as Brian lunged at him. Jagger sidestepped the knife thrust. Marianne cried out; Suki buried her face in the divan as Jagger skipped around it, trying to put distance and furniture between himself and Brian. But Brian continued to press after him, and Jagger stepped quickly to the table and picked up a carving knife, to defend himself. Brian came at him again, unsteadily, dancing at Jagger with the knife held low, and Jagger parried the attack. With only grunts from Brian punctuating each thrust, they fought wordlessly across the drawing room, Brian attacking and Jagger on the defensive, slipping out of reach each time Brian swung the knife at him. It could be an Errol Flynn B picture if it wasn’t so damned serious, Marianne thought. She was too frightened to do anything but call out for Tom Keylock, who didn’t respond and apparently had vanished somewhere within the huge home. Brian was actually trying to stab Jagger, trying to drive his knife into the body he’d come to hate, Marianne saw clearly now. Once more, as he had always done, Brian was forcing a confrontation that could only lead to disaster. For Jagger was faster, in better condition, and he could have stabbed Brian any time he wanted to. But he wouldn’t think of stabbing Brian, of course, any more than he’d ever be able to understand, or admit, that his driving competitive spirit, his need to dominate, and all his equivocations had contributed to Brian’s deterioration and had led to this insane fight.
The knife fight carried through French doors out to the terrace at the back of the house, Brian trying even harder in the fading sunlight to drive his knife into Jagger’s body and Jagger dancing away, among the rhododendrons, leaping and twirling as he does on stage, gracefully awkward. His teeth worried against his huge and extraordinary red lips that usually hung off his face like chunks of beef liver but now were sucked into his mouth as he concentrated on avoiding Brian’s knife. They danced and stumbled to the edge of the moat. Brian’s legs suddenly locked tight. He stood there, panting, his hair almost floating as he shook his head, no, no, repeatedly shaking his head. “I don’t want to live,” he said, his voice husky and knotted. He threw his knife down at his feet, walked slowly and deliberately to the moat, jumped in feet first, and sank beneath the sun-flecked water. Jagger hesitated only a moment and jumped in after him. He wrestled Brian to the edge of the moat and shoved him up and onto the grass.
Spitting out water, Brian said, “I don’t want to live on the same earth with you.” He struggled to his feet and shoved Jagger aside. “I can’t kill you, so I’ll die instead.” He jumped into the moat again. Three times Brian tried to slip beneath the waters of the moat, and each time Jagger rescued him. After pulling him out the third time, Jagger put his arm around Brian’s shoulders and gently, almost lovingly, led him back to the drawing room, past Marianne and Suki at the French doors where they had been watching, unable to speak. Jagger and Brian gulped down some sherry and went upstairs together to change out of their wet clothes. When they came down again they seemed to have been transformed from violent enemies into close friends.
It didn’t last long. When Jagger and Marianne were ready to return to London later that night the drawing room was filled with the leaden air of a doom that had been simply delayed. Brian had been forced into the unsufferable position of being grateful to Jagger for saving his life and, Marianne realized, that kind of debt, piled upon hatred, made Brian’s hatred grow stronger. Jagger’s one attempt, his only attempt as far as Marianne knew, to personally reach out to Brian and save him, had failed miserably. They didn’t speak much on the way back to London. Marianne wasn’t certain whether Jagger understood that he’d failed, and she couldn’t bring herself to try and explore his feelings. Jagger, as usual, didn’t volunteer.
About a month after the fight, Jagger called Alexis Korner. “You know Brian’s out of the band?” Alex said he had heard it. “Alex, will you see if you can do anything with Brian? He’s in bad shape. Maybe you can talk to him.” Alex promised to help, if it was at all possible.
After the phone call from Jagger Alex couldn’t help flashing back on those early days, his first contacts with Jagger and the birth of the Rolling Stones.
He had been responsible for bringing the Rolling Stones together. He’d been playing black American blues since long before any members of the Stones were born, although he was only about a dozen years older than any of them. By the late 1950s, in the days when jazz groups dominated the popular music club scene, Alex for the first time had been able to get a hearing for his blues in a London club. In March 1962, Alexis’ group, Blues Incorporated, opened at the Ealing Club as the steady Saturday night band. It was a breakthrough, of sorts, for the blues: Alex had to fight the purists who insisted that white men couldn’t play black blues, and he had to contend with the knowledge that only about 100 people in the entire British Isles would pay to hear the blues. But as the word spread about this strange thing happening up at the Ealing Club, Alex gradually discovered that little pockets of young musicians in every part of the country were also listening to and playing the music of Elmore James and Big Bill Broonzy and Slim Harpo, had actually formed bands of their own, and were coming to Ealing to hear Blues Incorporated.
Among those playing that music were Jagger, Keith, Dick Taylor, and several other nineteen-year-olds from suburban country down around Dartford. Jagger’s group called itself Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys. Jagger was Little Boy Blue, the lead singer who couldn’t read music and didn’t play an instrument. The name was Jagger’s idea: “I like the sound of it, man, it tells them we’re playin’ the blues.” They never thought of playing professionally, Dick Taylor remembers, because they also didn’t think there was anyone else in the entire country who was interested in American black music. Especially not the black, urban rhythm and blues, with electric amplification, that the Blue Boys had begun to play.
“We knew we were maybe among thirty or forty people who listened to and played that kind of music,” Dick Taylor says. “And then one day Keith and I were at art school and we picked up Melody Maker and saw an advert announcing that this jazz club in Ealing had started one night a week with Alexis and his group, and there was a picture of the group. We showed it to Mick as fast as we could and his reaction, all our reactions, was: ‘What! This can’t be happening. This can’t be true. Let’s go and see what it’s all about.’ ”
Jagger borrowed his father’s car, and they drove up to the Ealing Club the following Saturday to listen to Alex and his group. From then on they’d drive or take the train into London every Saturday to watch Blues Incorporated, which included Brian Jones playing some Elmore James and Muddy Waters numbers, including “Rolling Stone.”
Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys had made a tape of their very limited repertoire some months earlier. Although the tape has long since been lost, Dick still remembers the songs they recorded: “One of them is still very clear in my head, Mick singing ‘La Bamba’ of all things. That was a favorite record of his, ‘La Bamba’ by Richie Valens. He got all the words off the record, in pseudo-Spanish, words that sounded like Spanish but weren’t real words at all. And we also recorded a couple of Chuck Berry songs—‘Around and Around’ and ‘Reeling and Rocking,’ our favorite rhythm and blues number. And the Jimmy Reed thing, ‘Bright Lights, Big City.’ And Mick sent the tape off to Alexis in the post.”
Alexis hadn’t realized the boys had been coming to the club to see his band until he got the tape from Jagger, and a follow-up phone call a few days later. Jagger talked about the blues for a while, and Alex told him to come by the club so they could talk further. “Mick was completely interested in the music, totally committed to the blues. But he was mostly into the image of the music, the image of the performance, which no one else was into yet. He had an enormous amount of energy. I also sensed at the time that he had a lot of ruthlessness, which he didn’t really show in those first few months we were together. It was something I just sensed. I think at the time Mick was quite soft, really, on the surface. But there was some physical thing about him that made me feel a ruthlessness, a certain cruelty in Mick which I couldn’t pinpoint at the time. Just the vibes I got from him, a certain feeling. I didn’t get that from Brian as immediately as I got it from Mick. Yet in a matter of months it was Brian who was aggressing and being violent on stage. The violent image of the Stones was much more centered on Brian than on Mick. Only later did Mick begin to get strong, but even from the beginning I always felt that Mick had the ultimate strength and the little streak of cruelty and ruthlessness. It may very easily have been Mick’s defense mechanisms operating, making himself seem more cruel than he was and thus less likely to suffer attack. But the feeling of cruelty and ruthlessness was definitely there. And also his sullenness, which is what I thought it was at the time. But he wasn’t sullen so much as he was shy. He was just shy and didn’t talk very much. Yet it came across as sullen. And that was a part of the attraction of Mick.”
He called Brian now, in 1969, in an attempt to save his life. While Alex didn’t think of his mission that starkly, there was a definite feeling among most people who were familiar with the conflict between Brian and Jagger that Brian was racing toward his death.
Brian was pleased at Alex’s call, and apologetic: “I’m sorry that I haven’t been in touch with you in so many years, Alex. But a lot of strange things have happened since the old days.”
“That’s fine, I understand,” Alex said. And Brian never mentioned the missing years again. He invited Alex down to Cotchford Farm near Hartfield, in Sussex, the home he had bought the year before from the estate of A.A. Milne and had recently moved into. Brian left Redlands behind, hopefully along with all its bad vibes. Alex had never been there before and he had difficulty finding the road to the house at the edge of the Ashdown Forest, until he finally decided to drive into a leafy tunnel that led off a small bank. Almost immediately, he felt he’d entered another kind of world. Huddled under a bank was a delightful old steep-roofed farmhouse, and as he came down the wide sweep of gravel drive toward the house he could see garden and meadow, with a wood of small trees and bushes beyond it. Further off he could see the hills of the forest. Brian came out to the terrace as Alex was getting out of his car, and he insisted on showing his guest around the garden, which was filled with stone images of Pooh and Piglet and Christopher Robin.
“It’s great living out here,” Brian said. “Gives me a feeling of peace.” They strolled through the garden, and then into the house, and Brian began to talk about the massive hurts he had felt in his final years as a Rolling Stone. He had been deliberately isolated from the group by Jagger and Keith, he said, and had not even been told about recording sessions until Jagger felt he was ready to have Brian come into the studio to put his little bits on after the main track had been laid down. And Brian felt that Jagger and Keith had been engineering his isolation from the group in an attempt to drive him out by making him feel he was not a member of the Stones and was only in there for old time’s sake and a few legal complications. He was very upset as he talked to Alex, and very vicious in the things he said about Jagger. But Alex wasn’t surprised at the viciousness: “Brian had always been very vicious, he always overstated everything whenever he wanted to make a point.”
“The thing that hurts the most,” Brian said, “is that there’s never been any Rolling Stone hits written by Brian Jones. I don’t want to say anything, man, but it’s all Jagger/Richard, all Jagger/Richard. What about my songs? They never used any of my songs. They wanted it all for themselves, the publishing money, the royalties, the ego-thing about writing songs. They wouldn’t let me into it. They wouldn’t ever give me a chance to do the things I want to do. My kind of music. That’s why I stopped digging the Stones and what they stand for.”
He rose suddenly and poked angrily at a few logs in the unlighted fireplace. The drawing room was of a strange shape, with unexpected nooks and crannies, possibly enlarged from several smaller rooms. The mantel ran completely across the breadth of the huge chimney, then unexpectedly turned a corner to run at right angles along the edge of the chimney. The fireplace itself was a very tiny opening for such an enormous chimney. Above the opening, half circles of brick rose in ever-widening radii to repeat the half-moon shape of the fireplace opening. Brian traced a forefinger along the grouting of the brick face, trying hard to control himself.
“I don’t know what the hell they thought they were doing with the Satanic Majesties album. I don’t understand it or dig it, musically. That’s not Rolling Stone music. That’s not any kind of real music. I don’t like that kind of playing, I don’t like the way the Stones have gone in the last year. I didn’t get any kicks out of it anymore. No kicks from the music in a long, long time. And the personal relationships, with Mick and Keith, they’ve been very bad. Just dreadful, really. So I didn’t see any reason to stay there. I just couldn’t stay in the Stones and survive.”
Brian paused, as if to catch his breath after speeding on with such anger. Then he continued, sounding very confused, slightly drunk from wine, and so angry that he could barely talk about his future in any logical way: “Think there’s room for me in your new group, Alex? Like to get right out touring and playing again. Back to the old days, Elmore James and Muddy stuff.” But before Alex could respond, Brian plunged on in his bitterness: “You know what they did to me? They put a nurse in the house to look after me, and she wouldn’t even let me ring up friends. I got to the phone once when she wasn’t looking, and she found me out and disconnected the call. They’re keeping me prisoner. They’re trying to destroy my ego. They’re keeping me quiet. And on top of all that, they keep moving furniture out on me, stealing my furniture. Odd chauffeurs and people like that keep showing up and stealing things. I’m being robbed by everyone. They’re overcharging me for the building work, and I’m certain the people who’re stealing my furniture are getting a percentage of the overcharge.”
He seemed almost out of control, and Alex was stunned and began to roll a joint. When Brian saw Alex lick the glue on the edge of a Zig-Zag paper and line it up carefully with another Zig-Zag and press them together, Brian halted his tirade in mid-sentence. “I wish you wouldn’t smoke, Alex,” he pleaded. “Can’t afford another bust. They’re still out to bust me, you know, and I have to stay clean now. Besides,” he smiled broadly, “I’m off drugs and back into some great drinking, like in the old days. Alcohol can’t hurt you much, but drugs will destroy your brain. I know, I’ve been through it all, through everything. Drink’s a thousand percent better than dope.”
Alex scrunched the papers into a ball and threw it into the fireplace, and couldn’t help remembering what Brian had been like when he last saw him about a year earlier. It was in that Satanic Majesties period when Brian was taking a great amount of acid, and Alex was horrified at what had happened to him physically. Brian became at that time almost repulsive—Alex could understand people saying he was repulsive at one time, when he became so heavily involved in drugs. Had he not felt for Brian the way he did feel, he would have experienced the same repulsion. For Brian was, Alex remembered, like a stupid glob of jelly in that period, acting almost like one of those ga-ga French kings of 400 years ago—Alex smiled now at the thought—when they grew too old to know what they were doing, when they would sit and dodder and smile vacuously at all sorts of things, Brian was like that when he was on acid. He couldn’t play, and Alex didn’t like what was happening to him. But now, since being fired from the Stones, he seemed to be much improved. Alex sat there, fascinated as Brian sped on about the social scene at the village pub he’d been getting into, drinking with the locals who liked him so very much that they protected him against the local constabulary:
“Man, I got pissed in the pub one night with all the men of the village and when I got back on my Triumph I couldn’t even get the damned thing started, I was so blind. I took off—vroom—and went right through a plate glass window of some shop. Got cut up and smashed hell out of the place, and I was laying there thinking it’s the Scrubs for me, they’ll probably plant dope on me again and put me in the Scrubs. And all the boys came rushing out of the pub and got me and my bike home and hushed up the whole thing. The coppers never came into it at all, the whole village protected me. It’s a great feeling, you know.”
It must be, Alex thought. Insecurity was the most obvious feature of Brian’s personality, an insecurity so overwhelming that you wanted to comfort him because of it. Which is what he wants you to do. And the idea of being protected by an entire village was just the kind of ego-boost Brian so desperately needs at this point. He’s pro-alcohol and down on drugs, Alex felt, because pubs are a special kind of social setting, and the type of friendships one makes there are vastly different than among heads. And Alex realized something else as Brian continued to speak against drugs and in favor of alcohol—that alcohol is a cross between a legal and a manly drug, and Brian was into alcohol because he was pulling back from the androgynous pop music scene of which Jagger was the campiest figure. A scene where the distinctions between man and woman are often blurred, where homosexuality is accepted and encouraged. Brian was now seeking another kind of image. Back to the old-time drinking and womanizing, virility and manliness, with none of the fuzzy confusions that exist in the pop world. Back to those basics because he wanted to return to the hard black blues that had originally brought him together with the other Stones, and that had vanished in the bisexual image that Jagger had created for himself. If Brian was going to return to his musical roots, he would have to remodel his entire personality. Alex felt that strongly as he listened to Brian that first day, and he felt also that even if Brian wasn’t being completely realistic at least he had made a marked improvement since the last time he’d seen him.
Over the next week or so Brian and Alex talked over the phone almost daily, trying to work out ways in which Alex could help him get back into the kind of music he so desperately wanted to play. In the first conversations Brian continued to be full of hatred and paranoia.
“I want to come to town and see you, and talk,” Brian said one time when Alex rang him up. “But I can’t get away.”
“I’ve got plenty of time for you.”
“I just can’t get to London. They won’t let me. The office. They’re keeping me prisoner, not letting me move around at all.”
“No, listen. The office is trying to convince me that I’m mad. I know I’m not mad. I mean, I’m not mad, am I? Maybe a little paranoid, acid does that to you, and the busts, that’s why I’m so against drugs. Paranoid, sure. But not mad …”
Brian ran on for about ten minutes, incredibly bitter at the things he believed were being done to him. Through all his accusations he implied strongly that “the office” was acting against him through pure malice and evil. As he listened to Brian, Alex tried hard to sort fact from fiction, but it was so difficult to do. What Brian was trying to get Alex to understand was that the Rolling Stones organization—employees controlled by Jagger—was deliberately trying to drive Brian over the edge. But Alex couldn’t believe that, no matter how sincere Brian sounded. He didn’t want to believe, but he wasn’t certain whether he should believe. I believe some things, he thought as Brian continued his long series of complaints, I can believe Brian is being ripped off around his house, I can believe that. But would the office restrict his freedom of movement in any way except certain occasions when it’s very much to Brian’s disadvantage to be free to move? Because he isn’t in very good shape. But Brian certainly believes the office is doing things out of evil.
When Brian had run out of steam and rung off, Alex put down the phone, inhaled deeply, and let it all out: “Ooooooph!” He had to sit down for a few minutes because Brian’s soliloquy had been so intense and devastating.
During those couple of weeks, as Brian continued to use Alex as an unofficial psychiatrist, getting much of the anger out of his soul, Alex realized that Brian was unable to talk about something that was obviously weighing quite heavily on him: his loss of Anita Pallenberg. They had been living together since 1965 and had created what friends call an evil court scene, Brian as flaked-out king and Anita as queen and some kind of witch who seemed almost beyond human dimensions and who had an almost magical control over her consort and the entire court. Even back then Marianne Faithfull and so many others realized that Keith wanted Anita desperately. But she was with Brian, and the antagonism began to grow and the sores to fester. In 1966, with Brian going under because of the drugs and his dissatisfaction with the music—they were planning the Satanic Majesties album then—Anita went off with Keith while Brian was in a Swiss hospital being treated for what was officially called “pneumonia.” Anita returned to Brian after he was released from the hospital. But weeks later, during a brief vacation trip to Morocco, Brian was completely out of his skull on acid and kif. While listening to a group of Arab musicians playing music that had induced in True Believers trances, visions of gods, and primeval forces, Brian believed he had undergone a mystic transfiguration and had become a True Believer. And somehow, in his drugged state, he became separated from Anita, Keith, Jagger, Marianne, and several others in the party. He was stranded in a hotel in Tangiers with no money, no way of getting home, with Anita once more off somewhere with Keith. Anita never returned to Brian. It demolished him.
Alex never asked about Anita, of course, and Brian said very little. “He talked about her just a bit. Oh, the Anita Pallenberg thing was very heavy for him, and he couldn’t talk about it. He talked about Morocco most of all, and I was always distrustful of that, his saying his whole philosophical bent had been changed so much since he’d been in the Middle East. Brian, Keith, and Anita. It was all involved with Morocco, he said. Morocco was an important thing to Brian. He talked to me more about the music there than the personal problems. He talked so little about Anita that one was well aware of her effect on him. He did say something once, but it was just a sort of throw-away thing. ‘I’m not interested in Anita anymore.’ That’s all he said. Deliberately no making a play on the situation between himself and Keith over Anita. He could never bring himself to believe that Keith had actually taken her away. That would never come into any statement of his.”
By the third or fourth week in the spring of 1969, as he and Alex began to seriously plan for Brian’s return to music, he calmed down considerably. He began to seem closer to the old Brian, up high with excitement and enthusiasm about the music, desperately needing to make it, flashing once more that very strong drive to make it big as a musician that he once had in the earliest days of the Rolling Stones. Alex was planning a tour of Germany and Scandinavia with a group he had just formed, New Church, and Brian wanted to join them. But Alex gently talked him out of it. Brian wasn’t quite together enough to play with a group, Alex felt. But most of all Alex was a little frightened because Brian had always been considered the leader of the Stones in Germany, had always been more popular there than Jagger, and New Church would have insurmountable security problems with Brian along. Brian then suggested that if he couldn’t fit into New Church, why didn’t they form another band together? A blues band.
“He talked a lot about the old days, as if I wanted to hear about getting back to the old days. I’m not in favor of revivalist movements, I didn’t want to go back over the old ground. I dug some of his ideas, the things he wanted to do with Creedence Clearwater bits and the James Cleveland gospel bits, but I didn’t dig going back to doing the Muddy Waters and Elmore James thing, didn’t dig his ideas about using the Mezzrow-Bechet with soprano, either. Those are some of the things Brian was talking about, musically, the kind of band he had in mind. It seemed for me, personally, like a retrogression. That’s why I withdrew immediately from any possibility of forming a band with him. That’s why I cut out. But Brian never knew that. I kept that secret from him because, even though I couldn’t go back over the old ground, I had no intention of undermining Brian’s need to go back. So I told him that I couldn’t personally handle the old stuff, that I wouldn’t feel comfortable at it and wouldn’t sound fresh, and I would just mess up his music. And what we then decided to do was that I would help Brian get the proper musicians for him, he would play his part in the band, and I would act as a sort of musical director to see that all parts fitted together. I would be more help to him that way because I couldn’t sit in the band and play and also stand outside it at the same time and hear what it sounded like. And he began talking very excitedly about the things he wanted to do, the music he wanted to play. And he was getting happy again, really enthusiastic about the band.”
Alex went down to Cotchford Farm several times during the next couple of weeks. Brian had almost completely stopped complaining about Jagger and Keith, and his anecdotes about mistreatment by people in “the office” seemed a thing of the past. Neither Jagger nor any of the Stones tried to contact Alex or Brian, and Alex had a feeling there was an attitude of disentanglement on both sides. And Milne’s house, Alex believed, had a subtle way of calming Brian. Alex didn’t know it but during Brian’s most dejected period, after Anita had left him for Keith and he had plunged so heavily into drugs that he could barely function, Brian visited his parents one Sunday afternoon. Brian’s chauffeur was out on the front lawn talking to Brian’s father, and he saw Brian looking out at them from an upstairs window, staring at them in a strange way, appearing young and child-like. When the chauffeur went into the house later he asked Brian: “Why were you looking out at us like that?” And Brian replied: “I just wish I could be back here, in this house.”
And Alex felt strongly that Brian had found a home in Milne’s former house. “Brian was very much into the idea that it was Milne’s house, in which he’d written Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin and various things, and he was very much taken with the sundial in the garden that has an inscription from one of the Milne books on it. He was fascinated by all of it. That had an effect on him, too, of calming him. That house was good for him in many ways, and I’m sure that if he’d been living anywhere else I wouldn’t have been half as useful as I was. I was there because the overall vibes of the house and the gardens were such that you could get through to gentler feelings. The house did that for Brian.”
The official announcement that Brian had left the band he created came on June 9, 1969. “BRIAN JONES QUITS THE STONES AS GROUP CLASH OVER SONGS” was the headline in the Daily Sketch. The Stones publicity organization churned out the official line: Brian had left the Stones because the band no longer played the sort of music that interested him. A journalist reached Brian at his home in Sussex, and he went along with the charade: “I no longer see eye-to-eye with the others over the discs we are cutting.” Brian had agreed to the public relations falsification months before; Jagger and Keith had gone to see him, had told him what he already knew—that he wasn’t wanted in the group any more—and had gotten him to agree to the story that he had resigned because he wanted to go his own way. That story, they told him, would be better than letting the truth be known because the truth would hurt them all. Brian went along, licking his wounds for the next few months of life left to him.
Jagger, in his brief statement about the change in the Stones, announced that Brian had already been replaced. The new man was Mick Taylor, bass guitarist, a relatively unknown twenty-year-old who had just left John Mayall’s Blues Breakers when he got a call from Jagger to sit in on a recording session with the Stones as a form of audition. “I’ve been looking at Mick Taylor for a long time,” Jagger told the press. What he also neglected to say was that he had asked Eric Clapton to join the Stones as Brian’s replacement, but Clapton had turned him down because he was involved with the hyped-up superband called Blind Faith.
A couple of days after Brian’s dismissal had been turned into the official pronouncement that he had quit, Jagger and Marianne drove down to Clapton’s home for dinner. As they sat at an enormous table in Clapton’s ballroom-sized dining room, Eric invited Jagger to a Blind Faith concert the following Sunday in Hyde Park. It was a free concert, and Blind Faith—Eric, Ginger Baker, Stevie Winwood, and Ric Grech—was the first supergroup scheduled to play in the park since the free concerts had begun the summer park.
When Jagger arrived at Hyde Park that Sunday with Marianne and a few friends, he was impressed by the size of the crowd. About 150,000 of them, more people than he’d ever seen assembled in one place in his life, the monster sort of crowd that Jagger would just love to work his magic on. Backstage, behind the amps and trucks and police lines, Jagger asked where he could find the man responsible for the concerts. He was introduced to Peter Jenner, director of the organization that had convinced government officials to permit the concerts. Jagger asked Jenner: “Would you be interested in a concert by the Stones?” Jenner didn’t have to be asked twice. The Stones free Hyde Park concert was set for Saturday, July 5, and the announcement went out.
Alex drove down to Brian’s estate a few days before the official announcement of the split in the Stones, and he brought with him his daughter Sappho, who is a singer, and Peter Thorup, lead singer with New Church. Brian again talked excitedly about the band he would get together and said he was looking forward to going on the road again with a band that played real music. He also said he wanted to help Sappho make a record of her own, to produce her, because he very much dug what she was doing. And Brian called Cleo Sylvester, a young black Londoner who had met the Stones in 1962, when she was in school and the band was just being formed. Cleo had almost become a Rolling Stone back then; Jagger had asked her to find two other black girls who could also sing, because he wanted the black chorus behind the band to create some further excitement. But it never came together. Now Brian called her and asked if she would sing on his first recording, once he got his new band together. Cleo laughed, thinking, Oh, Brian no. Why do you want me recording with you? You don’t need me. Brian told her not to laugh. “I’m very serious, Cleo,” he said. “You can help me with the kind of music I want to play.” And Cleo promised to do whatever she could to help: “Just let me know when you want me to come in for rehearsals.” Brian said, “Great, I’ll ring you.”
Alex Korner: “Those were all the things that Brian was going to do, things he could give himself to think about doing and maybe eventually doing. Which clearly helped him very much to calm down. He wasn’t faking his enthusiasm for the band. We were constantly on the phone when I wasn’t down at his place, and I was saying: ‘If the first guy didn’t work out, try so-and-so, here’s his phone number, or would you rather I ring him and ask him to come in and try out?’ And Brian would be very well into ringing musicians, and he would ring me back and say he’s tried this or that musician: ‘I don’t really dig him but this other guy has come up, do you know anything about him?’ He was really into it.
“But he was the same old Brian Jones. He’d ask me to handle it for him and then he’d go off and do things on the side himself and we’d get duplications. I didn’t say anything about it, because the enthusiasm about the band and the work he was putting into it was calming him down, getting him off the hatred and bitterness. But the way he was doing things, I understood he was the same old Brian. He didn’t change. He just died.”
Jagger’s Hyde Park concert was set, just a week away. He seemed excited about it, for this was the first Stones concert in two years. It was also the first concert without Brian. Jagger decided Brian should be at the concert, and he had Keith and Charlie Watts and several employees of the organization ring up Brian and ask him to come. To say “hello” to the crowd and to wish his replacement, Mick Taylor, good luck. Jagger told his associates he wanted Brian there to show the world that he was in fine condition, despite the rumors that he’d been wiped out of his skull, and to demonstrate that there were no hard feelings between Brian and the Stones.
But there were other motives beneath the surface, some who were close to Jagger insist. The concert was an ego trip for Jagger. He was scheduled to fly to Australia to begin work on Tony Richardson’s film Ned Kelly, but he postponed his flight because he simply had to draw to Hyde Park the largest crowd of freaks and heads that Britain has ever seen. And some of them believed Jagger had an even darker reason for wanting Brian to attend—to make it clear that the Stones, with Jagger firmly entrenched at their head, was still supreme in pop even without Brian; to demonstrate to the world that the group had not been diminished by Brian’s departure.
Brian received several calls asking him to attend the concert in the week before the performance. But Jagger didn’t ring Brian himself. On the Monday before the concert he sat in his office with Shirley Arnold, who had been director of the Stones fan club since 1962, when they were a little known group playing small clubs on the edges of London and stirring a wild excitement among pubescent girls and young rock musicians.
“Did you speak to Brian yet?” Jagger asked her. “Is he coming to the concert?”
“I think he may come.”
“Be nice if he comes, maybe even play with us.”
“Why don’t you ring him?” Shirley suggested. “Invite him yourself. He’d like that.”
Jagger seemed to be thinking it over for a moment. Then: “I don’t know. Got lots of things to do, getting the concert together, get ready for Australia. Look, I’ll try to call Brian. But you keep after him. He should come on Saturday. Alex and his new band’re gonna be there. Brian’ll dig that.”
Brian Jones died three nights later.
He was at Cotchford Farm with his latest girl friend, Anna Wohlin, a twenty-two-year-old Swedish student; Frank Thorogood, a building contractor; and Janet Lawson, his nurse. Brian had been drinking heavily and dropping downers. He slipped into a pair of swim trunks around midnight, and his nurse objected: “Brian, don’t go into the pool. You’re in no condition to be bathing.” Brian ignored her, stepped outside and dove into the water. With powerful strokes, for he was a good swimmer, he quickly made several laps of the pool.
Frank Thorogood had eased himself into a lounge chair to watch Brian. But after a while it was obvious that Brian was swimming well and diving from the board well, and Frank went into the house for a cigarette. He was gone only a few minutes and when he returned there was no sign of Brian. Frank stepped quickly to the edge of the pool. Brian was at the bottom, not moving. Frank began to take off his clothing, shouting for help at the same time, and Anna came running out of the house. She dove in, fully clad, and raised Brian to the surface. They pulled his body out of the pool, and Anna attempted to revive him by forcing his mouth open, placing her lips on his, and breathing hard into his lungs. In newspaper articles bathed in bathos, some writers called Anna “The Kiss of Life Girl.” But her kiss was futile. Brian was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.
An inquest was held a week later. Coroner Angus Sommerville of East Grinstead ruled that Brian had died “due to immersion in fresh water … under the influence of drugs and alcohol.” The coroner reported “severe liver dysfunction due to fatty degeneration and ingestion of alcohol and drugs.” His official verdict: “Death by misadventure.”
Even before Brian was interred, a rather obscene debate broke out. Question: Did Brian Jones commit suicide?
On the yes side of the debate were most of the stoned of London, who didn’t know Brian at all, but who knew all the answers because to be omniscient about superstars makes their own lives seem less petty, more glamorous. And some of them had the most delicious bit of gossip to substantiate the suicide theory: Brian had been planning to come down to London to a party, the story went, with a new girl he had just met and quite fancied, but Jagger had persuaded her to go with him instead. And Brian remained at home with his friends, growing ever more despondent, until he decided to drown himself. But all those who talked so knowingly about Jagger’s perfidy were unable to supply names, dates, anything concrete. Actually, Jagger was in the recording studio when Brian drowned. But those unfounded rumors are still whispered along London’s pop underground.
The anti-suicide debaters were in the minority, but they included almost all those who knew Brian well. Alex Korner summed up the argument in a statement that is touched with a bit of honest doubt:
“To commit suicide you have to plan to kill yourself, and I honestly don’t believe that Brian planned to die. It’s possible that in a moment of paranoia, down at the bottom of the pool, he suddenly decided it would be easy to die. But I don’t think so. I really think it was a goof. I don’t think he deliberately planned to commit suicide. I would have felt more sorrow for him and less for me if it had been intended, but now I feel more for me and for all of us, and less for him, because he isn’t here. Most of the sadness is for me, because I miss him, but I can’t help thinking that if Brian had to die that was a good time for him to die. Because he was happy when he died. If it had happened six months earlier it would have been much sadder for him, because he was in a state of severe depression. At least he died when he was beginning to feel happy.”
Within hours after Brian’s death, the Stones and their employees came together in the Stones offices, seeking comfort in one another. Shirley Arnold got to her desk before 7 a.m., and the band members arrived soon after. Shirley sat there, sobbing quietly, and Charlie Watts tried to comfort her through his own tears. Eventually, someone raised the question of the concert: “We’ve got to cancel it.” They all agreed: It wouldn’t be right to go on with it now that Brian was dead. They’re all shattered, really shattered, Shirley thought. She got up to look out a window, daydreaming about Brian: He was a pain and a joy to know; so many people have screwed up Brian, all that wrong crowd he got into from the very beginning except for Alexis … and then Charlie suddenly shouted:
“Let’s do it for Brian! Play the concert for Brian.”
“Yeah, right,” Jagger said. “A memorial for Brian.”
Later, when they announced the concert would go on as planned, and a journalist questioned the propriety of putting the new Stones on stage only two days after Brian’s death, Keith Richard threw the man down a flight of stairs.
There were about 500,000 people at Hyde Park on Saturday, packed tightly together under the hot July sun, the odor of new-mown grass lost in the stench of collective perspiration, an odor not unlike the locker room at Wembley, but no one seemed offended as band after band warmed up the crowd for … the Rolling Stones! A mob of Hell’s Angels, hired as bouncers and protectors of the body of Mick Jagger, had been lined up in front of the stage like a line of ancient harlots waiting for trade. But when the last warmup group completed its set, and a hush fell over the audience in anticipation of the Stones’ grand entrance, the Angels reached for their implements of authority—tire irons and chains—to discourage any attempt by groupies of either sex to reach the stage. On a ladder to an elevated platform which held a few loudspeakers at the right of the stage, Suzy Creamcheese and Marsha Hunt (in white buckskin) sat perched, unmolested by the machos in Nazi helmets; Suzy was, after all, practically a founding member of Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention, and Marsha would bear Jagger’s first child a little over a year later.
As the stage crew began nailing up large color photos of Brian the Angels joined hands and crushed back the crowd, for this was it … the Stones are coming! Murmurs from the celebrities on and behind the stage elevated to a roar and suddenly, there he was! Mick Jagger, in a dress—a white, billowing frock with bow buttons down the front, over tight-fitting white pants cut to the tearing point in the crotch to emphasize his genitals and promote at least psychic masturbation, and a gold-studded leather collar around his neck to stimulate the s—m set.
The assembled congregation had been told a number of times during the day that it was the Stones’ wishes that a moment of silence be observed for Brian, after the band came on stage, but at the first sight of Jagger in a white dress the crowd began to shout and applaud, and Brian was forgotten. Jagger tried to hush them. “NOOOOooo …” he shouted and was ignored and finally surrendered to the audience.
“Yeah!” he screamed. “We’re gonna have a good time, all right?”
The crowd roared back at him—“All right!”—and Jagger held up both arms, his dress billowing, his makeup garish in the daylight. “Cool it for a minute,” he ordered. “I would really like to say something about Brian.” The audience cooled it. Jagger began to recite from Shelley’s Adonais, sounding at first like a schoolboy forced to read in front of his classmates and dreading every moment of it:
Peace, peace! he is not dead, he doth not sleep—
He hath awakened from the dream of life—
’Tis we, who lost in stormy visions, keep
With phantoms an unprofitable strife,
And in mad trance, strike with our spirit’s knife
Invulnerable nothings,—We decay
Like corpses in a charnel; fear and grief
Convulse us and consume us day by day,
And cold hopes swarm like worms within our living clay.
Marianne, who had suggested he read part of Adonais, cringed at Jagger’s reading. But several girls in the front row had begun to weep at the first line, and Jagger appeared to catch the flow from them, apparently knowing that he had reached his audience and was manipulating it, and he threw himself completely into the poem. Jumping Jack Flash, stomping on Shelley’s grave, and Brian’s, now dancing in a frenzy, primping for the television crews and the still photographers, pumping and thrusting his pelvis. And sounding as if he were reciting Chuck Berry or Screaming Jay Hawkins, not Shelley; turning Adonais into “Roll Over Beethoven”:
The One remains, the many change and pass;
Heaven’s light forever shines; Earth’s shadows fly;
Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass
Stains the white radiance of Eternity,
Until Death tramples it to fragments.—Die,
If thou wouldst be with that which thou doest seek!
Follow where all is fled,—Rome’s azure sky,
Flowers, ruins, statues, music, words, are weak
The glory they transfuse with fitting truth to speak.
By the time Jagger had begun to recite that final stanza, his rendition sounded something like: Oooh babba, daladaladala, boompa screech woo baby yip yip yip … And if any in the crowd understood this performance was rather gross, any protest that might have been made was drowned out by the sobs of those who actually believed they were hearing a eulogy rather than another kind of rock performance. At Jagger’s last yip-yip the stage crew lifted the lids of small brown boxes that had been placed on stage earlier, and out fluttered several hundred little white butterflies (white to match Jagger’s costume), in the final breach of good taste that the Head Stone called a memorial for Brian. Many of the butterflies flew off a few feet, and then dropped to earth, dead.
Then Jagger led his group into their rehearsal for the American tour. Musically, they were quite a mess, but the little girls didn’t care; they tried to storm the stage and were hurled back into the crowd by the Angels. In a little while, after eight or ten numbers, Jagger was kissing everyone goodbye and prancing off stage, a wedge of Angels clearing a path to his military green armoured car while someone on stage was shouting into the microphones: “That’s the Rolling Stones. Wow! The greatest rock-n-roll group in the world!” … Well, not quite, not on this performance. Of all the groups who played for the congregation, only Alex Korner’s New Church came through with a set that could be considered worthy of Brian’s memory, which is what the occasion was supposed to be all about.
Jagger and Marianne flew to Sidney that night to begin work on Ned Kelly; Marianne was cast as his sister. She had cut herself off from heroin just a few days before, to be fit for the film and to bring some sanity back to her disarranged life, and her body and her mind were being torn apart by withdrawal symptoms when the plane touched down in Australia.
She revived from her heroin haze in the hotel room. Feeling dreadfully ill, she stumbled into the bathroom and looked at her face in the mirror. She had cut her hair shortly before Brian died, cut it as short as Brian’s, and now the face staring back at her from the mirror was Brian’s face, not Marianne’s. The trauma of heroin withdrawal, and her inability to be certain whether she was really Marianne Faithfull or simply an extension of Mick Jagger … she had been asking for a long time, “Who am I?” … and now she was seeing Brian’s face in her face. Brian’s death was on her conscience because she had known he would die, and she couldn’t save him from death. And she thought: It’s logical that I should be dead, too. I’ve always been very connected to Brian, always felt I was a part of him and he a part of me. She stared at that face, Brian’s dead face in the mirror. Slowly, he began to wake: He was dead, he knew he was waking up somewhere beyond life, and Marianne heard him say? “Where is my Valium? God, I feel awful.”
And she felt even more strongly, then, that Brian had not committed suicide, that it was an accident—he had an asthmatic attack in the pool and drowned. Brian continued to speak, but Marianne heard only an occasional word. Yet she understood what he was saying, and she thought: Brian could swim like a fish, but he was on downers, and they do make you feel like you can do things you really can’t do. I think he’s saying he was on downers and was overtaken by cramp and asthma and no one was around to help him. That’s what he’s telling me, that he feels awful because he did have suicidal moments, but not this time. And because he didn’t do it on purpose he doesn’t know what’s happening to him. It’s tragic. Realizing he’s there, very cold, no friends, no Alexis, no doctor, no nothing.
She stared at Brian, unable to speak. Finding it unnecessary to speak because she understood something very clearly: I am Brian. I must kill myself because Brian is dead and I am Brian.
Marianne swallowed several score Tuinol capsules, slipped quietly back into bed next to Jagger, and waited to die. And she thought about why she wanted to die: There’s something more than seeing Brian’s face in my face. It’s like Oscar Wilde being in prison and looking for someone to blame so he blamed it on Douglas. I’m looking for someone to blame. No addict wants to blame himself. So I’m blaming it on Mick. In many ways he let me down, as a woman, in our relationship. He failed me in so many ways, and becoming an addict and then killing myself is my revenge.
The Rev. Hugh Hopkins, who had confirmed Brian fourteen years before, officiated at his funeral services in Cheltenham. He offered a prayer for Marianne’s recovery and then read from Scriptures the story of the Prodigal Son. All the Stones were there, except Jagger, and hundreds of mini-skirted young women decorated the church. Rev. Hopkins, not to be overawed by this display of modern pop idolatry, delivered a eulogy that sounded at times as if he were blaming pop musicians for all the ills that had occurred in Western society since the Industrial Revolution: “Brian was the rebel, he had little patience with authority, convention, tradition … Typical of so many of his generation who have come to see in the Rolling Stones an expression of a whole attitude toward life. Much of what this ancient church stood for, for 900 years, seems actually irrelevant to them.”
From among a group of musicians sitting in a forward pew came, at the end of the eulogy, a loudly whispered comment:
“At least there are no butterflies at this bloody memorial.”
A short while later, as the funeral cortege drove through the gates of Cheltenham cemetery, a policeman on duty snapped a salute at the hearse, at Brian in his coffin. And Charlie Watts laughed at the absurdity of it all. And then grew angry.
“Now the bastards salute. I just hope Brian is around to see this. Saluting him …”
ONE WINTER-CHILLED afternoon in 1959 Michael Philip Jagger sat in front of a tape recorder in a rear bedroom of Dick Taylor’s home, waiting for the three other boys seated around him to tune their guitars and set up the drum kit so that he could sing for them. They had been playing together as a blues group for almost a year but this rehearsal was something special: A week earlier Jagger had been in a gym class at the Dartford Grammar School, performing a set of strenuous calisthenics that were the educational system’s hangover from the physical fitness programs of the war years, when he slipped and fell while trying to complete a frontal somersault and bit off the tip of his tongue. It bled a lot and hurt like hell, and Jagger couldn’t talk or sing for a few days, which pleased the school masters enormously. When he did start singing again a few days later it sounded as if the quality of his voice had been changed, but he couldn’t be certain because a singer’s voice sounds different bouncing around inside his head than it does to everyone else hearing from the outside. He asked the other members of his band to listen to him carefully, to tell him whether something had happened to his voice.
He didn’t play an instrument and really wasn’t much interested in anything but singing the blues because he seemed to understand intuitively that the blues which he loved so much was a vocal music. All Afro-American music is, in its fullest form, vocal music more than instrumental; the best blues is sung blues, just as the best gospel music is music that’s sung. Jagger said he felt enormous emotion about the blues and the sound of a blues voice crying out its personal pain. “I just dig the sound because the sound is so exciting,” he would tell his friends, “but I can’t tell you why I dig to sing it so much.” Years later he would try to analyze what he felt as a young man but right now all he knew was that he simply must sing to express himself and that singing was the most viable form of expression for him. It’s possible to reach more people with your voice than with an instrument, since the voice can be a very emotional instrument. Especially in the blues, which is the most emotional form of music ever created.
Jagger stood up and paced the room, his energy overload making it impossible to sit still for more than a few minutes. Dick Taylor set up the small drum kit he had inherited from his grandfather, Bob Beckwith tuned up the inexpensive guitar which was plugged into a primitive six-watt amplifier no larger than a portable radio, and Allen Etherington fondled his maracas. Finally, when they were ready, Jagger pressed the Record button on the tape machine, called “One, two, three,” and the band banged its way into a Chuck Berry number. Jagger began to sing: “When the joint was rockin’/Goin’ round and round.”
Jagger cut it off after one complete run-through, and the band ground to a halt. He asked what they thought.
Bob said he wasn’t certain, there did seem to be a slight change in the quality of his voice but he didn’t know precisely what it was. Dick Taylor tried to pinpoint it. He said Jagger’s voice now had a fuzziness that wasn’t there before, his diction and pronunciation seemed lazier, more drawling. “That’s what it is,” Allen said. “You’ve got a lazy tongue action because you bit off the tip. You can’t sharpen the consonants and you sound more Negro, your voice is blacker.”
Jagger played the tape back several times and then said he didn’t agree; he would always deny the accident in school had changed the structure of his voice. But if the guys in the band liked it and thought he sounded more like Chuck and Muddy and Leadbelly, well … Over the last couple of years he had listened to the records of black American artists, even sent away to Chess Records in Chicago for recordings not available in England, and he had carefully mimicked the singers he listened to. He was pleased that the boys said his voice now sounded more like a black man’s because the only thing that was important to him was to sing the way black bluesmen sang. Just a few months earlier he had read an interview with Fats Domino in one of the music papers, and Fats had said, “You should never sing the lyrics out very clearly.” And Jagger had understood immediately how important a clue that was to the emotion behind the blues, because he would spend hours trying to decipher the slurred lyrics of Afro-American singers, only vaguely understanding until he read Fats Domino’s remark that obscured lyrics contributed immensely to the emotion that envelopes and defines the blues. And now, if the boys believed the damage to his tongue had created a black slurring in his vocal delivery, that was a large step forward in grasping the sound of the blues.
He had a remarkable talent for mimicking any singer he heard on the radio or phonograph, Mrs. Eva Jagger always told anyone who asked—and sometimes complained—about her son’s very noisy and discordant band. “Michael could be a very good impersonator if he wanted to; he could probably make a living from it. You know, he just sits there all day, lapping up the hit songs. Ever since he was a little kiddie of eleven or so he had this knack of listening to a hit song over the wireless just a few times and then he’d stand up and sing them over just like the originals. He’s so serious about it, there’s no half-measures with Mike. When he’s imitating something, it has to be got off just right. But now he sits there all day imitating this Chuck Berry person …”
It wasn’t exactly driving Eva and Joe Jagger crazy, but like so many other parents in the late Fifties they didn’t quite understand or approve of their son’s love affair with rhythm and blues, with that dreadful new sound everyone was carelessly lumping together as rock and roll. Jagger’s infatuation had started some time in 1956, when the film Blackboard Jungle was released. All over the English-speaking world young kids—Robert Zimmerman in Minnesota, who would become Bob Dylan; Jagger and Keith Richard in the suburbs south of London; Eric Clapton and Eric Burdon farther north; Lennon and McCartney in Liverpool—were shaken by the music from the film, Bill Haley and the Comets doing “Rock Around the Clock.” Keith Richard’s reaction was typical of them all:
“People were saying, ‘Did ya hear that music, man?’ Because in England we had never heard anything: the BBC controls it and won’t play that sort of music. But everybody our age stood up for that music and the hell with the BBC. I didn’t think of playing it when I first heard it. I just wanted to go and listen to it. It took a year or so before anyone in England could make that music.”
Three years later Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys were making that music in one part of Dartford while Keith was learning to play in another part of the town. When her son first began to sing the blues Mrs. Jagger’s reaction was a mixture of pride and condescension: “We used to sit in the next room listening to their band playing and just crease up with laughter. It was lovely but so loud. I always heard more of Mike than I saw of him.” But after a time it seemed more loud than lovely to the Jaggers and their neighbors, so the boys had to find another place to rehearse. On weekends Etherington’s parents usually went off to the country, and Allen remained home so that the Blue Boys could work up their routines without adult complaints. During the week, after school hours, the Blue Boys’ sessions were held at Dick’s house in Bexley Heath.
Eva Jagger explained to her son that she didn’t object to his singing, but that the neighbors were complaining about the noise of the band and she had to keep peace with the neighbors.
Eva Jagger had been born in Australia, had immigrated to England with her family when she was a child, and had married Joe Jagger, a physical training instructor. The small and comfortable home in Dartford where Michael Jagger was born on July 20, 1943, in the final years of the war, had an air of middle-class suburban gentility; Mrs. Jagger had always been annoyed by the English habit of treating Australians as less than worthy foreigners, and it seemed to so many who knew her that she was trying to prove she was more English than her neighbors who were born there. Her very mild and harmless pretensions to class would annoy Jagger years later as he began to climb out of his class through pop music. (For most pop stars the need to reach fame and financial success was at least in part a need to climb above their class, the only way out of the structured class system, similar to the discovery by prize fighters and other athletes in earlier decades that their talents could give them heroic stature and popular success and make them almost immune to class stratification.) But Jagger never expressed annoyance about his mother’s attitude toward his band when they were forced to hunt up a place to rehearse to avoid the wrath of parents and neighbors.
No matter how much of a rebel Jagger seemed to have become, in his later public image, he was almost rigidly conventional as a boy. There were a few things that set him apart: his talent at mimicry; his excessive energy that made it impossible for him to remain in one place for long; and, when they were twelve or thirteen, what other boys his age considered his remarkable ability to persuade neighborhood girls to sneak off to the woods with him for a spot of adolescent love-making. But on the whole, Jagger was in no way out of the ordinary. He wasn’t any kind of outcast or loner. Although, like most kids, he didn’t much enjoy the outer trappings of school, the uniforms, and the compulsory sports programs, he was a good student. To a few of his teachers, he appeared to be one of the few students who never dozed off, who was alive and was able to question accepted dogma. But intellectually, not as a form of rebellion. His friends thought he was very career-oriented. He told schoolmates he was aiming for a career in either business or journalism.
And he never appeared to object to the physical regime his father put him through, except on hindsight, after he had become a rock star and was building the Rolling Stones as the rebellious and raunchy antidote to the Beatles. But when he was Little Boy Blue he was proud of his gymnastic ability; basically shy, he nonetheless enjoyed showing off his talent at gymnastics. His father insisted that Jagger perform certain physical exercises daily: push-ups, weight lifting, several dozen laps around the garden every evening. Dick Taylor once came by to call for Jagger for a band session at Allen Etherington’s home and, as they were going out the front door, Joe Jagger called: “Michael, before you go out do your weight lifting.” Jagger obediently went into the garden and lifted the weights for the required fifteen minutes. Dick stood there watching, thinking it monstrous that Jagger accepted his father’s demands without protest, without even being aware that an adult’s will was being imposed upon him simply because he was considered a child. Jagger would sometimes display annoyance at his father’s orders, mostly in the expression of his very plastic-liquid face. But he didn’t seem to be aware that it was possible for a seventeen-year-old son to object to those orders.
Jagger and Dick had become classmates at Dartford Grammar School beginning around the age of twelve, but they didn’t really notice one another until they discovered a mutual interest in rhythm and blues about two years later. Independently, they had begun listening to the “pure” blues first—Leadbelly and Big Bill Broonzy and Robert Johnson. Around the time the white rock-and-roll imitators of R & B were making a splash, Jagger and Dick had moved into Chuck Berry and Little Richard and all the electric black-urban blues that was coming over from America. They were more interested in the pounding, driving, and raunchy side of the blues than in the folk side. The R & B style was a natural urban extension of the original Southern country blues. Younger musicians working in small bands in Kansas City, Detroit, Oklahoma City, in all the black ghettos of America, had come to feel that the original blues was a sharecropper experience that had little to do with life on the streets of the big cities. They considered the “pure” blues an effete art form. Beginning in the late Thirties a number of younger blues singers became “shouters”—screaming out their blues-oriented songs over crashing rhythm sections and blaring brass sections. These shouters sparked the development of rhythm and blues, which became the pop music for American blacks. The singers and the huge rhythm units behind them still had very legitimate connections with the older blues forms, but they were more involved in the performance of the music, in stage acts that would create a certain electricity between performer and audience, than in the simple purity of the blues.
And Jagger was a natural performer. In spite of a shyness, a tendency to hold back until he was certain he’d be accepted, his every cell ached to get out there and perform. When he learned that Dick Taylor had been playing that kind of music with a group of neighborhood boys for some time, he joined them, singing R & B songs with Dick and his two friends backing him up. They were fourteen or fifteen when they started playing together, copying instrumentation and vocalization note for note from the records, and eventually they called themselves Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys because Jagger wanted everyone to know they were playing blues and not rock. It was a distinction that did nothing to overcome their parents’ vexation about the decidedly unprofessional noise they were making.
Neither Jagger nor any of the members of his band had any intention of going professional or in any way trying to earn even a second income by playing the blues. They were more level-headed than that. Jagger’s parents disapproved of the music and were guiding him toward a career. Joe Jagger occasionally wished his son would be more interested in formal sports because he felt strongly that the boy would make a good soccer player or cricketer, and might even be talented enough to become an athletic star, but he was realistic enough to settle for a professional business career for the child. Most of all, however, Little Boy Blue and his group believed they were probably the only persons in all of England who were tuned in to black American music, so they played and sang that music for enjoyment only. For the kicks of imitating their favorite songs on the few records they were able to import from America.
It wasn’t until Keith Richard came along, infected them with his enthusiasm, after playing with them for a year or more, that they felt it was possible to earn some money from the music they loved, perhaps by playing as a semi-pro band on weekends.
Keith was born in Dartford six months after Jagger. When they were about six or seven they attended Wentworth County Primary School together and became friends, playing after school. But the Richards (the family still spells it with the s which Keith later dropped) moved to a house just outside Dartford, and the boys lost contact. Keith’s father was an electrical engineer and wanted his son to take up the same trade, but Keith would have nothing to do with studying. He was known as a bad-ass cat even as a young boy. While Jagger would participate in school athletic programs because he felt he must, Keith approached it from a different slant:
“They’d get us all out for the cross-country running, and I didn’t want any part of that. So I’d start out with the whole bunch of runners and begin to fall behind and when I got way behind I’d sneak into the woods and light up. A quick fag made me feel as right as rain. It was just a matter of hanging on until the others came back, all blown out and exhausted, then tack myself on to the last few and run back to school with them.”
That was on the days that he bothered showing up at school at all. By the time he was fifteen and at the Dartford Technical School, a slag heap for students who weren’t expected ever to amount to much, Keith was a confirmed truant. Ultimately, his principal informed him that even a slag-heap school was no place for his layabout kind, and Keith was expelled. He ended up at Sidcup Art School, another kind of refuse pile that took students who couldn’t fit anywhere else; like most such art schools, including those which John Lennon, Eric Clapton, and Pete Townshend were attending about this same time, a student didn’t need any artistic ability, or even leaning, to enroll in the school. The basic objective was to keep a boy off the streets until he was old enough to get a job.
Keith’s lack of enthusiasm for schooling was equalled only by his obsession with the guitar and with Chuck Berry records, and caused by that obsession. Once he heard Bill Haley and the Comets and realized he could play that music if he tried hard enough, the music became his only discipline. His grandfather played violin and guitar and had run a dance band in the Thirties, and Keith begged him for guitar lessons. Once he had the rudiments, Keith simply flew off from there, determined to become the best rock guitar player in the world. He could play most of Chuck Berry’s solos, note for note, at the time he entered the Sidcup Art School.
Dick Taylor went off to the same school after Dartford Grammar, “Because I didn’t know what the hell I wanted to do with my life, and some guy had a prospectus from the art school and said, ‘Look, I went to Sidcup to check it out, and you don’t have to work much and you can stave off working for a few years,’ and I said, ‘Okay, I’ll come along.’ ” Dick continued playing music with Jagger and the group around home and was listening to much jazz and also playing folk guitar at school—by now he had given up his antique drums for a new, inexpensive guitar. When Keith showed up at the art school a year after Dick had enrolled there, Dick was playing with several people in informal bands. A little jazz, a bit of country, some folk. But never getting it confused with the real music, R & B. Keith began coming round, getting friendly with Dick, sitting in with him at informal sessions, and turning them all on to his own special favorites in rhythm and blues.
Keith was a rebel, if any kids were rebels, Dick recognized immediately: “He was a real Ted, just a hooligan, and I used to really like him for that. I remember once the art school took us on a trip to Heal’s, the furniture shop, because we were studying graphic design, and they wanted us to see well-designed furniture. And Keith was sitting in this really nice sofa worth hundreds of pounds and quite casually dropping his cigarette on it and burning a hole in it and not giving a monkey’s ass about it. And going around ripping off ashtrays and trying to rip off lamps and things. He was a hooligan, a rocker. He always used to wear at all times a lilac-colored shirt, Levi’s and a Levi jacket. No matter what the weather was he’d walk around in this perpetually. Never wore anything else from the moment I met him.”
Keith, always angry that the need to attend classes was stealing time he would prefer devoting to music, expended a large amount of energy complaining about school:
“Dammit, you know what I discovered? I really wanted to learn when I was a kid. I really did. I mean, I wanted to watch how things are done and try to figure it out and leave it at that. I was going to school to do something I wanted to do, and then the assholes manage to turn the whole thing around and make you hate ‘em because they have to run their little Hitler numbers, and then you just hate the learning thing. You don’t wanna learn anymore. Because school is just like the nick. So you get thrown out of schools and you get into art school, and it’s the same thing. And the best that’s going on is in the bog [toilet] with the guitars. I mean, it’s just great here, you go take a piss, and there’s always some cat who’s sneaked out to the bog, and he’s going through his latest Jack Elliott or Woody Guthrie tune, and you discover Robert Johnson, and it all comes together for you. Art school is great—out in the bog.”
Jagger had entered the London School of Economics on a government grant by now and was commuting from the suburbs each day. Keith was taking the same British Railways train to Sidcup. They met one day in the spring of 1960. Keith was carrying his guitar, and he recognized Jagger immediately and was surprised to see the record albums under his arm: Chuch Berry, Little Walter, and Muddy Waters albums.
“You really into Chuck Berry, man? What a fuckin’ coincidence!”
Jagger showed him the albums, among them Chuck Berry Is On Top. “I’ve got a few more albums like these,” Jagger said. “Been writin’ away to this company, uh, Chess Records, in Chicago. You know? And I got a mailing list from them … just tryin’ to get it together.”
“Play a guitar?”
“No, no. I just dig to sing.”
Keith asked Jagger to come by his house on the edge of Dartford that afternoon, for tea. “And bring your records.” When Keith got to school he asked Dick: “You know a guy named Jagger? From Dartford?”
“Sure, I play with him in a little group from down there. He’s our singer.”
“Fuckin’ coincidence. We grew up together, and now I meet him on the train after not seein’ him for years, and he’s into the same music as me.” It was still rare to meet anyone in England who had even heard of Chuck Berry.
Dick invited Keith to join them in their band session, and that afternoon when Jagger came by Keith’s house and played the records for him, Jagger extended the same invitation: “Come round and join our group.”
Over the next year or two Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys met several times a week at Dick’s house. Bob Beck with had also gone off to the LSE and had drifted away from the band, and Keith was now second guitarist. They soon began thinking about the possibility of earning a little money as a group, especially Keith. “Maybe not a full-time thing, as professionals, but we sure can play occasional gigs for the kids, to get spending money.” Jagger, Dick, and Allen shrugged off Keith’s idea: Who was going to pay money to listen to a rather dreadful band play music no one had heard of before?
But there was something that they very desperately wanted to do with the music. In their youth and excitement and naïveté, they were hoping to educate kids of their own age to love the blues the way they loved it.
“It’s the best music we know, and we have to turn people on to it,” Jagger said one night as they talked about the future of the band. “No one else is playing this kind of music, and we gotta get them into it.” The music was the true cause, the road to truth, and Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys would show the way. They seldom talked about it in precisely that fashion, but the feeling was there, Dick Taylor remembers: Let’s show them what the one, the only real music, is all about.
Then they discovered, in the 1962 announcement in Melody Maker, that Alex Korner was actually performing the music publicly, up in Ealing, and they drove into London to see and hear it for themselves. The first Saturday night that Jagger and his group watched Blues Incorporated perform, they were totally transfixed by the music. They returned the second week and were still amazed that it was all happening. But on their third trip to the Ealing Club Jagger was saying, “Well, fuck it, this is pretty awful …”
Blues Incorporated was a relatively polished group playing urban blues with a jazz influence, and the Blue Boys thought the style was a pandering to the public taste which demanded trad jazz and Dixieland. Jagger’s group was playing much cruder music, partly because they were cruder musicians but mostly because they had taken the blues a step further into the more ballsy Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, and that rocking rhythm and blues end of the blues spectrum. Jagger, Dick, and Keith sat at the bar that third night complaining that Korner’s group wasn’t playing the true blues.
“Fuckin’ saxophone,” Jagger said as Dick Heckstall-Smith blew a long solo on tenor sax.
“Yeah, I know what you mean,” Keith whispered. “Kind of stuff my grandfather played thirty years ago, but a little more jazzy. Just thirty-year-old big band kind of shit.”
They sounded more snobbish and purist in their own way than the blues purists who insisted a man must be black—preferably the son of a slave or a sharecropper—to play the music that came out of the black experience. As they sat there, criticizing and laughing at the performance of Blues Incorporated, their attitude was: “We can do it better than that. We know more about black music than these cats do. We know the only direction is rhythm and blues.”
But there was one event about blues night at the Ealing Club that really impressed them: the performance of a kid about their age, small and slim and delicate, with a mop of gold hair cut in wispy bangs over his forehead but still very short all around, and a skin that seemed touched with a brilliant sunlight even in the darkened club. Cyril Davies, the harp player for the group, had introduced him: “Now, here’s Brian Jones from Chelt’n’am. And he’s accompanied by the world famous P. P. Jones—Perpetually Pissed Jones—just come up from Oxford to play with us.”
And Brian Jones and Paul Jones—no relation—played a couple of Elmore James numbers and Muddy’s “Rolling Stone,” and Jagger stood at the bar gaping at Brian. He was playing a bar slide guitar, and Jagger had never seen anyone play that instrument before and he simply couldn’t believe the way Brian made it sound like a second voice in harmony with Paul Jones. An unreal voice from that guitar which sounded as if it came from somewhere down in the center of his soul.
“That cat’s fuckin’ incredible,” Jagger said repeatedly through Brian’s set. Keith was just as overwhelmed: “It’s Elmore James, man. That cat’s really Elmore James. What the fuck is this? Playing the bar slide guitar like that!”
They were finishing up their set with an Elmore James song that was a special favorite among English blues enthusiasts, “Dust My Broom.” Paul Jones was singing it a little too commercially, just a bit too sweet, Jagger felt. Besides, none of the boys could really spend much time listening to the lyrics they knew so well:
I believe, I believe my time ain’t long
I believe, I believe my time ain’t long
I ain’t gonna leave my baby
And break up my happy home.
Because at the end of that last verse, just as on Elmore James’ recording, the slide guitar created a sound that seemed to soar away like a bird in flight, playfully darting to earth and back to the sky in a definite rhythm. But this was no gnarled black American up there on the bandstand. That guitar was being caressed by a golden English kid. Brian Jones.
When the set ended with that song, Keith was so excited by what he’d just heard that he ran over to the stage and dragged Brian back to the bar and made introductions all around. And they began talking about the music they’d been playing and how they first got turned on to the blues. Brian said he was demolished. He thought all along that he was the only cat in the world going ape over the music and then he discovers Alex and Blues Incorporated and now some kids his own age who’ve been hanging around down in the suburbs and getting into the same kind of scene. But not precisely the same, they discovered: Brian was more into the jazz-blues end of it and Keith began raving to him about Jimmy Reed and Chuck and the Chicago R & B music. “Look, it’s all the same shit, man, and you can do it,” Keith said. Brian promised he’d give it a try, he’d try any kind of blues that seemed to turn someone on.
Brian began to tell them a little bit about himself, and it flashed on Jagger and Keith that he was a little more together, musically, then they. He’d been seriously working at it for a long time. He was still living in Cheltenham, ninety miles away near the Wales border, but coming up to London weekends and sleeping in the spare room or on the kitchen floor at Alex’s flat. He was getting a band together and was just about to move up to London permanently with one of his women, who had had a son by him. They were amazed that he was a father, yet was just their age, and they were certain he was sending them up when he said he wasn’t married and this son wasn’t his first; he’d split for the Continent the year before because he had made another girl pregnant, and she insisted on having Brian’s baby, which scandalized everyone in Cheltenham.
“I’m trying to find a pad in London for my old lady and the kid,” Brian told them. “Played a lot down around Chelt’n’am with some jazz bands but I really dig the blues and you must be in London to play the blues. London’s the only place you can make it, and I’m having a go at makin’ it. Don’t know if I’m good enough, but I’m givin’ it a go.”
“You’re the best fuckin’ guitarist I’ve ever heard,” Keith shouted.
Cyril Davies joined the group, ordering a pint of bitter for himself and looking half-drunk now that he was off the bandstand. As Cyril turned to the boys, Keith was telling Jagger that if Paul Jones could get up there and sing, he could too. Cyril didn’t say anything at first. He took a long swallow of his brew, belched almost silently, then put his hand on Keith’s shoulder.
“You think you can do it, go up and do it,” he said. “Anybody who wants to blow can have a blow.”
“Ya mean it?” Keith asked.
“Damn right. The way I see it, nobody’s going to be stupid enough to get up there and play unless he’s good enough. You boys think you’re good enough, then do have a blow.”
Jagger held back, but Keith was excited and urged Jagger to do a number. Eventually Jagger overcame his shyness and permitted Keith to lead him to the bandstand.
Jagger stood there awkwardly as Keith plugged in and Cyril began to introduce them after checking out their names once more, because he hadn’t caught them during the introductions at the bar. Charlie Watts, a member of Blues Incorporated, sat down at his drums, and Cyril started searching through his bag for his harp. Jagger looked terribly nervous. He had never sung in public before and now he was about to sing in front of some really serious blues musicians and an audience of about 100 totally devoted blues freaks. He had never even considered the possibility that anyone else was as interested in the music as he and his Blue Boys were, and suddenly he was standing in front of a room full of people who apparently knew a great deal about the blues. He remained almost frozen at the edge of the stage. Keith was plugging into the band’s amplifier, the biggest amp Jagger had ever seen, and he worried that possibly Keith wasn’t experienced enough to handle all that electrical power. And the club’s primitiveness added to his anxiety. The place seemed to be leaking with damp from an ancient roof that could barely hold back the rain and from the humidity of a hundred bodies throwing moisture into an airless room. Cyril had put a sheet over the bandstand to catch the moisture, and now in its third week it was so filthy and so rotted that the condensation dripped from the sheet onto the amps and microphones, and it occurred to Jagger that someone would be electrocuted.
Keith had finally tuned his guitar and looked to Jagger for the cue that he was ready. Jagger nodded that he was all set to sing. Keith jumped right into “Around and Around,” and if anyone in the audience was into Berry he’d recognize that Keith was slavishly imitating every note. But the Ealing Club was filled with “pure” blues devotees, and Keith was playing something close to that dreadful rock and roll, and the air was thick with muttered complaints about the desecration of the blues. From the bar, one purist summed it up, quite loudly: “What the fuck kind of music is that?”
Then Jagger began to sing. He stood at the edge of the stage, flat-footed, the mike in his hand, and started screaming out the lyrics. He sang in a deep and husky voice that caught many of the intonations of Muddy and Broonzy and Memphis Slim and a dozen others who had clearly influenced him. Jagger barely moved as he sang. Except for his oversized head, which he was shaking in rhythm with the beat as if to emphasize some of the harder-hitting phrases in the lyric that were difficult to understand because of his slurring. Jagger’s hair moved in time to the music. Alex Korner edged closer to the stage to watch this kid and he was struck with a thought: He’s a hair fetishist. Alex simply stared, always fascinated by fetishists, and he barely paid attention to the singing; Jagger’s performance of the music was more striking than the music itself, even though he barely moved his body beneath the shoulders. The bouncing hair was a performance in itself.
When their single number was completed they received a polite bit of applause from some, stony silence from many, but they didn’t pay much attention as they rushed back to Dick and Brian at the bar. Cyril joined them. “Good voice you got,” he said to Jagger. He pointedly ignored Keith. Dick Taylor, sitting it out as a member of the audience, felt strongly that everyone in the place had hated Keith’s Chuck Berry routine and regarded Keith as a rocker.
“They didn’t seem to know what the hell you were doin’ because they don’t know about Chuck,” Dick said.
“Fuck ‘em, they’ll learn,” Keith responded.
Jagger tossed back a drink, not saying much. He appeared, to Dick and Alex, to be so excited by his first public appearance that he was unable to say a word or even consider the dreadful audience response to Keith’s playing. Jagger had done it. He’d played in front of 100 people, and his friends told him he had pulled it off.
The next day Jagger carefully sealed the box containing the tape on which they’d recorded the five numbers some months earlier, wrote “Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys” on the outside, and posted it off to Alex with a letter that said he was “keen to sing the blues,” had been singing all his life, and asking to come to London to talk about the blues.
As Jagger was dropping the tape into the mail, Cyril Davies rang up Alex and asked him, “Where can we find the boy who sang that Berry song and shook his hair all night?” Alex said he didn’t know anything about him, and Cyril asked him to find the kid because he was damned good and should come back to Ealing and sing again. Jagger’s tape arrived in the post the next day, and Alex found it waiting when he returned from a gig late that night. He immediately phoned Cyril and said: “Cyril, you know that young boy? The one you were searching for? Well, I found him for you.” Alex’s wife, Bobbie, was half asleep and overheard that part of the conversation and thought it was a strange way of putting it, almost as if Alex were procuring for Cyril. Alex laughed when she told him her thoughts: “Hell, no, I haven’t gone into pimping. That was about a kid from Dartford who tried a blow at Ealing Saturday night. He was damned good, and Cyril wants me to get him as a band singer.”
Jagger slid easily into Blues Incorporated and the scene at the Ealing Club just as pop music audiences in England were edging toward an interest in the blues, much to Alex Korner’s surprise and delight. Alex had become obsessed with the blues after years of classical piano lessons. He was living in Paris with his family when he started piano lessons at age five and didn’t really like playing much because it seemed to be mostly the usual thing of piano teachers flattering fathers: “He can be brilliant if he studies at it. Just brilliant.” The Korners moved to London in the summer of 1940, when Alex was twelve, and he became involved with a crowd of kids whose major delinquency was to go to the street market at Shepherd’s Bush and steal 78-rpm records. One of the first records Alex stole was a Jimmy Yancey hot blues, and it was the first music that completely turned him on. He wanted to play nothing but blues and boogie woogie piano from that point on.
Father, of course, objected. He had been an Austrian cavalry officer in the first war. In 1917 he led a charge through the lines, with his troops behind him, and surrendered himself and all his men to the Russians. He had simply decided that the Russian Revolution was correct, and the Empire was wrong—he could no longer accept what the Emperor Franz Josef or the Kaiser stood for—and he went over to the more politically viable side. Somehow he managed to get his first wife and their children to Russia during the war, and he eventually became a geological engineer. Alex remembers his father telling him stories about geological expeditions into the Caucasus to do oil research, but is still unable to understand how his father had time to become a geological expert.
The elder Korner appeared in London in 1922, still an Austrian national, but attached to a Soviet agricultural mission. He married Alex’s mother in London in 1927—she was Greek and Turkish—and Alex was born in Paris in 1928 because his father thought it would be a good idea for a future diplomat to have a Continental birth and rearing. Mr. Korner desperately wanted Alex to be a diplomat—although Alex is still confused as to how he would have worked out the problem of multi-nationality—and the piano lessons were part of Alex’s future assult on international diplomacy. His image was of Alex as a dashing diplomat who was such a brilliant dilettante concert pianist that everyone says, “Oh, my God, you should become a professional pianist.” Alex suffered through piano lessons, largely hating them, until he stole the Yancey record and went wild over the blues.
His father went even wilder. He’d come home to supervise Alex’s lessons, find Alex playing Albert Evans’ licks, and slam down the piano lid and shout, “I’m not paying good money on lessons for tripe like this.” Alex got sent away to boarding school. He went on playing the blues. When he was with the Army in Germany in 1947, Alex began playing the local dance bands and got paid for it. He’d return to London on leave periodically and blow with the Chris Barber band, a jazz band, and became a semi-pro musician, as he calls it. The Barber band played jazz, but Alex played in a blues quintet within the band, doing a half-hour set a night as a relief group.
“I was playing a couple of nights a week and working days in the City as a clerk. The Greek side of the family had a shipping concern and they wanted me to go into that, become a junior director, and all. Which I just couldn’t see. I couldn’t get into the idea of money for its own sake, or the idea of actually enjoying the earning of bread as pleasure. I didn’t dig their life style at all because it was based on the fact of impressing others that they were wealthier than they actually were—although Lord knows they were wealthy enough—and also based on the act of acquisition being more important than what you did to acquire it or what you did to enjoy it once you acquired it. We were so far apart on everything that I finally left the City shortly before I was going to be made a junior executive.”
Alex continued playing with the Barber band for a while, left to do a variety of odd jobs in small record companies, then joined Ken Colyer, a trad jazz band leader. Ken had just returned from a working trip to New Orleans and asked Alex to form a skiffle group to work within the regular band. It was more a blues-based folk band than anything else, but promoters insisted on calling it skiffle because that loose down-home style of playing was all the rage in England that year. He eventually left that band, dissatisfied with the music, and in 1953 teamed up with harp player Cyril Davies, playing as a duo in a number of clubs in London and attracting friends such as John Baldry and Davey Graham, who would sit in.
Years later, after the blues became quite popular in England and the Rolling Stones were superstars, the music press tagged Alex with the label, “Father of the white British blues,” to which he strongly objects.
“I didn’t do it. I just happened to be there when the thing took off and I lent encouragement to a lot of kids. But I didn’t start it. It was really Chris Barber who got it all started, not me, but Chris never gets any credit for it. In that period between 1956 and 1960, when Cyril and I were playing duos and things, and I was still just semi-pro, trad jazz was the big pop music here. That’s what the public wanted to hear, and if you didn’t play trad jazz you didn’t get booked into too many clubs. And Chris Barber was the big trad jazz band. Chris asked us to come back again, and he used us as an electric rhythm and blues unit within the band. He also started bringing over electric blues players from the States—Otis Spann, John Lee Hooker, Muddy, people like that. And he was cutting his own throat and killing the trad jazz scene by having this R & B unit within the band. He knew exactly what he was doing, fostering the thing which was going to come next in music. It had to come next because trad jazz by then had become so formalized—not that the blues isn’t—but so formalized in the three-part front-line way that everyone knew exactly what the clarinet was going to play, and the rhythm section always played that very straight common time, four, with no feeling for landing on two and four, and no three feel anywhere in the slow things. It was real Mickey Mouse music by then. And Chris brought in the blues guys from the States, brought us in as a rhythm and blues unit, even though he has never been a fool about this business and must have realized he was bringing an end to his big money years. I think once Chris made enough bread out of the jazz thing to satisfy himself, he was prepared to go with the other thing he’d always been hooked on as much as jazz, which was the race blues.”
Alex’s rhythm and blues unit toured a great deal. One performance they gave was down in Cheltenham, and after the set by Alex and Cyril a young man came up to talk to them. He said his name was Brian Jones, he was blowing with the local jazz band, but he would rather be playing blues. Most of all, he had to break away from the architect’s office where he was working as an assistant and loathing it. Alex gave him his address and phone number. “If you ever come up to London give me a ring. You’ll find a meal and a place to sleep.”
Cheltenham, where Brian lived, is a very genteel, refined town almost 100 miles from London. It’s filled with little old ladies who are still living the style of the late 19th century, when aristocrats would go down from London a couple of times a year to take the baths at Cheltenham Spa, which is fed by spring water that reputedly cures anything that may ail the upper classes. By the time Brian was born there on February 28, 1944, Cheltenham had gone slightly seedy, but it was still full of aspirations to be an aristocratic town, aspirations that rubbed off on its citizens.
Brian’s father was an aeronautical engineer who played the piano and organ. His mother was a piano teacher. Brian grew up in an atmosphere dominated by music and became proficient at the piano before he was ten. His mother decided he had become so good she couldn’t teach him anything more, so she sent him off to a more advanced teacher. He was very fond of church music, hymns at the beginning, and Louis Jones remembers that by the time his son had reached his early teens music had become almost a religion to him. He quickly learned to play the clarinet when he took a fancy to the instrument, and his mother would accompany him on the piano when Brian played classical pieces. The Weber Clarinet Concerto was one of his favorites, and one that he handled with extraordinary skill.
Then he discovered jazz and became almost a fanatic about the music coming from America on jazz recordings. When he heard Charlie Parker for the first time, on a series of six old recordings pressed in England on the Spotlite label shortly after Bird died in 1955, Brian convinced his parents to buy him an alto saxophone because no other instrument seemed worthwhile after hearing the near-miraculous sound that Parker coaxed out of his horn—a double-edged tone that combined into one, as if two sax masters were playing, the first blowing a thin transparent sound and the second a fat thick one. Brian quickly became a fine sax player—he had that blessed ability to master any instrument in a matter of weeks—but he was always disappointed that he couldn’t come anywhere near the sound he heard from the records of the musical genius who had already become a legend.
Brian was restless, hurt, very introverted and paranoiac even as a teenager. His father remembers: “Brian was a normal, conventional boy who was well-behaved and well-liked. He was liked because he was well-behaved. Then a peculiar change came over him in his early teens, when he began to become a man. He began to have some resentment toward authority. He started a mild rebellion against authority which became stronger as he became older. He rebelled against parental and school authority. He would say, ‘Why should I do something I’m told just because the person telling me to do it is older than I am?’ ”
His parents worried a great deal because his school work, which had always been quite good, began to deteriorate as Brian became more fanatical about jazz. “We were just average parents, full of the orthodox careers that were open to him at that time, and I was disappointed and full of anxiety when he became so wrapped up in his love of jazz that, in spite of all I could do or say, he went off to his music.”
The Joneses were unable to recognize it at the time but Brian was withdrawing into himself until all his frustrations, all his paranoia, all his hurt and anger, began to bottle up inside him, and the only outlet was his music. For Brian, music was not simply a way to break out of the class system, or the path to fame and riches: music was the only avenue of escape from the psychic poisons eating at his soul. What his parents saw as rebellion on the surface was a manifestation of a deeper torment which would slowly destroy him.
When Brian was fifteen and still attending the high-toned Cheltenham Grammar School, he joined a jazz band that played weekends around small clubs in the West Country, earning a few shillings a night. But within a few months Brian tired of the monotony of trad jazz, and when he graduated soon after and took a job in an architect’s office he felt almost that his life had come to a dead stop because of the routine of the music and the routine of office work. In addition, a fifteen-year-old girl whom he had made pregnant was about to give birth, and Brian faced a three-pronged crisis: The band was unsatisfying, work was unsatisfying, and the responsibilities of being a father were frightening. So he packed up his sax, the guitar he was just learning to pick, withdrew the few pounds he’d been able to save from his job, and fled to the Continent. He hitchhiked and wandered around Scandinavia for a few months, got turned on to the blues and became proficient with the guitar, then returned to Cheltenham when his funds ran out.
He joined another small band and held a succession of mindless jobs and hated it all because jazz was all that anyone would pay to hear. Jazz that wasn’t real jazz, that was the distressing part of it all, an English pop version of the incredible things that Parker and Dizzy Gillespie and so many others were doing over in America. So Brian turned more and more to the blues. He picked up a couple of very rare Elmore James records—even in America James was barely known to more than a few dozen whites—bought himself a slide guitar, and almost overnight had the James style mastered, but with his own improvisions that put his private brand on the music.
When he met Alex in the spring of 1960, Brian felt strongly that he must move up to London and make it as a blues musician. The first weekend after meeting Alex, Brian showed up on his doorstep in London, broke and hungry because he’d spent his last bit of spare cash on the train fare. Bobbie Korner fed him and gave him a place to sleep—on the kitchen floor because several other musicians were also spending the weekend. From that point on Brian would travel up to London every weekend to blow with Alex and Cyril. Eventually Brian became a member of Blues Incorporated and when Alex was finally convinced by Chris Barber’s band manager, Phil Robertson, that Blues Incorporated should go professional, Brian was already an integral member of the group.
Blues Incorporated’s audience at the Ealing Club had begun to build by the time Jagger returned by request for his second gig. Alex recalls: “The Ealing Club was a drinking man’s pub, and the only music ever permitted to be heard inside its doors was trad jazz, and even that was only one night a week. We came along, and the trad jazz fans hated us. We thought a few times there were going to be punchouts over the music. We drew our support from the folk area because people who were into folk began to come into blues bit by bit. And all the cats coming into blues at that time became fanatics on the spot or hated it and never came back. The club held only 200 maximum, and our deal with the cat running the club was that he took the bar and we took the door, and of course he made more at the bar. There were no more than 100 people in London into the blues and they showed up, and the next week cats who had heard us on tour—especially cats from Croydon and Ipswich, where there had been punchouts because the trad jazz people hated us and the blues people dug us, and they settled it with their fists and tore the concert halls apart—those people who were on our side back then also showed up. And this club that held only 200 was packed to the gills within four weeks. People were traveling down from Scotland for a late night session and traveling back the next day, and our membership lists had gone up to 800 at the end of the fourth week. By that fourth Saturday night more people were showing up than we had room for, and the doors were being closed a half hour before the first set, and cats were offering a pound, which was a lot of money in those days, to be permitted to crowd in for the last number. And word got around town that there was something strange happening at this club in Ealing opposite the Irish pub, and a tremendous atmosphere developed because each of us was discovering that the other guy had been into blues for a long time and always believed he was the only man in England listening to that music.”
The band was a strange one, Alex used to think at the time, because it held such a strange assortment of musicians trying to get things together: Brian was still sleeping on Alex’s kitchen floor on weekends; Jagger and Keith were coming up from Dartford (although Keith was not permitted to play in the beginning); Charlie Watts, who Alex had played with occasionally in a jazz quartet for about a year before this, was on drums; someone called Keith Scott was on piano; Cyril on harmonica; Andy Hoogenboom on bass (replaced after a fortnight by Jack Bruce); and Dick Heckstall-Smith on tenor sax. The singers at the time were Cyril, Eric Lister, who was the first blues singer Alex ever heard in England, John Baldry, Paul Jones when he came up from Oxford, and Mick Jagger with his three songs, the full extent of his repertoire—“Bad Boy,” “Ride ‘Em On Down,” and “Don’t Stay Out All Night.” Alex also sang occasionally, but only when all the equipment broke down and someone had to get up on a chair and belt. out the songs without a mike; Alex was the only one who could belt.
After the early fear and nervousness the first time he got up on stage to sing at the Ealing, Jagger became enormously excited about performing because the audience was beginning to loosen up and enjoy what he was trying to do. He would drive back to Dartford with Keith early Sunday mornings and talk about what he’d been feeling. “The thing I’ll always remember is waiting at the side for Alex to ask me to sing. I just stand there, waiting, and getting more impatient while the other cats are blowing because I want to get in front of that microphone more than anything else in the world. I just have to sing to that audience, that’s all. I just have to sing.”
One night, on the way to the club, someone lost an amplifier lead and, since none of them was really together professionally yet, no one had a spare.’ All of the musicians were generally out of their minds trying to find a spare or to work out a way of improvising from a light cord. And Cyril Davies was simply furious. He picked up his bag filled with harmonicas and all sorts of junk and rubbish and emptied it out on the floor, shouting: “Fuckin’ blues players, fuckin’ blues players. Out of my mind to be workin’ with bloody bluesmen.” Everything was sorted out by and by, but Alex came over to Jagger and whispered: “I don’t think it’s very wise if you sing tonight, Mick. I don’t think Cyril wants you to sing at all.” Jagger knew that Alex was right, but he couldn’t understand why Cyril seemed to have taken a dislike to him. Especially since Cyril had gone out of his way only a few weeks before to bring Jagger into the band as a singer.
But it didn’t really matter. The audiences were filling the club, listening to his three songs and listening to the blues. Like Alex, Jagger couldn’t understand how anyone who heard a good blues record would not be turned on by it immediately and forsake trad jazz and pop and all the other dreadful sounds around that passed for music. Now that the Ealing was being packed every night they all felt even more strongly that they must spread the sound of the black bluesmen.
And it was indeed spreading. On the fourth Saturday night Harold Pendleton, who managed the Marquee Jazz Club in Soho, dropped in at the Ealing to see what all the excitement was about. Pendleton’s club was empty on Thursday nights; he had tried everything to draw even a small crowd into the Marquee on Thursdays but nothing seemed to work, and he hoped the fuss being created at the Ealing could be transposed to the Marquee. When he finally fought his way inside the Ealing, past a crowd of several hundred standing in a drizzle outside waiting to pay their way in for the next set, Pendleton decided he didn’t care much for the music. But he was a good businessman who refused to permit his personal taste to interfere with a chance for profit, and he asked Blues Incorporated to play the Marquee on Thursday nights. Alex and Cyril said they’d give it a go.
Within a few weeks Pendleton was making a tidy little profit and the band members were getting a couple of pounds each from the take at the door as young kids, who couldn’t stand trad jazz and who had turned away from the sterile pap that rock and roll had become, wandered into the club to join the 100-odd members of the Ealing Club who had followed the band to the Marquee. The kids didn’t care about musical classifications: Blues Incorporated was giving them something raw and raunchy and they stood up on the tables and rocked and danced and shouted to the hard-assed blues. Up in Liverpool, in a cellar club called the Cavern, the Beatles were playing the same kind of power-driven music and creating a similar sort of excitement, kids clamoring over them and pursuing them with junkie urgency.
On the night of the fourth gig at the Marquee Jagger strolled into the club with Keith at his side, as usual, grinned sheepishly at Alex, and held up a small newspaper cutting. His first press notice, a tiny item in the music paper Disc, on May 19, 1962, headed “Singer Joins Korner”:
“A nineteen-year-old Dartford rhythm and blues singer, Mick Jagger, has joined Alex Korner’s group, Blues Incorporated, and will sing with them regularly on their Saturday night dates at Ealing and Thursday sessions at the Marquee Jazz Club, London.
“Jagger, at present completing a course at the London School of Economics, also plays harmonica.”
A two-sentence item, with one half-error: Jagger was playing around with the harmonica but he hadn’t developed enough confidence to play it publicly. Jagger said he didn’t mind the error because singing was the only part of music he cared for. He was reaching his audiences; you could feel the interplay between him and the audience. He and the audience were like one. He couldn’t know precisely why it worked that Michael Philip Jagger was so exciting a performer because his performances were completely natural, not contrived. Jagger, onstage, was an extension of Jagger offstage, his natural self, a public expression of what he was feeling about the music and the singing and the act of performing. Jagger transmitted his obvious excitement to his audiences. His performances were honest.
Working behind Jagger at each gig, Alex would sometimes reflect on why Jagger’s performances went over so well: Because he makes a total thing of singing a song. No matter how badly he sang—and his singing was often dreadful—the total drive he put into shouting the blues in a hurtful, hateful voice created a strong flow of energy waves that swept over an audience; those waves, bouncing back in a crossfeed, stirred up an even greater excitement in the singer. The hair fetish image that struck Alex so sharply when he first saw Jagger sing was an important part of his emphathizing with the audience. You felt he was shaking his hair to further stimulate himself, because the hair flouncing on his neck felt good, felt sensual, fit the mood of the innate sexiness of the blues; it was part of the sensuality of the performance, the performer, and the music. Jagger was highly sexy. But it was a natural sexiness, part of his drive and presence on stage. Back then, he wore baggy trousers and plimsolls and didn’t need the campy makeup and dress, the coarse suggestiveness, that he’d later resort to to turn on his fans. In his first months and years his performances worked so well because his art was built on a reality within himself: sex and anger.
Jagger’s performances created conflicts within the band. Several times, playing guitar behind Jagger, Alex thought: Hey, man, they’re going to pay more attention to him than the music. Alex was a blues purist. The music was more important to him than the performer. And here was Jagger, turning it all upside down. But Alex didn’t say anything about it to Jagger directly. He was too shy, too worried about offending with directness. And when he’d think about possibly suggesting that Jagger tone it down he’d hold back with the thought, Perhaps Mick’s right, and the purists are wrong.
Sometimes, however, Alex and Jagger did explore each other’s views of the music they were playing. And Alex soon understood that Jagger’s strongest drive was the performance that would display the basic crudeness of rhythm and blues, understood that Jagger was young enough to have grown up with the electric shouting end of the blues and so didn’t have to be concerned about the purity of country blues.
One evening in Alex’s kitchen Jagger said he didn’t give a damn about the finer points of the blues. The crude and raw parts of it turned him on, the full frontal music. That delicate guitar picking was too fine for him, he said; the heavy solos behind him got it all moving.
“Yeah, but does the crude side of it have musical value? Are those harsh solos effective musically?” Alex asked. “I mean, do you get better results using a cudgel or a rapier?”
Jagger preferred the cudgel, to bash their bloody heads in, he said.
“No, no, you do more by knifing your way gently, not bashing ‘em over the head with sound. Slice your way into your audience.”
During these conversations, Jagger would occasionally jump off his stool in front of the bar that broke the large kitchen in two and prance over to the old-fashioned stove to boil more water for their tea. Bobbie Korner smiled; when Jagger first started coming around to talk to Alex she’d insist on being the hostess and fetching whatever was needed, but she soon gave that up when she realized that Jagger was so speedy he simply had to do something … anything … to use up his excess energy.
The Chicago sound moved him the most, Jagger said. The electric city blues, not the country blues from Mississippi.
“But that’s a vulgarization, that electric sound out of Chicago. It’s electric country and it’s a vulgarization of everything that’s come before, all the country blues like Blind Willie McTell and Robert Johnson and all those extremely fine guitar pickers.”
If it was vulgar, it was fine with him because that sort of vulgarization was the only way to make the blues popular, Jagger insisted.
Those arguments went on until it was time to run down to the club to do their sets. And as Alex watched Jagger perform after one of these discussions he’d wonder if perhaps the kid was right: Alex and the other members of the band were constantly arguing about the chances of the blues ever becoming a popular art form, and Jagger was up there singing as if he were certain that it would be popular. Every sound from his throat, every movement of his over-large head, demanded that the audiences wake up and recognize that this was the music to listen to, and Jagger was going to be its popularizer. He had a lot of gall, but he certainly seemed to have the determination, Alex thought, and he might just pull it off eventually.
The electric, supercharged nature of the performer’s art excited Jagger, fascinated him, Alex felt. Jagger seemed to be learning to bend an audience to his wishes, to manipulate it. Sometimes, when a performance worked especially well, Jagger seemed almost like a puppet master. It didn’t happen too often, yet often enough to make Alex realize that Jagger was learning his craft, was discovering the art of rousing an audience’s emotions, pulling from it the precise response he demanded. Not that Jagger knew or studied every stimulus and response, not that his act became deliberate and calculating. No. He didn’t understand it, intellectually, Alex was certain, but he did give the feeling that he knew he had within him the power to excite and stimulate. And it looked as if the audience excited him in turn, drove him further. The foot-thumping of his audience, the kids jumping up to dance, the loud, raucous sound of the band behind him, forced to follow the singer. And the lights, the props, the microphones and amps, and even the perspiration hanging heavy in the air, that locker room odor of sweating dancers and musicians … the total atmosphere of a club as seen by a performer from the stage, seemed to give Jagger a sense of timelessness. The intimacy of performers and musicians, the bickerings and the aimless conversations and jokes, the petty jealousies, all the words used to make contact or turn it aside, made them feel that normal human language is trivial compared to the force of the music. When he sang it was as if his voice, his body, were drawing out of himself his deepest, most personal self. And drawing out of the band a power that was absolute control, bent to his needs. He seemed almost subordinated to this power—the power of the band, which he controlled, and the power of his own performance. The sum of these was bringing from somewhere inside him a force no performer could explain, not even to himself. If anyone were to give it a name, he’d have to call it magic.
So what did it matter that some strong negative feelings had begun to grow between himself and Cyril? Jagger knew that Cyril didn’t like the songs he sang, didn’t think he sang the blues, thought he was singing well but it sure as hell wasn’t the blues. Cyril was hoping Jagger would take his singing elsewhere, but he was creating a chemistry between himself and the people out beyond the lights, and he was usually able to dismiss Cyril’s attitude. He knew Cyril was more of a purist than anyone else playing the blues. Cyril was so essentially a country blues man that the furthest step he could make, grudgingly, was to Muddy’s electric blues playing. But no further. Certainly not so far as the shouters, the R & B men who had brought their ghetto pollution to the blues. Jagger could dismiss Cyril’s criticisms and antagonism because it was clear that Cyril was questioning his taste, not his talent.
Among some members of Blues Incorporated and their wives, crew and associates, there was a strong feeling that Jagger had abandoned Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys, that he had broken up the group by becoming a singer in Alex’s band. Keith most of all appeared stranded by Jagger. Keith was always tagging along at Jagger’s side, the friend with the guitar who watched from a table out front but was never permitted to play because he was a rocker. Alex’s wife, Bobbie, started worrying that Keith’s feelings had been hurt by Jagger and by her husband, who had brought Jagger into the band. As she sat with Keith one night in the Marquee she asked him:
“What about you and your band, now that Mick is working with Alex?”
“It doesn’t matter. Mick is so good,” Keith said. “As long as he’s heard we don’t mind, man. We really believe in him. He’s going to make it.”
Bobbie stared at Keith for a long while. She concluded that he honestly felt that strongly about Jagger’s talent. But she didn’t know—no one outside knew—that Keith was holding something back—the boys had formed a new band, the Rolling Stones, and were rehearsing as often as they could. They were very secretive about the band and never let Alex or anyone else know that they had put together a new group.
Jagger, most of all, kept his plans and ambitions to himself. He was very shy and difficult to talk to, wouldn’t open up with anyone, not even Alex. Jagger also appeared very conscious of the age difference between himself and Alex. He would often call Bobbie Korner “Auntie Bobbie,” though she wasn’t yet thirty, little more than ten years older than he was. John Mayall’s wife, Pamela, was about the same age as Bobbie, yet Jagger would call her “Old Mother Mayall.” He was very guarded and distant with anyone not his age, left some of them with the impression that he fancied the older generation faintly amusing, that he felt an entire generation separated him from Alex and all the older people in music and that only musicians his own age would understand him. From the very beginning, the Rolling Stones seemed to possess a sense of their own security as a complete unit of friends and musicians not dependent upon anyone else, and not fully trusting anyone else.
The Rolling Stones had come together within weeks after Jagger and Keith had been so impressed by Brian’s performance. Immediately after that first meeting Keith and Brian began playing together, bouncing riffs off one another, turning each other on to his favorite artists. Brian at the time was playing several nights a week with a jazz band, to earn money and for the chance to get out and perform, even though he hated the leaden music of trad jazz. He brought Keith along several times to sit in and blow with his group and, once again Keith’s rock sound was simply too much for the rest of the band, and he wasn’t permitted to play. They talked a lot about Keith, Dick Taylor, and perhaps Jagger joining the group Brian was blowing with, and perhaps transforming it into a blues band, but Brian decided they’d be much wiser to form their own group.
The Rolling Stones was created out of their need to play their own kind of music. The band consisted of Brian as leader, Keith, and Ian Stewart, whom Brian had just met in a jazz club and who played the sort of straight boogie blues piano that none of them had heard before except on Albert Ammons recordings. Dick Taylor played bass. Bob Beckwith rehearsed with them for the first couple of weeks, then drifted away to concentrate on his schooling. Charlie Watts came by to play several times but he was Korner’s drummer and couldn’t afford to give that up for the Stones, so the group picked up a drummer named Tony Chapman. Tony was a salesman from Liverpool who would miss about half their rehearsals because he had to get on the road and do his selling. And finally there was Jagger. He seemed to be along at first just to be singing with his friends, but as the weeks passed and Cyril was making it more obvious that he didn’t like Jagger personally and thoroughly loathed his desecration of the pure blues, Jagger was almost forced to become more serious about the band that his friends had formed.
The group was no longer Boy Blue but the Rolling Stones. It signified the philosophical split in musical taste between Brian and Jagger. Pre-electric Muddy was the old blues style; Jagger and Keith conceived of this new band as rhythm and blues, the shouters backed by the heavy beat and raw amplified power. But the split would not be obvious for a couple of years.
When Brian suggested the name for the band Jagger said, “Let’s call it the Silver Rolling Stones,” unaware that up in Liverpool a group playing the same kind of raunch music originally called themselves the Silver Beatles, but quickly discarded “silver.” It was the Silver Rolling Stones for a short period, then simply the Rolling Stones.
For kids from the suburbs, the seamier side of London life was an enormous jolt of electricity. And nothing seemed more seedy or more charged than the Bricklayer’s Arms, a pub in Broadwick Street, Soho, that was the meeting place for whores, street traders, and businessmen. Ian Stewart was a regular at the “Brick,” and he introduced the boys to a part of English life they’d never seen before. Most days, after classes at the LSE, Jagger would take the Tube down to the Leicester Square station, wander past the drunks and pensioners in Soho Square and over to the Brick. Usually, Ian’s huge old racing bicycle was stashed just inside the front door, and Ian would be sitting at a table with his back to the wall, in cycling shorts, his feet up on the table, nibbling away at a pork pie to make it last through several pints of bitter.
The Brick’s atmosphere was as earthy and raunchy as the music the Stones were trying to create. One of their favorite barroom ladies was a large woman of indeterminate age, except that there was much age showing in her face and sagging body, and she provided the boys with an enormous number of insider jokes. Especially the one about her “minge,” a word they had never heard before but they correctly assumed to mean her vagina. She arrived one evening, quite angry, ordered her usual gin, neat, and complained to everyone in the pub:
“Riding on the Tube, and this young bloke sitting across me, trying to stare up me dress. Closed me legs tight and ‘e stared even ‘arder. Gave ‘im a nasty look. ‘E came and sat ‘is fat arse next to mine and said, ‘I want to look at your minge, it must be lovely.’ ‘It ‘im with me bag, I did, and ‘e ran off the train. ‘Ere now, ‘e wanted to look at me minge. The bloody nerve askin’ to see me minge.”
The Rolling Stones began rehearsing in a room above the pub which the landlord let them use for ten bob a night. Jagger had spending money from his government educational grant, Keith had a small allowance, Brian worked as a clerk in the electrical department at Whiteley’s, and the others managed to scrape together a few pence each to contribute to the cost of the rehearsal hall. As soon as they had a steady place of their own to rehearse in, the boys set about upgrading their equipment. Dick Taylor bought the largest bass guitar he could find, at least four and a half feet long, but he couldn’t afford an amplifier so he plugged into one that Brian got from someplace, in some mysterious way. Jagger put the bite on his parents for a loan to enable him to buy more professional equipment. Joe Jagger, afraid that music might further distract his son from a proper education, refused at first. Jagger then went to work on his mother, promising not to drop out of school until he finished his courses, at the same time ranting on about the potential rewards of show business. He told them that if he worked at it he could become wealthier than they could possibly imagine, perhaps a millionaire. But he added that he couldn’t do it without the proper equipment for his group.
Eventually Mrs. Jagger gave in and loaned her son £30. Keith picked out two Harmony amps. They were no larger or more powerful than inexpensive phonograph speakers but when Jagger and Keith brought them round to the Brick the other members of the group almost went out of their heads with joy because they felt the equipment was at least approaching the power and sophistication of Alex’s equipment … and Alex was a professional.
They rehearsed several nights a week and went looking for jobs. There wasn’t too much work around because trad jazz was still dominant, and the promoters weren’t about to try something new and potentially dangerous to the safe and steady income the trad bands were bringing them. One gig the Stones did get was at a pub in the north end of London on a Friday night. It was their first real job, and they struggled all their equipment into the Tube and rode for what seemed like hours. When they got to the front door of the dance hall they found a small hand-lettered sign announcing “The Roling [sic] Stones” and a totally empty hall. They began to set up their gear, Jagger occasionally turning to shout at an invisible horde rushing the stage: “Stand back! Stand back, mates! Give the boys some breathing space!” And Brian tore off his leather belt, pretending to whip a girl trying to climb onstage. When the band blasted into its first number, there were exactly two paying customers in the audience. That couple soon left. But a crowd did begin to build outside. Neighborhood kids who threw stones at the building and demanded an end to the horrible noise inside. After a few songs the manager of the hall, afraid his windows would be smashed, ordered the Stones to pack up. The boys returned to the Brick, where they got as drunk as their near-empty pockets would allow.
The Stones began to play as a fill-in group for Blues Incorporated at the Ealing and the Marquee and got a somewhat better reception. But they never told anyone they were the Rolling Stones; they just left the impression with the other musicians that they were messing around together in their spare time, not in any serious way. And they continued to rehearse at the Brick, whose patrons were more accustomed to talk about soccer and horse racing than about Muddy and Elmore. The boys would have a couple of drinks when they met each night, then go upstairs to play through their repertoire. Everyone down in the pub believed they were crazy. But the patrons were pleasant toward these longhairs, treating them as a bunch of loonies you don’t want to offend by letting them know that you know they’re insane. On occasion other musicians, and sometimes even a straight customer with a musical ear and a drunken curiosity, would come storming up the stairs to see what was going on. One night, just as the band was about to pack it up so Jagger, Keith, and Dick could catch the last train to Dartford, a well-dressed little man walked in and said:
“Hello, there. I’m an artists’ representative. Here’s my card.” Brian reached out and took the card, glanced at it, and turned to hand it to Jagger. Brian’s face was contorted by an effort not to laugh. Jagger handled the card delicately, Taylor remembers, appearing to study the inscription with exaggerated concentration. The card read:
“I think you lads are on to something here,” the artistes’ representative said. “This country-and-western music can definitely do things for you, can definitely make you money. I can buy you some suits, take you to American bases in Germany, make you a large sum of money. Country-and-western is big among Americans …”
His long recital seemed to wind on for twenty minutes. The boys listened politely, stifling their laughter as best they could. Finally, Jagger said his mother would never give her permission for Germany, because she had lost four brothers in the “Big War.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. But if you can convince Mother, I can make you boys rich,” he said as Jagger led him to the door. When Jagger rejoined the group, thrashing around with laughter, one of them swung a guitar at him and said, “I never heard you talk about those dear dead uncles.”
Jagger said he never had any.
Jagger saw his first big break come and go in an instant at the beginning of June. All the members of Blues Incorporated were gathered at the Marquee about an hour before the opening Thursday night set when Alex Korner came tearing in, late and somewhat out of breath, and called a band meeting.
“Just talking to a producer of the BBC’s jazz program. They want us to do a gig on the telly next Thursday night.”
“Incredible!” Jagger shouted. “A million people will watch us and we’ll double the people who come into the club.”
“Right. But there’s a problem,” Alex said. “Here’s the situation, man. The BBC is willing to pay for only six of us. They know there’re seven in the band but they said they don’t need three singers to do a few numbers, they don’t need more than two so they’ll only pay for six of us. Truthfully, Mick … it’s a drag, but they feel they don’t need you because you don’t play an instrument. A drag, but there it is.”
“Fuck ‘em, we won’t do it,” someone called out.
Jagger remained silent as the other band members shouted their ideas on how to handle the BBC. It must have occurred to him that if Blues Incorporated did the BBC show then the Stones could debut at the Marquee that night. Someone would have to keep the Marquee open, why not the Stones? They’d been rehearsing enough, they’d played gigs at the Marquee before … although not disclosing to anyone that they were a formal band with a real name. They were ready.
Jagger said that they must play the BBC, that they couldn’t turn them down because the exposure would attract an enormous number of new customers.
Most of the band members were very excited at that idea, that an appearance on the BBC would make them famous, bring promoters crawling into the Marquee with more job offers than they’d have the time or energy to accept.
But it was absolutely necessary to keep the club open, Jagger said. The band wouldn’t be able to play the BBC and the club at the same time, and so another band or two must be put together.
“Right. If we leave the club for just one night somebody else will get the gig and we might have trouble getting it back,” Alex said. “Pendleton won’t like us giving up even a single night at the Marquee just for the lousy BBC.”
“We’ll keep the club open,” Jagger said. “The Stones will play the gig.”
It was the first time Alex was aware that the boys had formed a group and were calling it the Rolling Stones. Cyril suggested, and everyone agreed, that Jagger and John Baldry would be in charge of holding down the Thursday night date at the Marquee: Baldry to put together the lead band and Jagger the relief band. It was the first appearance in London of the Rolling Stones—Jagger, Keith, Brian, Ian, and Tony Chapman on drums; Dick Taylor didn’t play because he’d dropped out of the Stones a couple of weeks before to complete his studies at art school and go on to university.
Jagger wasn’t the same boy he had been several months before. He was rather quickly being transformed into a personality his parents would have difficulty recognizing. The surface changes were the most obvious, as they would always be with Jagger in the future. Before coming up to London he spoke with a quite typical English suburban accent. Within a few months he was beginning to mimic the Cockney accents he heard in the Bricklayer’s Arms and through much of working-class London, and very slowly but quite definitely the Cockney became a natural way of speaking. It was almost as if he’d decided to become a Cockney because he knew he could never get away with imitating a black American sharecropper, and Cockney seemed to be the closest equivalent that England had. And while his speech was changing the carefully groomed university look had given way to a scruffiness which was just as carefully worked out: jeans, boots, tattered shirts and sweaters … clothing picked up for a few pence at second-hand shops in Camden Town.
Inside, Jagger was going through another change Alex and others in the group felt. He made it clear to them that he was beginning to have second thoughts about completing LSE and going on to any sort of ordinary career. Alex understood that Jagger was coming to realize his involvement in music and performing was something over which he ultimately didn’t have control, certainly not enough control to decide whether to drop it and continue his schooling, or to really push the music to its furthest possible limits. He was completing his first year at LSE and talking about giving it one more year, and yet indicating that even with another year at school he’d have to leave anyway and get out there and sing, and perhaps he should quit right now. But he couldn’t bring himself to do it immediately, Alex felt, because he knew it would hurt his parents and he said he owed them something. He also had a debt to the government, which financed his education and had an investment in him, he said. Could he be so ungrateful as to quit now and waste the government’s money?
Jagger sometimes complained to Alex about how deeply he hated the need to go to LSE, how much he’d like to quit but couldn’t at this point, and during these talks Alex came to understand a little bit more about Jagger—that his need to perform, his overwhelming drive to perform, had produced in Jagger the total amorality that Alex believed an artist needed to get his art together. People count, certainly, but they don’t count if they interfere with the music or the performance. Alex knew what Jagger was going through. Months before, when he had told his wife that he was going to take Blues Incorporated fully professional, concentrate wholly on his music, she said she’d take the three children and leave him if he did anything so foolhardy; Alex considered that for a while and decided that nothing could stand in the way of his need to play and perform. She didn’t leave me, Alex thought after one of these conversations with Jagger, but I sure know your need for the music gets you. It’s got Mick, and he’s got to admit it’s got him if he’s going to be able to survive. You have to believe in it that hard, if you’re going to do it, you have to set up your own code for what you’re doing and stick by that code, even if no one else understands your code. That’s Mick’s greatest strength, he’s totally amoral, he just doesn’t want to know anything about any moralities that may interfere with the performance of his music. This kid has it so strong he’s going to end up doing something and doing it so big that everyone knows he’s done it.
Alex was a vital influence on that growing “amorality” in Jagger, contributed much to it. Alex had three children to support, no independent income, and when he turned professional in a very risky business he clearly wasn’t worried about the security of a steady job. Jagger was very much aware of Alex’s attitude and was affected by it, Alex knew, because they discussed the lack of security in the music industry several times. And Alex always laid the same line on Jagger that he did with any other musicians who asked him about it: “When you’re so damned young you just do what you have to do because you’re physically fit to get yourself out of it if you need to. I mean, it doesn’t matter if you run short of food for a bit, it doesn’t matter if you have no place to sleep when you’re nineteen or twenty. It’s going to hurt a lot more when you’re forty so you may as well do it now. What the hell, you’ve got plenty of time to survive.”
Alex’s role in the English music scene was that of the older more experienced man who looks after the younger musicians, points them in the right direction, and lets them run because they’re going to run faster than you anyway. Music is a very tribal thing, each musician lending the other support, each knowing he could turn to one of the others for help when needed because they were all in it together, welded into a close community. There were no superstars, no riches, no screaming teenyboppers; just several score musicians who had come together in a very tight group revolving around Alex and Blues Incorporated. Their only concern was in music. How well you could play. What music you played. Very often they didn’t like one another on personal levels but it didn’t matter because the moment they began tuning their instruments they’d forget everything but the music, which is all that mattered. Not one of them could explain why they played with people they didn’t always like, except that they played so well you had to go and blow with them. They were a part of your tribe. And that sense of community was reinforced by the antagonism of the jazz musicians and the promoters.
By now, as the. Stones had become a working band and were being paid a few pounds a night for playing, the jazzmen’s hold on English popular music was slipping. The Beatles were breaking it down in Liverpool and were about to assault London, the Animals in Manchester were attracting notice, Eric Clapton was blowing tributes to Elmore in small London clubs, and so many other of the younger musicians, managers, and promoters were beginning to understand that rhythm and blues was destroying the cozy jazz scene, and were signing up blues bands, leaping in before their rivals could get the edge. It started there, that summer Blues Incorporated played the BBC show and the Rolling Stones came out of the Bricklayer’s Arms as a working band. By the following winter, some nine months after Alex and his group opened it all up at the Marquee, there would be a complete upset on the music scene. Clubs, managers, and promoters would turn their backs on the jazz bands and sign up any musician who appeared even slightly capable of forming a blues band.
And in that summer of 1962, as jazz musicians were beginning to sense their loss of dominance, much bad blood began to flow between the two camps of musicians. The antagonism was heightened when Alex, sitting around talking about the impending changes with a number of musicians from each camp, said, “I’m going to break down this goddamn Mickey Mouse jazz scene and produce some real music.” That line was quoted and requoted in every club in London, and the antagonisms grew so large that Keith, angered at Harold Pendleton’s obvious partiality for jazz, swung his guitar at the club owner’s head; and some jazz players stopped talking to blues musicians. The bluesmen didn’t really give a damn because record company A & R men were now slipping into the clubs to listen to the blues groups, and English recording firms were releasing Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters albums for the first time. The blues era was obviously arriving and the jazz stranglehold ending, and Jagger was ready to capitalize on it.
When the school year was out Jagger decided he must move into a flat in London to be in the center of the musical universe while everything was so fast-changing. He persuaded Brian and Keith to share a place with him. Jagger had some money from his government grant, Brian was working at odd low-paying jobs, and Keith received a small allowance from his family. Their combined income didn’t add up to very much but they felt certain the band would be getting a greater number of paying gigs and they’d be able to at least scrape together enough for the rent, for food, and for the rehearsal hall at the Brick.
The bedsit they found was in Edith Grove, off the Fulham Road in Chelsea, a tiny hovel that had electricity—one bulb dangling from a cord in each of the two rooms—and little else to make it livable except that it was cheap. The water taps leaked, wallpaper was flaking off the walls, and sometimes the walls themselves seemed about to flake apart, the furniture provided by the landlord and the odds and ends they dragged up from the street just a step ahead of the dustmen collapsed with predictable regularity. There was a communal toilet two flights up, rather unclean and completely unlighted—to use it after dark the boys had to carry a candle. About the only equipment that worked properly was the record player they brought along and the very large fridge, which became a standing joke among friends because it was always empty except for pint bottles of milk crawling with mold.
Their greatest problem was food. They had misjudged their wealth and the band’s ability to earn a few pounds a night and soon discovered there wasn’t enough money to feed them properly. Mrs. Richards sent parcels of food every couple of days. Cleo Sylvester, a young black student and singer who had met the boys at the Marquee, where she occasionally sang in a backup group with Blues Incorporated, bought them food whenever she could spare money from her allowance. Their staple diet was potatoes. Mashed, usually, because none of them knew anything about cooking. And Brian insisted on adding fried eggs to the potatoes whenever they could get enough money together to buy a few eggs. “It gives the spuds a colorful look and it also boosts the old calories,” Brian said. “No sense dying of starvation just when this band’s about to tear the country apart with its great music.”
They never did come close to starvation, in part because they were pretty crafty at nicking their neighbors. On the floor above them lived two young men in training to be schoolteachers. They’d hold several parties a week—beer and sandwiches with friends, and dancing to Duke Ellington records. When the parties ended and everyone was passed out, Brian, Keith, and Jagger slipped into the flat with paper bags and filled them with the leftover sandwiches and empty bottles to return to the pub for the deposit. The flat below them was shared by four middle-aged women from Liverpool, come to the big city together because times were bad up north. The boys didn’t know what the women did for a living and cavalierly decided they must be whores. But the women took a liking to these scruffy nineteen-year-olds and often fed them and helped hold them together when things really seemed to be bad and the boys appeared about to collapse—a look they learned to cultivate for its most rewarding effect.
Their financial crisis came about mostly because they continued to buy equipment for the band on hire purchase and the weekly payments had to be made to the shops. They’d hide money away in an old tin in the flat to make the repayments, but some of the cash seemed to be vanishing each week. Eventually Jagger and Keith discovered that Brian—who had the only steady income and was contributing more than his share—was periodically dipping into the money tin. They became angry at Brian, and several arguments shook the flat. But Brian was then the leader of the Stones, he was such an incredibly fine musician that he learned to play the mouth harp like a professional in a single day while sitting around the flat, in no way could the Stones at that time survive without Brian for he had fused them into a functioning unit and held them together, so Brian was usually forgiven his petty thefts.
The band’s paying jobs were few. Much of the time they played for nothing, because no one would pay them. But they weren’t too often discouraged. Brian would sometimes say he was going to quit because he didn’t think he was good enough to make it—and he needed very badly to make it—but Cleo or one of the other young women who visited Edith Grove would bring him out of his dark moods. Those periods of depression didn’t come too often except for Brian, who was careful not to appear discouraged when Jagger was around. Most of the time the boys were optimistic and they spent many hours discussing their future.
One of those conversations was kicked off after the band completed a date which was rather disappointing because only a couple dozen fans turned out to hear them. As the Stones were packing up their gear after their last set a blonde and attractive young woman, one of those pre-groupies who were beginning to follow the band from date to date, came up to chat with Brian.
“We’re all on your side, we love the music you play, but a lot of people just hate you,” she said.
“What does that mean?” Brian asked.
She told him that while she was waiting outside, before the doors were opened, a man prominent in the jazz world came up to her, glared at the Stones poster, and asked if she was a fan. She said she certainly was and he smiled and said:
“Forget them. By the time we’re finished with that little lot they won’t get a job in any club in England.”
The boys talked about that incident on the way back to Edith Grove. Jagger summed up their attitude: “To hell with the lot of them. We’ll just keep hammering away and we’ll make it in spite of them all. Anybody who laughs at us can get on with it.”
Keith and Brian shouted their agreement. But when they returned to their flat they talked about their future almost until dawn and continued to discuss it in the following weeks. Jagger said he was concerned about their parents. They’d put a lot into giving them a good home and a good education, and he said he knew his parents were upset about his interest in the blues, playing in the band. He wondered whether he was doing the right thing by not working harder at school and looking for a worthwhile job, and perhaps forgetting about this mad music bit.
“Maybe yer right,” Brian said. “Suppose we fail?”
“Why should we fail?” Jagger said. “I don’t think about failure because we’re going to make it. What it comes down to is, we really have to go for what we believe in. The blues.”
Keith said he was right. That’s what they had been feeling down in Dartford, that they had to push rhythm and blues over to a wide public.
“We got to get our idols idolized by everybody else, turn ‘em on to Chuck and Jimmy Reed and all those cats.”
“All right, so we carry on with it and we know we’re going to make it,” Jagger said. “Look, there’s something Alex keeps telling the cats. I don’t remember just how he put it but I think of it this way. Even if we do flop, even if we just scrape along making a few bob a night. Does it matter? At least we tried. We’ll try to the best of our ability and we’ll have nothing to regret in later life no matter how it turns out. Maybe we’ll all be working in offices and married and settled down with kids in some suburban house. But if we don’t give it a proper fling we’ll probably end up kicking ourselves.”
“Yeah, because we’ll never know how good we could have been,” Brian said. “And a lifetime of regret, of looking back and kicking ourselves for not giving it a proper fling, would muck us up forever.”
Jagger said it was settled, they must carry on with it. And if they had to give up everything for the music, then they’d give it up. But the first thing they must do is join the National Jazz Federation.
Brian and Keith chorused that Jagger must be stark raving out of his bloody mind, that the jazz bunch were their enemies, but Jagger explained that the problem was that the trad boom was dying. A lot of clubs using trad bands were feeling the pinch and closing down. Or changing over to the kind of music that Alex and the Stones were playing. They had talked to the kids, Jagger said, and they knew the kids were looking for something different. Not trad jazz or the Shadows and Bobby Vee kind of pap. What they were looking for would be the Stones, even if they didn’t know it yet. “Thing is, though, that the trad scene has been dominated by older musicians, like Chris Barber and Humphrey Lyttleton—Acker Bilk and Kenny Ball, too, if you like, on a more commercial level.”
“So why join the Jazz Federation?” Brian asked.
It would mean they’d have direct contact with all the top people in the business, Jagger said, get them to think the Stones were jazz musicians trying the new music fad that Alex had started. That way, when the blues pushes the last of the jazz musicians out, and some of them start to switch over to the blues to keep working, the Stones would be there first.
They promptly signed up with the National Jazz Federation. It was a delicious feeling, infiltrating the enemy and nibbling at them from within.
With Dick Taylor gone because he had been accepted at the Royal College of Art, the Stones were forced to search around for a new bass guitarist. Keith asked Tony Chapman, their regular drummer, whether he knew any good bass players who were looking for a group to join. Tony said he did know one cat who was damned good and would bring him around to the Wetherby Arms, in the King’s Road, where the Stones had begun to hang out and occasionally to rehearse because it was nearer their flat than the Bricklayer’s Arms.
The bass player, Bill Wyman, turned up with Tony the next evening, hauling a huge speaker and a spare Vox eight-thirty amp, the biggest amp any of them had ever seen. And it’s his bloody spare, Keith thought. Tony introduced Bill all around, but only Jagger and lan paid him much attention because Keith and Brian were deep into a conversation and their brew, which annoyed Bill somewhat. Bill thought Jagger was just a shade neater than the other two, as befits a student, but was pretty scruffy nevertheless, hair growing long, clothes looking as if they hadn’t been cleaned or pressed in ages.
After chatting a while with Jagger and lan, whom Bill had met before at rock clubs in Surrey, they got down to playing a few numbers together in a room back of the pub. Bill was edgy because he didn’t know whether he could bring off the blues sound this band wanted. He had heard a lot of talk about the Stones among other musicians, heard they were damned good. He wasn’t certain of his own ability although he’d been playing in rock bands for about four years and was more experienced than any of them. And I sure as hell don’t like the name Rolling Stones, damned silly name. Bill thought as they worked through a few numbers. When the informal audition was over Brian and Jagger asked Bill to join the band. He accepted immediately, even though he guessed he’d lose money at least for a while because the Stones had no real drawing power yet and Bill had been playing with bands which earned him at least a couple of pounds a night. He auditioned for the Stones primarily because he could no longer stand playing with the dreadful rock bands that were around at the time—bands imitating the Shadows, little dance steps, and an unvarying sound in every number—bands that had run out of musical ideas and were playing the same old draggy pop rock every night. And he joined the Stones because he felt the band was the only live and vibrant group he’d heard in a long while.
Cleo Sylvester got to the Marquee a little early, one Thursday night in December, and once more she felt a bit of surprise when Jagger came over to chat. She had known Alex and John Baldry and the other musicians since Blues Incorporated’s opening night at the Marquee; as a black woman and a singer she wanted to learn all she could about the black American rhythm and blues, and the Marquee was an informal conservatory for her. Cleo had been present at almost every Blues Incorporated club date since the band was formed. And yet, though all the musicians—especially Baldry and Brian—were taken by her quick smile, her impish laugh, and warm good looks, and spent much time with her, Jagger was too shy and reticent to even say “Hello” for the first three months. When he did finally get up the courage to talk to her he asked her about herself and learned she was still in school and lived near Euston. “I know the neighborhood, I go to school there,” Jagger said. He was so diffident about it that Cleo didn’t even consider the possibility he went to LSE. She assumed he attended the Pitman Shorthand College, which was also near her home. When she learned he was a university student she was rather startled.
Over the summer Cleo and a girlfriend dropped into the Edith Grove flat regularly, occasionally cleaning up the place, laughing at them for being the sloppiest housekeepers in the British Isles, and Jagger had become warm and open with her. He impressed Cleo with his ability to withstand setbacks—or his need to pretend the unpleasant doesn’t exist—and the way he’d deflect attention from his feelings by reeling off jokes. He seemed to be so aware of his talent and his potential that nothing else mattered, nothing could throw him off the course he had set for himself. Cleo went down to the Flamingo to see the Stones on their first night at this club in Wardour Street. There were no more than six people in the audience, and Jagger appeared very depressed for a time at the lack of turnout. The Flamingo was patronized mostly by blacks, and the Stones were resented for playing black music, and Cleo felt Jagger was hurt because he had often talked about popularizing black artists. Cleo could sense that immediately, the hurt Jagger felt and his depression. But by the time the group got out into the street Jagger was convulsing Cleo with old Bo Diddley jokes, with a comic routine he had developed of spouting a string of long and unusual words and then suddenly breaking into a West Indian accent, of sending everything up. All the members of the Stones seemed to Cleo to be in deep misery because of the unenthusiastic response the band was getting in some clubs, but Jagger was expert at covering his feelings.
Despite their growing friendship, whenever Jagger approached Cleo as he did now in the Marquee, she still felt a bit surprised that he had overcome his extreme shyness. That evening, Cleo recalls, Jagger got right to the point.
“Cleo. I’d like you to join the Stones,” he said.
“Are you serious?”
“Sure I am. We’ve talked it over and decided we want some colored girls to join the group as singers. To back us up. We’re looking for a little more of the American sound.”
“Like the Ikettes?”
“Exactly,” Jagger said. “ ’Ooh-Poo-Pah-Doo’ and songs of that sort. And we’ve decided on a name for the girls. The Honeybees.”
“I’d love to give it a go,” Cleo said.
“Do you know any other colored girls who’d be interested in singing with us? We figure we want you and two more.”
Cleo said she’d hunt around for two other black singers, and Jagger told her to be certain they were English, not West Indian, because he wanted girls who could copy the distinctive sound of the Ikettes without that West Indian lilt. Cleo found one girl who said her ambition was to be a singer. They went round to Edith Grove the following Sunday, and the Stones, very excited about getting their black chorus together, rushed them down to the Wetherby for their first run-through.
It turned out the new girl couldn’t sing a note or even follow the lyric: While the band banged away and Cleo sang “Ooh-poo-pah-doo” over and over again in response to the lyric Jagger sang, she was shouting “Ooh—poo-poo-poo,” completely off key, and then suddenly breaking up with nervousness and shouting, “Oh, oh, oh. Oh God, what can I do? I can’t sing. “The rehearsal soon broke up, the boys telling Cleo she’d brought them a complete loon instead of a singer. The girl fell into the Stones circle, though, and became one of several young women who’d help clean up their flat and bring them something to eat on occasion. But the gimmick of the black chorus—the Honeybees imitating Ike and Tina Turner’s chorus—was soon given up as an idea not worth the trouble. Cleo was too busy with school exams to get seriously involved with performing, and the Stones were getting so few paying gigs that to split up the take among three extra performers would reduce their income to a few bob each per week.
Brian and Jagger had been asking Charlie Watts to become their regular drummer for several months and by the end of the year, 1962, were almost begging him to become a Rolling Stone. Tony Chapman was still committed to his job up north and missed so many rehearsals and club dates that they brought in another drummer. Steve Harris, to sit in during Tony’s absences. But Steve was primarily a jazz band drummer and he couldn’t completely adjust to the blues idiom, or the Stones’ versions of the blues, and the boys desperately wanted Charlie to round out the group. The Stones were getting more work by now, mostly in clubs on the edges of London. They were being paid on a percentage basis with the promoters—the more customers they brought in, the higher their wages. And the customers were beginning to come in, the Stones were building a following. They could feel an enormous energy growing, out there beneath the stage, young girls winding tighter and tighter and then finally springing loose, leaping on stage to touch Brian or Jagger, the favored two; dozens of these adolescents who already looked like, and dreamed of being, full-blown, sexual, sensual women, dozens of them followed the Stones to every gig they played, screaming over the performances as if they were being sexually fulfilled by the music, by Jagger’s gestures and Brian’s sadistic teasing, his flick of evil. Brian said he’d love to put the boot to these little girls, to arouse them with his screaming thumping soaring guitar and then kick them and whip them and bugger them until they were so broken to his will that they could only plead for more. And though he was at least only partially fantasizing aloud, the feeling of evil sensuality flowing from Brian created a love-fear chemistry that forced the women to come back for more, to follow the Stones around the London club circuit. And to spread the word among their friends that the new kind of music, and performance, coming out of this band was guaranteed to wipe them out of their minds and inspire delicious little orgasms at the same time. The Stones weren’t exactly being mobbed, but their ability to borrow the most sexually arousing forms of black American music and project it as something fresh and wholly their own, created a small but devoted following that was slowly building up. By the final months of the year the band was splitting £25 to £30 a week.
But Charlie was still unable to decide whether he wanted to join the Stones. He was getting enough work with the jazz-oriented band in which he’d been playing for about a year to satisfy his need to play and to supplement the paltry wages he earned as an apprentice artist and designer in a Regent Street advertising agency. The trouble was, he said, he didn’t know whether he wanted to become a full-time musician, and Brian and Keith were making it plain they believed the Stones would soon be a full-time professional band. Dreaming, perhaps … Jagger, after all, was still at LSE pursuing his business career and though he wasn’t working too hard at being a student, he still seemed to feel that he’d never get rich with his singing and so must devote some of his energies toward a more orthodox way of making a living. Charlie could understand that. He was level-headed enough to realize that music was a hazardous business, and he believed it would be the sheerest folly to give up even the £14 a week he earned in the design studio and perhaps starve as a musician. Charlie liked clothes—smart suits, shirts, and ties; Christian Dior’s London headquarters was next door to the ad agency, and the models Charlie had begun to date weren’t the types to be seen with the likes of a scruffy Rolling Stone.
Charlie was worried because none of the musicians he knew in the jazz end of the business had a good word to say about the Stones. They were complete outsiders, and no one wanted to know anything about the great sound they were making because everyone was too busy looking at the Stones as a gang of ruffians, layabouts, and long-haired freaks. Charlie knew the group was damned good, knew that attitude was completely wrong, but he wondered whether the Stones would ever beat the unofficial boycott and really make it big; he worried about his future as a Rolling Stone. He had been born in Islington in June 1941; the son of a lorry driver for British Railways who always impressed on him the need for a steady job and permanent security. He went to Harrow Art School, landed the ad agency job, and felt that his future was as secure as it could be. Then the Stones came along.
Other musicians, especially Alex Korner, felt that Charlie was being middle-aged cautious, much too security-minded for a nineteen-year-old. Alex had offered Charlie the slot as regular drummer with Blues Incorporated in November 1961, but he had turned it down because his firm was sending him to Denmark for a couple of months to do some work there and he didn’t want to risk losing his job. He didn’t join Alex’s band until his return from Denmark, and then only as an occasional drummer. And a few months before Brian began pressuring him to join the Stones, Charlie had dropped out of Alex’s group, replaced by Ginger Baker, because the band was getting so much work that it had become a strain on him, interfering with his work at the ad agency.
Still, Charlie sensed that the Stones and all they represented were the coming thing in pop music. Perhaps the public wasn’t aware of it—the Stones had received no publicity, they weren’t even a complete band at this point—but other musicians could feel it, other musicians talked about the marvelous sounds that were coming out of Blues Incorporated and the Rolling Stones. Those two groups and few others were talked about among younger musicians.
“Brian and Keith are really after me to join the Stones,” Charlie told Bobbie Korner as they sat in the Flamingo one night before the Stones were to take the stage. “I just don’t know what to do.”
“Are you working with anyone now?”
“Just a few gigs with Blues by Six. Nothing much. And I’m getting bored with their music. It’s dead, compared to what Alex is playing, and the Stones.”
“Then join them. Why not take a chance?” Bobbie said. “You don’t have to be so cautious at your age. If it doesn’t work out, there are a lot of other jobs around, and a lot of other bands. There certainly is nothing to lose by joining them. You’re still very young and you have plenty of time to see about a regular job later if the music doesn’t work out. But I think it will work out. Alex feels the Stones have a very bright future.”
Charlie became the Stones’ regular drummer in the first weeks of 1963.
The Stones had overcome the early resistance of the Flamingo’s patrons, were pulling fair-sized audiences of screaming wriggling girls (and boys) into the club, and were given a steady Monday night date there. Other jobs were coming in with greater frequency, mostly in small clubs on the edges of the city whose owners worried less about the jazz-blues arguments than they did about filling their places with paying customers. By February 1963, the Stones were working at least four nights a week and earning about £7 apiece. With no newspaper write-ups, no manager, no real professional experience, Jagger was earning as a part-time singer half what Charlie was making at the ad agency each week. When he went home to visit his parents and his brother, Chris, who is five years younger, Jagger told them about the band’s progress, their growing earning power, his feeling that he was on the edge of breaking things open in the music world and might perhaps someday really become wealthy as a singer. His parents, of course, worried a great deal and talked long and often about how to bring their son to his senses, how to make him realize that his infatuation with music and performing could only lead to disaster in the future. They sensed that he was seriously considering leaving LSE and felt they must steer him away from this insanity. But nothing they directly said to him seemed to have any affect; he simply assured them he was continuing his studies and working hard at them.
Alex recalls that one afternoon shortly after the Stones became the regular Monday night band at the Flamingo, he received a call from Mrs. Jagger. From her opening remarks, it was immediately clear to Alex that she was sounding him out about Jagger’s growing determination to leave school and risk everything on the Stones, and also trying to learn whether Alex had been responsible for the change in her son. After telling Alex how glad she was that her son was enjoying himself with his hobby, Mrs. Jagger asked:
“Tell me honestly, do you think he has any future in the business?”
“He certainly does. I think he has an enormous future. He’s one of the best singers I’ve heard and he’ll go very far with it.”
“Really?” Mrs. Jagger said, sounding to Alex incredulous. “I must say that my side of the family has always played music and sung a lot, and I’ve always felt that Mick is probably the least talented of us all. The whole family feels that way. I’m very surprised to hear you say that about his singing.”
Alex could feel her need to be reassured. She was obviously quite anxious that Jagger was doing the wrong thing, with the Stones, and she simply must talk to someone who could really judge pop music, needed to know what a man of Alex’s experience actually thought about her son’s talents and his chances of succeeding.
“I don’t know the members of your family. But I totally disagree with what you say about Mick’s talent,” Alex said. “You’re completely wrong in your assessment of him. I think he’s going to be enormous someday. I’m convinced he’s going to be very successful.”
Mrs. Jagger continued to ask questions, and Alex was embarrassed: He felt she was invading their privacy, violating the integrity of the musician’s tribal privacy. He tried to end their conversation as quickly as possible, thinking: I don’t mind being some sort of father figure to Mick if it’s any use to him but I’ll be damned if I’m going to be a same-generation figure to his parents. That’s quite another matter. This world we’re involved in, my relationship with Mick, is a musical-personal one. It has nothing to do with his family, his background. I don’t know his parents, I don’t want to know anything about the people I’m working with except in our capacity of working together. That’s a special world and parents have no place in it. Mrs. Jagger continued to ask questions, feeling Alex out as to what Mick was doing, whether he’d become a layabout, possibly getting in with the wrong crowd. Alex simply reassured her that everything was fine, and eventually she thanked him and rang off.
Alex turned to his wife. “I’m not about to put up with people ringing me and asking me to tell them about their children,” he said.
“You’re absolutely right. Mick keeps his background separate from his music. You’ve been his escape from his background and …”
“And I’m not going to get involved in his past and destroy the relationship of the present. I’m not interested in knowing musicians in other worlds outside of music, and for someone’s mother to ring up …”
Giorgio Gomelsky, a flamboyant eccentric bearded White Russian émigré film-maker who had first introduced Chicago blues artists to English audiences by promoting the National Blues and Jazz Festival, was running the Crawdaddy Club at the Station Hotel, Richmond, Surrey, a quiet Thames-side country town forty minutes from Soho by rail. Gomelsky’s club acts had always been jazz bands up to the previous summer, when Alex’s gigs at the Ealing and the Marquee prompted a demand by teenagers for blues-based music they could dance to. Gomelsky hired a blues group, the Dave Wood Rhythm and Blues Band, which became the Crawdaddy’s resident dance band. Several of the Stones had visited the Crawdaddy over the months and got to know Giorgio. In turn Giorgio had dropped into clubs where the Stones were playing—in London and at little clubs in Windsor and other towns near the city—and their raw-edged approach to music appealed to him personally and as a businessman. Wherever they played the Stones were pulling in crowds and generating a remarkable visceral excitement that seemed refreshing to Giorgio after so many years of watching jazz audiences that were barely alive enough to wriggle their toes to the beat.
Giorgio took an almost paternal interest in the Stones, encouraging the boys whenever they seemed to become depressed about their future. Jagger and Brian particularly had such an enormous drive, an almost manic need to make it, to become famous and successful and sought after. Giorgio bolstered their confidence whenever it fell and offered an occasional suggestion or bit of advice: “I think you’d be more effective if you varied the volume of your songs a bit. The amps can be used to bring another dimension to your music, louder on some numbers, softer on others, to change the mood and let your musicianship come through.” The boys always listened, experimented with his ideas, worked hard to develop a special Rolling Stone sound, bringing a little bit more professional backing to the sexual feel of Jagger’s performances and the compulsive evilness of Brian’s.
Brian traveled down to Richmond as often as he could, to sit and talk to Giorgio, promoting himself and the Stones. He and Jagger desperately wanted the kind of steady gig at the Crawdaddy that Dave Wood’s band had because the Crawdaddy’s audiences were younger and more excitable than the Flamingo patrons; there weren’t any jazz-oriented people coming to the Crawdaddy and harping about the blues’ crudeness as there were in almost all the clubs in London. The boys talked sometimes about how to ease the Wood band out of the Crawdaddy and get the Stones in. Then they heard the Dave Wood group was about to leave the club to take a better job in London, and Giorgio was looking for a new group to replace them. Brian said they must call Giorgio right now, this very moment, chat him up, tell him we’re available, beg for the job if we have to … and Jagger was voted the man to make the call. They raced down to the King’s Road, to a call box, and rang Giorgio. Before Jagger could do more than tell Giorgio his name, Giorgio cried: “You must be psychic, Mick. I was going to call you, this very day, to ask if the Rolling Stones would come to Richmond and take over the Sunday afternoon dance sessions.”
Jagger said they’d be right down to talk about it. They flew back to the flat, dug into the tin can for a few pounds, and boarded the next train to Richmond. When they arrived they almost fell over one another to get across Kew Road from the station to the Crawdaddy, more excited about this job than any other because the Crawdaddy would be a place of their own, a showcase for the Stones and a proving ground where they could experiment with musical ideas and get a feedback from kids their own age, the sort of audiences they had to reach and command and suck into their music if they were going to ever catch that gold ring.
Giorgio told them that he couldn’t afford to pay them much, they’d have to pull audiences in if they were going to earn any money. He offered them a basic minimum of £6 a night for the band (£1 a man) or 50 percent of the take at the door, whichever was larger. They accepted immediately. The first Sunday afternoon they attracted almost seventy teenagers into the Crawdaddy, and the band made £7.10, more than they had hoped. On the second Sunday the audience, and their wages, doubled. By mid-March the Stones had created, down in Richmond, a vital force on the pop music scene. The Crawdaddy was the place to be on Sunday afternoons. Long before the Stones were scheduled to take the stage the kids formed long queues in Kew Road, so strangely dressed in riotous colors or the American cowboy look, so absolutely beyond the most vivid imaginings of Richmond’s gentlemen and matrons that the local paper, the Richmond and Twickenham Times, sent a man down to see what was going on. He wrote a story about the weird kids spilling out into the roadway, the near-riots that sometimes occurred when the Stones completed their performance and the kids were turned out into the streets, the perverse look of these musicians who didn’t even wear suits and whose hair was creeping down to their shoulders. But the writer did say that the Rolling Stones were a different sort of group from the deadly bores that were playing across England, that their music was new and exciting and was perhaps the wave of the future in English pop music.
The boys were carried almost out of their minds when that story appeared. Their first publicity. The very first recognition, in print, of their ability to excite and stimulate, with their music and their outrageous performances. Brian was more exhilarated than the others by that half-page feature article. He cut it out of the paper and stuck it into his wallet and pulled it out so often to demonstrate to any who’d listen that the band he formed was truly something special, that in a week or so it was tearing and disintegrating.
It wasn’t only the teenage fans who considered the Crawdaddy the place to be on Sunday afternoons. Giving up Sunday lunch to make the trip to Richmond became, for London’s growing hip set, the chic thing to do. The Crawdaddy was a must appearance for the Jean Shrimptons, the David Baileys, the Eric Claptons, for the hip, the camp—especially for the queens who found Jagger so very desirable—and the groupies: models, actresses, even young ladies of the aristocracy who found it impossible to ignore Jagger’s exotic sensuality, so appealing to both sexes, and who were charmed by his rough Cockney edge.
CHRISSIE SHRIMPTON, tall, lithe, and delicate, with silky brown hair framing a face that’s just short enough of perfection, and artificiality, to lend her a special allure. One of those Englishwomen who, when they are beautiful, are exquisitely provocative. At seventeen Chrissie was beautiful, perhaps not in that kooky Bailey-created manner of her older sister, Jean, whose face was beginning to be seen in all the fashion magazines, but the beauty of those wholesome North Country women.
Chrissie had been going to the clubs to see and dance to jazz bands since she was fourteen and had begun to date, and when Alex stirred an interest in the blues she went to see his band. She had watched Jagger perform in his first weeks with Blues Incorporated, when he had only one song memorized, and she thought he looked so cute, so small next to towering Long John Baldry—not realizing that Jagger felt so diminutive next to Baldry, so unimportant because all the other band members seemed like giants next to him. Now that the Stones were playing at Richmond and Windsor and other towns near her father’s farm in Burnham, west of London, she went out to see them. Chrissie was usually the most striking young woman in the audience, and it seemed to her Jagger was directing his songs at her, singing to her as if she were the only woman in the room. It didn’t seem to be very sincere, it was obvious Jagger was trying to pull her. Chrissie enjoyed it and wondered why Jagger was too shy to approach her and chat her up. She’d stare back at him, teasing, and pleased that he was paying her attention.
One evening the Stones played at the Maidenhead International Club, a rather drearyplace frequented by the au pair girls of the area. Chrissie went to see the band with a boy friend who claimed that he knew Jagger, and she realized that knowing Jagger was a kind of status symbol, a sign of being “in” for the Richmond Art School set, the kids who wore “groovy” clothes and tried to be very hip. She was certain few of them, including her date, had more than a passing acquaintance with Jagger.
She was in a playful mood, talking to her date about Jagger’s obvious interest in her, his shyness, his inability to make the first approach. Her date said Jagger was so shy that he’d be willing to bet Chrissie couldn’t even entice him into kissing her. Chrissie responded, “Make it a ten-bob bet. He’ll kiss me.” When the Stones finished their set the foreign girls were hanging back, bashful, wanting so desperately to simply touch one of these boys but almost afraid. Chrissie brazenly walked up to Jagger.
“Will you kiss me?” she asked.
Jagger giggled a bit—he was often very giggly around women—but he stepped closer and leaned over and kissed her on the lips. Chrissie put one arm on his shoulder as she was being kissed; her right hand was extended behind her, palm up, asking to be paid the ten bob. Jagger giggled again after the kiss, and Chrissie studied him. “He was very giggly, very pretty,” she said. “I guess he was very camp then, without me realizing what camp was. He was like camp without knowing it himself. I thought he was very groovy. He looked very young and he was very spotty, very pimply. I was very impressed with him.”
He asked her for a date (“I’ll take you to the pictures”), and they arranged to meet in Windsor a few days later. Jagger sat primly at her side on that first date, seeming to be absorbed in the film, incredibly shy; the conversations he began were like green logs, smoking but unable to catch fire. When the film ended and they went out into the street the other members of the Stones showed up—they had another gig in town—and Jagger made Chrissie promise she’d come see him at the club. The promise extracted, Jagger ran off down the street, shouting at his group. Chrissie was trying hard to make sense of what he was saying but she couldn’t understand a word because of his strong London working-class accent.
Giorgio was beginning to feel certain he had the next hit group on his hands—the next Beatles perhaps. Not so huge as the Beatles, possibly, for after all they were stirring the sort of excitement that hadn’t been seen since Sinatra did it back in the States twenty years before, but certainly big enough to make hit records, command large audiences. Why, even the smart hip London people were coming down to see the Stones, even a Beatle was coming to see them—George Harrison himself, chatting them up and returning to London to rave to others about them. So Giorgio became the Stones manager, under a verbal agreement. He immediately set about promoting them, using his contacts in the music press to get these kids written about. One call was to Peter Jones, a free-lance writer specializing in pop music. Peter tried to make his excuses. He didn’t want to give up a Sunday afternoon with friends just to see another new group, and certainly not all the way down to Richmond. But Giorgio has a cunning habit of pretending he doesn’t understand when someone fails to agree with him, his accent getting thicker, his ears unable to hear much, and Peter finally agreed to go down and see the Stones.
He walked into the saloon bar of the Station Hotel the following Sunday afternoon. It was half-filled with the usual Sunday drinkers leaning over their pints of bitter, but this lot was trying very hard to ignore the heavy drum beat and the loud guitar wails coming out of the back room, the Crawdaddy Club. As Peter headed toward the club door he could hear a man at the bar grumbling about the music. “Turn the radio on, drown out that ridiculous rubbish,” the customer asked the bartender. Peter chuckled and pushed through the door. The Stones were up on a small stage, standing around looking bored, a handful of teenagers watching and adoring them, while Giorgio gave directions to a cameraman. He was getting the Stones down on film, his favorite medium, hoping eventually to use the result as promotion and perhaps a cinéma vérité feature. Peter’s first thought on seeing the Stones was, they’re so hairily disarranged. Most young Englishmen were permitting their hair to grow long, but this was the longest Peter had seen. The group broke for lunch after a little while, and Peter went out to the bar with Brian and Jagger.
“How are the Stones doing?” Peter asked.
Jagger started to say something about how great life was for them, but Brian cut him off. “It’s pretty down. We’ve got the best group in England but we’re not getting anywhere because of the blocks being put on us,” he said. “The jazz people, they’re making it impossible for us to break through, they’re against rhythm and blues.”
“Yeah, it’s all sort of like, trad is trad, and modern is modern, and your mainstream’s your mainstream, and your blues is your blues, and all that down the line,” Jagger said. “And you can’t play rhythm and blues in here because this is a jazz club. We can’t get much work because people want to play jazz, in some form. We’re playing just very basic blues, twelve bars to twelve bars, and the jazz people hate us.”
They went on about the hurdles being put in the band’s way, and Brian sounded very despondent. But he brightened suddenly and fumbled in his wallet for the cutting from the local newspaper, talking more rapidly now about the following they had built up in Richmond, displaying the newspaper article to prove his point.
The Stones went back inside after lunch to play a couple of numbers for the cameraman, while the teenage extras danced about. One song was “Pretty Thing,” and Peter Jones was deeply impressed: This is dynamite … everything’s happening up there that should be happening in music … these kids are one of the most potent little outfits on the scene …
When the set was over Brian came up to Peter. “Sorry the music wasn’t up,” he said. “We need an audience to get us really swinging, and these kids are just a few extras Giorgio brought in. If you’ll stay till our real set …”
Peter thought, He’s actually sorry … “Brian,” he said, “I think the Stones are excellent, I really do. You’re authentic and you deserve a break. I mean that sincerely. I’m going to get a couple of real hardened rhythm and blues fans to come down and see you, and see if we can get a bit of publicity going for the Stones.”
Jagger and Keith had come over to join Brian, and they all seemed pleased enough at Peter’s promise. But Peter could sense they were trying to hold down their enthusiasm—probably because they’ve been promised all sorts of things before and have been disappointed, he thought.
The next morning Peter went into the office of Record Mirror, the paper to which he contributed, and talked to journalist Norman Jopling about the Stones, asking him to have a look, to judge for himself whether the Stones were the most exciting group on the music scene. Jopling agreed to go down to Richmond the following Sunday, with a photographer, and to write’a feature if he felt the group warranted one. A couple of weeks later a headline screamed across five columns in an April issue of Record Mirror:
THE ROLLING STONES—GENUINE R AND B
And the Jopling article, the first in a trade paper about the Stones, was filled with praise for the group and the music they were playing. He wrote:
“As the trad scene gradually subsides, promoters of all kinds of teen-beat entertainments heave a sigh of relief that they have found something to take its place. It’s rhythm and blues, of course—the number of R and B clubs that have suddenly sprung up is nothing short of fantastic.
“… at the Station Hotel, Kew Road, the hip kids throw themselves about to the new ‘jungle music’ like they never did in the more restrained days of trad.
“And the combo they writhe and twist to is called the Rolling Stones. Maybe you’ve never heard of them—if you live far from London the odds are you haven’t.
“But by gad you will! The Stones are destined to be the biggest group in the R and B scene—if that scene continues to flourish. Three months ago only fifty people turned up to see the group. Now Gomelsky has to close the doors at an early hour—with over 400 fans crowding the hall.
“Those fans quickly lose their inhibitions and contort themselves to truly exciting music. Fact is that, unlike all the other R and B groups worthy of the name, the Rolling Stones have a definite visual appeal. They aren’t like the jazzmen who were doing trad a few months ago and who had converted their act to keep up with the times. They are genuine R and B fanatics themselves and they sing and play in a way that one would have expected more from a colour US group than a bunch of wild, exciting white boys who have the fans screaming and listening to them.
“… They can also get the sound that Bo Diddley gets—no mean achievement. The group themselves are all red-hot when it comes to US beat discs. They know their R and B numbers inside out and have a repertoire of about eighty songs, most of them ones which the real R and B fans know and love.
“But despite the fact that their R and B has a superficial resemblance to rock ‘n’ roll, fans of the hit parade music would not find any familiar material performed by the Rolling Stones. And the boys do not use original material—only the American Stuff. ‘After all,’ they say, ‘can you imagine, a British-composed R and B number? It just wouldn’t make it.”
Chrissie was commuting into London every day to attend secretarial college. She and Jagger would meet after their classes, walk through the park, sit on a bench for hours, talking … both amazed and joyous, almost overwhelmed, because they had fallen in love. They swore it was the first real love for either of them. He’s the first man who’s ever really turned me on, he’s someone incredibly special, Chrissie found herself thinking. And Jagger seemed to feel the same way. He continually expressed annoyance that she had to go home each night. He said he wanted her to spend the night with him at the Edith Grove flat, but was upset because he couldn’t take her to so dreadfully filthy a place. But he impressed her with his need to spend the night with her, every night, to make love to her.
A couple of weeks after they’d met, Chrissie’s parents went away for the weekend to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary, and she asked Jagger to come down and stay with her. From then on they hitchhiked to her home after school, or after a Stones gig, and Jagger sneaked into her bedroom after the Shrimptons had gone to sleep. In the morning he rode back to London on the train with her. The Shrimpton neighbors, and Chrissie’s contemporaries, tried to bring her to her senses, to deaden her infatuation for Jagger. They told her he looked peculiar and ugly, with his pimply face and huge red lips and hair almost as long as a woman’s; they said they couldn’t understand what she saw in him, that he was a strange man for a well-bred middle-class young lady to be dating, to have fallen in love with. But just another few months later all the young debs of the area would be begging Chrissie to bring Jagger to their parties, for the Stones had become fashionable. Especially Jagger. He was so camp, so strangely pretty, so outrageously androgynous. Jagger seemed to have that special quality of women, so much more attuned to their bodies, to the physicality of themselves at almost every moment of their lives, listening to and feeling every pain, every pleasure, every sound in their bodies, and not simply on a sexual level. Jagger’s androgynous nature was more than an outer cloak he wore for shock effect, it was an integral part of his personality. He projected that from the stage and in his private life. And Chrissie wasn’t even certain he was conscious of it. Yet when she did think about it, sometimes, she realized that several bisexual musicians, and the queens who hang around musicians, were as grasping toward him as any pubescent groupie. So perhaps he was aware of it, Chrissie felt.
The Stones had begun to play at the Ealing on Tuesday nights, making only £1 or £2 for the six of them but glad to be working for the experience. The band was never very successful those nights. Only about ten or twelve customers would wander around, and it was so cold that winter that even the musicians left their coats on; the water leaking from the roof always seemed about to form icicles. Eric Clapton came in most Tuesdays to sing the only song he really knew, “Roll Over Beethoven,” with his eyes glued to the floor so he wouldn’t have to look at the empty club, and Jagger said that Clapton couldn’t really play guitar, that he was trying damned hard to get it together but hadn’t mastered it yet. But a deep affinity grew between Jagger and Clapton, the blues—Robert Johnson and Elmore and all the others—and something on a very personal level. They were both young and so very sexually attractive and shy and tentative, and they became very close.
In spending almost every day, and many nights, with Jagger, Chrissie began to understand that his shyness and gentleness were only one facet of his personality. He was very soft and feminine but he also had a very strong ambition, she felt, and wouldn’t ever let anything stand in his way—not a woman, or another musician, not Brian or Keith or anyone. She felt he could be unscrupulous, if he had to be, that Brian was ostensibly the leader of the Stones but that Jagger was actually the strongest, the toughest. He hadn’t bothered to dominate the group in actuality because there was no need for him to step forward. But he would, Chrissie knew, when he believed it was necessary. The contrast between his softness, the ease with which he was brought to tears on occasion, and the vein of toughness inside fascinated Chrissie.
She saw other contrasts in him. He seemed to be quite rebellious, anti-authoritarian, almost anarchist, hoping that someone would tear down society and start it all over again. Correctly this time. But he constantly wavered between loyalty toward the Stones and a feeling of debt to the government and the LSE. The way he worked so hard at his studies, although in spurts, made Chrissie feel at one point, in the first months of their relationship, that he would complete his studies at university even if it meant breaking up the Stones. Jagger also insisted that he didn’t give a damn what society thought of him, that he wouldn’t conform just to win society’s approval and he’d certainly never get married because that would be the ultimate conformist behavior. Then he promptly asked her to marry him. They began to seriously discuss getting married, soon, perhaps when he was making enough money they’d be married … But he also said money wasn’t important, just a societal hangup, that he was interested only in spreading the blues, making people understand about the incredible black musicians out there who were playing the best music in the world and who deserved fame, recognition and riches … Then he’d sit with Edward Shrimpton, Chrissie’s father, and discuss economics, ways of making money, keeping it, making it grow for you, talking about money for hours on end.
Chrissie was very surprised that Jagger got on so well with her father. Mr. Shrimpton had always been money-minded—Chrissie often teased him about that. He never really liked any of the young men Chrissie and Jean would bring home because none of them had much knowledge of, or interest in, financial affairs. The young men were usually welldressed and proper gentlemen but they didn’t seem to be the sort who would support his daughters in the traditional way. Chrissie said her father was very much influenced by appearance and should have been appalled by Jagger’s scruffiness, but got on well with him. Chrissie eventually understood that it was because her father could see through Jagger’s deliberate image of unwashed poverty and into his head, and his ability to make money. He respected Jagger for it, telling Chrissie he had a deep respect for Jagger’s mind because the boy was bright and intelligent and understood that individual freedom and dignity are more readily attainable if one has money, and the power that money brings.
It was difficult for Chrissie to believe that about Jagger, at first, because his life style was so peculiar. She had seen the flat in Edith Grove that he lived in with Brian and Keith and had been somewhat appalled by it. And the normal bachelor sloppiness had increased geometrically with the addition of a fourth roommate, a young printer named Jimmy Phelge whom they’d met in a pub. They loved Jimmy because they felt he was more insane than they, foul and grotty. They called him Nanka Phelge to indicate their distaste and attraction toward him. Jimmy turned the place into more of a hovel than it had been by introducing spitting contests. Phelge added to the general derangement in novel ways—his favorite was tacking obscene notes on the door, his form of love letters to young girls who had begun coming around seeking out the Stones, and their beds, describing an enormous variety of rapes and destructions and enslavements the Stones would wreak on them if they stepped past the door. Many of the girls just couldn’t wait.
Jagger would never permit Chrissie to visit the flat. She’d stop by on occasion, and if Jagger hadn’t returned from school she’d be forced to wait downstairs because Keith refused to permit her inside: “Much too filthy, love.” There was also another embarrassment: a young American girl who had moved into the flat upstairs, a very fat, slovenly woman who wanted desperately to go to bed with Jagger; he had borrowed a few pounds from her, and she told him he didn’t have to repay it if he’d only make love to her. Jagger giggled when he told Chrissie about it, said he hoped he’d never get that poor. But he seemed to like the girl. She fancied herself a fortune teller and astrologer, and she drew Jagger’s chart: He would soon be famous, the stars told her, Jagger and the Stones would struggle for just a little while longer and then achieve a popularity awarded to few other groups; they would be held down for a while, by the fame of another band, but in a few years that group would disband and the Stones would be at the top of the mountain by themselves and Jagger would be the most famous performer in the world; but despite all the fame and even notoriety, Jagger wouldn’t find personal happiness until he was thirty. Jagger said he believed her, quite strongly.
Only after Jagger took Chrissie down to Dartford to meet his parents did she begin to understand some of the conflicts and contrasts within him. Chrissie found Mrs. Jagger a pleasant, good-hearted woman who immediately treated her son’s girl friend as her own daughter. But she was also annoying because she giggled a great deal (Was that where Mick gets it from? Chrissie wondered) and she seemed to thrive on gossip, any sort of gossip. Mrs. Jagger seemed annoying, most of all, because she kept after Jagger about the band, how the music was interfering with his scholastic career, and Chrissie felt she wasn’t sophisticated enough to understand Jagger’s needs. She also felt dreadful that Jagger had no patience with his mother, not enough patience to try and explain what the Stones meant to him, how they fulfilled a very important need. She loves him very much, Chrissie thought, but Mick isn’t very much into her … he’s not being too nice … she’s no more demanding than any mother, and he should be a little kinder to her …
On meeting Jagger’s parents and his younger brother, Chrissie also learned that Jagger’s Cockney accent was faked, that his background wasn’t much different from her own, that he was trying to break out of a suburban mold by pretending to be something he was not. And she began to understand that her father actually was able to see past Jagger’s rebellious veneer and into the middle-class kid beneath it.
A few days before Record Mirror ran its feature on the Rolling Stones, Peter Jones was making the rounds of record companies and press agents, looking for feature material. He ran into Andrew Oldham. Andrew was nineteen, a small, slim, gingery and fast-talking manic, the first English hustler of the new pop era; he had an enormous drive and a strong need to leave his mark on the public consciousness. Andrew had first shown up on the music scene about two years earlier, billing himself as Sandy Beach, a singer-compère, running around to newspapers trying to get his name publicized. Nothing seemed to work; show business ignored him. So he changed his name again, selecting another absurdity—Chancery Laine—and continued his assult on the big time. He failed again. He supported himself by working for Mary Quant as a promotion man and general factotum, more successful at getting publicity for others than for himself, and after a few months as a doorman at Ronnie Scott’s jazz club in Gerrard Street he became press agent for a young singer named Mark Wynter. Andrew was hip, the quintessential mod. While the young in America were imitating the Kerouacs and Keseys and other members of the Beat Generation and taking to the road, in England the coming of age of the war babies and the abolition of the draft created another kind of existential army of teenagers—their energies poured into sharp clothes, flashy and plastic, and American music. They formed a subculture that was powering the Beatles into the headlines as their “spokesmen” and that was searching for other groups to adore, bands which were transforming American rhythm and blues into British hard rock.
Andrew Oldham was in the center of it, a part of the youth culture and a hustler trying to capitalize on it, to bend this strange new force to his own ambition. He was enormously successful as a publicist, getting a large amount of newspaper space for his client. He seemed to be everywhere at once, on the make, turning up at newspaper and magazine offices, parties, concerts, television studios. It was paying off, Andrew was certain, when he attended a taping of the TV program “Thank Your Lucky Stars” in January 1963 and met Brian Epstein, the Beatles’ manager. Epstein was impressed and hired Andrew on the spot to help promote the Beatles second record, “Please Please Me,” which had to break into the charts to sustain the drive that had been created by the Beatles and demonstrate that they were not a one-shot recording group. That second Beatles recording crashed into the charts at number nine at the beginning of February, and Andrew got music papers to run long features on the Beatles.
But now, as he met Peter Jones, Andrew was down to his single client again. The Beatles were becoming so large a property that it was obvious they needed a full-time publicist, so Andrew was eased out in favor of Tony Barrow. He didn’t seem to let another defeat bother him. He had high energy, kept plugging away, and now he had been given a desk in the office of show business agent Eric Easton, with the possibility of a management partnership if they could find the right acts. Andrew asked Peter Jones to do a feature on Mark Wynter, but Peter wasn’t much interested. Andrew dropped that subject quickly, and asked Peter: “If you hear of anything going in music that’s at all interesting, let me know. I could use something in a part-time way.” Peter said he’d keep that in mind, and Andrew continued.
“I’ve got a hunch the Beatles are going to be the biggest thing in the business in a few months. There’s no stopping them. I’m just hoping I can find another group like them, then I’d have a go at management. If I find something I can work out a partnership with Eric Easton.”
“There’s this group called the Rolling Stones I saw down in Richmond. They’re wild, really wild,” Peter told him. “It looks as if rhythm and blues is going to be the next big thing. Record Mirror is saying that in the next issue, a long story about the Stones. Why not have a look at them?”
“Do they have a manager?” Andrew asked.
“I’m not certain. They’re working for Gomelsky, but I don’t know if he’s signed them to a contract. The band is pretty brought down right now because they feel things aren’t happening fast enough for them. But it’s going to happen soon, people are talking about them. George Harrison has been down to see them a few times and he’s raving about them. You really should go have a look.”
Andrew said he might do just that. He didn’t have to give it much thought: If Record Mirror was doing a feature on the Stones perhaps they really did have something, and if they did a lot of people would be trying to sign them up as soon as the newspaper came out. Andrew had to get there a step ahead of everyone else. He hurried back to Easton’s office in Regent Street and told him about the big tip from Peter Jones, speaking fast and exuberantly, trying to convince Eric to go down to the Crawdaddy with him. It wasn’t the first time that Eric had been touted on the coming sure-fire hit, and been disappointed. But he had given Andrew a spare room in the office primarily because he felt Andrew was a part of the pop scene, very much in touch with teen fashions and fads, as up to date on current pop trends as anyone else around and a man who seemed able to predict future trends. After all, Andrew had been saying for months that the Beatles were going to become the biggest act in the world, and it was beginning to happen just as he predicted. Eric couldn’t very well ignore Andrew.
They drove down to the Crawdaddy the following Sunday afternoon, April 28, 1963. Eric kept thinking, during the drive, that he hoped he wasn’t wasting an entire evening when he really preferred being home with his wife and children. The thought fled as they approached the Station Hotel. Outside, in a long queue, were several hundred outrageously dressed teenagers. Inside, after a long wait on the end of the queue, Eric kept thinking it was the first free Turkish bath he’d ever had. Every inch of space was jammed with kids, until the air filled with steam. And when the band came on Eric felt he was being lifted from his seat by the music. He told Andrew it was the most exciting thing he’d ever heard. The Stones seemed to be hurling their music from the edge of the bandstand and driving the kids wild with pleasure, 400 pairs of arms waving in beat to the music, barely able to dance because they were packed so tightly. Jagger’s mouth was glued to the microphone as he belted out the lyrics, Brian chugging and thundering on the harmonica, both of them dancing as they worked, stirring up the crowd even further. Behind, the rest of the group pounded out a simple blues line around which Keith’s guitar wove complex figures.
“That sound is fantastic, and the kids are finding it exactly right for them,” Eric said, shouting into Andrew’s ear to make himself heard over the pounding of the band and the roaring of the dancers. “You may be right, Andrew. The Beatles are making a big impression, everybody is going to look for a Beatles sound, to get on the bandwagon. That’s one way to go. But the best way is to go for something definitely different, that’s the secret of making it. These boys up there are certainly different. The beat’s much the same, the guitars are featured in the same way, but the Stones are more basic, more down to earth. And a lot more exciting.”
“Yeah, it’s that Mersey sound, but way far ahead of the Mersey sound,” Andrew said. “The Stones have got the music—a really special sound—and they’ve got sex. The chap singing, and the one on mouth harp, they’re driving the girls crazy with the sex they ooze. They can’t miss. We should get to them right away.”
At the end of the set Andrew and Eric pushed their way to the bandstand, to Brian. “Are you the leader?” Eric asked. Brian said he was, pointedly ignoring the scowls from Jagger and Keith. They had, after all, talked at length about no one being the leader, all being equal in the Stones, and though they agreed that Brian had brought it all together they didn’t much like to hear him say he was the leader of the band. “We’d like to chat with you boys, about what we can do for the group,” Eric said. He told them he was an agent, representing such clients as Julie Grant, guitarist Bert Weedon, disc-jockey Brian Matthew, and that Andrew had worked for the Beatles, promoting the record that was now high on the charts, “Perhaps we can help you. Will you come in and see us?”
Brian and Jagger went to Eric’s office the next day, arguing on the bus about the best way to handle agents: Jagger insisted that they must be somewhat distant and offhanded, perhaps even pretend they had had several offers of management contracts. When they found Eric’s office and were seated across a huge desk from Eric and Andrew, Jagger asked:
“What do you have in mind for us, Mr. Eaton?”
“Look, fellows, we’re very interested in your group. If you’ll agree to let us manage you we’ll make a real go for you, but I must make it clear from the start that no promises are being made.”
“What do you mean?” Jagger asked.
“Just that I’m not promising that I can get you on ‘Sunday Night at the Palladium’ or a hit record or a role in a huge film. No agent or manager in his right mind would ever say anything like that because you just don’t know in this business. Making those sorts of promises is a waste of time.
“All I can promise is that we’ll be honest with you, rather than make a lot of rash statements we can’t live up to. We think you’re good …”
“Why do you think that?” Brian asked. “What do you like about us is what I mean?”
Andrew leaned forward, intense, sincere: “I remember seeing the Beatles in Doncaster when they were eighth on the bill to people like Helen Reddy and Tommy Roe. I sat there with a lump in my throat. Just that one night, and you knew they were going to be very big. An instinctive thing. From that night on it’s registered subconsciously that when they made it another section of the public was gonna want an opposite. I feel that even more strongly now, after working for Epstein and the Beatles. They’re being dressed in suits, going cutesy, trying for the image of harmless adolescents … Even more now; the public are going to demand an opposite. And when I saw you perform last night I knew that other section of the public was going to want the Rolling Stones as the opposite. Again, it’s just an instinctive thing. But I know you’ve got it, and I know I can make the public aware you’ve got it.”
A few weeks before, Alex Korner had told a group of musicians after a Stones gig at the Marquee: “Only two good things are going to come out of this club—Blues Incorporated and the Rolling Stones.” The most important blues musician in England, and now a hot young London publicist, both ranting about the Stones.
“We think you’re really very good, very exciting,” Eric said. “But the real success of anything depends on whether the general public agree. If the kids, the young fans you need, don’t agree with us, if they don’t want to accept the stuff you’re doing … well, that’s it. Nothing we can do is going to make any difference. All we can do is present you as a group exactly the way you are. We’ll try to get you exposure but the rest is up to you.
“Well, that’s about the lot. Do you fancy the idea?”
Brian and Jagger glanced at one another. They liked Eric’s out-front talk and although he was fortyish, he did say he had a long background as a musician, and a manager and agent. And there was this Andrew chap. He was the same age as they, which was very important, and he was so clearly on top of things—he worked for the Beatles. “Okay, we’ll go along with you,” Brian said. “Anything you can do will be much appreciated. And we’ll do our best to show the fans how great the Stones are.”
They shook hands all around, and the boys got up to leave, to report to the rest of the group. Eric told them to sit down again, they’d just begun. He explained it was vitally important to be certain that the Stones had no connection with any other firm, had signed no contracts with any one. Brian assured him they had no manager, had never signed anything with Gomelsky, and if Gomelsky might later feel he’d been cut out, well, that would be too bad … But there was one thing, Brian admitted—they’d been recording in the IBC studios on Portland Place and had signed something, he wasn’t certain precisely what it was, but he had a feeling that if the Stones demos worked out IBC would have a crack at handling the group. “But the material is pretty bad, it’s nothing any record company can use,” Brian said. Eric disagreed; he promptly contacted an executive at IBC and offered to buy back the demos. The price was set at £100, the Stones to pay half of it.
“Now that that’s out of the way,” Eric said, “we must get a Rolling Stones disc out—fast. And we must form our own record company to do it.” Eric explained that he and Andrew felt strongly the Stones were so far ahead of their time that it’d be too much to expect the ordinary artists and repertoire men at the major recording companies to understand the sound the band was trying to project. They—the band, Eric, and Andrew—would do the entire thing themselves—record, produce, package, and so keep control over every aspect of a disc, then sell the finished product to a record company. It was a daring concept, for England, but Phil Spector and other American artists and producers had taken that route, and it was well worth the attempt. Especially since it meant they would keep a higher percentage of a record’s income; they could earn more money by selling a finished product rather than simply becoming another group in a large company’s stable. So Impact Sound was created, a label whose only assets and employees were the band and their managers. It was the first independent record label in England.
Less than two weeks after Eric and Andrew drove down to Richmond to see the Stones, the band carted their equipment into the Olympic Sound recording studios, hoping they could get two good sides onto tape in one session. The studio seemed cavernous and bare: just the six Stones, Andrew as producer, and recording engineer Roger Savage. Only Roger really understood the mysteries of studio consoles and tape decks and remotes. On the way to the studio Andrew had come right out with it:
“Look, this is the first recording session I’ve ever handled. I don’t know a damn thing about recording, or music for that matter.”
“So we’ll all be in the same boat, ignorant as ‘ell,” Jagger said. “A bunch of bloody amateurs gonna make a ‘it single.”
“Right,” Andrews said. “Anyway, I’m sure I know the sort of sound that’s gonna prove commercial, that will sell. We’ll just get in there and play it by ear and not get panicky—except we must remember we’ve booked the studio for three hours, and it’s costing a great deal of money.”
“Sure, don’t get panicky but get it all done in three hours,” Jagger said.
They got down to business and cut the first track, what they considered their best and most commercial song, “Come On,” a Chuck Berry number. The song was a disaster. The Stones were tense and sounded almost amateurish; Jagger complained that they couldn’t get started in the sterility of the recording studio, that they needed a live audience to respond to them and provide a challenge and a crossfeed, to force them into their best and wildest form, that he couldn’t deliver the kind of performance in a studio that he belted out from a live stage. But time was running out, and they had to settle for the version of the song that they got down on the tapes. When the three hours were up and the Stones first recording session came to an end, the studio engineer asked Andrew:
“What about mixing it?”
“What’s that?” Andrew replied.
The engineer explained patiently: They’d been recording on four tracks, Jagger’s singing out front on one, Brian’s wailing harmonica on another, and so on, and the tracks would have to be mixed down onto one tape, a tedious job but the most vital part of record-making, for the proper mix could mean the difference between a hit and a reject; it could make the band sound like a live driving hard rock blues band, or a flaccid imitation of Bill Haley and the Comets … all the while, during his explanation, looking at this kid Oldham as if he were the most ignorant producer to ever step into a studio. And Andrew said:
“Hell, you take care of all that. I’ll be back in the morning.”
The result was predictable: Decca Records informed the Stones that the tape was dreadful, they’d have to return to the studio and re-record “Come On.” Professionally, this time. “Bunch of Erdies,” Jagger moaned—his favorite expression, this season, Erdies denoting all those faceless and mindless men who weren’t hip, who were trapped in jobs and careers and prisons of the mind. “Bloody Erdies not only want us to record again but they probably want to take us over completely and ‘ave us coming out with a load of shit instead of real music. Decca. Erdies.”
In spite of their complaints as they drove to Decca’s studios in West Hampstead, Jagger and the others were terribly excited at how fast everything seemed to be moving for them. Eric had persuaded Decca to sign the Stones, at a royalty equal to that given the biggest recording stars in the business. Eric had been quite cunning about it. He had created an interest in the Stones among executives of several other recording companies and had then worked on Dick Rowe’s wounded pride; Rowe, a Decca official, had turned down the Beatles only two months before, telling their manager, “We don’t like your boys’ sound, guitar groups are on the way out,” and since then he’d taken a lot of vicious ribbing. Rowe had heard about the Stones, he was anxious to find a group to replace the lost Beatles and restore his own good name, and he jumped at the chance to sign the Stones even though the arrangement demanded by their manager was rather unusual: The Stones would lease their tapes to Decca, maintaining complete control over the music and, most important, the band and their managers would own the masters of their recordings, which meant that if the Stones became extremely popular at a later date they could use those masters to bargain for enormous future advances. Decca executives, anxious lest EMI dominate the market with the Beatles, agreed to Easton’s demands. But they insisted the Stones would have to re-record “Come On” before it could go out under the Decca label.
The second session was no better than the first. Nor was the third. But finally the Stones laid down a tape that satisfied Decca: “Come On” backed with “I Want to be Loved.” The single was released on June 7. That evening the group made their first television appearance, well down on the bill of “Thank Your Lucky Stars,” a pop music program. Andrew and Eric dressed the boys in checkered suits, and there were violent arguments about that, Jagger insisting he’d be damned if he’d get dressed for a TV show, it was too close to selling out.
“You have to make some compromises,” Andrew told them. “Just to get started in this business you have to compromise a bit.” Andrew didn’t mention it just then because he knew Jagger would be hurt, but a TV producer had told him the Stones would have to get rid of that vile-looking lead singer if the band was ever to get past a BBC audition. “The TV people are used to dealing with groups like the Searchers and the Swinging Blue Jeans,” Andrew continued. “If you guys dress the way you do in a club you won’t even be allowed inside the building. You must make this compromise, you must wear some sort of uniform to get on the show. And doing the TV is the only way to get exposure for your record.”
Jagger finally agreed. But despite Andrew’s attempt to clean up the band’s appearance a bit, a number of viewers were furious about the disgraceful trash that was being presented on English television. One newspaper published a letter from a viewer who said: “I have today seen the most disgusting sight I can remember in all my years as a television fan. The Rolling Stones …”
Jagger was angered at the reaction, since most of the letters to the papers and the television station singled out his long hair and his blatant sexuality. But Andrew seemed jubilant that a minor controversy had been created.
“Just wait and see. If we upset enough adults we’re going to hook the kids,” Andrew predicted.
The Stones’ first record fell with a dull thud on the industry and the public. The tone of the song, as done by Chuck Berry, was of frustration and barely-concealed fury: “Couldn’t get my car started … I wish somebody’d come along and run into and wreck it.” But Jagger’s version was much toned down (for the words “Some stupid jerk,” Jagger substituted “some guy”), and he wasn’t nearly as much in control of the vocal as Berry had been. It was a rather vapid imitation of Chuck Berry. While some reviewers predicted big things for the Stones, most dismissed the record as a pleasant introduction for a new group but nothing very important, musically. And Norman Jopling, who had written the first important article on the Stones several weeks before, said of their record:
“The disc doesn’t sound like the Rolling Stones. It’s good, punchy, and commercial, but it’s not the fanatical R and B that audiences wait hours to hear. Instead, it’s a bluesy commercial group that should make the charts in a smallish way.”
Jagger and the others were discouraged by the reviews but Andrew ran around to newspaper offices trying to stir up excitement and a feature on the Stones. But no one was interested unless the record got fairly high up on the charts. At the end of June it did come in at the bottom, number fifty, mostly because Stones fans in the London area had concentrated their buying of the single in a vital one-week period.
“Fifty’s better than nothing,” Andrew said. Jagger agreed; his first recording, a singer and a group barely known outside a small circle of fans, and they were on the charts. Jagger kept looking at the music industry charts. The Beatles way up near the top with “From Me to You,” those incredibly lucky Beatles who seemed to get all the breaks, four provincials from Liverpool, of all places, who were bouncing around London as if they owned the town.
“We’ll pass them yet. Maybe not this single but the next one, we’ll get up higher on the charts than the Beatles,” Jagger said.
“Oh, come on, we’re not competing with anyone,” Charlie said. “We just have to go out there and do our own music and if we’re any good the public are going to buy it.”
Andrew sat in his chair, watching closely Jagger’s petulance and Charlie’s more realistic attitude and something that had been tugging at Andrew’s mind since his first meeting with the group began to take concrete form: Charlie is his own person, he isn’t looking for an identity. He already knows who Charlie Watts is. But Mick is still looking for an identity, he’s going through a lot of changes trying to find out who he wants to be.
With the record on the charts, Andrew made another round of newspaper offices, promoting the band. He met with greater success this time, helped considerably by advance reports from the trades which indicated the Stones would hit somewhere around the thirty-five spot the following week. Andrew showed more recent photos of the Stones, hair even longer than the Beatles, and journalists, ever looking for a gimmick to inflame middle-class readers, reached out for the hair. Several of them showed up at Eric’s office, with photographers, to interview the band. Few questions were asked about the music the Stones played; the newspapermen seemed to be interested only in the length of the boys’ hair. Jagger and Brian, the two main spokesmen, had been primed by Andrew: “They’re going to make you a controversial band, asking all kinds of dumb questions,” he said. “Just be as tough with your answers as you like, don’t try to be nice. Controversy sells newspapers, and it’ll sell the Stones to the newspapers.” And when the reporters asked whether the Stones had copied their hair styles from the Beatles, Jagger, hands on his hips, his sweater askew as he shook his shoulders angrily—emphasizing the gesture as photographers shot his picture—Jagger snapped:
“Art students have had this sort of haircut for years—even when the Beatles were using hair cream.”
And Andrew smiled broadly when Jagger, in response to a question as to whether the Stones were toning down their act in imitation of the highly successful Beatles, said:
“Never, no way at all. If people don’t like us as we are, well, that’s too bad. We’re not thinking of changing, thanks very much. We’ve been the way we are for much too long to think of kowtowing to fanciful folk who think we should start tarting outselves up with mohair suits and short haircuts.”
At the end of the interview session Andrew said: “It was perfect, just perfect. They’re going to plaster your pictures and your terrible, terrible statements all over the papers. Those dirty Rolling Stones, that’s what you are. The opposite of those nice little chaps, the Beatles. It’s working, it’s sure as hell working. We’re gonna make you famous.”
Jagger asked him to define fame.
Andrew thought about the question for a moment. “This is how I see fame—every time you go through an airport you get your pictures in the papers. I’m going to make you that famous.”
The Rolling Stones photos and interviews began appearing in the press with regularity, the long hair the main focus of all the articles; the Stones were singled out as the prime example of what was wrong with English youth. The boys were annoyed that no one seemed to pay attention to the music, but Jagger told Chrissie that he understood Andrew’s tactics and appreciated them—shock the hell out of everyone, especially the parents, enrage the parents so much that their children will be forced into an anti-authoritarian stance, will stick their tongues out at Mum and Dad by buying Stones records, attending their concerts, championing them.
Jagger pushed Andrew a step further. “No more suits,” he said. “The Stones are never going to dress up in suits again.” After a bit of an argument, defending his decision to compromise for the sake of a TV appearance, Andrew agreed. From that point on Jagger would slowly come to involve himself in the business. Shirley Arnold, head of the fan club, watched with some amusement at first as Jagger started to make decisions as to what was best for the group, the songs to be put on records, the sort of publicity to be aiming for, the writers he wanted to favor with exclusive interviews because they seemed most able to understand the Stones and their music. Jagger even ordered Charlie Watts to let his hair grow longer—“You still look like a jazz drummer, Charlie,” he said—so that all six of them would present the same threatening image when their photos jumped off the newspaper pages and slapped those Erdies in their vapid faces.
Chrissie was shouting at Jagger, shrill and angry. Her arms were swinging, the open hands trying to slap him. Jagger’s eyes, his face, were rather bruised-looking in the morning light that streamed into their flat in Kilburn. He held her wrists, and she kicked at him, kicked for his shins and his groin, and he performed a series of one-two dance steps to take the kicks on the fleshy part of his legs, and on his buttocks.
“Aw, come on, now … you know why I had to do that …”
“Your bloody image, your bloody career …” Chrissie certainly did know why he’d embarrassed her, last night, hurt her, made her feel so cheap and unwanted and … well, just a piece of baggage carried by a rock-and-roll star … a minor star, but a star. They had been walking along the street last night, a cold night in December 1963, after a Stones gig in Soho. Jagger, Chrissie, Keith, Brian, and two girl friends. As they approached the flat that Jagger and Keith had leased for the outlandish sum of £50 a week the previous summer, a half dozen wailing fans rushed out of the shadows. Young girls intent on rape, or at least the boys’ autographs. Jagger had quickly taken his arm from around Chrissie’s shoulder. Had whispered, “Get away for a moment.” Then almost shoved her from him. He’d been doing that for weeks, now that the Stones had a fan club and were attracting thousands of letters requesting photos, locks of hair, trysts, and gang bangs. Andrew had told them not to be seen with their girl friends, and Jagger had agreed that that was best for the group’s image. John Lennon’s wife, Cynthia, had given birth to a son the previous April, and the rumors of the boy’s existence had stirred angry grumblings from Beatles fans; their manager was still trying to keep the birth a secret because he was afraid the domesticity surrounding parenthood would lose the Beatles thousands of record sales. Chrissie knew that Jagger’s attitude toward any member of the Stones publicly acknowledging they had girl friends was: Don’t admit it at all, keep the women far in the background. It was very important to their image, he told her, it was quite vital that none of their fans’ daydreams about meeting and going to bed with a Stone should be shattered, and Chrissie believed Jagger’s primary concern was their image, before their personal lives. Chrissie shouted this accusation at him now: that he cared about only his image, and his career, he was so callous about it that he had ordered Charlie Watts not to marry his girl friend, Shirley, had forced Charlie to cancel his wedding plans.
“Aw, stop it. You know I love you, that I need you …”
“Don’t try to charm me,” Chrissie said, struggling to free her hand from his grasp and get a slap at him. “Everybody lets you get away with everything ‘cause you’re so charming … but you’re not going to charm me.”
Chrissie only wanted his respect, to be treated like a woman with an existence of her own, not simply another musician’s groupie. She caused scenes, fought with him … they’d often punch and slap each other, Chrissie usually punching first … so open about their battles that friends always talked of their relationship as “tempestuous.” She would never let up on him until she felt she had his respect once more. Living with him for six months, Chrissie had come to believe that Jagger was strong and ambitious and unscrupulous on the outside but another part of him was so soft and gentle and … lost was the only word she could think of, a little boy lost … so strange because he has a lot of strength and yet needs a very strong woman to make him feel weak. Jagger’s friends had told her of the duality in his personality, had described the weak half of it as a masochistic streak, and Chrissie realized he needed a violent relationship with a woman at least as strong as he was. A woman who would give him a hard time, Chrissie often reflected after they had settled one of their brawls, usually by making love, but only after she felt certain she had regained the respect she demanded, I think that’s a peculiar Leo thing, they are such strong, domineering characters that they need a woman who is their match.
Now Jagger blunted Chrissie’s attack, brought her into his arms to make love to him, the way he often did. He told her he wished to marry her, to have children by her; he seemed to Chrissie to be able to fix upon what was young and helpless in her, able to seek it out and use it to weaken her; at the same time he grew very apologetic and penitent, and very tender—Chrissie found that charming because the only time most men look tender is in defeat, but Jagger appeared tender even when he knew he was winning.
Chrissie’s anger at Jagger’s action the night before, at his constant need to put the public Mick Jagger before the private Jagger she lived with and loved, was intensified because she knew he didn’t believe in the image—when Jagger saw another one of those idiotic stories pointing an accusatory finger at the unwashed hairy apes called the Rolling Stones he would sometimes laugh and sometimes get furious. But at all times, she felt, he knew it was simply publicity, that it had nothing to do with the real Mick Jagger. And Chrissie couldn’t understand why he would put that public image before his personal life. She also recognized that there was something else bothering her: Andrew Oldham. He had come up with the image, the Stones as antidotes to those cheeky but adorable Beatles, he had insisted that the women be hidden, and his publicity program had proven so effective that Jagger considered him a Svengali guiding the Stones to a number one on the charts. And Chrissie was annoyed at Andrew. It was something more than Andrew’s manipulation of the press and the Stones. Chrissie had been hearing some disturbing things about the relationship between Andrew and Jagger.
She had finished up at secretarial college the previous spring and moved to London, to be with Jagger. She was searching for her own flat, insisting that she must maintain a degree of independence, but until she could find a place she had moved in with Jagger, and Keith, immediately after her eighteenth birthday, in May. And she had gone to work for Decca Records. For a few weeks she was simply another secretary in the office. Then it was discovered she was living with Jagger, and she was treated as someone special, never given much work to do except in connection with the Stones, free to leave when she liked, to attend concerts and gigs at clubs and go out on tours with the Stones. She thought it was hilarious because the Stones had only one record out at the time and although it lingered in the charts for months it wasn’t exactly creating much of a fuss.
When Andrews set up his own office in Regent Street during the summer to handle the Stones in their quick-growing popularity, Chrissie went to work for him. Andrew was beginning to get very camp, it seemed to Chrissie, and everything about him and the office appeared to her to be continuous madness. She found Andrew very strange, a man of great charm who could also be nasty and almost schizoid: very clever, quick-witted, humorous, and incredibly bitchy and evil. He always had great dramas swirling around him, incredible scenes, and morally Chrissie was appalled by everything he represented; she’d had a convent upbringing, and Andrew’s style offended her sensibilities. Andrew wanted the women in his office to be very butch, to wear trousers, and sit with their feet up on the desk. He’d rush into the office at nine in the morning and ask someone to pour him a few ounces of vodka to start his day. And he loved it when the women teased him about the makeup he wore behind the dark glasses. He’d ask: “Is there something wrong with the color? Please go out and get me eye-stuff that’s a better shade.”
Chrissie’s relationship with Andrew became quite tense after a number of bitchy queens started teasing her about how close Jagger and Andrew had become. “You know what it’s like, you know what Mick and Andrew are like”—a phrase repeated so often, by several very campy men, that Chrissie was becoming very upset. She didn’t quite understand, she couldn’t see anything wrong in their relationship. But every time she heard the phrase or some variation of it she couldn’t help remembering the night the Stones were rehearsing at Ken Colyer’s club before going up to the Decca studio to re-record their first single: Andrew was teasing Jagger, about double trackings and their inexperience with studio techniques, and she realized they had become extraordinarily close in a few weeks, that they had a strong and unique friendship. Not something she could be jealous of, not back then. But now …
She had once told Andrew what was being said about him and Jagger, after she could no longer stand the queens’ teasings. Andrew assured her there wasn’t any truth to it, that he and Jagger were strictly friends and business associates. She could believe that, she had always felt the relationship was just a strong male friendship, nothing more.
Still, Chrissie was worried. She wasn’t exactly going around arguing with herself about it, but she knew that from the moment she met Jagger other musicians—homosexuals and bisexuals—had been after him, as had many male fans. She was certain Jagger was aware of it, but she could never ask him his feelings. Her concern was heightened when Andrew moved into the flat with them, and Andrew’s wife, Sheila, asked:
“Do Mick and Andrew sleep in the same bed?”
“Not when I’m there. Because I sleep with Mick,” Chrissie said.
But Chrissie didn’t dwell on it—what’s there to worry about when your man is a good lover, when he is gentle and manly, as much concerned with your sexual pleasure as with his own? Besides, everything was happening so fast for the band that personal anxieties had a way of vanishing in the rush of professional joys. Back in September they had gone on their first concert tour, way down on the bill with the Everly Brothers and Bo Diddley himself—“We’ll just have to be on top form to even live in the same theater as that bloke,” Brian said after learning the Stones were booked on a tour with one of their heroes; the band quickly dropped all Bo Diddley numbers from its act. In a couple of weeks, starting January 6, 1964, the Stones would be touring again. This time they’d be on a bill with the Ronettes, an American vocal trio created by Phil Spector—brazen, shapely, enormously popular with teenage boys who didn’t have the courage to lust after the girl next door. And, this tour, the Stones would have top billing—only their second tour of England, and they were the top of the card. It was a coup that Easton had pulled off, demonstrating how a shrewd manager can create an overnight sensation.
Easton did have a little help from the Beatles. Two of the Beatles, in any case: Lennon and McCartney. With “Come On” making it into the Top Ten on the pop charts in July, Decca demanded another fast single. The Stones tried for weeks to find a suitably commercial follow-up, arguing over hundreds of titles, dismissing out of hand Keith’s suggestion they write their own songs, growing tense and snapping at one another. There was such an enormous storehouse of material in the records they owned and in the songs played by Alex and Baldry and so many others, and they still couldn’t find a couple of three-minute songs.
Andrew was upset because he was anxious to get into the studio again, to learn studio techniques, perhaps to become the English Phil Spector, to become successful and rich and famous as a producer of hit records and the creator of hit pop artists, as Spector had done in America … why not? And now the Rolling Stones were unable to come up with a song.
Andrew was walking along Jermyn Street one afternoon, dark glasses hiding his makeup and his glazed eyes, walking in the curiously birhythmic manner of one stoned out of his skull.
“Hey, Andy,” someone shouted. “Andy, get in here.”
He looked around and recognized that choir-boy face of Paul McCartney sticking out the window of a taxi. John Lennon was sitting next to him. Andrew stepped off the curb, gingerly, and crossed over.
“Where you two coming from? Living it up with the London birds?”
“We’ve just got back from a big lunch at the Dorchester, a Variety Club do that was fab!” (Paul said that “Fab!” with an exclamation point in the voice; it was the season’s hip expletive.) “We’ve been meaning to call you to talk some ideas over with you.”
“I don’t have any ideas for anyone—I need a couple of songs. The Stones have got to make another record soon, and they can’t find the proper material. Driving me loon.”
“We’ve got a couple of spare songs we just finished that are more up their street than ours,” John said in that Liverpool accent that Andrew still had difficulty understanding. “You know we like the Stones, man, and we’d be happy to let them have a go at one of ours. We’d like you to hear them. Especially one we call ‘I Wanna Be Your Man.’ ”
Andrew pulled open the cab door. “Get out of that taxi. I’m meeting the Stones right now in Ken Colyer’s, and we can all hear your songs immediately.”
They went round the corner to the club. Inside, the Stones were sitting around, dejected, a half-empty bottle of vodka and a general air of gloom evidence they still hadn’t played through a song that would be suitable for their next recording. Jagger held back for a moment while the other members of the band asked the usual questions about the Beatles’ success, and plans, and then suddenly broke in.
“What are you two doing here?” he asked.
“Andrew says you need some songs. Well, we have at least one song that’ll be perfect for you.”
“Play it for us,” Jagger said, ignoring the other Stones’ excitement over the offer. When they’d calmed down a bit, Keith and Bill handed their guitars to the two Beatles, who began to play their song while Charlie lightly brushed the beat. At the end of the first chorus of “I Wanna Be Your Man,” John and Paul came to a stop.
“That’s all we’ve written so far, just the chorus,” John said.
“Oh, great. Very good song, we sure can use it, but how long can we wait for it to be finished?” Brian said. “We haven’t got a lot of time, Decca’s down on our backs.”
A glance between John and Paul. “Listen, if you guys really like the main part of the song, we’ll try to finish it up right away,” John said.
“Yes, please do,” Jagger said. “We badly need a song, and that’s a good one.”
The two Beatles went off to another room. They returned about five minutes later. “Forget something?” Bill asked. “Need a guitar to work with?”
“No. We’ve just finished the middle eight,” John said. “See how this sounds to you.” They played the song through and, after getting over their surprise that anyone could write a song so quickly, Brian and Jagger agreed that “I Wanna Be Your Man” suited them perfectly. It would be the “A” side of their new record. Later, Jagger told Keith that he may have been right—if writing songs was so easy, perhaps they should do their own.
The Stones went into the studio a couple of weeks later to record the Lennon-McCartney song. By then Andrew seemed to have despaired of anything working out properly, he had fallen into one of his “black periods” as he called them, and had gone off to the South of France. He had already given up on becoming a singer and a performer and seemed to be feeling so frustrated that he even shelved his plan to become a recording studio genius, at least temporarily. Eric Easton went into the studio this time as producer. He didn’t have much recording experience but he had a wide background as a musician, something that Andrew lacked, and he felt certain he could help the band put together two good sides, could supervise them, guide them, offer suggestions, and let the engineeers worry about the technical aspects.
As he sat in the control booth of the Kingsway Studios while the Stones were trying to get a usable version of the Beatles song on tape, Eric marvelled at the change in the band since their first studio sessions just a few months before: They’re getting the hang of this recording business. They were edgy and nervy on the first sessions, but now they’re beginning to relax … to get themselves in the mood where they’re really reproducing the sort of stuff they do in the clubs. By nightfall the Stones had a hard-driving Elmore James style treatment of “I Wanna Be Your Man” on tape, and they were ecstatic that it had all gone so smoothly. As they were being driven home, Brian fairly shouted:
“Know why all that went so well? It’s because we can feel that things are starting to happen for us at last. You know? We’re not just banging our heads against the walls of different promoters. Now we’ve got someone doing the worrying for us”—pointing at Eric—“we’re feeling that much happier and that much more on the way.”
Perhaps Brian didn’t have any more worries, but Jagger did: he was beginning to learn the business side of pop music, to involve himself in all the petty details of management and contracts and promotion; he said he enjoyed it, and he felt qualified because of his LSE training, but it could sometimes be a headache.
“I Wanna Be Your Man” was released on November 1. It quickly got onto the charts and began moving up, with enormous help from several quarters: Eric, working almost from a master game plan, got the Stones booked on a few television shows; Andrew created another round of newspaper controversy over the Stones haircuts, or lack thereof; some reviewers raved about the recording, the man from Disc magazine especially enthusiastic because the Stones had finally been able to get on a record the drive and excitement of their live act; but helped most of all by the fact that “I Wanna Be Your Man” was written by the songwriting half of the Beatles.
For, by mid-November, the Beatles had become the most exciting news to happen in Britain since Hitler’s armies had collapsed eighteen years before. The Beatles had been causing riots in tours up North since May, and completely dominated the record charts through most of the autumn, simultaneously hitting number one in each category: single, extended play, and LP album. They had been booked into the London Palladium the night of October 13, 1963, topping the bill in a show televised as “Sunday Night at the London Palladium.” Throughout the day the streets around the Palladium were besieged by Beatles fans, thousands of them trying to catch a glimpse of their idols, piling up presents at the stage door, fainting in the streets, cheering and chanting and generally mystifying the poor bobbies assigned to keep some kind of order. Journalists showed up as news of the crowds started getting around, joined by TV and radio newsmen. Britain hadn’t seen anything like it in modern times—the start of the “Beatlemania” that was to sweep much of the world for the next few years—and the chaos that the Beatles caused was front-page news the next day.
The following Wednesday the Beatles were invited to play at the Royal Variety Performance, the biggest and most prestigious show of the year. The bill included most of the top stars in Britain, plus Sophie Tucker, Marlene Dietrich, and Maurice Chevalier, and the audience included the Queen Mother, Princess Margaret, and Lord Snowdon. That show was televised November 10, to a viewing audience of 26 million, almost one-half of Britain’s population. The Beatles became a national institution, ranking up there with pubs, soccer, and the pools. Especially after John got in a cheeky but adorable joke at the Royals’ expense: Before one number he asked the audience to clap in time, then nodded toward the Royal box and said, “Those upstairs, just rattle your jewelry.” The joke made every front page the next day, and every writer was careful to point out that the Queen Mother, in talking to the Beatles after the show, had indicated she’d enjoyed the joke and loved those four lads from Liverpool.
The Stones single, “I Wanna Be Your Man,” was being delivered to the record shops during that week, and the spillover of the Beatles insanity helped create a greater demand for the record than would normally have been expected for such a relatively unknown group as the Stones; Beatles fans rushed out to buy the record simply to hear the Lennon-McCartney song.
With the release of that record Eric and Andrew made certain that even the journalists could grasp the fact that something big was about to happen to the Stones, and the group’s press coverage rose dramatically. Daily Mirror record columnist Pat Doncaster visited the Richmond Athletic Club, to which the Stones had moved their Sunday performance from the Crawdaddy Club, and he wrote a glowing article about them; the Sunday Times sent a photographer to shoot some pictures for the color magazine; a video team from BBC’s “Monitor” shot a lot of film for viewers. Chrissie had begun to keep a press cutting file on the Stones months before but she gave it up now because it seemed an impossible task for one person to handle. The chore was turned over to Shirley Arnold, a fan from the earliest Crawdaddy gigs who had been hired by Andrew to put in a couple of hours a week answering the fan letters and who became full-time fan club president, with several assistants, as Post Office bags of mail began piling up.
Eric continued to build the momentum, booking the Stones onto the ballroom circuit when the second record was released, sending the band on a tour of halls in which couples usually danced to trad jazz bands or light rock groups. And Brian was regularly beaten up by men who didn’t like the way he was aggressing from the stage, making violent love to their girl friends while putting the boot to the men; Brian didn’t know when to pull back and cool off a situation and he was attacked several times. Touring the ballrooms in the back country outside London seemed to Jagger to be an insane thing to do, and he tried to persuade Eric to cancel. “We’re used to the atmosphere in the little clubs, and there’s a lot of hard nuts out there among the dancers who’re not gonna fancy our hair and maybe’ll try to scalp us,” Jagger said. He seemed to Eric almost frightened after the first couple of shows—ballroom rockers demanding strange rock-and-roll songs and when the band ignored the request or insisted they didn’t know the song, riots seemed likely to follow. But Eric reassured him: “You’re a hot group right now. You must get out to the bigger places, pull in more fans, it’s the only way to keep driving up. Don’t worry about the hard nuts, just try to avoid any incidents.” Avoiding trouble wasn’t such an easy thing to do, not with Brian so ready to fight anyone who seemed to be insulting him or his hair or his music.
When he returned from the ballroom tour that late autumn, Jagger told some friends and journalists that he knew it had worked, he could feel something powerful happening within him; somehow his entire body felt different, up there on the stage, he said, he’d been experiencing something so sensual that he was unable to describe it even to himself. But he did know he was learning something about showmanship now, working with larger crowds, learning how to control the hysteria, to whip it up and tone it down; jerky movements of the hips, grasshopper dance steps, thrusting his pelvis forward rapidly in a parody of copulation, almost daring the girls out there to reach for his genitals, waving his arms in invitation, swinging around to present his butt. He’d begun to wear special jeans, cut tight in back to conform to the shape of his buttocks and tight in the crotch to emphasize the genitals. If those kids—girls and boys—needed sexual fantasies then Mick Jagger was going to supply them. And he did, obviously: The Stones were beginning to run into mass hysteria.
“You walk into some of these places, and it’s like the Battle of the Crimea going on, people gasping, tits hanging out, chicks choking, nurses running around with ambulances,” Keith later said. “You know that weird sound that hundreds of chicks make when they’re letting go, when they’re coming? They sound like hundreds of orgasms at once, they can’t even hear the music, and we can’t hear the music we’re playing … Chaos … Going out of the theaters is the dodgiest—the chicks try to strangle you they want you so bad. One time I found myself lying in the gutter with a shirt on and half a pair of pants and the car roaring away down the street with the guys in it. Oh, shit, man. They leap on you. ‘What do you want? What!’ ”
Brian knew what they wanted. He’d been the first to understand that the audiences wanted sexual stimulation, sexual fulfillment, the fueling of their fantasies, and he’d been the first to experiment with movements of his body and his guitar which simulated sexual activity and drove the audiences to a frenzy. While Jagger was still moving only his head, flouncing his hair, and clapping to the beat, Brian was bouncing around teasing with his entire body. Then Jagger began incorporating similar movements into his performance, and Brian felt Jagger was imitating him. When Jagger began to get more notice than Brian, which was inevitable because he was out front as lead singer, Brian grew jealous and more paranoiac. He felt Jagger was deliberately stealing his act, competing with him, trying to become the star of the band and leave everyone else back there in the shadows. Brian soon had tangible evidence to support his suspicions: Jagger was beginning to get most of the fan mail, and journalists were asking for interviews with Jagger. A tension was beginning to develop between Brian and Jagger, way back in those first few months of the band’s existence. Brian would call up Shirley Arnold to complain about it: “I must tell you this …” and he’d cite several instances to illustrate Jagger’s perfidy, Jagger’s attempt to push them all into the background and seize the glory for himself. And Jagger began to draw a line, with him on one side and Brian on the other: Cleo Sylvester was talking to Jagger one night about the growth of the band’s popularity and said something innocuous about Brian’s musicianship. Jagger said, “You’re on Brian’s side.” And Cleo thought, It’s not a question of being on anybody’s side, but Mick seems to feel there is a side. Jagger’s remark made her aware that something was happening between him and Brian, made her notice and feel sad about the small disagreements that grew into large arguments and petty jealousies.
And now, at the end of 1963, when the band was earning about £1,000 a month, Jagger told Chrissie he wanted to marry her as soon as possible. He was making a lot of money with the band, he felt confident the Stones were going to become as big as the Beatles, music was his future, and the future looked brilliant. He was so confident that he’d finally dropped out of LSE after agonizing over it for a long time, unable to make up his mind. He’d talked to Chrissie again and again about leaving LSE, making a decision to quit and then backing down, wavering and uncertain—that trait friends and associates found so distasteful in Jagger. Sometimes Chrissie felt strongly that he’d finish up at university, then finally realized that he couldn’t because he had a drive for performing that he couldn’t turn back no matter how hard he tried to conform to his parents’ wishes and despite his feeling of obligation to the government. Once he did make the final decision to quit there was no stopping him. He would assert his independence by leaving school and marrying Chrissie. Marriage was the inevitable next step: It was the first real love for each, and they talked much about living together as man and wife forever, having several children. But there appeared to be much conflict in Jagger because of his need to protect his public image by hiding Chrissie from his fans so that they wouldn’t turn against the band, and his need for a woman he could call his wife. He’d tell interviewers that he was very much against marriage and would never marry; he’d tell Chrissie that he wanted to marry her as quickly as possible. He seemed unable to decide how he really felt.
But down at Chrissie’s sister’s flat one night Jagger announced that they were definitely going to be married soon. After the round of congratulations from Jean and her guests, someone suggested that Jagger had better call Andrew to break the news. Chrissie listened at Jagger’s shoulder when he rang Andrew, waiting to be congratulated. But Andrew wouldn’t talk to her about it. He was very broken up, and Chrissie had the impression he was crying at the other end of the phone. Jagger was trying to comfort him, to reassure him that marriage wouldn’t change anything. Chrissie couldn’t understand why Andrew was so upset.
She also couldn’t understand why Jagger refused to set a firm wedding date: “Someday, someday soon,” he’d say when they talked about it. But months went by, and they were no closer to marriage. She didn’t care very much about marriage, necessarily. She wanted to have children, to bear Jagger’s children, she wanted to be a mother. She’d do it outside of marriage, if that’s how Jagger really felt about it, she would risk the criticism and outrage of respectable society and bear Jagger’s children without marrying him, for she desperately wanted to be a mother. Jagger said he also wanted children, her children. But as the months went by, through the Christmas holidays and into 1964, Chrissie came to realize that Jagger felt it would be destructive for his career to marry and have children. She sensed he was correct. It certainly would be daft, she thought, but she was terribly hurt by his attitude.
Chrissie knew that Jagger had kept a distance between himself and his image, that he hadn’t been overwhelmed by the image and been swallowed up in it. He often laughed at newspaper articles portraying them as louts, hairy brutes who were corrupting the nation’s youth. Andrew seemed to delight in the image, wanted to be a part of it; he seemed to have a strong need to make himself and the Stones over into characters out of Burgess’s novel, A Clockwork Orange. He had photos taken of them, the boys viciously overturning a baby pram (presumably with an infant still inside). But Chrissie felt certain that Jagger was too clever and too perceptive to be taken in by his own publicity machine. He hated interviews, dreaded them, because they intruded on his privacy. He wants very much to be a private person, Chrissie thought, he wants very much for the group to work and be a personal and financial success, but he wants to keep himself private and apart from that image of the rock-and-roll star.
Whenever the line between star and private man seemed to blur, Chrissie would help him define it again by tossing out a standard accusation: “You’re nothing but a rock-and-roll singer, you’re an idol to everyone else but I know what you really are.” Jagger would grow angry, but it would help him keep an emotional balance about his fame. He’d often tell her: “Where you are is home. All the rest out there is bullshit.” Jagger’s own tough defensive shield, his very conscious and shrewd manipulation of his image; combined with Chrissie’s realistic appraisal of the whirlpool that stardom could become, helped save him from being sucked into his own public image.
And yet the image that was being manufactured, that of a rebellious young man who damned all society’s conventions, was being slowly etched into his brain, Chrissie felt. A part of Jagger was beginning to conform to the new role, rebel: anti-marriage. More violence introduced into his act. A greater awareness of his bisexual image (he had a habit now of leaning close to the mirror, staring at his face for long periods, as if the image that stared back at him was the only subject that interested his soul). And, whenever the subject of parents came up, putting down his family out there in the suburbs.
That rejection of his family was noticed by almost everyone with whom he came into contact. During one conversation with Paul McCartney, Jagger made it clear he couldn’t get along with his parents, that he didn’t seem to like his mother very much; she was one of those “old” people. Paul said: “I don’t hate old people. I like my Dad. He’s ‘old’ people, and I like him. I get along with older people.” Jagger didn’t appear to understand what Paul was talking about, and Paul had a strong feeling that Jagger was a loner, building walls of anger to defend his psyche … from what? And Paul went away from that talk feeling very sad for Jagger.
There were times that Chrissie wondered how strongly Jagger really felt about the need to keep his public image totally separate from the core of his self. Usually, she felt he had too much intelligence to be corrupted by the idolatry of the fans and the wealth. But occasionally a thought would cross her mind: Is it possible he’s not being fooled by the public image only because he knows he’s too young and unsophisticated to handle it now? I’m beginning to think he probably
wants it from afar but isn’t able to cope with it yet so he’ll likely stay away from it until
he feels he can handle it … he’s certainly aware of what he is … I wonder what he’ll be like when he gets into it all the way? … he certainly won’t remain the same because that scene is so sick. It’s such a joke. Will he become a joke?
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About The Author
Journalist Anthony Scaduto did not write many books about popular music, but his first, Dylan, was a groundbreaker in the field. Before this biography about Bob Dylan appeared in the early ’70s, virtually all biographies about rock singers, and for that matter most other performers in the popular music field, had been cheap and superficial knockoffs, primarily devoted to cashing in on celebrity. Scaduto’s book was the first to employ the same kind of in-depth investigative research that authors applied to other kinds of nonfiction works intended as serious studies of a subject. Scaduto talked with many of Dylan’s associates (and, briefly, with Dylan himself) to get a well-rounded portrait of his music and life. In so doing he helped make this approach acceptable, and even expected, for subsequent authors endeavoring to write meaningful biographies of rock musicians.
Scaduto has done a lot of writing on topics that have nothing to do with music. In his New York Post days as a feature writer he was known as an expert on the Mafia, and specialized in organized crime stories.
“A scorching biography…”
“The Best rock biography yet…”
“As with his Bob Dylan (1971) Scaduto again gathers the tribes, (and Brian Jones now tragically dead) to say their piece…there’s Chrissie Shrimpton and Marianne Faithfull…Scaduto details Jagger’s climb out of suburban respectability (the London School of Economics days when he behaved like any other obedient son), the early successes as the Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys (then as now the Beautiful People were tuned in), the international tours and growing notoriety of the Rolling Stones. Scaduto’s primarily into (indecent) exposure — who’d be silly enough to deny Mick’s campy power?
“… it’s interesting because you’re (Mick Jagger) interesting. I mean I learned a few things about you that I didn’t know before.” Mick laughed. He may not really be everybody’s Lucifer, but he knows how to play the role. Sure, he’s ruthless. That’s the case that Scaduto make in the book.
—Al Aronowitz, The Blacklisted Journalist talking to Mick Jagger
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