Mick Jagger: Sympathy for the old devil

The grand old dinosaur of rock becomes eligible for his bus-pass today. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he remains as hard-headed and driven as ever. John Walsh marvels at a national treasure
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The Independent Culture

Today, on the morning of his 65th birthday, an elderly singer called Michael will sip weak tea in bed, accept a gluten-free cake from his carer, Ms L'Wren Scott, open anniversary tributes from his seven children and three grandchildren, pull on elastic-fronted pants and shuffle into the garden to inspect his flowering vines. After a snooze, he may join his old pals Keith, Ronald and Charles in the King's Head for a pint of shandy and a game of dominos...

Oh come on. It was never going to happen, was it? Mick Jagger's birthday could never be like any other 65-year-old's. In fact he will mark his bus-pass acquisition day by announcing that The Rolling Stones are to leave EMI, to sign up with Universal Music; the Stones will also win control over all their albums since the 1970s. It's the end of a bidding war that represents a personal defeat for Guy Hands, who bought EMI last year for £2.1bn and was sure he could persuade the wheezing rockers to stick around. In fact he found himself outmanoeuvred by their leader, as Mick courted rival music groups with his customary cocktail of seduction and arrogance.

Since 1963, Jagger has been the greatest frontman in rock'n'roll. He is popularly thought to be a tireless British Casanova, an indefatigable swordsman of the boudoir, a cricket-loving health fanatic whose youthfulness defies medical science. What's sometimes missed, in the chorus of oohs and aahs that greets his every performance and paternity suit, is what an astute businessman Jagger has always been. He studied accounting at the LSE and, although he was asked to leave (allegedly for riding a motorbike through the library) the lessons stayed with him. After making a fortune in the late 1960s, he and the band became tax exiles, and lived in France. When Allen Klein became their business manager in 1965, Jagger watched his tactics – and, when he doubted Klein's trustworthiness, he took over the band's management and moulded them into a corporate monster. As their record sales dwindled in the past 20 years, their appeal as a live act grew. Financial logic lay behind their world touring. Whereas record sales could be unpredictable (and profits divided between many parties) revenue from touring went more directly to the band members.

While his colleagues watch their dodgy health or relive their hot youth, Mick seems never more happily employed in making money. He has applied to register his name as a trademark for two dozen products, including perfume, shampoo, nail varnish, lip gloss, clothes, shoes and skin-tight bodysuits.

"Mick Jagger is a really nice bunch of guys," Keith Richards once said. It's good to be reminded what a shrewd businessman one of those guys has always been.