If Mick Jagger's life can be considered a sort of cake consisting of adulation and money – which I think it can – then he helped himself to another slice last week. The Rolling Stones are to play a gig in Hyde Park in July; they will also tour America – all this (together with their Glastonbury booking), as part of their 50 & Counting celebrations.
The events were apparently decided on by Jagger, and were announced by him: "50 & Counting has been pretty amazing so far. We did a few shows in London and New York and had such a good time, we thought let's do some more." And so there's our hero in a nutshell. He was enjoying himself; he found that he enjoyed enjoying himself, so he decided to enjoy himself some more.
It is increasingly obvious that this is all about Mick. Whereas Keith Richards seems to have reached his cultural peak with his bestselling memoir of a couple of years ago, Life, he peaked physically quite some time before that, like in about 1989. Time has had the temerity to assert itself with Keith, and recent photographs show a nascent beer belly. As for that bandana of his, the implication is that he has such an unruly thicket of hair that he must forcibly restrain it, but I think it's fair to say that if Keith had any hair left to speak of, then he'd be letting us see it.
I speak as a lifelong observer, and admirer, of the Stones. I too am "50 and counting". I was born in July 1962, when the Stones played their first gig, but it seems that I am counting faster than Mick Jagger. It is becoming apparent that his hair and slender figure will outlast my own and I am fairly certain that I will end up apparently a good few years older than him. After long reflection, I think that what slows Mick's life down is the fact that whereas most of us live through a series of years, Mick lives through a series of eras, usually ones he has defined, such as Sixties R&B, hippydom, disco, stadium rock.
Or the eras might be defined by the Jagger women: Marianne Faithfull, Bianca Jagger, Jerry Hall and L'Wren... whatsername. (Her extraordinary Christian name tends to eclipse whatever follows in its wake.) Of course, those four are only the icing on the cake, so to speak. It is estimated that Mick Jagger has slept with more than 4,000 women, but it is not Mick who has done the estimating. That would not be his style, just as it is not his style to go on chat shows (very often) or boast about his life or art in spite of many opportunities to do so. He is entitled to be big-headed, as is Keith. But only Keith has taken advantage of the fact. The above-mentioned Life is rather like a William story by Richmal Crompton, in which our lovable urchin gets involved in some dreadful scrapes, but always comes out clutching a shiny half-crown and a bag of gobstoppers. In the book, he was rude about Mick (which was uncool), for which he subsequently apologised (which is also uncool).
Keith is, as Marianne Faithfull recently observed, "easier to read" than Mick, whose mystique is defined by a series of paradoxes. The world is not so much his oyster as his nightclub, yet he is neither an alcoholic nor a junkie. Nor is he fat, in spite of living in permanent proximity to the world's finest canapés. He is a terrific songwriter, yet his work is not pontificated over by ivory tower musicologists, as are the frequently very dreary litanies of Bob Dylan.
I suppose it's true that when Mick does finally go to the great gig in the sky, millions of men aged from 30 to 80 will stop holding in their stomachs with a collective sigh of relief, but really he is beyond schadenfreude. You can't compete with luck on that scale. As far as I know, Mick is the only one of the Stones not to have had a serious health scare. Apparently, he once noticed a lump on his hip, but it turned out, like everything else in his life, to be benign. If any man presumes to criticise Jagger, then he ought to be made to sign an affidavit to the effect that if Angelina Jolie, Carla Bruni, Sophie Dahl etc had offered themselves to him in the general context of soft lights and vintage champagne, then he would have made his excuses and left on the night bus.
Jagger might be more open to criticism from women for his Don Juan-ism, but not many women do seem to have criticised him. Christopher Andersen suggests that Carla Bruni – who, post-Mick, had to make do with the President of France – refers to him simply as "God". Andersen also suggests that a song from one of Mick's solo albums, "Don't Call Me Up" is about Bruni, which admittedly does make our man seem like Peter Cook performing the song "Bedazzled" in which nymphettes cavort around him cooing things like "You knock me out" and "You drive me wild", to which he replies in a monotone "Don't get excited" or "You fill me with inertia".
The charge against Jagger in Life is that he was become afflicted by a sort of gilded glassiness, and part two of Philip Norman's beautifully written biography of him is entitled "The tyranny of cool". Never having met the man, I can't pronounce on this. I did once stand within 10 feet of him backstage at a Stones gig in Belgium. He was walking towards the stage in a silk dressing gown, with a bouncing walk, like a bantamweight boxer, surrounded by an entourage of excitable men with walkie-talkies saying things like, "Mick's on his way" and "Mick will be with you imminently" I was there in a journalistic capacity, and my colleague on the assignment was a particularly handsome photographer in his twenties. Mick would have been in his mid-fifties then, and he regarded the photographer with a look of... well, Get Off of My Cloud about sums it up.
A narcissist, then? Well, wouldn't you be? I forgive him, for all the pleasure he has given me. He has been involved in some of the most delicious scenarios I have ever contemplated. In the mid-Seventies, he was interviewed in Paris, on the Left Bank, breakfasting at midday in a cafe. The meal consisted of two poached eggs and half a bottle of Beaujolais. I am in a position to compare this with breakfast as eaten by his colleague, Ron Wood, whom I once interviewed. Ron's habitual breakfast – also taken at midday – involved a bacon sandwich involving a doorstop of bread and most of an avocado, washed down with an entire bottle of red wine. Note the more subtle quality of Jagger's epicureanism.
And then there is the music, upon which I find I have hardly touched, so mesmerising is the man himself. The great Stones albums of the late Sixties and early Seventies foretold a life of crepuscular mystery and elegant decadence, which I still think may be somewhere around the corner. Meanwhile, Mick gets on with it, an example to us all.
Andrew Martin's latest novel is 'The Baghdad Railway Club' (Faber)Reuse content