No matter how many times you’ve read it before, Mick Jagger is so goddamned skinny — and tiny too, to those of us over six feet. You could almost fold him up and sneak him into a concert in your jacket.
After a lifetime spent chasing him around the world, and one or two brief encounters along the way, it was something of a relief to sit down formally with him in a suite at Chicago’s Ritz Carlton-Four Seasons, three days before the launch of the 1997/98 Bridges To Babylon world tour. Ideally, I’d prefer to interrogate him for three days, so I was a bit concerned that a 25-minute chat would be an anticlimax. But nothing about Mick is anticlimactic.
Mick looked very groovy, dressed in a tight purple suit with an open-necked orange shirt and multicolored socks. The laugh lines were deep, his hair thick and lustrous. He sat on a couch and I faced him sitting in a chair about two feet away. His handlers left, leaving me and Mick together. Alone. At last. But let’s not get carried away.
As I set up my tape recorder, he poured himself some Evian and initiated the small talk. This threw me off a bit, as I’ve spent a lifetime constructing the perfect small talk dialog I’d have with Mick. And in a few seconds, all that preparation went out the window. He moaned that he’d just come in from an interview with Spanish TV and it was a drag. I asked him how his Spanish was these days, and he said not very good but he was helped by a translator. I think my small-talk plan would have been better, but it will have to wait for another day.
I prepared about a zillion questions, but had to cut it to the bare essentials, particularly as I was writing a story about the album and tour. Fascinating digressions for my own personal interest had to be kept to a minimum. He put a lot of thought into the questions and gave me good answers. Looking back 16 years later there are a lot of obvious follow-ups, but I had to move on. And the cost of his undivided attention was that he made it clear when it was time to call it a day. He was out the door in a flash as if I’d never existed. Still, it was all fun. He laughed a lot (as shown in the text by “!!!”). Most important tip: treat an interview like a conversation with a friend, cut the rock-star crap and he’ll talk to you like a regular bloke.
YOU’RE BEGINNING THE TOUR A WEEK BEFORE THE ALBUM COMES OUT. DOESN’T IT UNDERMINE THE ALBUM, ALMOST MAKE IT REDUNDANT?
Perhaps. No, I don’t think it does. The upside of it is that it gives the whole thing a great kick-start, that you’re on tour and then the record comes out. It keeps a tremendous amount of momentum. If you come out with a record, say, two months ago, cold, it probably wouldn’t have been as good as having it now, to be honest.
DOES THAT MEAN YOU’LL PLAY FEWER NEW SONGS ON TOUR?
WILL THE SET LIST BE SIMILAR TO THE ONES FROM THE TWO SECRET SHOWS? (HE IS PICTURED AFTER THE DOUBLE DOOR CLUB SHOW IN CHICAGO)
No, it won’t be the set list. I wish it was only 15 songs!!!
THOSE SHOWS, YOU PLAYED “ANYBODY SEEN MY BABY” AND “OUT OF CONTROL”…
That’s what we’ll play on the first show. Of the new ones. As it goes on, by the time Christmas comes, there will probably be a lot more. But there’s no point really. Not in a stadium. If it was in a theater and you were doing more of a showcase, then you’d do loads. U2 came out and they played loads of new numbers, and it really didn’t work. It doesn’t work, it just doesn’t work. I mean, I’ve done it so many times. You get all these blank faces. It’s all right a couple of times, blank faces. But you don’t want to be every number, like, everyone looking at you going, “What the fuck is this?”
YOU’D THINK AUDIENCES WOULD BE BRACED FOR NEW SONGS?
I’m not in the audience. I don’t know what they think. Generally, it’s puzzlement usually, I get the vibe!
FROM AN ARTISTIC STANDPOINT, YOU’VE LUMPED STEEL WHEELS AND VOODOO LOUNGE TOGETHER. WHAT WAS THE PLAN FOR BRIDGES TO BABYLON?
Steel Wheels was made very quickly, but it doesn’t sound any more rushed than the other one. I just wanted to make sure that this record was a different kind of sounding record than Voodoo Lounge. You could have easily gone in and done it again.
I GET THE IMPRESSION THAT YOU DIDN’T HAVE A CLOSE ATTACHMENT TO VOODOO LOUNGE?
Well, I don’t want to trash it because I think it’s got some good sounding things. I wasn’t really passionate about it. I try to be at the time, but in retrospect… I always love them when I’ve done them. I always think they’re the best thing ever. It (Voodoo Lounge?) is pretty savagely eclectic. But right from the get go, I said to everyone, “Well, it’s not long since we did the last studio album and we’ve had another album since” — which is called Stripped, which was of course a very retro album. There’s nothing wrong with that. That was the whole intention. It was a live, y’know…
Yeah, souvenir. So I said, “We’ve done that and now we’ve got to go into another direction, y’know? We’ve got to go into the studio with another conscious direction or way of looking at it.” How would that be? What would make it different sounding? You can approach it from all kinds of ways. The songwriting’s slightly different, the melodic content different, the song lyrics different, just sonically different and just take a few chances, don’t worry about it so much. It should be like the Rolling Stones, whatever that means. I said, “It’s always going to sound like the Rolling Stones and if it really seriously doesn’t, you just go back and do it in the other way.” The problem is that with a band like the Rolling Stones, we’ve done so many albums and so much time together and so much work together, but if you play a song, people automatically or subconsciously will pigeonhole it into a category. “Oh, this will be Like It Bleed, I’ll play this.” And then it becomes a rerun of Let it Bleed… So that’s how it can happen. So you’ve got to be a bit aware of it.
I don’t know. I had written a lot of songs coming into this project that I’d already done — I’d written them and they were all finished and completed. I didn’t really necessarily know we were going to do a Stones record at that point. It was always a possibility…
SO WHAT ARE YOURS?
That I wrote coming in?
“Anyone (sic) Seen My Baby?” “Saint of Me.”
“GUNFACE” — IS THAT YOURS?
“Gunface,” “Out of Control,” “Might As Well Get Juiced.”
AND KEITH WROTE HIS THREE SOLO ONES?
Yeah, I started off playing the drums on “You Don’t Have to Mean It.” That was my contribution!!!
THAT’S COOL. DIDN’T RONNIE PLAY DRUMS ON “SLEEP TONIGHT?”
Yes. Well, I didn’t play on the actual track. In the writing sessions I was playing the drums.
I HEAR KEITH DIDN’T GET ALONG WELL WITH THE DUST BROTHERS…
He doesn’t really get along with people very well quite often, y’know? He takes a stand against people… He worked with Don (Was) a lot.
I THOUGHT HE HATED DON — WELL, AT LEAST PUT DON THROUGH THE WRINGER BEFORE HIRING HIM FOR VOODOO LOUNGE?
No, he wanted Don on board. He was the one that wanted Don on board. (Pause) I wanted Don on board as well because he can help me not only produce some of the tracks but coordinate the project. You need someone to help you. I could have done it, but it would have been a lot more work for me. We’d coordinate together — we’ve got the Dust Brothers this afternoon, and then we ended up with this, and what are we going to do with the Dust Brothers rhythm track, and so on. Just coordinating the thing is quite complicated.
ARE YOU A BIT DISAPPOINTED WITH SALES OF VOODOO LOUNGE?
No, not at all. I think it sold pretty well really.
BUT GIVEN THE FACT THAT IT WAS SUPPORTED BY THE BIGGEST TOUR IN PLANETARY HISTORY...
Well, it sold five million tickets on tour and we sold five million records. There’s no mystery to me… I don’t think that’s disappointing after being around for 34 years, I think to sell five million records is pretty good, don’t you?
THE STONES HAVE ALWAYS BEEN MORE OF A VISUAL THING THAN A RECORD-SELLING THING, HAVEN’T THEY? NOT TO IGNORE THE FACT THAT YOU HAVE SOLD ZILLIONS OF RECORDS…
I think they’re both. Honestly, to be fair, if you sold five million records of the last two studio albums… I honestly don’t think that’s a bad thing. Who sells more than that as a consistent thing? Of course, bands sell more than that. But it’ll just be for one record, and then after that they’ll go back to a certain plateau. Which we’re obviously on — some albums you go below, and some albums you go above. But the plateau of that amount of sales, I think, is very good. OK, The (sic) Pink Floyd, I think, they might sell a few more. But I don’t know. I have no idea, to be perfectly honest.
Well, there you go. But I don’t think one should belittle sales figures, if you want to talk about sales figures rather than art. (he smirked)
I HAD SPOKEN TO DON WAS AND HE SAID VIRGIN AMERICA WAS POSSIBLY A BIT DISAPPOINTED
Yeah, I think that if you want to break it down into territories — go into even more commerciality — you could say that the U.S. sales were a bit disappointing. But then they were made up for by the sales in other countries, which were above expectations.
THE CONSENSUS IS THAT YOU WERE VERY GENEROUS BRINGING IN K.D. LANG AND BEN MINK AS SONGWRITERS ON “ANYBODY SEEN MY BABY?” DID YOU REALLY NEED TO DO THAT? BECAUSE “STONED” WAS A RIPOFF OF “GREEN ONIONS,” WASN’T IT?
Well, whatever… And I’m sure there’s many songs in the world that are similar to others. The whole question of all that is very complex, and perhaps we shouldn’t even be bothered with it. I didn’t think it was totally necessary. It was all to do with timing, really. We were just starting up this tour, the record was being actually manufactured, we couldn’t really go back on it. If it had been three weeks different, we probably would have done it another way.
YOU DIDN’T WANT TO RISK A PATRICK ALLEY-TYPE SITUATION? (NOTE: ALLEY ACCUSED MICK OF STEALING “JUST ANOTHER NIGHT” BUT LOST IN COURT)
Yeah, exactly. There’s so many risks and so many people worried about those risks. And probably quite rightly. You don’t want to jeopardize this whole project by this one note!!! It’s funny, but it’s true.
I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU PAID THE DUST BROTHERS ALL THIS MONEY, AND THEY DIDN’T REALIZE THE SIMILARITY TO “CONSTANT CRAVING” AND CHANGE THE ONE NOTE
Well, we could have done, but the record was being actually manufactured and distributed. What are you going to do? Are you going to make the record a month later?
WAS THERE A BAND DISPUTE? MAYBE SOME OF THE GUYS THOUGHT, SCREW IT, DON’T BOTHER ABOUT THE CO-CREDIT?
No, it was very… k.d. lang and all that were very nice people. It wasn’t one of those horrible litigious things. It was just easier. It was just easier to do it this way than it would have been perhaps to have done it another way. Whatever. That was my take on it.
DESPITE ALL THESE BIG-NAME PRODUCERS, THE ALBUM STILL SOUNDS LIKE A STONES ALBUM. COULDN’T YOU HAVE JUST PRODUCED THE WHOLE THING YOURSELVES, MAYBE WITH SOME HELP FROM DON?
No. I don’t think it would have worked like that. It’s hard for you to judge what actually was done. But I know personally that it would not have been that record if it hadn’t been for the introduction of different people and the different attitude that those people delivered, and the way they influenced, for instance, Don. Or, whatever Keith thinks, influenced him. Because they forced him to come to the party with a different attitude, and people wanted to be clear about what they were doing, rather than just falling back on old things. They made people question what they were going to do, why they were doing it.
WITH THIS TOUR CAN YOU DESCRIBE HOW THE SHOW WILL EVOLVE ON STAGE? ARE WE GOING TO START OFF WITH A SLOW “NOT FADE AWAY”-TYPE NUMBER SO YOU CAN GET A FEEL FOR WHAT’S GOING ON AROUND YOU? (NOTE: I COPPED THE FIRST PART OF THIS QUESTION FROM JANN WENNER’S 1995 ROLLING STONE COVER STORY INTERVIEW WITH MICK)
No, I think it’s going to start with more of a wallop. A bit more of a wallop. Well, I don’t know, it’s going to change and evolve over the first month or so.
WHAT’S THE OPENING SONG?
I don’t know yet.
IT WAS GREAT HOW YOU RELEGATED “SATISFACTION” TO SONG NO. 7, OR SOMETHING (ON THE VOODOO LOUNGE TOUR) AND GAVE IT THE OTIS REDDING TREATMENT…
Yeah, that worked. (NOTE: “SATISFACTION” OPENED EACH BRIDGES TOUR SHOW. DID THIS INTERVIEW INFLUENCE MICK’S THINKING?!)
AND “NOT FADE AWAY” WAS A LAME WAY TO START THE SHOW?
Yeah, it wasn’t very good.
AND ALL THAT MONEY GOING TO PAUL MCCARTNEY MAKES ME A BIT ILL. [NOTE: MCCARTNEY OWNS SOME OF THE BUDDY HOLLY COPYRIGHTS]
Oh well! (nervous laughter)
HE SAID HE TURNED YOU ONTO POT. IS THAT RIGHT?
Nah. How would he know?
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST POT EXPERIENCE?
How would he know? It was somewhere in California I think, way before (1966, as McCartney claimed).
SO IT WOULD HAVE BEEN THE FIRST TOUR, 1964?
BECAUSE IT WASN’T REALLY AVAILABLE IN ENGLAND WAS IT?
Not much, no.
Well, it would be very nice. I’d love to play the Double Door and make a bit of money. It would be great. Imagine if you could combine those things.
— BUT WITH THE VOODOO LOUNGE AND STEEL WHEELS TOURS — I SAW THEM 31 TIMES
— DID YOU SOMETIMES THINK THE ESSENCE OF THE STONES WAS LOST IN A MAZE OF SMOKE AND MIRRORS?
Well, it depends on the punters. You’re the punters out there. You saw the show more times than I did. I never saw the show, only on video. My take on it is that there’s part of the audience which would go and enjoy just the Rolling Stones in a whatever — stadium, arena — with nothing much. They might like a screen and they might like a sound system. But then there’s another part of the audience that would rather have a bit more… I personally enjoy doing those kinds of shows. I like designing them and working with them. I did years of arenas with nothing much. That’s not true: we always did something, even in arenas. We had the stage that came up and opened… inflatable penises.., rose petals… I rather like them, but if sometimes you find it’s too much, you cut it down. There’s always a purist group, and especially if you’ve seen the show so many times, there’s no surprise anymore. Most people only see it once.
WHAT WOULD YOU HOPE TO PROVE WITH THIS TOUR?
Well, the band continues to be a touring band a still-continuing band. I hope this new album’s gonna contain songs which are gonna be performed on stage with some success. I think there’s possibilities in there. Also, there’s a still-continuing great show. We’re not out to change the world. Obviously it is a stadium show and what it is, is what it is.
WHAT’S THE ATTITUDE WITHIN THE BAND: YOU AND CHARLIE ARE ALWAYS THE RELUCTANT ONES TO TOUR, WHILE KEITH AND RONNIE —
— Are still on tour when they’re home? I don’t know if that’s really true, because I don’t really think that’s true. I’m in some ways reluctant to commit. It’s such a long commitment. I don’t even commit to the whole tour, because I want to see how it goes. If I hate it, I hate to think, ‘Oh you’re in August 15 in Barcelona and you’re staying at the Ritz-Carlton and what would you like for breakfast?’ I hate it. So I never commit to a whole tour. It is a big commitment to do a tour of any kind.
WHY AREN’T YOU PLAYING AS MANY CITIES?
We’re not overplaying the market. We’re being very conservative. We’re not playing as many shows. It’s been a very soft concert, as you know, in the United States. One or two tours have come croppers really, haven’t done very well, so we thought it was best to play the market conservatively. Plus, given the time problems that we’ve had —— we’ve run very late with the record — there’s only so many things we can do between September 23 and Christmas, as far as stadiums are concerned.
ARE YOU PLAYING MADISON SQUARE GARDEN IN MID-DECEMBER?
I cannot reveal whether we’re playing Madison Square Garden! (NOTE: They played MSG in January 1998)
IT’S ON THE INTERNET, SO IT MUST BE TRUE?
I don’t know. It depends on a bunch of factors. It’s not definite.
AND LIKEWISE UNIVERSAL AMPHITHEATRE PAY-PER-VIEW?
No, that’s definitely not true.
ARE YOU DOING A PAY-PER-VIEW AT ANY STAGE?
Yeah, but not at the Universal Amphitheatre. [NOTE: They did the PPV in St. Louis in December]
ARE YOU PLAYING THE UNIVERSAL AMPHITHEATRE?
HOW ABOUT THE WARFIELD IN SAN FRANCISCO?
Not yet… Not decided… No, definitely not, I can tell you that. (laughs)
ARE THERE ANY SONGS THAT DON’T HAVE RESONANCE FOR YOU THESE DAYS? I KNOW YOU WERE NEVER STRONG ON “STREET FIGHTING MAN?”
Yeah, I’ve dumped it. Ha-ha!!!
DURING THE VOODOO LOUNGE TOUR, THERE WAS BASICALLY NOTHING OFF STEEL WHEELS, OR UNDERCOVER OR DIRTY WORK. IT’S LIKE THEY NEVER EXISTED?
I know. I keep tryin’ to put songs in, and either they don’t sound very good, or no one’s very enthusiastic about it. I can’t make the band enthusiastic about songs they don’t seem to be enjoying.
BUT IF DIRTY WORK WAS KEITH’S RECORD —
— You’d think he’d want to… Well, if it was his record… You’d think he want to play something from some of those things. It’s not only Keith, it’s like the whole band is like, “Well, yes, er..”’ We played “Undercover” on the last tour.
AND “HARLEM SHUFFLE” TOO, I THINK?
SO YOU WANT TO PLAY THE YOUNG STUFF, AND THE OTHERS WANT TO PLAY THE GOLDEN OLDIES?
I don’t think that’s necessarily true. We’re playing some other oldies we haven’t really touched.
ARE YOU CONCERNED ABOUT THE OLDER-SKEWING AUDIENCES? ALL THE SHOWS I WENT TO, EVERYONE WAS OLD. YOU HAVEN’T REALLY CAPTURED THE MODERN ROCK AUDIENCE?
It depends where you are. You went to the shows more than I did. You get quite an old audience in some places, others you don’t. The audience in America tends to be pretty old. That’s a result of all kinds of factors I don’t have any control over, really. In America, you’ve got a whole family thing going on. You don’t get that in Europe: people don’t come with families.
FANS ARE MORE EXTREME IN EUROPE. THAT’S WHERE ALL THE FAN CLUBS ARE BASED
Yeah. Yeah. Here it’s more.., family… I don’t know what it is. It’s a good old boy factor. Some places you play like Charlotte and Norman, Oklahoma and it’s more of a college crowd. It’s a different vibe completely.
SO FINALLY, YOU SAT DOWN WITH ALLEN KLEIN A FEW YEARS AGO TO RESOLVE YOUR DIFFERENCES. DOES THAT MEAN YOU’LL BE ISSUING OLD STUFF FROM THE VAULTS BOTH PRE- AND POST-ABKCO?
No, well we’ve had plenty of new things really haven’t we? We haven’t had to do that. I dare say in the future that will all happen.
NOTE: Unrelated to the above interview, my gossipy rock bio Strange Days: The Adventures of a Grumpy Rock ‘n’ Roll Journalist in Los Angeles is available here. For more info, go to strangedaysbook.com
Copyright © 1997, 2013 by Dean Goodman. PLEASE DO NOT CUT AND PASTE THE WHOLE THING