It’s easy to see where some news outlets’ confusion may have come from: In Slate today, the rock critic Bill Wyman (no relation to the original Rolling Stones’ bassist of the same name) writes a long essay as Mick Jagger, responding to Keith Richards’ memoir, “Life.” The piece is subtly enough marked as a satire, but the author’s familiarity with the Stones, as well as his empathetic rendering of Jagger’s voice, is certainly enough to give the impression of an actual primary source document.
“Life” has been getting some rave reviews, and seems poised to catapult Richards’ already legendary life story into the realm of Paul Bunyon-esque, larger-than-life myth. But as Wyman’s piece reminds, it was the more materialistic, more sane, less talented Jagger who actually held the band together, and who reorganized them in such a way that they became a deathless musical monolith, rather than a gaggle of charismatic — and broke — flame-outs. (The article is nearly 5,000 words long, and is probably the best piece of music criticism you are likely to read this month.) For example:
I take the point that professionalism, one’s word, rock ‘n’ roll merriment … these are fungible things in our world. It is a fair charge that I have become less tolerant in these matters over the decades. In our organization, inside this rather unusual floating circus we call home, I am forced into the role of martinet, the one who gets blamed for silly arbitrary rules. (Like, for a show in front of 60,000 people for which we are being paid some $6 or $7 million for a few hours’ work, I like to suggest to everyone that we start on time, and that we each have in place a personal plan, in whatever way suits us best, to stay conscious for the duration of the show.)
So I will take that point. All of the forgoing was just … a little outré behavior on tour. Let’s go to the next tier—again, of matters one is informed of with some regularity, this not over months, not years, but entire decades. Keith’s been arrested with a mason jar full of heroin and a shopping bag full of other drugs and drug paraphernalia and is charged with drug trafficking. That was his baggage for a weekend in Toronto. It is hard to play a show with a catatonic guitarist, harder still when he is in jail for 10 years. I won’t even get into the fact that this came right when I had every record label in the world fighting to sign us, and in an instant my negotiating power was vaporized.
No, Jagger didn’t actually write it, but it’s unlikely he could come up with a more moving, funny, convincing defense of his own place in the rock and roll firmament if he tried.