After the blockbuster sales of Keith Richards’ autobiography Life and its catty snipes at Mick Jagger, many hoped the Rolling Stones frontman would get some satisfaction with a tell-all of his own.
Philip Norman’s weighty biography of the 69-year-old rocker is no such book — it doesn’t have Jagger’s blessing or co-operation and seems to exist so as to capitalize on Life’s financial momentum and the band’s half-millennium anniversary.
Of course, Norman made overtures to Jagger, but he was rebuffed, which is to be expected as the singer makes no secret of how boring he finds recounting his history. As Stones drummer Charlie Watts says in the acknowledgements, “Mick doesn’t care about what happened yesterday. All he ever cares about is tomorrow.”
Nonetheless, Norman transports readers to a London suburb in the ’50s, where a young Michael Phillip Jagger dutifully attends Dartford Grammar, plays sports to appease his phys ed-obsessed father, Joe, and eventually starts a jazz record club before finding his true passion — the blues. The author also gives details about the chance encounter on a train station platform between Jagger and Richards, who hooked up in 1961, the year before the Stones debuted at the Marquee Club. (For their first appearance, the band was met with heckles and boos, and were paid four pounds apiece.)
Yet, despite such nuggets, Norman spends most of the book putting more of an emphasis on Jagger’s romantic life than his musical achievements, mercilessly mocking the singer’s vocal style, right down to phonetic descriptions of lyrics — e.g. “Yes, I used to looeerve her, bu-u-rd it’s awl over now.”
The bulk of the bio focuses on the era between ’63 and ’70, though for anyone who’s read a Stones biography — of which there are no shortage — new revelations are scarce here. Norman’s major reveal is the supposed identity of “Acid King David,” the shady hanger-on who may or may not have helped orchestrate the infamous “Redlands” drug bust in ’67 that briefly landed Jagger and Richards in jail.
Indeed, Norman seems to think that the ’60s are of greatest consequence to Jagger’s career — we don’t get to the following decade until somewhere around the 400-page mark, thus the following 40 years of Jagger’s life are accorded an accelerated blur of marital strife, adulterous affairs, unintended offspring and voluminous egoism.
The book is hardly more charitable to its subject than Christopher Andersen’s gossip-driven Jagger bio and much less reverential than Marc Spitz’s recent portrait. If Norman is a fan of the Stones’ music, he hides it well, offering a bare minimum of detail about their records and musical evolution while devoting page upon page to the libidinous singer’s pursuit of Angelina Jolie in the ’90s, among other dalliances.
If at some point in the future we are to suffer through another recollection of Jagger’s life, let’s hope it comes straight from his own considerable lips. That being said, it would be wise to remember you can’t always get what you want.