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Jagger At 44: Still Cool In A Primitive Way

September 27, 1987|ROBERT HILBURN

LONDON — You've got to have a lot of confidence to call the opening song on your new album "Throwaway"--especially if you're Mick Jagger.

There's a legion of Rolling Stones fans who would argue that "throwaway" is a fair description of much of the Rolling Stones' music over the last decade as well as for Jagger's nondescript 1985 solo LP, "She's the Boss."

But "Throwaway" justifies the confidence. It kicks off the leading Stone's second solo collection, "Primitive Cool," with a sassy, provocative edge that suggests Jagger has something to say this time--and one of the things on his mind is his old macho image.

Used to play the Casanova, smoother than the bossa nova.

Loved to play the Romeo, but never need a home to go ta.

I'm so freezy, I'm so slick.

I leave no traces, I just get out quick.

I use cheap champagne, brief affairs, backstage love.

Jagger sings the words with a classic Stones drawl and surrounds himself with undercurrents of the raucous, down 'n' dirty Stones' beat celebrated in parts of "Exile on Main Street."

But "Throwaway" is not a sly celebration of the old days. It's a warning that some things aren't worth tampering with. In the song's key line, Jagger purrs, "A love like this is much too good to ever throw away."

There are moments in "Primitive Cool" where Jagger flashes the old Stones snarl, but the tracks that mean most reflect a surprising edge of sensitivity and thought. The title track is a father talking to his son about the old days . . . in the '50s and '60s. "Say You Will" is a flat-out love song, declaring both devotion and need. "War Baby" is an anti-war statement that you might more expect from U2.

Yes, Casanova is a changed man. Or was there always some sensitivity hidden under that rough Stones persona?

"I realize people (identify me with) the very hard-edged, macho kind of 'I'll whip your ass' kind of song, which is fine," Jagger says, sitting in the Stones office here.

"I don't really mind that because that is part of what I am. But there have been other songs. 'Angie' was a sensitive song that was quite popular, and there were others . . . even in the beginning. 'As Tears Go By' is ancient, but it was quite a reflective, grown-up song--especially for someone 21 or whatever I was at the time.

"I have been writing (sensitive) songs for a long time, but people don't think of that. I wrote one song with a diabolic intent or, at least, a diabolic subject--'Sympathy for the Devil'--and for years people were hammering that theme."

Jagger believes the reaction to a song like "Sympathy for the Devil" tells as much about an audience--its fascination or its fears--as the writer.

"I remember all the letters I got in those days . . . saying you're a devil worshiper and stuff. I wonder if people will write about 'Primitive Cool' and say, 'Yeah, I know what you mean about the '60s.' "

The small, bare-bones Stones office here, just off fashionable King's Road, is tucked unceremoniously into an old house in a nondescript residential area. A friend who had been here years ago warned about the need for good directions to have any chance of finding the place.

When the cab driver, who has been searching through his street guide throughout the trip, finally stops a block away (street construction prevents him from getting any closer), it seems certain he has fouled up.

But a teen-age girl on the street indicates she knows the address. "Follow me," she says, "I'm heading there myself."

The pretty, plainly attired dark-haired girl enters the building and heads up a narrow, circular staircase, past pictures of dozens of early American blues and R&B artists--the people whose records planted the rock 'n' roll seed almost three decades ago in a young Jagger and Keith Richards.

Finally, the girl leads to the small office where Jagger is sitting with two assistants.

He looks up, smiles at the visitor and says, "So, you've met my daughter, Jade."

First, Jagger sings about the values of true love. And now the proud pop is introducing his daughter.

Suddenly "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" seems every bit as old as its 22 years.

Jagger, 44, spends most of his time these days in New York, where he lives with longtime companion, model Jerry Hall, and their two children. But he has been in London for much of the summer, finishing the album and working on a video. He's in a rush today because he's headed back to New York to prepare for a short U. S. tour. Next year, he'll make a movie with David Bowie and think once again about getting the Stones back into the studio.

The inevitable question is what about the Stones, whose future has been in doubt in recent months because of a much-publicized feud between Jagger and Richards. Reportedly angered by Jagger's decision to make solo albums and tour, Richards is working on his own album.

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