Jagger at 70
As legendary rocker Mick Jagger celebrates his 70th birthday today, William Langley looks behind the notoriously private facade of the Rolling Stone
Mick Jagger, the lead singer and chief executive of the world's original rock 'n' roll corporation, takes a famously close interest in his band's finances. The Rolling Stones are not just big earners, but mentors to an industry, and their example has changed the whole business model of popular music.
Yet there's one monster payday Mick won't rise to. His 70th birthday, which he celebrates today, has brought a fresh attempt to persuade him to write his autobiography. Such a memoir could be billed as the ultimate rock chronicle, but Mick says he isn't interested. Or, to be, precise, he fears that his public wouldn't be interested.
Thirty years ago, he accepted a £1m advance for his story, only to return it when the draft manuscript was deemed too dull for publication.
It apparently came as a major shock to the otherwise-worldly rocker that the readers might expect a bit of juice and indiscretion, and the experience seems to have permanently put him off literary endeavour.
"I've been asked again, but I still won't do it," he confirmed earlier this month. "I found it depressing and boring."
It may seem bizarre that a man who has lived such a life can come up with nothing interesting to say about it, although his caginess fits securely into the pattern of self-protection that has kept Jagger afloat throughout his professional life.
That he is highly intelligent, industrious, shrewd and mindful of his legacy only adds to the puzzle.
The closest we have to a working picture of him is in his bandmate Keith Richards' delectably malicious 2010 memoir 'Life' from which Mick emerges as a kind of control-obsessed pantomime queen who has been "unbearable" since the 1980s.
Not, of course, so unbearable that the band couldn't headline Glastonbury last month, with a performance that illustrated just how much the Stones, and Jagger in particular, have done for rock.
The business they entered in the early 1960s was ramshackle and crooked, and came with a built-in assumption that no one was going to last in it for very long.
"When we first started out," Jagger told the American business magazine 'Fortune' "there really wasn't any money in rock 'n' roll. Obviously there was someone who made money, but it wasn't the act. Even if you were very successful, you basically got paid nothing."
Today, what the Stones take on tour is as much a corporate as a musical spectacular. The travelling caravan will include international tax consultants, immigration lawyers, accountants, marketeers and merchandising specialists.
The Rolling Stones 'brand' is effectively several different companies, variously incorporated in tax-friendly domiciles. Each company is responsible for a different aspect of the Stones' operations – touring, record sales, merchandising, copyright, video and internet marketing.
The number of people on the payroll is constantly adjusted to suit the level of the band's commitments, and the old mechanisms of local promoters and pot-luck venues have been replaced by a centralised booking and organisation hub.
The net result of all this is what 'Fortune' calls "an astounding money-making machine", but it is more than that: Jagger's insistence on being properly paid has changed the entire commercial basis of rock.
Quite possibly, he'd be happy to tell us all about this, but it isn't the book any publisher wants him to write.
The big story is the women, the drugs, the hits, the highs, the lows and the horrors.
In February 1967, for example, when he was 23, the police staged a drugs raid on a party at Redlands, Keith's home in West Sussex. Detective Sergeant Stanley Cudmore, the officer in charge, found Jagger and his then girlfriend, Marianne Faithfull, snuggled on a couch beside the fire.
"The woman had wrapped around her a light-coloured fur rug which from time to time she let fall showing her nude body," reported the officer. "Sitting on her left was Jagger, and I was of the opinion he was wearing make-up."
The women in his life, and the seven children they have borne him, most likely explain his reluctance to open up.
Born in Dartford, Kent, the son of a PE teacher and an Avon lady, he has never slipped the manacles of middle-class mannerliness, and much as he has preened and strutted like – as Marianne once put it – "a mod Lord Byron", his natural setting is small c conservative.
From what little he has told us about himself, it is possible to detect a sense of regret that he didn't do something else – or, at least, something more – with his life. "I don't want to be a rock star forever," he said in the 1970s, "playing Las Vegas to old ladies."
The same worry was on his mind at Glastonbury where he told the BBC: "Everyone wants to have done more things.
"It's slightly intellectually undemanding being a rock singer, but you make the best of it."
In habitually orderly fashion, Jagger held his birthday party 10 days before the event, and slipped away from the swish Mayfair club he had chosen at a civilised hour.
Earliness is precious to him, but he is leaving it very late to tell us who he really is.