Mary Kenny: Jagger was never a radical – rock 'n' roll is a business that runs on capitalist lines
Published 02/12/2013 | 02:30
As I love stories about people having babies, I rejoice at the news that Sir Mick Jagger is to become a great-grandfather in the new year, when his grand-daughter Assisi will give birth. Assisi, aged 21, is the daughter of Jade Jagger, whose mother is Mick's first wife, Bianca.
Being the patriarch of a large brood (seven children by four mothers, four grandchildren) will suit the iconic Rolling Stone perfectly, as it reflects a truth which has gradually emerged about the redoubtable Jagger over the years: he ain't no anti-establishment figure. He's a conservative whose preferred daily reading is the 'Financial Times'.
Until 2002, when he was awarded a knighthood, conferred by Charles, Prince of Wales, some of Mick's fans still thought that he, and the Rolling Stones, were some kind of radical revolutionaries, because of all that fabulously startling music which upset old duffers back in the 1960s and 70s. Oh yes, the Stones surely were pioneers of rock 'n' roll, via rhythm and blues, and brought an unparalleled vitality to their performances.
Keith Richards was a Kentish gypsy – his forebears were indeed Roma – who added a wild image to the Stones, and if their sound challenged the complacent bourgeoisie of Middle England, it also probably did as much to bring down the Iron Curtain and finish off communism as any other agency.
The play 'Rock 'n' Roll' by Tom Stoppard, who was born in the former Czechoslovakia, illuminates brilliantly how the pulsating energy of the Stones and Pink Floyd represented to the young Czechs of the Prague Spring, the dynamism and freedom of capitalism. The worthy folk-music of old Bohemia could scarcely compete.
Jagger was especially regarded as dangerous by old guards everywhere. In America, the literary philosopher the late Allan Bloom ascribed the decline of culture – in his best-selling tome 'The Closing of the American Mind' – to Jagger's influence, which he regarded as "demonic" and "satanic".
Young people were not reading Flaubert and Tolstoy any more, Bloom wrote, because the insistent and highly sexualised beat of the Jagger sound was taking their mind off classical texts: students couldn't understand the reflective pace of great prose while their brains were addled by 'Let's Spend the Night Together' and 'I Can't Get No Satisfaction'.
The Stones had all the appearance of being anti-establishment because of their drug-taking, "degenerate" reputations, dress and hairstyles. Travelling across America, Keith Richards has described the threats they received in Bible Belt territory because of their long hair. So the old duffers imagined that rock 'n' roll itself was anti-establishment: some even made the mistake of imagining that it was "left-wing" – many of the contributors to 'Hot Press' made that assumption.
They didn't notice that the rock 'n' roll business was – or became – hugely about money. Rock 'n' roll is not anti-establishment, it's a business, it's commerce, it runs on blatantly capitalist lines – selling, marketing, making sure that 'The Brand' is out there.
And Jagger turned out to be a sharp businessman. In 'Life'his autobiography, 'Keef' Richards claims that Mick figured out how to – legally – avoid tax in seven countries. He wrote that there were years when they avoided paying any tax at all. It has been reported that in the early years, Jagger and the Stones were ripped off by bad management, and it was only when Prince Rupert Lowenstein became their financial adviser in 1968 that they got to be genuinely profitable.
This may well be so, but going back over the years, Jagger seldom showed signs of radical political attitudes. He began his musical training in a church choir, continued at a respected grammar school where he was academically bright, and went on to college at the London School of Economics. Mick's father Joe was a teacher and his mum a lifelong Tory supporter. Jagger has said that "the queen is the best thing that Britain has" – apart from the Rolling Stones. When Rupert Lowenstein wrote a memoir, Mick castigated him for not displaying "good manners". How middle-class!
Mick's first marriage was in a Catholic church and nowadays, apparently, he practises Buddhist meditation. Well, I don't think the Buddha ever said anything too much against accumulating money – everything in proportion, after all.
Mick's life is no contradiction: it is an illustration of a fact that is not always widely understood – sex and drugs and rock 'n' roll were about pleasure, not radicalism.
And Mick's great-grandfather status will befit the pillar of the establishment that he is – and privately, probably always was. Even having a bunch of kids by four different mothers is more typical of mainstream alpha male behaviour than rebellion.
The late artist Lucian Freud had 14 acknowledged children by a number of mothers: unacknowledged offspring have been variously estimated at between 26 and 42 – perhaps more. The 'machismo' writer Norman Mailer similarly fathered nine offspring by six wives.
By all accounts, Jagger is an amiable grandfather, and with a personal fortune of around £200m (€240m), he will be able to provide for his descendants. He has congratulated grand-daughter Assisi on her forthcoming maternity, but joked that he wouldn't let it interfere with his own performances on stage.
Rather a cheering thought, on the whole, for the generation now facing into their 70s – that Jagger endures as a role-model. Oh yes: he's sure put the hip into hip replacement!