Mick Jagger
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Mick Jagger

Philip Norman

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eBook - ePub

Mick Jagger

Philip Norman

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About This Book

Author Phillip Norman, whose previous bestseller, John Lennon: The Life, was praised as a "haunting, mammoth, terrific piece of work" ( New York Times Book Review ) and whose classic Shout! is widely considered to be the definitive biography of the Beatles, now turns his attention to the iconic front man of the Rolling Stones, "the greatest rock 'n' roll band in the world." Norman's Mick Jagger is an extraordinarily detailed and vibrantly written in-depth account of the life and half-century-long career of one of the most fascinating and complex superstars of rock music—the most comprehensive biography to date of the famously enigmatic musician. Keith Richards had his say in Life. Now it's time to get to know intimately the other half of the duo responsible for such enduring hits as "Paint It Black, " "Sympathy for the Devil, " "Gimme Shelter, " and "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction." Mick Jagger is a must read for Stones fans, and everyone who can't get enough of the serious memoirs and biographies of popular musicians, like Patti Smith's Just Kids, Does the Noise in My Head Bother You? by Steven Tyler, and the Warren Zevon story, I'll Sleep When I'm Dead.

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India-Rubber Boy
TO BECOME WHAT we call “a star,” it is not enough to possess unique talent in one or another of the performing arts; you also seemingly need a void inside you as fathomlessly dark as starlight is brilliant.
Normal, happy, well-rounded people do not as a rule turn into stars. It is something which far more commonly befalls those who have suffered some traumatic misery or deprivation in early life. Hence the ferocity of their drive to achieve wealth and status at any cost, and their insatiable need for the public’s love and attention. While awarding them a status near to gods, we also paradoxically view them as the most fallible of human beings, tortured by past demons and present insecurities, all too often fated to destroy their talent and then themselves with drink or drugs or both. Since the mid-twentieth century, when celebrity became global, the shiniest stars, from Charlie Chaplin, Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, and Edith Piaf to Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Michael Jackson, and Amy Winehouse, have fulfilled some if not all of these criteria. How, then, to account for Mick Jagger, who fulfills none of them?
Jagger bucked the trend with his very first breath. We expect stars to be born in unpromising locales that make their later rise seem all the more spectacular . . . a dirt-poor cabin in Mississippi . . . a raffish seaport . . . the dressing room of a seedy vaudeville theater . . . a Parisian slum. We do not expect them to be born in thoroughly comfortable but unstimulating circumstances in the English county of Kent.
Southern England has always been the wealthiest, most privileged part of the country, but clustered around London is a special little clique of shires known rather snootily as “the Home Counties.” Kent is the most easterly of these, bounded in the north by the Thames Estuary, in the south by Dover’s sacred white cliffs and the English Channel. And, rather like its most famous twentieth-century son, it has multiple personalities. For some, this is “the Garden of England” with its rolling green heart known as the Weald, its apple and cherry orchards and hop fields, and its conical redbrick hop-drying kilns or oast houses. For others, it conjures up the glory of Canterbury Cathedral, where “turbulent priest” Thomas à Becket met his end, or stately homes like Knole and Sissinghurst, or faded Victorian seaside resorts like Margate and Broadstairs. For others, it suggests county cricket, Charles Dickens’s Pickwick Papers, or ultrarespectable Royal Tunbridge Wells, whose residents are so famously addicted to writing to newspapers that the nom de plume “Disgusted, Tunbridge Wells” has become shorthand for any choleric elderly Briton fulminating against modern morals or manners. (“Disgusted, Tunbridge Wells” will play no small part in the story that follows.)
In the two thousand years since Julius Caesar’s Roman legions waded ashore on Walmer Beach, Kent has mainly been a place that people pass through—Chaucer’s pilgrims “from every shire’s ende” trudging toward Canterbury, armies bound for European wars, present-day traffic to and from the Channel ports of Dover and Folkestone and the Chunnel. As a result, the true heart of the county is difficult to place. There certainly is a distinctive Kentish burr, subtly different from that of neighboring Sussex, varying from town to town, even village to village, but the predominant accent is dictated by the metropolis that blends seamlessly into its northern margins. The earliest linguistic colonizers were the trainloads of East End Cockneys who arrived each summer to help bring in the hop harvest; since then, proliferating “dormitory towns” for city office workers have made London-speak ubiquitous.
Jagger is neither a Kentish name nor a London one—despite the City lawyer named Jaggers in Dickens’s Great Expectations—but originated some two hundred miles to the north, around Halifax in Yorkshire. Although its most famous bearer (in his “Street Fighting Man” period) would relish the similarity to jagged, claiming that it once meant “knifer” or “footpad,” it actually derives from the Old English jag for a “pack” or “load,” and denotes a carter, peddler, or hawker. Pre-Mick, it adorned only one minor celebrity, the Victorian engineer Joseph Hobson Jagger, who devised a successful system for winning at roulette and may partly have inspired a famous music-hall song, “The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo.” The family could thus claim a precedent for hitting the jackpot.
No such mercenary aims possessed Mick’s father, Basil Fanshawe Jagger—always known as Joe—who was born in 1913 and raised in an atmosphere of clean-living altruism. Joe’s Yorkshireman father, David, was a village school headmaster in days when all the pupils would share a single room, sitting on long wooden forms and writing on slates with chalk. Despite a small, slender build, Joe proved a natural athlete, equally good at all track-and-field sports, with a special flair for gymnastics. Given his background, and idealistic, unselfish temperament, it was natural he should choose a career in what was then known as PT—physical training. He studied at Manchester and London universities and, in 1938, was appointed PT instructor at the state-run East Central School in Dartford, Kent.
Situated in the far northwest of the county, Dartford is practically an east London suburb, barely thirty minutes by train from the great metropolitan termini of Victoria and Charing Cross. It lies in the valley of the River Darent, on the old pilgrims’ way to Canterbury, and is known to history as the place where Wat Tyler started the Peasants’ Revolt against King Richard II’s poll tax in 1381 (so rabble-rousers in the blood, then). In modern times, almost its only invocation—albeit hundreds of times each day—is in radio traffic reports for the Dartford Tunnel, under the Thames, and adjacent Dartford-Thurrock Crossing, the main escape route from London for south-coast-bound traffic. Otherwise, it is just a name on a road sign or station platform, its centuries as a market and brewing town all but obliterated by office blocks, multiple stores, and even more multiple commuter homes. From the closing years of Queen Victoria’s reign, traffic funneled to Dartford was not only vehicular; an outlying village with the serendipitous name of Stone contained a forbidding pile known as the East London Lunatic Asylum until a more tactful era renamed it “Stone House.”
Early in 1940, Joe Jagger met Eva Ensley Scutts, a twenty-seven-year-old as vivacious and demonstrative as he was understated and quiet. Eva’s family originally came from Greenhithe, Kent, but had emigrated to New South Wales, Australia, where she was born in the same year as Joe, 1913. Toward the end of the Great War, her mother left her father and brought her and four siblings home to settle in Dartford. Eva was always said to be a little ashamed of her birth “Down Under” and to have assumed an exaggeratedly upper-class accent to hide any lingering Aussie twang. The truth was that in those days, all respectable young girls tried to talk like London debutantes and the royal princesses Elizabeth and Margaret. Eva’s work as an office secretary, and later a beautician, made it a professional necessity.
Joe’s courtship of Eva took place during the Second World War’s grim first act, when Britain stood alone against Hitler’s all-conquering armies in France and the Führer could be seen gazing across the Channel toward the White Cliffs of Dover as smugly as if he owned them already. With summer came the Battle of Britain, scrawling the sunny Kentish skies with white vapor-trail graffiti as British and German fighters dueled above the cornfields and oast houses and gentle green Weald. Though Dartford possessed no vital military installations, it received a constant overspill from Luftwaffe raids on factories and docks in nearby Chatham and Rochester and on London’s East End. The fact that many falling bombs were not aimed at Dartford, but jettisoned by German planes heading home, made the toll even more horrendous. One killed thirteen people in the town’s Kent Road; another hit the county hospital, wiping out two crowded women’s wards.
Joe and Eva were married on December 7, 1940, at Holy Trinity Church, Dartford, where Eva had sung in the choir. She wore a dress of lavender silk rather than traditional bridal white, and Joe’s brother, Albert, acted as best man. Afterward, there was a reception at the nearby Coneybeare Hall. This being wartime—and Joe wholeheartedly committed to the prevailing ethos of frugality and self-sacrifice—only fifty guests attended, drinking to the newlyweds’ health with brown sherry and munching dainty sandwiches of Spam or powdered egg.
Joe’s teaching job and work in resettling London evacuee children exempted him from military call-up, so at least there was no traumatic parting as he was sent overseas or to the opposite end of the country. Nor, conversely, was there the urgency to start a family felt by many servicepeople home on leave. Joe and Eva’s first child did not arrive until 1943, when they were both aged thirty. The delivery took place at Dartford’s Livingstone Hospital on July 26, the birthday of George Bernard Shaw, Carl Jung, and Aldous Huxley, and the baby boy was christened Michael Philip. As a possibly more significant omen, the town’s State Cinema that week was showing an Abbott and Costello film entitled Money for Jam.
His babyhood saw the war gradually turn in the Allies’ favor and Britain fill with American soldiers—a glamorous breed, provided with luxuries the British had almost forgotten, and playing their own infectious dance music—preparatory to the reconquest of Fortress Europe. Defeated though Nazism was, it possessed one last “vengeance weapon” in the pilotless V-1 flying bombs or doodlebugs, launched from France, that inflicted heavy damage and loss of life in London and its environs during the war’s final months. Like everyone in the Dartford area, Joe and Eva spent many tense nights listening for the whine of the V-1’s motor that cut out just before it struck its target. Later, and even more terrifyingly, came the V-2, a jet-propelled bomb that traveled faster than the speed of sound and so gave no warning of its approach.
Michael Philip, of course, remained blissfully unaware as a bombed, battered, and stringently rationed nation realized with astonishment that it had not only survived but prevailed. One of his earliest memories is watching his mother remove the heavy blackout curtains from the windows in 1945, signifying no more nighttime fear of air raids.
By the time his younger brother, Christopher, arrived in 1947, the family was living at number 39 Denver Road, a crescent of white pebble-dashed houses in Dartford’s genteel western quarter. Joe had exchanged day-to-day PT teaching for an administrative job with the Central Council of Physical Recreation, the body overseeing all amateur sports associations throughout Britain. Accomplished track-and-field all-rounder though he still was, his special passion was basketball, a seemingly quintessential American sport that nonetheless had been played in the UK since the 1890s. To Joe, no game was better at fostering the sportsmanship and team spirit to which he was dedicated. He devoted many unpaid hours to encouraging and coaching would-be local teams, and in 1948 launched the first Kent County Basketball League.
Tolstoy observes at the beginning of Anna Karenina that whereas unhappy families are miserable in highly original and varied ways, happy families tend to be almost boringly alike. Our star, the future symbol of rebellion and iconoclasm, grew up in just such fortunate conformity. His quiet, physically dynamic father and ebullient, socially aspirational mother were a thoroughly compatible couple, devoted to each other and their children. In contrast with many postwar homes, the atmosphere at 39 Denver Road was one of complete security, with meals, bath- and bedtimes at prescribed hours, and values in their correct order. Joe’s modest stipend and personal abstinence—he neither drank nor smoked—were enough to keep a wife and two boys in relative affluence as wartime rationing gradually disappeared and meat, butter, sugar, and fresh fruit became plentiful once more.
There is an idealized image of a little British boy in the early 1950s, before television, computer games, and too-early sexualization did away with childhood innocence. He is dressed, not like a miniature New York street gangster or jungle guerrilla but unequivocally as a boy—porous white Aertex short-sleeved shirt, baggy khaki shorts, an elasticized belt fastening with an S-shaped metal clasp. He has tousled hair, a broad, breezy smile, and eyes unclouded by fear or premature sexuality, squinted against the sun. He is Mike Jagger, as the world then knew him, aged about seven, photographed with a group of classmates at his first school, Maypole Infants. The name could not be more atmospheric in its suggestion of springtime and kindly fun, of pure-hearted lads and lasses dancing round a beribboned pole to welcome the darling buds.
At Maypole he was a star pupil, top of the class or near it in every subject. As was soon evident, he possessed his father’s all-round aptitude for sports, dominating the school’s miniature games of soccer and cricket and its egg-and-spoon or sack-racing athletics. One of his teachers, Ken Llewellyn, would remember him as the most engaging as well as brightest boy in his year, “an irrepressible bundle of energy” whom it was “a pleasure to teach.” In this seven-year-old paragon, however, there was already a touch of the subversive. He had a sharp ear for the way that grown-ups talked, and could mold his voice into an impressive range of accents. His imitations of teachers like the Welsh Mr. Llewellyn went down even better with classmates than his triumphs on the games field.
At the age of eight he moved on to Wentworth County Primary, a more serious place, not so much about maypole dancing as surviving in the playground. Here he met a boy born at Livingstone Hospital like himself but five months later; an ill-favored little fellow with the protruding ears and hollow cheeks of some Dickensian workhouse waif, though he came from a good enough home. His name was Keith Richards.
For British eight-year-olds in this era, the chief fantasy figures were American cowboy movie heroes like Gene Autry and Hopalong Cassidy, whose western raiment was flashingly gorgeous, and who would periodically sheathe their pearl-handled six-shooters and warble ballads to their own guitar accompaniment. In the Wentworth playground one day, Keith confided to Mike Jagger that when he grew up, he wanted to be like Roy Rogers, the self-styled “King of the Cowboys,” and play a guitar.
Mike was indifferent to the King of the Cowboys—he was already good at being indifferent—but the idea of the guitar, and of this little imp with sticky-out ears strumming one, did pique his interest. However, their acquaintanceship did not ripen: it would be more than a decade before they explored the subject further.
At the Jaggers’, like every other British household, music was constantly in the air, pumped out of bulky valve-operated radio sets by the BBC’s Light Programme in every form from dance bands to operetta. Mike enjoyed mimicking American crooners he heard—like Johnnie Ray blubbing through “Just Walkin’ in the Rain” and “The Little White Cloud That Cried”—but did not attract any special notice in school singing lessons or in the church choir to which he and his brother, Chris, both belonged. Chris, at that stage, seemed more of a natural performer, having won a prize at Maypole Infants School for singing “The Deadwood Stage” from the film Calamity Jane. The musical entertainments that appealed most to Mike were the professional Christmas pantomimes staged at larger theaters in the area—corny shows based on fairy tales like Mother Goose or “Jack and the Beanstalk,” but with an intriguing whiff of sex and gender blurring, the rouged and wisecracking “dame” traditionally played by a man, the “principal boy” by a leggy young woman.
In 1954, the family moved from 39 Denver Road and out of Dartford entirely, to the nearby village of Wilmington. Their house now had a name, “Newlands,” and stood in a secluded thoroughfare called The Close, a term usually applied to cathedral precincts. There was a spacious garden where Joe could give his two sons regular PT sessions and practice the diverse sports in which he was coaching them. The neighbors grew accustomed to seeing the grass littered with balls, cricket stumps, and lifting weights, and Mike and Chris swinging like titchy Tarzans from ropes their father had tied to the trees
For the Jaggers, as for most British families, it was a decade of steadily increasing prosperity, when luxuries barely imaginable before the war became commonplace in almost every home. They acquired a television set, whose minuscule screen showed a bluish rather than black-and-white picture, allowing Mike and Chris to watch Children’s Hour puppets like Muffin the Mule, Mr. Turnip, and Sooty, and serials like Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Secret Garden and E. Nesbit’s The Railway Children. They took summer holidays ...

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