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The El País interview by Juan Villoro
Published in Spain November 4, 2001
At fifty, forty of them in the Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger does not lose his charisma nor his relevance. Nor his fame of being one of the toughest people to interview. Because of his changing mood. This month he puts a new solo album out.
Interview by Juan Villoro - Mexican Consul in Spain and Stones fan, author of "33 Revoluciones" introduction for Feranando Aceves book "Rolling Stones Fotografía de Fernando Aceves"
Photographs by Karl Lagerfeld
Source: "El País Semanal" - Spain (Supplement of "El País" Newspaper Sunday November 4, 2001. The newspaper website is locate at http://www.elpais.es but the interview is not on their site.
Many thanks to the Stones fans who did the work of translating this article from Spanish into English:
"Are you coming to interview Jagger? What a mess you got yourself in!" the customs agent smiles while she inspects my passport. Heathrow airport is having delay, but she ratifies English people's ability for small talk, in a few seconds she gets to the nefarious limits of pop culture: "Superstars live to be interviewed and detest to be interviewed". She looks at my photo, which doesn't look anything like the face I have that morning. "They are abnormal". I suppose she's still referring to the superstars. I ask for advice to deal with my abnormal. "Ask him how things are with Jerry Hall; if he slaps you, blame it on me. Welcome to Great Britain".
That breeding ground of counter-culture which 35 years ago earned the name of Swinging London has become a tense cosmopolitan bastion. The newspapers talk about the clash of civilizations, the breaking of the global Arcadia. A mixed fauna insists on blending customs and demonstrating how the city looks like what Borges found in The Aleph: "I saw a splintered labyrinth (it was London)". In a cyber café, a man with a turban looks up the field hockey results; some girls dressed in the Muslim style laugh in front of a poster which advertises a work by Duchamp in the New Tate: The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even; in an infinite park, a uniformed maid pushes a baby carriage where she carries croquettes for dogs (she's followed by 10 sturdy Pekinese); in a train wagon I see even more dogs (they are bulldogs and they are all on a hooligan's torso), in the seat across him, a man with the look of a lord, or at least of a senior customer at Burberry's, reads a newspaper. I ask him for the entertainment supplement because it shows Jagger in the front page: Jumping Jack smiles, showing the world's most photographed tongue. The singer talks about his adventure as a producer for Enigma, Michael Apted's film with a script by Tom Stoppard.
The reporter offers an invaluable bit of news: Mick Jagger is in a good mood. He went to the royal premiere with his daughter, conversed with Prince Charles, joked with the calumniators of the afternoon press and exclaimed with the grandeur of one who knows how to forget that he pays too many taxes: "I could have played all the roles wonderfully, but they didn't let me".
My last days have been moving around the mercurial humour of the Rolling Stones' front man. His emotional demands obey a code as strict as kabuki theatre. Fed up with suffering the scrutiny that he nevertheless needs, he avoids as much as he can the contact with the intimacy hunters and last-minute demystifiers. The protocol for interviewing Jagger goes through half a dozen most kind girls who call him Mick and respect in identical doses the journalists' curiosity and the artist's bad temper. Little hyper kinetics has worked so hard to conquer their right to discourtesy. After sweating in front of millions of parishioners to the rhythm of Street Fighting Man, this evangelist of the high volume doesn't have to present himself as the kind businessman he also is.
Truth be told, it would be disappointing to find a temperless Jagger. The most famous Leo since Napoleon lives for the notoriety of his impulses. Things being like that, the days before the interview were abundant with reports about the climate in the singer's mind. Mick Jagger has just finished Goddess in the doorway, his new solo album. At this point in his survival, he does not risk anything. Is anybody ready to believe that Jagger depends on his music? Like Coca-Cola or his namesake Mickey Mouse, he's an archetype of the 20th century and he already belongs to the archaeology of the present time. Jagger's suite is the mediatic equivalent of the recently discovered tomb of Zed-Khon-uef-ank in Egypt, only that in this case the inhabitant of the crypt is hypersensitive. It cannot be otherwise for someone who's under the others' fables. In the positive simplification, Jagger is, as Martin Amis wrote, "the less sedentary of the millionaires", a collector of top-models, the vitamin-filled survivor of all excesses, and the vibrant incarnation of the motto "long live the ephemeral". In the negative simplification, Jagger appears as a prisoner of his own fame: he tortures himself during four hours a day in the gym, eats macrobiotic seeds, gets injections of monkey glands, has hair implants from 40 people and goes to bed at 7 in the evening in an aseptic and lonely chamber. The boring truth must be in the middle, but it's not convenient to the legend.
Jagger's Myth is possible thanks to a biological miracle: Keith Richards is still alive. The Stones Empire is painstakingly controlled by the singer, but depends on the dark alleys walked by the guitarist. In Goddess in the doorway, Jagger wants to recover the privacy nobody associates him with, the spontaneity of he who plays with his friends and speaks about his complexes and his wounds. He's back to writing songs in the kitchen, not in Keith Richards', where there's beer for breakfast at six in the evening, but in that which is honestly his: a laboratory for brewing coffee, worthy of the post-Habitat technology of Artificial Intelligence.
The invitation to Jagger's controlled privacy carries me to the Mandarin hotel, a setting from the times of colonial splendour, out of some Kipling's story: marble halls, Indian ushers, lit chimneys, interior gardens with ferns. With renewed kindness, the staff of the Virgin Company reminds me of the existence of a list of forbidden topics. "Are you nervous?" they ask me. I'm not nervous because I haven't read the list, but I'm beginning to, because I drink three cups of tea in the bar and a ping-pong of cell phones informs us that the interviews are delayed. Reporters are guided like the late air traffic in an airport. Perhaps Jagger is not in a good mood anymore. I remember countless interviews that the tongue man did interrupt with yawns and dreadful diction. I stop counting the cups of tea, but not drinking them. The Virgin English representative bites her nail and says, to motivate me: "You're the last in line; Mick expects much from this interview". I suspect there are problems and I drain another cup of tea. His Satanic Majesty is living up to his fame. I prick up my ears, waiting for a TV set to fall down the window.
A journalists' superstition suggests to me a black law of compensation: it would be magnificent if Jagger hated the German journalist that precedes me.
The Public Relations woman gets to the bar: "Are you ready?" she asks in the tone of the control tower speaking to an undercarriage-less plane. The silence in the elevator reveals that something went bad, but above all that it can still go worse. We go into a suite decorated to film a Henry James novel. The only thing that doesn't fit with the imperial sofas and the mahogany tables is the man in the threshold, dressed in a purple shirt, and unbuttoned over a T-shirt. He wears a strip in his wrist (like those which are used in Brazil to make a wish come true) and smiles willingly: "I'm Mick" (in his case, such clarification is a display of irony).
At 58, Jagger continues to not being still in a chair. He crosses and uncrosses his legs, gesticulates as if he had to be eloquent from a distance of thirty meters, charged with energy without defined purpose. His visage has wrinkled in a decorative manner, like Clint Eastwood's gunman convulsive contraction of the lips or the immense stone faces in Mount Rushmore. He speaks about his Mexico concert: "The height was killing me; we should do pre-season training there, like soccer teams". He sings Satisfaction in the worst possible manner to demonstrate how the Mexican air stole his voice. Something tells me the previous interview was a disaster. "The German journalist was massacred: Jagger is in a wonderful mood", the vampire that lives inside every interviewer thinks.
You have said that Goddess in the doorway is the most personal of your albums. When a celebrity has those raptures of sincerity, it's nearly always thought that it's another strategy in his cult of personality.
Goddess was made in my home in France. The material retained an integrity whit it would have lost in Los Angeles studio, with professional musicians who end up giving another direction to your ideas. I could preserve the songs as they were in the beginning, and then I got the support of friends like Bono or Pete Townshend. It's an intimate trip because I was alone most of the time.
Scott Fitzgerald wrote that there are no second acts in the American history. The pop culture loves the "comeback", the returning as opposed every prediction. Something unknown to the enduring Mick Jagger.
I haven't had the time to plan returning to the scene because I haven't left it.
However, in his album he appears vulnerable and talks about his numerous emotional defeats. Close to the end he says: "I must learn". A surprising statement coming from Jagger.
It's the things we promise women! (laughs). It's difficult to keep one's word.
What do you have to learn?
When you start a new project, no matter if it's a movie like Enigma or an album like Goddess, you are always learning something. I don't know what I must learn. All I know is that while I search, I find something new. (Jagger waves his hands; his frenetic gestures remind us of what we have seen so many times on stage: he is his own knowledge field; "learning" means discovering oneself).
"Goddess" explores rhythms seldom heard from the Rolling Stones. Can you really detach from the band?
As a solo performer the last thing you want is your album to sound like the Rolling Stones. That's the greatest challenge, although you shouldn't be too afraid of the resemblances. All you have to do is just pretend for a few minutes that the RS have never existed.
In several songs he talks about escaping. The album looks like the last motel in the desert, a shelter for the gone astray.
I don't think I insist on that subject. I only mention it in "Hide Away".... Also on "Too Far Gone" and on "Lucky Day". Well, don't we all feel like jumping to the end of the world sometimes?
You mean where there are no journalists?
Exactly (smiling). But on the other hand, I don't like being completely isolated. I need the energy from other people, he adds.
"Don't call me up" is one of the saddest songs that you have written. Although it's about the end of a relationship, it could be related to other things. Did you write it by the end of the last Stones tour? Is it so difficult to give up?
It is very hard. You never know if you will do it again. I have never wanted to give up performing on stage, but one day the tours will be over. Right now I can't be sure that I will be back on stage. We have been touring for two years and that is way too much.
Years ago you wrote: "Time waits for no one". Is there room for nostalgia after 40 years with the Stones?
Yes, of course there is, but you must be careful. The word nostalgia, that I assume comes from Greek, has an inferred meaning of longing for the past. The past is a great place and I don't want to erase it or to regret it, but I don't want to be its prisoner either.
I would like to reach a balance and forget a few things. As you get older, people keep telling you more and more about your past. That is okay to a certain extent, but you must be careful not to remain in the past or you will run the risk of not understanding the things that change about you or around you.
This can happen to anyone who is around 30. Obviously for me there is a special risk. People love talking about when they were young and heard "Honky Tonk Women" for the first time. It's quite a heavy load to carry on your shoulders the memories of so many people. I like it but I must be careful not to get trapped in the past. That's why I tend to forget my songs.
In "Jagger remembers", the long interview you gave to Jann S. Wenner for "Rolling Stone", a few years ago, I was surprised that you didn't remember in which albums were many of your songs. Wenner had to keep reminding you. Your fans remember your work better than you.
I am not a librarian of my own work. It's a good thing not to be too involved with what you have done in the past. Besides, we have recorded songs on the same day that were only released years later in other albums.
Religious thoughts have never been too present in your songs; however, you are now getting mystical when you get into a car. On one of the songs you talk about seeking the truth in the streets and on another one you drive to Buda on four wheels. For the energetic Jagger, a car seems to equal a chapel.
Have I turned into a motorized preacher? This happens because it's not me the one who drives and I must think of other things. We spend so much time in cars that if you don't try to get some experiences out of it you can go crazy (he makes himself comfortable in his seat as to demonstrate how tough sedentary life can be). People get very thoughtful when they are in cars.
I guess I am not very conscious of the figures of speech that I use and I ended up picking the cars. But I no longer care for cars. I don't collect them (he pauses emphasizing that when he is interested in something he can multiply it endlessly; a memory modifies the look in his eyes and his words)... I am not interested in cars, but the other day I saw 100 Ferraris in square in Paris and I enjoyed that.
You are the most famous student of the London School of Economies.
There are others, but I can't remember them (he laughs out so loudly that we can hear the Virgin team sighing in the room next door, where they are waiting).
For some time you have attended the Labor conversations at the Gay Hussar restaurant and you have written songs with political content. Would you like to make any comments about the attack against the Twin Towers?
This is not the right moment to talk about it (he runs his hand through his hair)
I appreciate your question but it's not the right place to talk about this subject (again his hands go to his hair). I was just interviewed by Rolling Stone and that's all I talked about.
It's like watching some kind of new medieval age, a holy war where the fanatism is disqualified.
Any kind of fanatism is very dangerous. It's not about a conflict between nations because fanatism is pan-national. Does that word exist? The thing is that we are not facing separatism of a small national movement. This is very different from what is happening in Ireland or in the Basque country. It's something totally pan-national. It's not a territory that is being claimed. In this case there isn't even a territory as a reference for this war.
The terrible attack in Manhattan has given place to a burst of patriotism in the United States. Martin Amis wrote, not long ago, that the Americans can't understand why someone would hate them, however, there are historical reasons to disagree with their policies. Irak has lost five percent of its population, a number that in the U.S. would equal 14 million people.
Many Americans have no idea of what has been the foreign policy of their country. No offense, it's just a fact. If you don't know about something, you can't understand what is going on.
The Americans get very simple explanations of what happens to them. In France, where I am living now, many criticize the American policies. The Americans find something like this inconceivable. "We helped them during WWII, why wouldn't they love us?" they say.
But if you are British, you soon get used to people not loving you. The Irish remind us of offenses from a hundred years ago, which is a little exaggerated. Perhaps we should react to what the French did to us even longer ago.
Back to the U.S. they have a problem with historical emptiness. Now I have to be very careful with my American friends. They are very nervous! Those who support moderation could strangle those who stand for direct attack. Polarization affects families and groups of friends. All kind of alliances have been broken. It's a paralyzing situation. A civil war of opinion. The important thing in that war is that there are more and more people who disagree with the majority. Patriotism is an instant reaction that fades away when the war starts.
It seems that there are not caudillos these days. Some years ago, the novelist John Mortimer consulted you in charisma matter; your answer then was that Rasputin was the charisma-superstar
A curious election. Did I say that?
Who will be your choice now?
Casanova, he had no money and no power, and according to some persons, he even was cute. But he had talent to live, and some literature talent. I love how he invented himself. That period is full of characters that use to get to the top of society in a strange way and by themselves. Cagliostro is for me another admirable character, a religious deceiver, and Potemkin, the lover and political collaborator of Catalina the Great.
You have mentioned charismatic people who seduce in the intimacy.
Yes, Casanova he used to practice his charisma straight, short, face-to-face, he was not a seductive of auditoriums.
Would you write your autobiography?
Biographies of British pop celebrities are terrible. The Spice Girl Victoria Beckham has just published the story of her life. I confess that it is not in my reading table. It is unbelievable what the people talk about that sub generous that tell the world the assumed private life of celebrities. The other day I read and incredible article and found that Jerry Hall have a swelling in her tits! That appeared to them not just meritorious to publish, but to be the cover story! The new fashion is to talk about the most private parts of your life; other fashion is to repent of your excesses and to criticize the drugs that made you happy in the other times. I read the most extravagant things about people who suffer and depress because of the things written about things that they like them before. [Jagger put his hands on his brow imitating a diva raped by the memories]
Does it mean that it is not the right moment for an autobiography?
Certainly, not the time of one of that kind. When I do it, it will be a devastating story [The last word comes out as in a raucous tone from an obsessive smoking reporter]
However, your new projects have to do a lot with intimacy. Your new video is a kind of home-making movie.
Yes, I ask the people to film me. It is a TV program that deals with the current time, what happens now.
The script you're writing for Scorsese is also autobiographical?
Absolutely not. Its name is "The Long Play" and it's the story about two executives of the record industry between 1965 and 1995. It does not have anything to do with me. It is about the music biz [Jagger makes emphasis in the difference, like if someone could think that his life and the business are equivalent terms] Maybe I will play a roll but will be another.
The song "God gave me everything" seems to be the reverse of the eternal youth, "You can't always get what you want". You mentioned that you wrote the lyrics in ten minutes when the music was already done.
Yes, Lenny Kravitz was waiting for me with the lyrics.
Some people think that on those 10 minutes the flow of conscience took you to an exceptional moment of sincerity and that you looked with God's greatness. However, the song has a wounded tone, like a shout to continue fighting.
Yes it is. [The reporter waste his time waiting for apostasies: "I'm not God and headers of the same style, Jagger keeps silence of an icon]
The world of show business has an obsessed curiosity for their idols. Idols are pissed of but they need the cameras. In what degree can we believe that the true intimacy of someone so well known at the public eyes is located in the album "Goddess" and not in the press gossip? ´
It must be transmitted in a poetic way or you don't achieve anything. If you achieve a poetic image, or even you can talk about a swelling in Jerry Hall's tits. The decisive is the way. People think they know you, and in some way, they know the things about you that you have forgotten or you never knew, but that is not a game in a song. My secrets must be poetic to be believable.
"Gun" made me remember William Burroughs shooting her wife in Mexico. It's a song of love where the protagonist asks to be shoot. I don't think that you have always sung something more violent.
Yes the song is very violent, and I don't know how it came to me. Normally I am not so violent.
In the song you look like the murderer and not like the victim.
It is really a strange song. Everything comes from the question: Where will I die? It is a strong concern.
Your new album has been described as music that can be created in a kitchen.
I mean that you can play that kind of music without going to the big studios. That was the pop before and maybe that should be the way forever. Something that you can play here and now. Something that you can't play in your kitchen is rap. Rap does not fit there; it is done in your neighbour's kitchen.
In celebrities' interviews each additional minute is like a yard won by a miracle in a rugby match. "Is it enough?" asks Jagger, who in Wild Horses sings "I have my freedom but I don't have much time" stands up. He knows that interview lasted more than the agreed, a lapse that in the subduing celerity of pop is like a classic age.
Jagger moves with desperate urgency from one eternity to another, it's not neither an aggravated ruin nor a relic ennobled for years; his unique space is the present, a halted present. There is no phrase capturing better his circumstance than the conjecture he pronounced in the interview "Let's assume that the Rolling Stones don't exist". IN four decades of his public life, Mick Jagger is now a collective report. His most seductive and radical pose is to pretend not to know himself. Impossible to know the eagerness he has to feed his solitude and forgetfulness. Anyway his own character is only partially owned by himself.
It's Only Rock'n Roll 1999 -
© 2001 The Rolling Stones Fan Club Of Europe