Christopher Andersen has studied celebrities in their native habitat for over forty years. As columnist and contributing editor for publications like Time, People, and Vanity Fair he makes it his business to know what movie icons and rock stars were do—and with whom they do it. Many of his books focus on personalities who for one reason or another don’t bother defending themselves (Madonna) or can’t because they aren’t with us anymore (Michael Jackson, the Kennedys, Chrisopher Reeve). But Andersen has a way of spinning intriguing tales that get readers talking. Over a dozen of his controversial “unauthorized” biographies topped the New York Times bestseller list between 1991 and 2011.
Andersen would have us believe Mick Jagger’s little black book is actually quite big—some 4,000 pages long. Should Jagger ever lose the prodigious journal, he could always track past loves with Anderson’s lurid new tell-all, Mick: The Wild Life and Mad Genius of Mick Jagger (Gallery Books / Simon and Schuster, 384 pages).
In many ways, Mick is an updated, more comprehensive (juicier) version of Andersen’s 1993 chart-topper Mick Jagger: Unauthorized. We’re treated to ten colorfully-named chapters tracing both the trajectory of the Rolling Stones singer’s career and the strands comprising the considerable web that is his personal life. Band mates, girlfriends, ex-wives, and daughters all come under Andersen’s scrutiny as he combines journalism and armchair psychology for an engaging profile of one of pop music’s most enduring icons.
A majority of biographical data and quotes appear to originate with interviews previously published by dozens of trade periodicals over the years, including some of Andersen’s past employers. In courtrooms, secondhand information is routinely disqualified from establishing the veracity of the subject matter at hand. But gossip makes the world go round, and Jagger would likely be among the first celebs to concede there’s no such thing as bad publicity.
“To baby boomers and subsequent generations, Mick [is] a funhouse mirror reflection of every phase, fad, movement and trend,” reads Andersen’s thesis.
The author backs his argument well, dishing on Jagger’s passion, machismo, androgyny, arrogance, entitlement, and musical brilliance not so much with hearsay but with well-documented facts from the entertainer’s very public life. Ticket sales, marriages, jail time, paternity, divorces and other litigation are included—and any debate to be had over the accurateness of such public records could be dismissed as nitpicking.
The book proper opens with a dramatization of the events of December 12, 2003, when Jagger was knighted. Her Majesty’s disdain for the singer’s hedonism and general anti-establishmentarianism was no secret, so she excused herself from the ceremony and told reporters she was having surgery. But it was Prime Minister Tony Blair who’d proposed knighthood for the rabbler-rouser, and Prince Charles was only too happy to bestow highest honors upon Mick in his mother’s absence. Meanwhile, guitarist Keith Jagger scoffed at what he considered the latest in a lifelong series of charades; he’d have told the royal family to stick their medals up their arses.
But Andersen observes that Jagger’s been adept at playing both the boorish lout and the refined gentleman since childhood—and approaching both roles with utmost sincerity, particularly when there was something to be gained. Mick’s ability to tap-dance through social caste and fraternize comfortably with folks from all walks of life often rankled those closest to him, especially his girlfriends and band mates.
The author spins a thorough history of Jagger’s upbringing in Dartford, Kent, an industrial Dickensian town known more for its sanitariums and fireworks factory than anything else—a “crossfire hurricane” where the gap between working class and bourgeois couldn’t have been more pronounced. Mick and Keith were born in the same hospital (albeit several months apart) but wouldn’t meet formally until they were seven.
Mick was a model pupil by most accounts and seemed to have a knack for reading—and delivering upon—everyone’s expectations. Parents Joe and Eva Jagger raised him and his brother Christopher in a modest home warmed by Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller, whose big band sounds fueled young Mick’s love of song and dance. His father, a disciplinarian who instilled the importance of physical fitness, was of huge influence—and it may well have been father Joe’s exercise regimen that shaped and hardened Mick’s slender frame.
Jagger and Richards attended Maypole School and Wentworth County Primary together, but it was only after a serendipitous meeting at an ice cream stand (manned by Mick) that Keith made the connection. The “Glimmer Twins” became inseparable, writing music together and sharing a squalid flat with fellow guitarist Brian Jones. A closet intellectual, Mick enjoyed reading Rimbaud and Blake and maintained good health by teaching physical education at a nearby U.S. Army base. There, a cook named Jose introduced Jagger to the joys of American (read: black) rhythm and blues.
Whatever timidity Jagger had was apparently lost with his virginity in a janitor’s closet at Bexley Mental Hospital, where Mick worked for a time. A suave “peacock,” Jagger readily embraced his feminine side, donning heels and mascara when the mood struck him. He apparently quibbled with Jones, Richards, and band manager Andrew Oldham with the tenacity (and volume) of a woman—but put just as much energy and physical affection into smoothing over the rifts. Indeed, Andersen speculates Mick began exploring his bisexuality while living with these chaps in their unkempt tenement, where the bachelors’ bathtub became a science-art project of glue and debris.
Early success at jazz clubs in Ealing fed Jagger’s ego, and it wasn’t long before the Rolling Stones were sharing bills with The High Numbers (later rechristened The Who) and garnering the kind of attention that—at the time—was reserved for The Beatles. Andersen shares a funny story about an early meeting between the Stones and Fab Four, during which Mick and Keith made nice, only to return home and use their autographed Beatles photo as a dartboard. Of course, the bands went on to have a friendly, robust rivalry wherein one camp’s artistic achievements begat (or at the very least encouraged) the other’s. Andersen notes the two groups also conspired on album release dates, alternating titles so as to avoid eclipsing one another or exhausting their common fan base. Russian impresario Giorgio Gomelsky helped finance the Stones’ first efforts, while Andrew Oldham managed the quintet and provided pivotal contacts with Decca Records’ Dick Rowe.
In his twenties, Jagger’s sexual conquests turned into lengthy, ardent—but frequently tumultuous—relationships. Girlfriend Chrissie Shrimpton found Mick “outrageously camp” and didn’t mind when it became clear to her that Jagger and Oldham were lovers. She was but the first in a long succession of women who’d come to realize Mick regarded females as inferior lovers. Girls were groupies; bedding other male rockers like (allegedly) David Bowie and Eric Clapton was how a gender-bending genius truly mated with equals. But Mick still made time for the ladies, flirting with Princess Margaret and kick-starting a protracted affair with the then 17-year old Marianne Faithfull by spilling Dom Perignon on her blouse.
Andersen’s eventually shifts from music to love, with a majority of his text given over to Jagger’s dalliances, torrid affairs, and troubled marriages. The singer’s sired at least seven children with four women—including one out-of-wedlock with African-American writer Marsha Hunt, who reconciled with Mick only after years of injunctions and lawsuits. Wives Bianca Perez-Mora Macais and Jerri Hall dominate the proceedings, with each adding their take on Jagger’s “vicious mouth.” All of Mick’s ex-spouses cite his prowess for verbal abuse and manipulation as much as his ability to be a kind father and family man when he chooses. In between weddings, Jagger’s exploits included anonymous female fans, housekeepers, and top-notch actresses—most of whom were only too willing to indulge the Rolling Stones resident shaman.
So prolific was Jagger (and so meticulous is Andersen in his documentation of it) that readers may tire of the singer’s endless parade of partners, targets, and stalkers. The tidbits concerning Jagger’s monumentally successful writing partnership with Richards will be of more to interest music aficionados, as will early entries about Jones’ own troubles with drugs and domestic life. And though they’re nearly lost in the shuffle of revolving-door lovers, most Stones albums and career milestones are mentioned. There’s talk of the Sgt. Pepper-inspired Their Satanic Majesty’s Request and Jagger’s passing fascination with the occult. We learn the origins of Stones classics like “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” “Honky Tonk Woman,” “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” and “Street-Fighting Man.” We read how early incursions with the law nearly ended up in prison sentences for Jagger and Richards, how a 1967 drug bust at Redlands put both men on airport watch lists until the late Seventies, and how a thank-you show for the fans at Altamont turned into mayhem.
Primarily, we discover that Mick—despite his sexual appetite and knack for anarchy and corruption of youth—is an endlessly creative artist and conscientious moneyman whose eyes never stray far from the Stones’ business concerns. Even Richards describes his cohort as a “smart little f@&ker” whose decades-long acumen saw Stones gigs taking up five of the ten highest-grossing concert tours of all time in a 2010 poll.
While Mick isn’t mandatory reading, it is a probing look into the life and loves of one of rock’s greatest legends. Far more time is spent under Jagger’s sheets (in posh hotels, backstage green rooms, and his own Elizabethan mansion at Stargroves) than inside Rolling Stones’ recording studios—but there are myriad other sources for discography factoids on Voodoo Lounge, album notes for Exile on Main St. and sleeve credits for Dirty Work. Anderson keeps Mick the man in his crosshairs and touches on Jagger’s timeless tunes only inasmuch as that body of works speaks to character and creativity. It’s something of a tightrope act, juggling a comprehensive investigation of this singer’s amorous adventures with a straight-faced discussion of his musical output, but the author achieves an effective balance.