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The Wild Life and Mad Genius of Jagger
By Christopher Andersen

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When Justin Timberlake chronicled his painful breakup with Britney Spears in 2002’s “Cry Me a River,” Lizzy Jagger showed the autobiographical video to her father. “You see the scene in the video?” she asked. “That actually happened, Dad.” Mick Jagger knew instinctively that the rules that applied to other stars did not necessarily apply to him. “If I wrote about what my life is really about, directly and on the money,” Mick said, “people would cringe.”

No matter to the millions of fans who spanned the generations, and for whom the term “Jagger swagger” defines what it means to be truly hip and cutting edge—not just fifty years ago when Mick first stepped onto a stage with the Rolling Stones, but today. As the Stones approach their half-century milestone, such contemporary artists as Ke$ha, Kanye West, and the Black Eyed Peas pay musical homage to Jagger—none more memorably than Maroon 5’s Adam Levine and Christina Aguilera, who added their voices to the mounting crescendo of musical tributes with “Moves Like Jagger.” First performed on the hit NBC reality TV show The Voice in June 2011, “Moves Like Jagger” zoomed to number one. With the aid of a hit video featuring the lanky, tattooed Levine, a seductive Christina, and riveting archive footage of a fleet-footed Mick—the true star of the production—“Moves Like Jagger” dominated the musical landscape for the rest of the year.

Is he Jumpin’ Jack Flash? A Street Fighting Man? The Midnight Rambler? A Man of Wealth and Taste? All this, it turns out, and far, far more. By any definition, Mick Jagger is an original, one of the dominant cultural figures of our time. Swaggering, strutting, sometimes sinister, always mesmerizing, he grabbed us by our collective throat a half century ago and—unlike so many of his gifted peers—never let go.

Jagger is arguably the last of the rock titans, although even that description sells him short. Over the past half century—from the tumultuous sixties and hedonistic seventies to the booming eighties and no-holds-barred nineties to hardscrabble 2012—Mick seeped into the pores of the culture in a way few others have.

To baby boomers and subsequent generations, Mick was a fun-house mirror reflection of every phase, fad, movement, and trend. Once the Beatles paved the way with their squeaky-clean brand of youthful rebellion, the Stones gloried in being dirty, scruffy, raunchy, and rude. Students took to the streets to protest the war in Vietnam, and Mick supplied them with rage-filled anthems.

No group epitomized the sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll ethos of the psychedelic era more than the Stones. And when the occult was added to the mix, Mick wrapped himself not in some mystic’s robes but in Lucifer’s crimson cloak.

His macho street fighter image behind him, Mick became an avatar of androgynous chic, wearing mascara and lipstick and exploring his bisexual side. This, in turn, morphed seamlessly into the disco era, when Mick slipped his bony frame into white satin jumpsuits, bathed himself in glitter, and belted out dance hits between hits of cocaine.

The “Just Say No” eighties of Ronald Reagan brought another shape-shift for Jagger. Now Mick was a family man, and staunchly antidrug. “Why,” he now claimed with a straight face, as if the previous thirty years hadn’t happened, “I never really did any of those things.”

As it turned out, more than Mick’s lips were larger than life. Everything he did both on and off stage seemed to be bigger, faster, louder. As the lead singer of the Rolling Stones, he sang, pranced, strutted, vamped, and yes, swaggered, before more people than anyone in history. By 2010, of the ten highest-grossing concert tours of all time, the Rolling Stones occupied spots one, three, four, five, and nine.

Then, of course, there were the records—an astounding 250 million albums sold—and the annual polls never failing to rank the Rolling Stones as the greatest rock-and-roll band of all time. Which, logically, made Mick the number one rock vocalist of all time.

Offstage Mick did not disappoint, living the sybaritic life of an arrogant, self-obsessed, seemingly out-of-control rock star to the hilt. The public dramas and private heartaches were detailed meticulously by a ravenous press, along with the wretched excesses of Mick’s private life: the lavish homes and limousines, the private jets and yachts, the drugs, the women—and sometimes the men. But especially the women.

Along the way, Mick used skills he learned as a student at the London School of Economics to help the band earn billions and make its members all absurdly rich—in Mick’s case, to the tune of $400 million. He also slavishly pursued his dream of being accepted into the highest circles of British society—a quest that, in time, earned him a knighthood.

For essentially his entire adult life, this vocal enemy of the Establishment has also been cozy with England’s aristocracy—just one in the mind-spinning tangle of contradictions that make up Jagger the man.

Mick is the suburban English schoolboy who exploded on the scene singing blues from America’s heartland; the gym teacher’s son who became the poster boy for unfettered hedonism; the street tough with the refined tastes of a proper English gentleman; the androgynous dabbler in bisexual love with boundless heterosexual appetites; the knight of the realm who for fifty years has reveled in his worldwide image as rock’s rebel emeritus, the legendary Lothario whose most important and enduring human relationship is with another man who claims not to understand him at all: Keith Richards.

As the Rolling Stones celebrated their fiftieth anniversary, Jagger remained one of the most written about, talked about, and speculated about people on the planet. Yet, incredibly, he succeeded in cultivating the one thing that all true icons have in common: a powerful mystique.

It is, in the end, that singular, galvanic force of nature—a charismatic creature who would have achieved stardom with or without the Rolling Stones—who continues to mesmerize, excite, and enthrall us after a half century. Scandal, money, drama, music, fame, drugs, sex, and genius—all this and more are embodied in the man whose very name defines an era. That man is Jagger. That man is Mick.



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