When news came this week that the Rolling Stones were going to have to postpone and reschedule their upcoming tour due to concerns over lead singer Mick Jagger’s health, I had two competing questions:
1. The Rolling Stones are still touring?
2. Mick Jagger is in failing health? How is Keith Richards even still alive?
And yet, here we are.
Yes, the Rolling Stones are still touring, and putting on amazing, energetic shows despite members of the group being well into their 70s. And yes, against all odds, Keith Richards’ lifetime of doing the opposite of just about every rule for healthy living seems to be paying off.
Underneath Mick Jagger’s nearly unrivaled reign as rock and roll royalty are hints of a conventional, middleclass Englishman. Interwoven with tales of drug use and debauchery are signs of a steady work ethic and a masterful grasp of business. In light of that trajectory, having serious heart surgery seems to make sense. After all, a lot of very successful business men find themselves in a cardiac care unit at some point in their 70s. Why not Mick Jagger?
It takes moxie to be a legitimate sex symbol and business titan will into your 70s, and Jagger has it. Here’s how:
People with moxie aren’t afraid to paint it black.
In the 50s and 60s, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and the rest of the Rolling Stones were among a generation of Great Britons grappling with the sounds that drifted their way across the Atlantic. The blues, Elvis, James Brown, Motown, R&B all swirled their way across the sea and whipped up a storm of creativity and musical reinterpretation.
The Beatles represent one incarnation of the how the Brits took on the distinctly American sound and made it their own. The cheerful mop-tops from Liverpool delivered bouncy, pop-y tunes that wouldn’t necessarily make you blush in front of your mom. The Rolling Stones, on the other hand…
Let me illustrate this way: The Beatles sang “She loves me, yeah, yeah, yeah” and the Stones filled in those “yeahs” with a stronger description of exactly how she loved me, and I returned the favor.
And the vibe wasn’t at all dependent upon the lyrics. It was Mick Jagger’s sexy hip-swiveling swagger and sultry soulful delivery that really told the story. Without Jagger’s prowess as a front man, it’s hard to imagine the lyrics and music of any Stone’s song working quite the same way.
Jagger and the Stones weren’t afraid to get down and dirty in a way that artists simply hadn’t before. It takes moxie to explore and exploit what everyone is doing but nobody is talking about, and Jagger has it.
People with moxie keep an eye on the bottom line.
A rolling stone may gather no moss, but it can gather cash. Lots and lots of cash. The Rolling Stones have enjoyed long, sustained success, and their tours are giant money makers. But unlike many of their contemporaries, the Stones aren’t just touring because they have to pay the bills. Excellent management over the decades has afforded them the luxury of touring because they are passionate about what they do.
Like many artists of their time, they started out on the bad end of many deals. Even as their careers took off in the mid-60s, the band was living paycheck to erratic paycheck.
“I’ll never forget the deals I did in the ’60s, which were just terrible,” Jagger said in an interview with Fortune magazine in the early 2000s. “You say, ‘Oh, I’m a creative person, I won’t worry about this.’ But that just doesn’t work. Because everyone would just steal every penny you’ve got.”
By 1965 when it came time to cut a deal with Decca, the band had found a solid advocate in manager Al Klein. Klein helped the band negotiate its first million dollar deal, and thus began a pattern for the Stones: they surrounded themselves with strong advisors who understood business and would help them structure theirs for maximum benefit.
And it’s Jagger that’s kept an eye on the business throughout the decades. While his bandmates simply signed the documents that were placed before them, it was Jagger who read every line of every contract, Klein recalls.
That’s not surprising, since Jagger famously dropped out of The London School of Economics to dedicate himself full time to pursuing his music career. While he downplays his educational background and its role in his success, it’s hard not to draw conclusions.
It’s easy to get caught up in their passion and forget their own value. People with moxie understand what they are bringing to the world, and they demand to be given what they are worth.
People with moxie keep it close to the vest.
He’s helmed one of the greatest rock and roll acts of all time, cowritten dozens of classics songs, sustained a business empire for decades, sparked romances and affairs with some of the most beautiful and intriguing women in the world – who doesn’t want to read all the tantalizing details of Mick Jagger’s life, written by the man himself?
His publisher, apparently. Jagger wrote his autobiography back in the 80s, but the publisher rejected it because it wasn’t titillating enough. Since the rejection, Jagger has quashed any attempts to move the project forward and it seems unlikely he will change his mind, despite the promise of much interest and a huge payday.
Band mate Keith Richards – with whom Jagger has a long-time love/hate relationship – published his own autobiography Life years ago. Richards eagerly dished on Jagger, calling him “unbearable” among other things. It’s fun to imagine what Jaggers’ response might be, and that will have to do for now, it seems.
There’s no shortage of ink spilled on biographies of Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones, but people with moxie tell their own stories, in their own time, if they choose to tell them at all.
If Jagger chose to tell his story to me, what would you want me to ask him?