Mick Jagger, By Philip Norman, Harper Collins, £20
When Mick Jagger broke ranks with The Rolling Stones to release his 1985 debut solo album, She’s the Boss, critics were quick to pour cold water on his extracurricular musical activities. Separated from his fellow Stones, Jagger was cast as a leader without a pack. Better stick to what he did best, carped the critics, which was fronting the greatest rock ’n’ roll band in the world.
Readers might wonder why Philip Norman should focus solely on the Stones’ singer and relegate the other band members to supporting roles, but this isn’t any old front man we’re talking about here. At 69, Sir Mick is the daddy (and granddaddy) of all front men and, over the past 50 years, his swagger has been emulated, imitated and adapted by everyone from Iggy Pop to Bob Geldof. He’s the pop star who set the gold standard for potent, sexually charged showmanship and whose backstage and offstage antics with a string of young, beautiful women have eclipsed those of even the most priapic pop tart.
Through his previous biographies of The Beatles, John Lennon and The Rolling Stones, Norman has become the go-to guy when you want the inside story on either of the two biggest bands in rock history. (Intriguingly, he believes both bands are part of one epic tale.) Norman hasn’t simply recalibrated his Stones biography and shifted the emphasis to Jagger; he has started from scratch, going back to his sources to get deeper insights into the strutting pop peacock born Michael Philip Jagger.
He has also gone all out to state the case for Jagger as a standalone superstar even if he never has quite the same impact without his Rolling cronies to back him up.
This is the second of two unauthorised Jagger biographies published to coincide with his band’s 50th anniversary. The other, Mick, by Chris Anderson, is an engaging enough account of Jagger’s charmed life. This though is the more detailed and authoritative work, built up from Norman’s long-time connections with several close associates of the band, and his own numerous encounters with Jagger over the decades.
Norman tried to elicit Sir Mick’s co-operation for the book, but as he notes, Jagger may be an extrovert but he’s never been keen on boasting about his conquests and achievements, and he has stymied previous ghostwriters and would-be biographers by pretending not to be able to remember anything.
Jagger was born in Dartford, London, in 1943, and grew up in a happy, well-off family. He was popular in school, achieving high grades and – encouraged by his dad – participating in sports (his big passion, to this day, is cricket). As a young teenager, Mike (as he was known) appeared in a short film demonstrating rock climbing. It seemed that there was nowhere for the seeds of teen rebellion to take root.