Get Off of My Cloud

Mick Jagger by Philip Norman (Ecco Press, $34.99, 622 pages)

A supreme achiever to whom his colossal achievements seem to mean nothing…  A supreme extrovert who prefers discretion…  A supreme egotist who dislikes talking about himself…

Record company executives often told Andrew Loog Oldham, the first manager of The Rolling Stones, that they would “never get anywhere” unless they dumped their generally mumbling lead singer, one Mick Jagger.   Of course, those executives were wrong and Philip Norman serves up these types of gems while delivering a Behind the Music-style account of the lead singer’s life.

One of Norman’s strengths is that he tends to call things in a supremely honest fashion.   He states that the music of the Stones “sounds as fresh (today) as if recorded yesterday” (something that’s likely up for debate), and he labels the band as the “kings of the live performance circuit” – both yesterday and today.   Still, he admits that the music of the Stones – with one possible exception – never “seriously competed with the Beatles.”   It was in the Winter of 1966 that the Stones released Aftermath which Norman views as one that challenged the Beatles’ Revolver.   Well, not really…  Aftermath was a very good, traditional rock album which, looking back, does not match the daring experimentation of Revolver.   It was if the Stones were content to stay in the present while The Beatles were creating rock’s future.

Norman’s engaging, relaxed style also benefits from a fine use of humor.   For example, in describing the release of the song Satisfaction in Britain, he notes that it “(nauseated) almost everyone over thirty.”   And the Prologue to Mick Jagger is labeled “Sympathy for the Old Devil.”

The problem is, in the words of a Beatles’ song, that “It’s All Too Much.”   Most presidential biographies don’t run 622 pages, and some quite reasonable editing could have reduced this account by a good 200 to 225 pages.   There are words, paragraphs, stories and more that could have been left out without harming the narrative.   More is not always better, and Norman seems to be desperately trying to compensate for the fact that Jagger has refused to assist any biographer, the singer always insisting that he has virtually no memories of events in his distant or even recent past.

What one should expect, after plowing through hundreds of pages, is to find some sense of the subject’s character, his nature,  his essence.   I note three things missing from this overly long treatise on Sir Mick: his mind, his heart, his soul.   That’s a lot that’s missing, and it may be that Jagger is such a clever butterfly that any attempt to capture him and place him under glass is futile.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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