Updated: Jul 25
The thing that simultaneously gives me chills and leaves my cockles coming in colours everywhere — what with Sir Mick Jagger (born in a crossfire hurricane as Michael Philip Jagger on July 26, 1943) on the cusp of turning 80 and everything — is how stunningly wrong our parents were about the Rolling Stones.
About oodles of stuff, really.
To many in the so-called Greatest Generation, the so-called World’s Greatest Rock Band represented a demonic force bent on diverting the callow fellows of the 1960s from the path of righteousness, truth, grey flannel suits and 25-year-mortgages at 6.3 per cent. Highway to hellllllllllllll.
What else to make of all those sordid reports of drugs and stupid girls and Mick strutting about like that scandalous Little Richard (from whom he stole the act) and the lolling tongue and the magnificent, pendulous moué and the zipper bulge and need I say more about those filthy lyrics about spending the night together and brown sugar and sticky fingers under my thumb and street fighting men, starfuckers and cocksucker blues.
Hell’s bells and goats head soup, Muriel! Sure sounds like sympathy for the devil to me.
(Timeout for a slight digression. Substitute Jagger for Trump in this searing description from Richard Ford’s new Frank Bascombe novel, Be Mine, and I’ll be a Monkee’s uncle if the author hasn’t distilled into one clear assay the quintessence of the two contemporary giants’ insatiable, cock-of-the-walk charisma: President Trump’s swollen, eyes-bulging face filled the TV screen behind the honor bar, doing his pooch-lipped, arms-folded Mussolini. I couldn’t take my eyes off him — tuberous limbs, prognathous jaw, looking in all directions at once, seeking approval but not finding enough. Sounds an awful lot like a certain preening frontman at Altamont, and we all know how that turned out.)
(Slight digression No. 2: Speaking of cocks of the walk, you have to figure that four or five decades beyond their best-before dates, both Mick and the Donald are into their final, you’ll pardon the expression, schwantz songs. And there I goy again with the faux Yiddish. If reincarnation is a thing, I intend to come back some day as a jowly Jewish psychotherapist from the Bronx renowned for penning the self-help bestseller I’m Oy Vey, You’re Oy Vey. We now return you to our regular programming.)
At least the Beatles, once you got over the mangy haircuts and mewling sitar, wore tasteful, Brian Epstein-vetted suits. And wasn’t little Michael Jackson cute as a button when Sullivan brought him out? Weren’t Cosby and Rolf Harris droll? Stellar examples for the kids, before we learned the true meanings of didgeridoo, Quaalude and what actually happened on the wobble board and between the buttons.
Our parents would be astonished to know that 60 years on, Mick, Keef and the boys would be celebrated as cultural treasures — on par with the Queen, Churchill and, irony of ironies, that insufferable Christian apologist Malcolm Muggeridge. Now who’s famous for being famous, you pompous old gasbag? Hey, hey, you, you, get off of our cloud!
Jagger — a great-grandfather whose marriage to Bianca Pérez-Mora Macías and relationships with the likes of such beauties as Bebe Buell, Jerry Hall, Carla Bruni, Luciana Gimenez, Sophie Dahl, the tragically fated L’Wren Scott and recently rumoured fiancée Melanie Hamrick, 36, have been part of the pop culture wallpaper since that lost weekend when Margaret Trudeau mysteriously misplaced her underwear — has been the recipient of more trumped-up honours than Kim Jong Un and Lord Mountbatten put together. Not to mention heart valve replacement surgery, vigorous fitness training notwithstanding.
(Digression No. 3: Swimming, running, yoga and kickboxing are all very well, but I’m sticking with the Keith Richards 5BX cardio program: Sleep two nights a week, smoke an estimated 730,000 Marlboros before quietly calling it quits and continue to benchpress three litres of Jack Daniel’s daily. Deadlifting also acceptable.)
Forget Jagger’s induction (twice) into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the UK Music Hall of Fame, the knighthood for his services to popular music, the 13 No. 1 singles … the countless imitators he has inspired, from Steven Tyler on down.
Those were just appetizers and aperitifs. In 2019, NASA named a rock that rolled when the Insight lander touched down on Mars after the Rolling Stones, natch. The band’s frontman of wealth and taste, and surtout permanent girl reaction, has had an extinct genus of ungulates related to hippopotamuses (hippopotami?) named after him: Jaggermeryx. Sounds like a character in Bleak House.
Aegrotocatellus jaggeri is an extinct species of trilobites, fossils of which are sometimes found in Nunavut. As is Margaret Trudeau. Coincidence? I saw her today at the reception, a glass of wine in her hand. Dressed in her summer clothes. (Sorry. Final obtrusion.)
The point is that our parents, just as smart and well-versed in the things that mattered in their world as we are in ours, couldn’t have been more wrong about how history would unfold. About who would be revealed to be pervs and psychos, who would eventually be cherished.
Diabolical Ozzy Osbourne has morphed into a slow-moving, unthreatening old poop with a soft, rounded affect — a modern version of Foster Brooks, the bearded guy who always turned up as a lovable drunk at Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts.
Alice Cooper, once feared and reviled for biting the head off a chicken and drinking the blood (which never happened, by the way), spends more time on golf courses than Bob Hope.
Moral: You can’t always get what you thought.
Does this open the possibility, however unlikely it seems, that there might be some redeeming merit to the pop music of today that strikes many in — I dare say most of — the golden-ager demographic as commercially calculated dreck dipped in counterfeit country dross? You know what I’m talking about: The Taylor Swiftization of pop, with its earnest Grade 7 composition-class lyrics and whitebread, Snapchat: Share the Moment melodies.
Is it possible that we are no longer capable of hearing what young people hear? Conceivable that TikTok, Instagram and Call of Duty Modern Warfare II enhance human powers of concentration? Is the ineluctable creep of old-fartedness making us wanna see the sun blotted out from the sky?
Well, maybe. Probably, even. Yeah-no. Still, you got to roll me and call me the tumblin’ dice (call me the tumblin’), ’cause like our parents before us, I just don’t get it. Did I wait too long to start swimming and sink like a stone?
That ephemeral, accessible, disposable America’s Got Talent/American Idol/The X Factor/The Voice cacophony by tutti quanti mediocrities now dominating the streaming metaverse’s equivalent of the good old American Top 40 would make a grown Casey Kasem cry. Personally, I have to turn my head until my darkness goes. Gimme, gimme shelter or I’m gonna fade away.
Here it comes, here it comes, here it comes, here it comes …
Will Gen X — which cut its teeth on hip hop and respectable but derivative rock bands like Nirvana and Green Day, Pearl Jam and the Red Hot Chili Peppers — be as fiercely loyal to them in its dotage as the boomers remain to the Woodstock generation? Presque certainement.
Will decrepit millennials still listen to, I dunno, Avril Lavigne? Kelly Clarkson? Rihanna? Florence and the Machine? Drake, Beyoncé, The Weeknd? Sans doute.
Is there any objective way to establish that Frank Sinatra and Duke Ellington were superior to Stevie Wonder, say, and Tom Petty? Coltrane over Hendrix? Lady Day over Lady Gaga? Très douteux.
It seems like an apple-to-oranges category error to compare the compositions of Franz Schubert, say, to the works of George Gershwin. The virtuosity of Franz Liszt to that of Art Tatum or Oscar Peterson.
And what would even be the point? One good thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain. Who could ask for more?
All that granted, I’ll be grateful till the day I hang up my hand-crafted water buffalo sandals and disco platform shoes (if I’m honest, it’s comfy huaraches at this point) that our play group included the Stones. Unobjectively, I don’t give a crap about Taylor Swift’s petty score-settling or streaming numbers.
In the end, every generation chimes into a sonorous chirr that dates back to the invention of printing by the Chinese a couple of millennia ago (and probably a long way back further than that): Things aren’t as good as they used to be and unruly young people are going to pot.
Moss grows fat on a rollin’ stone, but that’s not how it used to be. We liked things better before.
In the end, when our feet have petrified into adamantine ingots, most of us dance all the way to the grave with the one that brung ya. Don’t forget who’s taking you home and in whose arms you’re going to be during that 19th nervous breakdown. Wild horses could not drag us away.
As a rule — there are exceptions, of course, and it’s hard not to cringe today at the sexism and debauched misogyny embedded in many Stones lyrics — boomers still like that old-time rock’n’roll. We’re going to rock around the clock tonight.
Or at least until 8:30. Our knees ache, our ankles swell, our ear hairs grow, our Beltones crackle, our bladders have shrunk to the size of peas, everybody got to go like a Clydesdale … and anyway, the over-55 pickleball semis are on TSN at 9.
Making love and breaking hearts, it is a game for youth. Jumpin’ Jack Flash now has gas, gas, gas. Rainbow girl has already shot her colours all around like a sunset going down. But yesterday still matters. It ain’t gone. Lose your dreams and you will lose your mind.
Ford quotes “that scrofulous faker Faulkner: ‘There is no was. There is only is.’ ”
So this is happy 80 returns coming your way, Sir Michael.
Even if you’re older than the modern states of Israel and India, even if current photos of you in those blousy shirts put us in mind of eco-friendly doggy doo-doo bags and those tanned and secateured biddies who write gardening columns for English weekly newspapers, I just don’t want to sail you off my mind. I’m not waiting on a lady. I’m just commemorating a friend.
Once upon a time you dressed so fine. You blew our minds and then we decomposed.