Observing solemnly from the sidelines are a tailor (here to ensure that every garment fits Jagger’s elfin body correctly); Jagger’s hairdresser (flown in from England for the occasion); and Jagger’s girlfriend, the fashion designer L’Wren Scott. Scott stands six foot four in her laceless wingtips, and she is dressed from head to toe in black. With her long, pale face and mane of almost-waist-length, blue-black hair, she radiates the slightly alarming glamour of a Brothers Grimm sorceress.
A break is called, and Jagger shakes his head as he examines the most recent set of shots on the photographer’s computer screen. He’s been opening his mouth too wide, he says: he looks as if he were “at the dentist.” His hair is giving him agita.
Jagger turned 67 this year. He has been posing for photos — an activity he readily admits he finds “really awful, really boring” — for nearly half a century now. He has a knighthood, a fortune estimated at around $310 million and an assured place in the pantheon of rock gods. But none of this seems in any danger of making him complacent. On the contrary, he is as attentive to the nuances of his hairdo as any newly minted teen idol. “Public people put a lot of energy into what people think about them,” he tells me the following day. “Everyone does. I don’t care what they say. Everyone cares about it. You always want to control your image. I mean, you obviously can’t control it 100 percent. But if you’re a famous person, you obviously have a public personality that you try . . . that you want to project.” We are sitting in the Carlyle hotel’s Royal Suite, Jagger’s regular residence when he is in New York. A grand piano sits in the corner of the cathedral-like living room. A couple of guitars — an acoustic and a Gibson electric — are leaning against the sofa. Lying on the coffee table, alongside a bottle of Bobbi Brown Hydrating Face Tonic, is a copy of the new Diaghilev biography that Jagger has just purchased.
“Everyone’s vain,” he continues. “It just depends on how vain you are on the day. Everyone’s vain when they have their photo taken.”
He is right: everyone is vain. Everyone wants to look good in a picture. Few, though, can muster Jagger’s steely commitment to achieving that end. More, perhaps, than any other rock star of his generation, Jagger has made it his business to understand and control the mechanics of his own stardom. He manifests no tempery neurosis; he pulls no celebrity sulks. He just insists, calmly, on getting things done as he wants them. “I think of him as coming from the English tradition of the actor-manager,” says Lorne Michaels, the executive producer of “Saturday Night Live.” “If you watch him get ready to put on a show, you’ll see that there is nothing that he is not aware of, that he is not intimately involved with, from lighting and design to how the curtain is going to hit the floor. There are very few people whose production skills impress me, but he’s one of them. He’s as good a showman and a producer as there is.”
“I got a powerful sense of his mastery of every detail of every aspect of the production,” says Martin Scorsese, who collaborated with Jagger on the Stones concert documentary “Shine a Light.” “And by that, I don’t just mean the music; he also has a sharp sense of cinema.” (As the documentary attests, Jagger even gave Scorsese his thoughts on where to place the cameras.) “You can delegate things to other people,” Jagger observes, “and you have to, to a certain extent, but if you’re not behind it and getting your knowledge and input into it, it’s not going to turn out as interestingly and probably it won’t be what you would like. It’ll be disappointing.”
It is not just in creative matters that Jagger insists on his “input.” His beady oversight of the Rolling Stones’ financial affairs has, famously, helped make the band one of the richest in rock ’n’ roll history. When he is on the road, he has been known to keep a map in his dressing room, indicating the city at which the tour will go into profit. “I’ve watched very carefully what he’s done,” says Jagger’s friend and occasional collaborator Lenny Kravitz, “how he’s turned the Rolling Stones into — I hate to use this word, but, you know — the brand it is today. The way he’s turned their music into something larger and yet always stayed in control of the whole thing — it’s been a real example to me.”
The rise of illegal file sharing and the correspondingly steep worldwide decline in CD sales have made these tough times for record companies and recording artists alike. But the Rolling Stones continue to do very nicely, thank you. This is partly because what remains of the market for CDs is dominated by baby boomers — the Stones’ demographic — and partly because Jagger, together with his recently retired financial adviser, Prince Rupert Loewenstein, has been exceptionally wily about exploiting other revenue streams. “There was a window in the 120 years of the record business where performers made loads and loads of money out of records,” Jagger says. “But it was a very small window — say, 15 years between 1975 and 1990.” Touring is now the most lucrative part of the band’s business. (The Bigger Bang tour, from 2005 to 2007, raked in $558 million, making it the highest-grossing tour of all time.) The band has also been ahead of the curve in recruiting sponsors, selling song rights and flogging merchandise. “The Stones carry no Woodstockesque, antibusiness baggage,” Andy Serwer noted approvingly back in 2002 in Fortune magazine. Indeed. Their most recent merchandising innovations include a range of “as worn by” apparel, replicating garments that individual band members sported back in the ’70s. (“It’s a very nice schmatte, actually,” Jagger comments.)
Not everyone, of course, is enchanted by Jagger’s business smarts. There are those who see the Stones’ transformation into a brand as an affront to the very spirit of rock ’n’ roll, a betrayal of the lawless, piratical impulse that once made them great. Such romantics are inclined to question whether a song like “Street Fighting Man”(“Hey! Said my name is called disturbance/I’ll shout and scream, I’ll kill the king, I’ll rail at all his servants”) can still be plausibly sung by an elderly knight who does sponsorship and licensing deals with Microsoft and Sprint. “There is at the heart of this music,” wrote the great Stones chronicler Stanley Booth in 1984, “a deep strain of mysterious insurrection and the music dies without it.”
It is not clear, though, that Jagger was ever that serious about insurrection. Others may have seen the Stones’ music as a sacred repository of anti-establishment values, but for his part, Jagger has always seemed much more interested in rock ’n’ roll as theater, as performance — as show business. He didn’t actually mean it about killing the king, any more than he meant it about being born in a crossfire hurricane. Which is perhaps why he has never evidenced much against about being cast as a sellout: you cannot expect a man to feel guilty about reneging on principles to which he was never committed in the first place.
Nonetheless, the idea of Jagger having sold out some crucial part of his former self remains a widespread and potent one. And, oddly enough, one of its most effective promoters has been Jagger’s bandmate Keith Richards, who, for decades now, has been publicly grumbling about Jagger’s conceit, bossiness, social climbing and so on. Until recently, his criticisms were understood to be consistent with an odd, fractious but fundamentally sound friendship. “Keith and Mick are, in many ways, 180 degrees opposite of each other,” says Don Was, who produced the last three Stones albums. “Part of the charm of the band has always been the tension between them. The rubber band gets pulled real taut sometimes. On the other hand, there’s this genuine bond and commonality. And in the end, I think, they both understand that together, they are much bigger than the sum of their parts.” Earlier this year, however, when Richards released his autobiography, “Life,” the hostility reached unprecedented heights. The book attacks Jagger on any number of fronts, from the quality of his voice to the size of his member (a “tiny todger”), but the gist of Richards’s message is that while he has has stayed true to his free-wheeling, subversive roots, Jagger has become increasingly pretentious and power-mad, an uptight, scheming Apollo to Richards’s reckless, groovy Dionysus: “Sometimes I think: ‘I miss my friend,’ ” he writes. “I wonder: ‘where did he go?’ ”
Marianne Faithfull once claimed that of all Jagger’s relationships, the one with Richards was “the only one that really means anything to him.” But whatever hurt he feels at being so elaborately and publicly dissed by his old pal, he has kept to himself. In the past, he has responded to Richards’s gibes with a contained and rather stately snideness. (When Richards took him to task for accepting the “paltry honor” of a knighthood, he shrugged and suggested that Richards was suffering from jealousy and acting like a child: “It’s like being given an ice cream — one gets one and they all want one.”) His comeback to the latest attacks aims for a similarly frosty dignity. “Personally,” he says, closing his eyes and pressing his hand to his chest, “I think it’s really quite tedious raking over the past. Mostly, people only do it for the money.”
Jagger has in fact, contemplated writing an autobiography of his own once or twice, but he has always ended up abandoning the idea. (“You don’t want to end up like some old footballer in a pub, talking about how he made the cross in the cup final in 1964.”) And he is content, it seems, to let Richards claim the title of lovable old rock ’n’ roll war horse. He would rather be distinguished by the renaissance breadth of his interests. He speaks excellent French. He is an ardent cricket fan. He acts. He produces movies. He reads widely in fiction and nonfiction. When asked what he has been reading lately, he leaps up to consult his Kindle and recites a long list that includes the stories of Alan Furst and Olen Steinhauer, “Churchill’s Empire” by Richard Toye and “Freedom” by Jonathan Franzen. (“It’s not really my kind of thing, but everyone was talking about it so I thought I’d have a look.”) On the morning of his interview, he missed his usual 40 minutes of every-other-day exercise in Central Park in order to attend a lecture on “wave and sand formations.” “Mick has a genuine disdain for nostalgia,” Lorne Michaels notes. “He is relentlessly curious, and more than most men of his age, he is really interested in talking about what’s happening now.”
hroughout our conversation in the Royal Suite living room, L’Wren Scott has been conducting a business meeting in another part of the suite. The couple, who met on a photo shoot, have been together for nine years now, and Jagger has become a reliable presence at her fashion shows, providing proud boyfriend quotations to the press and a useful shot of rock ’n’ roll glamour to the proceedings. Perhaps because Scott has a serious, demanding career of her own, their relationship has given the appearance of being rather more equal and grown-up than Jagger’s previous romances. But Jagger vigorously rejects the notion that he has departed from form. “I don’t know what ‘grown-up’ means,” he says. “If you mean you’re being supportive of someone who has a life, I’d say I’ve always done that. I used to support Marianne Faithfull’s career when I was, like, 22. I used to read her scripts with her. If it was ‘The Three Sisters,’ I’d be the other sisters. I was supportive, and she’d support me too. So, no, I disagree with that. I try and help L’Wren. You always try and help whoever you’re kind of dating. I always help them out in one way or another. When I was living with Jerry Hall, I used to help her pick her model pictures, or if she was doing a stage thing, I’d read her plays with her. I mean, that’s what you do, and vice versa, they do the same for you.”
It seems a little quaint for a 67-year-old to refer to his girlfriend of nearly a decade as someone he is “kind of dating.” But Jagger is disinclined to articulate any greater commitment. “I don’t really subscribe to a completely normal view of what relationships should be,” he says. “I have a bit more of a bohemian view. To be honest, I don’t really think much of marriage. I’m not saying it’s not a wonderful thing and people shouldn’t do it, but it’s not for me. And not for quite a few other people too, it would appear.” He laughs. “I just think it’s perhaps not quite what it’s cracked up to be. I know it’s an elaborate fantasy.”
He goes on to talk, in a rather rambling way, about the animal kingdom and how human mores regarding marriage and fidelity correspond to what we know of primate behavior. “If you have studied or have even a passing knowledge of animal behavior, it’s hard to see how our rules and regulation fit in,” he says at one point.
There are swans, he is reminded.
“Oh, yeah, I love it when women say that,” he replies. “I always have a joke with L’Wren about that. Women tend to say these things more than men do, don’t they?” He affects a sentimental whisper: “ ‘They mate for life, you know.’ ” He chortles heartily at this piece of feminine nonsense. “Yeah,” he muses, when his laughter dies away, “it’s swans and there’s one other. What is it? Albatross, or something.”
Has he, one wonders, got any better at romantic relationships over the years?
He looks irritated for a moment. And then he breaks out the patented Jagger grin — a goofy, face-dividing beam that sends his eyes deep into his head and manages to convey, even when all evidence is to the contrary, a deep, ingenuous delight with the world. “Nah, not really,” he says. “I’m quite independent