Is it time for Jumping Jack Flash to sit down and put his feet up? News that Mick Jagger is to undergo surgery to replace a heart valve will have come as a surprise to anyone who has seen the Rolling Stones on stage in recent years, where their hyperactive frontman still incessantly jiggles and jerks about as if his bandmates filled his underpants with itching powder for a joke.
Jagger may be 75 and sporting a face the texture of a leather suitcase rescued from a skip, but he cavorts with more energy than most performers half his age. Keith Richards, Charlie Watts and Ronnie Wood fire up the riffs, but it is Jagger who personifies the physical vitality of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band in the world, still moving with the limber grace of a dancer and the intensity of an athlete.
The energy of his performances are testament to the immortal spirit that first fired up the 60s rock revolution. When the septuagenarian Jagger hollers, “I can’t get no satisfaction, no, no, no”, you know he’s not just complaining that his local chemist ran out of Viagra.
But it turns out a Rolling Stone can gather moss, or at least furred arteries. The Stones have had to postpone the North American leg of their No Filter Tour, which would have seen them play to a million fans over six weeks. Note that the operative word there is postpone, not cancel.
Jagger’s statement said: “I will be working very hard to get back onstage as soon as I can.” Reports from Miami, where the band had gathered to rehearse, suggest that Jagger has told friends he feels great and is already bored of taking it easy. He has been photographed on the beach with his ballerina girlfriend, Melanie Hamrick (31), and their two-year-old son Deveraux, Jagger’s eighth child. Somehow, I really don’t think he is ready to slow down.
Plenty of Jagger’s contemporaries have announced retirements over the past year, including Neil Diamond (through ill health), Paul Simon and Elton John, although he’s dragging it out for at least three years. Ozzy Osbourne had to postpone his own farewell tour due to ill health. Black Sabbath have already packed it in, and Rush, Kiss, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Blue Oyster Cult have all been taking final, extended bows.
But there is another option, for the star who still wants to perform, but finds the rigours of the road increasingly testing: the unplugged show. Bruce Springsteen performed a solo acoustic residency in a Broadway Theatre for over a year, grossing over $113m from 236 shows and still making it home to spend every night in his own bed.
Those kind of numbers might appeal to Jagger, who is notoriously focussed on the bottom line. But can you really see him sitting on a stool while Keith strums his way through ‘Tumbling Dice’, ‘Brown Sugar’ or ‘Honky Tonk Women’? I have watched Jagger sing emotive ballads like ‘Wild Horses’ without being able to stay still.
In the explosive early years of the Stones, Jagger was the sexiest frontman in rock ‘n’ roll, with an act pitched somewhere between the swagger of James Brown and affected mincing of a drag act, exuding a femininity that made his masculinity more assured.
Almost every frontman ever since has been influenced by Jagger, either pushing his flamboyance further in the style of Jim Morrison, David Bowie, Freddie Mercury and Steven Tyler, or finding tough masculine alternatives, from the physical exuberance of Bruce Springsteen and Bono to the threatening stillness of Liam Gallagher.
As Jagger’s youthful beauty waned, he compensated with even more physically energetic movement. The first time time I saw the Rolling Stones at an open air show in 1982, he was wearing bicycle shorts and racing from one end of the vast stage to the other. It has been estimated that he was covering up to 10 miles a show during that tour.
When I asked Keith Richards about his songwriting partner’s health last year, he didn’t mention his heart but did say he worried “about his joints from all that jogging”. But as Richards has repeatedly said, the Rolling Stones will go on until one of them keels over. Jagger will return, and when he does, don’t expect him to slow down. You can’t sing Start Me Up from an easy chair.
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