And a twitpic from Mick.Great to be in Shanghai! Looking forward to tomorrow's show
_____Not Fade AwayMick Jagger on his rock'n'roll legacy
by Ned Kelly
Where do you start with a legend like Mick Jagger? Iconic frontman of the Rolling Stones for over 50 years, he's survived drug busts, death threats from the Hells Angels and mischievous rumors about Mars bars, rivaled guitarist Keith Richards for control of the band and Don Juan for notches on the bedpost, played the outlaw both in real life and on screen, yet still managed a knighthood from the Queen. It is a little known fact, though, that Sir Mick was once Emperor of China...
"Where did you find that?! That's a funny one," laughs Jagger, when asked about his 1983 turn as Emperor of all Cathay in Hans Christian Andersen's The Nightingale, from children's television anthology series Faerie Tale Theatre.
"Shelly Duvall was producing this whole series and getting all her mates to do parts in them, and she talked me into doing that one, which was a very odd one. Was that in the 80s?" he asks. "I vaguely remember it. And she sent me a very nice painting of my part in it, which is very peculiar which I've got on my wall somewhere."
The role would seem to suit him - two of Jagger's major interests away from music are film and history. His production company Jagged Films' first release was Enigma, a fictionalized account of the Bletchley Park codebreakers in WWII, for which he was able to provide access to his own Enigma machine. But by his own admission, he's not so hot on the Sinosphere.
"I'm a bit of a history buff, but that's not really my period or my place," the 70-year-old admits. "It is not that I am not a fan, but I'm not very knowledgeable. It is so long and complex. I dip in and out occasionally, to different periods, but I wouldn't consider myself an expert."
Looking at the history of China in his own lifetime though, when the Stones first exploded onto the scene in the 1960s the country was in a period of international isolation and internal chaos. In those days, Jagger never imagined that they would one day play here.
"No. I mean there was no way that you thought that would ever happen," he says. So when did they first start considering the possibility? "Was it Wham! that was the first band that played in China? When they played I thought, 'You never know,' you know? Stranger things have happened. And it did in the end."
After being cancelled once in 2003 due to the SARS scare, the Stones finally made their maiden, and until now only mainland performance in Shanghai in 2006, as part of the A Bigger Bang tour. And in true rock'n'roll tradition, Sir Mick doesn't seem to remember too much about it.
"Testing my memory... um... it was nice. It was kind of slightly odd because of never having played there not knowing what to expect, you know? It was a good gig. A few friends of mine were there. It was a laugh. We had a guest and everything."
That guest was Cui Jian, 'The Father of Chinese Rock', who joined the Stones on stage to perform 'Wild Horses.' So how had they heard about him?
"I can't remember! Someone kind of introduced him, and he was very keen on playing," says Jagger. "It was a kind of moment. It was my favorite moment of the concert, actually. It was a strange guest, but it worked out, it was very fun. And I can't remember how I met him. He's got a strange history really, all in all, going back in the world of Chinese rock and pop music."
On the subject of memory lapses, stage fright appeared to get the better of Cui, and Jagger had to jump in to help him with the lyrics.
"We did a rehearsal - that went alright! But you know, doing guests is always a bit... we did a lot of guests on the last tour. Sometimes it works out fantastic and sometimes it tends to be a bit odd, but it's always fun."
So will they have guests this time round? "I don't know. I'm up for suggestions!" We'll put the word out to the readers then? "Yeah definitely," Jagger laughs. "I'm available."
Given that the Stones couldn't conceive of playing China for so many decades, they were surprised to find out about the reach of their music and how much of an influence they had been on the likes of Cui Jian and the nation's nascent rock scene.
"Yeah. I mean that is really... flattering, if you want. That you figure in the history book of it. The odd thing is that rock'n'roll has evolved its own canon. In the way that, say, white novelists have, or English poets.
"I always compare it to jazz," Jagger continues, "because jazz was the downtrodden music of a minority group. And it was considered a kind of 'here today, gone tomorrow' kind of thing. In the 20s jazz was just a fad."
The same, he says, was true of rock'n'roll in the 1950s.
"It was dance music, it was a fad, it was for young people - no one thought much about it. Even though there were some very clever musicians, they weren't really recognized at the time.
"Then as it evolved, it became a lot more sophisticated, with different styles. And then what makes it into this canon thing is the music critics of various stripes. And it wasn't really until the 60s that that started happening.
"And I'm not necessarily saying that that's a good thing - it's an ephemeral kind of thing. But you know, people started analyzing and stratifying. And then eventually, like jazz, a whole critical knowledge was acquired of it."
It was not something a young Jagger anticipated - or even considered - when rock'n'roll first reached his ears as a teenager growing up on the outskirts of London.
"You never thought that would happen. You never see that coming when Little Richard made a record when I was 14 and I would dance to it - and I still would if it came on.
"In those days in the 50s you never thought that it would evolve into this historical thing with criticism and appreciation and so on. The idea that these people influenced these people, and studying it in school, learning this song and that song - that was sort of unimaginable really."
Yet happen it did, and it is well documented that the Stones DNA runs through Chinese rock. And just as with the Stones some 30-40 years earlier, early Chinese rockers and their music were met with suspicion by authorities and the establishment.
"Well it was suspected in America when it came out," says Jagger. "Rock'n'roll and all these early songs were criticized. The mayor of some small town in America would ban it. It was seriously criticized. And then you had riots in the early days and people thought it was generally a bad influence."
So what does this old sympathizer with the devil think of Satan's music - is rock'n'roll a bad influence?
Jagger laughs, but quickly makes a serious point. "It was a bad influence in America mainly because it was, they thought, the music of black people. And they didn't - in the days of Elvis and so on - they didn't want their children to be influenced by this kind of music.
"Well that's obviously bollocks," Jagger asserts. "Because the parents themselves had been dancing to jazz and so on, which is the same argument. But rock'n'roll was not seen as a benign thing."
And the opposition was not limited to the early days. Or to America.
"It was repeated. Spain, for instance, banned rock'n'roll in the Franco era. It had this representation of Western decadence and rebellion, I suppose. And on both sides of the political spectrum. In Eastern Europe it was banned a lot during the communist time. And of course in various Asian countries, China in particular. So it had this relic of... a sort of an anachronistic rebellion."
Jagger not only sees the music as a force for good, but believes the rock'n'roll revolution to be all but won.
"Cultural boundaries should be always open and I think that has been proved over and over. And anyway what I'm talking is just nonsense these days. That's been broken years ago - 20 years ago or more as far as most countries are concerned. Nearly all culture crosses. Of course there are some things attempted to be stopped and some bits banned, but the majority of it gets through."
Back in 2006, Chinese authorities cut five Stones songs because of suggestive lyrics - 'Brown Sugar,' 'Honky Tonk Woman,' 'Beast of Burden,' 'Let's Spend the Night Together' and 'Rough Justice.' Does he think that is likely to happen again?
"Well I'll let you know. Because you still have to submit a list [of songs]. I think everyone has to submit a list. There are still some controls and still oversight and things like that, which in England or America would be really odd."
Displaying his trademark humor, Mick declared of the ban that he was "pleased that the Ministry of Culture is protecting the morals of the expat bankers and their girlfriends that are going to be coming."
"The expat morals," Jagger remembers with a good chuckle. "Oh dear, I think they're past it - the morals I mean, not their age!"
Away from the Stones, Jagger has a biopic of a certain Soul Brother Number One in the works.
"I was asked to produce a documentary on James Brown by a friend of mine, and I turned around and said, 'Well why don't we do a feature?' And of course, as the story always is in Hollywood, there already was a feature, but it had been put on the shelves."
The film, Get On Up, was originally going to be directed by Spike Lee, who had cast Eddie Murphy as Brown.
"But it fell to bits for various reasons that I can't even bore you with. And so I revived it with a friend of mine called Brian Grazer, who owned some of the rights, and we got it going. And in Hollywood terms, quite quickly. So it will be out in America in August."
Charting Brown's journey from abject poverty in Georgia to becoming the Godfather of Soul, the list of characters includes one Mick Jagger, played by American actor Nick Eversman. So did Jagger get a say in the casting?
"Yeah I did. It's only really a walk-on scene. It's only one little scene in the movie." Eversman got the seal of approval though? "Yeah... great one line!"
When the Stones first took America by storm as part of the 1960s British Invasion, Jagger would find himself performing on the same bill as Brown.
"God, well that's a long time ago. He was pretty inspirational as a performer, you know, a real killer on stage. He taught everyone so many things, apart from the moves. How to get the energy up and all that. The relationship with the crowd. The way he manipulated them really was a lesson to learn when you watched him."
The "walk-on" Jagger scene in the movie depicts the filming of classic rock'n'roll movie The T.A.M.I. Show, a concert at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in October, 1964 that featured a stellar billing that included the Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson, as well as Brown and the Stones.
The Stones were chosen to close the show - a decision that somewhat irked the Brown ego. In a moment of heated backstage drama, he taunted the band, telling them, "I'm gonna make you Rollin' Stones wish you'd never left England." Or so the legend goes...
"Yeah, I don't know if that is apocryphal," says Jagger. "That is really going back a long way. We put this in the movie, so I kind of did a lot of research on that. I don't know if he really said that. But it looks good in the movie."
Brown's set was scorching though, and he later claimed he never danced faster in his life. The pressure was on Jagger to find a way to out-perform him.
"Weeell... It wasn't really, because the thing was - it is a bit of a let down - but we didn't go on immediately after him, or with the same audience even," Jagger confesses, thoroughly busting the rock'n'roll myth.
"It was a movie. So there was a big break and they changed the audience, so it wasn't really like that," he continues, before admitting that Brown's performance did at least spur him on. "I mean, you know, it's always good to be... poked."
Jagger had been on the scene for a couple of years though, had been observing the masters at work, and by now was adept at getting audience energy up. "Yeah. I mean definitely," he agrees. So how did they do it that day? "We just went on and did what we normally did with a bit of extra push."
If that sounds understated, it is worth remembering what the Stones "normally did" in the mid-60s, which was whip their audiences up into a knicker-soaked maelstrom of hysteria, the screaming of their teenage banshee fans so loud that guitarist Brian Jones used to start playing 'Popeye the Sailor Man' in the middle of 'Satisfaction' - and nobody could hear the difference. Deadpan drummer Charlie Watts summed up their early shows: "Three songs and then a riot would break out."
On this occasion, the Stones finished their five-song set with Bo Diddley's 'I'm All Right.' About a minute in, Jagger settles the song down, then builds it back up, bit by bit. "I'm all right..." he sings over and over, changing the inflections and increasing the intensity each of the 15 times he sings the lyric.
Finally, he's screaming it, shaking his head as wildly as the maracas he's holding, and wiggling that delightful little arse of his in a most provocative manner. The cacophony from the frenzied crowd sounds like a huge flock of insane seagulls. Jagger may not have been able to out-dance Brown, but it is possible he trumped him in the art of audience manipulation.
"But I was like 20, you know what I mean," he says of the performance. "I wasn't trying to outdo James Brown. That wasn't my intention. It wasn't possible to do."
The video might dispute that. And 50 years on, Jagger is still at it. The septuagenarian sticks to a strict training regime to prepare himself for the estimated 12 miles he covers during a typical stage show (and to maintain his skinny 28 inch waist). And last summer saw the Stones make their long-awaited debut at English festival institution Glastonbury.
"It was a pretty amazing night. It was a really special atmosphere. They said there had never been so many people going up the hill," Jagger says with pride. "Because you look up a hill when you're on stage, and as far as you can see up this hill you can see people.
"And it is a pretty wild crowd by this time. I mean it's not... staid. So you really feel it when you go on, the adrenaline's really pumping overtime. It was a pretty amazing experience."
So he still gets the same buzz after all these years?
"Oh god you couldn't fail to get a buzz when you went out there, it was just insane," Jagger enthuses. "I went to see the Arctic Monkeys the night before to get a good feel for it, because the thing about that kind of set is, you don't get to rehearse. You never go on the stage. You can't, because there's always people on it.
"So I went to see the Arctic Monkeys, and it's not the easiest stage to work. And of course I tried to make it work as much as I could. But it was a fantastic weekend, a really great laugh and all my kids were there. It was really great."
Also marking the Stones 50th anniversary was the release of Crossfire Hurricane, a documentary featuring archive footage backed by a series of interviews with band members conducted without cameras. In it Keith Richards describes 'Midnight Rambler' as "a blues opera," the quintessential Jagger-Richards song that "nobody else could have written."
"Yeah, I suppose so..." Jagger says, with an obvious air of skepticism. "I always remember Bob Dylan saying no one else could have written 'Mr. Tambourine Man' - I don't know really... I suppose not though," he says with a high-pitched laugh.
"You did them so no one else did them," he elaborates. "You are what you are, and that's your destiny." Once a song is written, it is written - insisting after the fact that only you could have written it, Jagger believes, "is some sort of oxymoron."
"It is an interesting song to do," he says of 'Midnight Rambler.' "A three-part blues piece with different tempos. With the blues you don't normally get any changes, you know, so it's quite an original idea. I think that's what he means."
So is there a particular song Jagger feels is quintessentially Stones, that captures the soul of the band?
"I think most of them," he says simply. "I suppose you say you've got some inexplicable sound or something that no one else has quite imitated. I suppose that's the thing."