“Do you want to go?” This is my wife talking, bless her, and she knows I love music and going to gigs and therefore must surely want to see this band play my town.
Not just any old band. The “greatest rock ’n’ roll band in the world”, as they’re usually billed. This should be a no-brainer. I surely want to be at Murrayfield on 9 June. But this band are the Rolling Stones and, them and me, we’ve always had a difficult relationship.
Maybe at first I was too young for the Stones, too innocent. I was certainly too cynical later on. But when I was ten years old, say, it was the Beatles all the way. I don’t remember the Stones making any impact on my young life at this time, even though “Satisfaction” must have been on the radio non-stop and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” was coming any day. Perhaps – as parents were being advised to “lock up your daughters” – my mother was protecting her son. My tenth birthday was around the time of the drugs’ raid at Redlands, Keith Richards’ very big house in the country. If I no longer believed in Santa Claus, I definitely believed that a Mars bar was for “work, rest and play” and had absolutely no other uses whatsoever.
A few years later when every boy at secondary school was growing his hair and cultivating a cool persona for the girls, I made the grave error of mentioning the Beatles and how fab they were. The three lads with the longest and most voluminous King Charles II bangs shook their ridiculous locks in a mock-moptoppy way. I couldn’t have been more embarrassed, and those girls couldn’t have sniggered any more woundingly, if I’d confessed to still being tucked up at night, read a sleepytime story and, despite that, wetting the bed.
I lacked a big brother to advise on groovier choices, to inform me indeed that the Beatles had split up. Unable to deliver a decent riposte to the longhairs and their swooning damsels – who had already disappeared down the alley behind the youth club to experiment in the next stage of adolescence in any case – I decided to take out my frustrations on the Stones. Every teenage party I attended, whenever Mick Jagger started warbling, I’d yank the 45s from the stereo and wait for the chorus of groans from behind all the curtains of hair. My friend Dave, perhaps similarly scarred although we never dared discuss this, was my trusted accomplice, ready to slip the offending discs into the sleeves of little sisters’ David Cassidy records.
It was easy after that to sneer at the Stones. The good tunes dried up, they got older. They experimented with disco and punk, they got older. The most dangerous men in Britain had gone all establishment. Following the death of Ian Stewart in 1985, the world learned a bit more about the piano-man from Pittenweem who’d been sacked for not being as page-boy pretty as Brian Jones or luscious-lipped like Jagger and the story reflected badly on the band, even though it was their manager who did the dastardly deed. Their peers gave up or croaked their last. The Stones got even older.
When was the moment when every British male, dad-dancing at a family party or even in the office, began impersonating Jagger? It’s still going on, and at the stellar end of TV comedy as well (witness the last series of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon’s The Trip). And surely if the Stones frontman read rock journalist Mark Ellen’s reminisces about being in a university band with the young Tony Blair, part of him must have died at the description of the future PM’s tribute-act – “low-slung flares, bare midriff, one hand on a hip, the other wagging a cautionary finger, elbows flapping like a chicken” – not least because I don’t think Jagger votes Labour.
A former editor of The Scotsman was a massive Stones fan. An image of him trying to retain control of his martini while homaging his idol’s camp strut on the carpet tiles after a party conference fringe meeting (again not Labour) was difficult to dislodge from my brain.
And all the while I thought I had Jagger worked out. He was a breadhead. He was sloppy with the band’s obvious heritage, whatever you think of them. A retrospective exhibition at London’s Saatchi Gallery two years ago disappointed reviewers for being mostly about the size and spectacle of their stadium shows. Last year it emerged that Jagger had handed back the advance for his memoirs because he couldn’t remember writing 75,000 words on what it was like being in the greatest rock ’n’ roll band in the world. Very soon, I reckoned, the Stones would be calling it a day. But look at them now – combined age: 294 – Murrayfield-bound and trailing five-star reviews behind them.
When I consider Sir Michael Philip Jagger, there is no longer laughter but admiration. He outran all his rivals with that mincing scuttle. The government say everyone must keep working past the traditional retirement age so what are he and his mates if not wrinkly, cadaverous but still sprightly poster boys for this edict?
If it’s time to collect your bus pass and you’re feeling a bit self-conscious, just think of Jagger requisitioning new satin breeks for the shows and wondering if he can still fit into size 28-inch waist. If you’ve just become a dad again and are elated about that but also apprehensive because you’re old enough to have remembered the Stones in their pomp if only your dear old mum had allowed it, just think of this man who became a dad for the eighth time, aged 73.
Good old Mick. My hero at last.