A question often put to the 20-year-old Mick Jagger, during his first thunderclap of notoriety in 1963, was what he expected to be doing at 30 – then seen as an impossible age for a rock star.
Similarly, in 1983, as a 40-year-old, it seemed barely credible he could go on strutting on stage and singing Satisfaction, Street-Fighting Man and Jumpin’ Jack Flash.
Who would have believed he’d eventually double that, yet still show no sign of fatigue?
For Jagger, 80 next month, is almost spookily well-preserved. His physique remains that of a pre-pubescent boy – or girl. His abundant hair shows no speck of grey, his singing has never moved on from a punkish snarl.
Only his face has aged, the former mocking laughter-lines weathered into canyons, the once supersized lips shrunken like emptied waterbeds.
Jagger, 80 next month, is almost spookily well-preserved. His physique remains that of a pre-pubescent boy – or girl, while his singing has never moved on from a punkish snarl
Unlike his fellow bandmates Jagger still shows no sign of fatigue and often carries the whole show when they perform – and not a person watching ever feels short-changed
Jagger pictured in his heyday pictured in 1967 with Rolling Stones bandmate Keith Richards
On a roll: A youthful Jagger aged 24 struts out with his then-girlfriend Marianne Faithfull
Jagger’s fellow Rolling Stones, reduced to two since Charlie Watts’ death aged 80 in 2021, have not escaped so lightly.
Keith Richards, who has for years resembled an ambulant cadaver, now suffers from arthritis in his hands – the lead guitarist’s curse.
Ronnie Wood, the ‘baby’ of the group at 76, does his best but is no substitute for that ‘Human Riff’.
Jagger, therefore, carries the whole show, still at least two hours long – and not a person watching ever feels short-changed.
This seeming agelessness isn’t the result of some pact with the Devil for whom he’s so often begged sympathy.
The truth is more prosaic: his father was a gymnastics teacher who insisted he and his younger brother follow a strict regimen of sports and exercise.
Jagger pictured at the age of 9 in his uniform for Wentworth Junior County Primary School in his home town of Dartford
Rising star: Mick pictured in the 1960s as The Rolling Stones were coming to prominence
Michael Philip Jagger has been all about illusion since a 19-year-old hustler named Andrew Loog Oldham stumbled on a self-conscious blues vocalist then known as Mike and saw a potential antidote to The Beatles, who were becoming too charming for many pop fans’ taste
Nicaragua-born Bianca Jagger was married to the Rolling Stone icon from 1971 until 1978
Jagger’s seeming incarnation of ‘sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll’ was yet more illusion. In fact, he’s hardly ever sung a slap-bass rock ‘n’ roller and he was always nervous of drugs. Sex was the only bit of the equation applying to Jagger, in excelsis.
He won fame as the prototype frontman to a band who played no instrument (except an occasional whinnying harmonica) and was as much showman as vocalist
The rebel and iconoclast invented by Andrew Oldham actually possesses the caution and reserve normally seen in senior members of the British Royal Family
But while all those who followed his lead were thrustingly macho, Jagger’s persona always had a teasing ambiguity; his stage-act in spangly jumpsuits split almost to the crotch and, on one notable occasion, a frilly white dress and full make-up – was the quintessence of camp when most Britons still equated the term with Boy Scouts
This he kept up throughout the decades when his name was a synonym for depravity.
Backstage pre-performance, visualised in nameless orgies, he would be doing push-ups or circling his portable jogging-track in a padded jacket.
But then, Michael Philip Jagger has been all about illusion since a 19-year-old hustler named Andrew Loog Oldham stumbled on a self-conscious blues vocalist then known as Mike and saw a potential antidote to The Beatles, who were becoming too charming and parent-friendly for many pop fans’ taste.
Oldham made Mike a simple proposition: ‘If you pretend to be wicked, you’ll get rich.’
He’s been pretending that ever since and got very rich indeed.
His seeming incarnation of ‘sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll’ was yet more illusion. In fact, he’s hardly ever sung a slap-bass rock ‘n’ roller: first it was the Delta blues, then Chicago R&B and finally the libidinous original songs Oldham coerced him into writing with Keith Richards by locking them in the kitchen of the flat that all three shared.
He was always nervous of drugs, deriving a much greater high from mingling with High Society.
It was just his awful luck that the first time he tried LSD, 18 police officers should have come through the door, plunging him into the 1960s’ most famous drugs trial, briefly showing him the inside of Brixton Prison and creating the everlasting myth that the raiders had found him engaged in a sex act featuring a Mars bar.
Sex was the only bit of the equation applying to Jagger, in excelsis.
Off stage, as well as on, he was lust on legs, and here, too, there’s been little sign of retirement. The latest of his eight children by five women was born when he was 73.
He won fame as the prototype frontman to a band who played no instrument (except an occasional whinnying harmonica) and was as much showman as vocalist.
But while all those who followed his lead were thrustingly macho, Jagger’s persona always had a teasing ambiguity; his stage-act in spangly jumpsuits split almost to the crotch and, on one notable occasion, a frilly white dress and full make-up – was the quintessence of camp when most Britons still equated the term with Boy Scouts.
Luciana Gimenez Morad (right) with Lucas, who was born in 1999, after she had a relationship with Mick Jagger while he was unofficially married to model Jerry Hall
The rebel and iconoclast invented by Andrew Oldham actually possesses the caution and reserve normally seen in senior members of the British Royal Family.
There are several such private Jaggers of whom his public catch only glimpses: the least noticeable spectator in a private box at Lord’s cricket ground; the deadly accurate mimic; the gluttonous reader who once taxed the eminent historian Simon Schama with being ‘spotty on the High Middle Ages’; the impartially attentive father to all eight of his children – if not their mothers.
Throughout his career, he has deflected awkward questions from the media by pretending he could remember nothing.
This explains why there have been no Jagger memoirs since the abortive attempt in the early 1980s, when two successive ghostwriters failed to coax anything sensational or even very interesting out of him.
Most of rock’s foremost frontmen have quit their bands sooner or later to go solo. For the super-bright Mick (seven O-levels, two A-levels and a stint at the London School of Economics), there were diverse non-musical avenues he could have pursued: movie stardom, writing, even politics.
But he never did more than flirt with any of them. From time to time he put out a solo album, but it always sounded like a Stones album while selling only a fraction as many, and, before long, Jumpin’ Jack Flash would be out there gas-gas-gassing again.
In fairness, without Jagger’s welding to his comfort zone, the Stones would likely not have survived the end of the 1960s after being taken to the cleaners by their manager, Allen Klein.
They owed fortunes in income tax, with the Jagger-Richards song-catalogue irrecoverably in Klein’s pocket, and being forced to fragment as tax exiles in France.
Ever the social alpinist, Jagger hired a Bavarian princeling as a financial adviser and he effectively became CEO of Rolling Stones Enterprises, logo-ing the others with an image of his omnivorous lips and tongue and steering them into the age of giant stadium tours with names like record albums (Voodoo Lounge, Bridges to Babylon etc.), commercial sponsorship and merchandising.
These regular trips back to what has been called the Biggest ATM Machine in the Universe have often been preceded by a ritual moment of uncertainty: would Mick be able to persuade Keith into it yet again? (Answer: you bet.)
Even when relatively young, the two were like some old married couple, unable to live with or without each other.
Keith, a rebel for real, was audibly disdainful of Mick’s fawning over aristocrats and acceptance of a knighthood from the rock-aware Blair government. His bestselling 2010 autobiography, Life (an overt thumb of the nose at memoir-less Mick), went so far as to cast doubt on the size of the Jagger ‘todger’.
There is, however, a risk in having been around for 60 years without ever really changing, and nowadays including a hefty dollop of your Golden Oldies in every show.
The sexism, misogyny, male triumphalism and predatoriness of Jagger’s best-known lyrics have become toxic in this age of hyper-vigilant feminism and #MeToo.
For instance, the ‘Siamese cat of a girl’ in Under My Thumb who only ‘speaks when she’s spoken to’, or the summons to an underage groupie in Stray Cat Blues: ‘I don’t care if you’re 15-years-old/I don’t want to see your ID.’
A clear-out of the most potentially trouble-making lyrics was signalled by Jagger’s announcement that the band would no longer be performing Brown Sugar (from 1970) because of its references to the slave trade, which under woke criteria is risky even to name.
He didn’t mention its other references to inferior cocaine, known as brown sugar, the public flogging of women and oral sex with ‘young black girls’.
Plenty of modern music consumers of both sexes seem not much bothered by such things or, possibly, fail to disentangle their words fully from that timelessly adolescent snarl.
The 2020 re-release of the Stones’ 1973 album Goats Head Soup, containing Star Star (originally titled Starf***er) about sex-acts with fruit, and Dancing With Mr. D, about sex in a cemetery, topped the UK chart, giving them the unique score of one or more hit album in all six of the decades they had been together.
Jagger, however, has not completely avoided the physical snares of old age.
The band’s 2019 North American tour was postponed while he underwent surgery to replace an aortic heart valve (doubtless a revelation to the many women who’d left his bed convinced that he had no heart whatsoever).
‘I’ve never been deeply in love with anyone,’ he once observed in a rare unguarded moment (tacitly excluding his own reflection in the mirror). ‘I’m not an emotional person.’
Watts’s death hit him hard, just as Charlie in life had hit him hard, twice on the same night in Amsterdam when his ego became insupportable – the first time knocking him into a platter of smoked salmon canapes, the second ‘just so you don’t forget’.
Watts just made it into the 2022 documentary series in which each member of the band reflected on ‘My life as a Rolling Stone’: he was his familiar modest, though well-monied self, showing off his collection of celebrity drum-kits, the most treasured those of jazz giants Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich.
Keith Richards gave his usual impersonation of a dissolute pantomime dame, laughing wheezily at his own jokes, and Ronnie Wood, though cross-hatched like a Durer etching, played the usual lovable young scamp.
But Mick had been holding it all in for too long to be able to let much out. His performance, uninformative and not specially articulate, was the first in his life as a Rolling Stone to be thought a bit boring.
Bizarrely, one Stone’s life with a claim to equal screen-time received not even a mention.
Bill Wyman, their bass guitarist from their formation in 1962 until 1993, had been airbrushed from their history as completely as one of Stalin’s Politburo after a purge.
Jagger had always been disdainful of seven years-older Wyman, whom he treated like a boring uncle and who was to leave the band after 31 years ‘feeling like I’d never really joined it’.
Yet the boring uncle had notched up achievements had that eluded him: the first solo album from inside their ranks, a hit solo single and a bestselling autobiography long before Keith’s.
Truly, there’s no pettiness quite like that of a megastar.
The disconnect between the imaginary Jagger and the real one was memorably expressed in the late-60s by an American groupie with an impressive collection of rockstars’ sexual scalps.
After she’d bedded Jimi Hendrix or Jim Morrison, and she was asked by her fellow groupies ‘what was he like?’, the woman’s reply would always be: ‘He was good – but he wasn’t Mick Jagger.’
Finally, she achieved her goal of bedding Jagger himself. Afterwards, her friends gathered round, agog to know what he’d been like.
‘He was good,’ she replied, ‘but he wasn’t Mick Jagger.’
Philip Norman’s biography of Mick Jagger is published by HarperCollins