Imagine if Mick Jagger responded to Keith Richards about his new autobiography.

Dubious and far-fetched ideas.
Nov. 5 2010 7:15 AM

Please Allow Me To Correct a Few Things

Imagine if Mick Jagger responded to Keith Richards about his new autobiography.

(Continued from Page 1)

I was generally made familiar with the stories in a different context. They were generally related by an assistant or a lawyer, tour manager or a publicist, poking their head into a room. Keith's disappeared. Keith's asleep backstage and can't be roused for the show. No one will wake him because he keeps a loaded gun under his pillow and grabs it and points when riled. Keith fell asleep in the studio again. No, Keith isn't mixing the album. He flew off to Jamaica, and, no, we don't know when he will be back. Keith's asleep. Keith's asleep. Keith's asleep.

The scamp. Those are but one tier, and a fairly innocuous one, of the many times I was vouchsafed news of my partner. The next tier is more colorful. Keith (or his favorite sax player/drug runner/drug buddy/hanger-on) has slugged a photographer/destroyed a hotel room/gotten into a fistfight with the locals/fallen into a coma. Oh, yes, and the police are here. (Because police are whom you want backstage at a rock concert or at a recording studio.)

Or: The bandmate Keith personally vouched for is freebasing again. This last was of some interest to me, because it meant that I got to sing at a stadium backed by not one but two guitarists falling over onstage. Keith likes to talk a lot about his getting clean from heroin. It is not correspondingly apprehended that he replaced the heroin comprehensively with liquor. Given a choice I select the slurring alcoholic over the comatose junkie as a lifelong professional partner, and I say this with some knowledge of the two alternatives. But neither is strictly desirable.

And, yes, they do fall over onstage. (Or asleep on a chair in the studio.) I laugh at it now and blame no one but myself. Why, Keith gave me his "personal guarantee" Woody would not be freebasing on tour.

And yet I was surprised when it happened. I take the point that professionalism, one's word, rock 'n' roll merriment … these are fungible things in our world. It is a fair charge that I have become less tolerant in these matters over the decades. In our organization, inside this rather unusual floating circus we call home, I am forced into the role of martinet, the one who gets blamed for silly arbitrary rules. (Like, for a show in front of 60,000 people for which we are being paid some $6 or $7 million for a few hours' work, I like to suggest to everyone that we start on time, and that we each have in place a personal plan, in whatever way suits us best, to stay conscious for the duration of the show.)

So I will take that point. All of the forgoing was just … a little outré behavior on tour. Let's go to the next tier—again, of matters one is informed of with some regularity, this not over months, not years, but entire decades. Keith's been arrested with a mason jar full of heroin and a shopping bag full of other drugs and drug paraphernalia and is charged with drug trafficking. That was his baggage for a weekend in Toronto. It is hard to play a show with a catatonic guitarist, harder still when he is in jail for 10 years. I won't even get into the fact that this came right when I had every record label in the world fighting to sign us, and in an instant my negotiating power was vaporized. Here's a baroque bulletin from the archives: Anita's 17-year-old boyfriend has accidentally shot himself, in Keith's house—Keith's bedroom—with a gun Keith left lying around. Young Marlon, then perhaps 10, saw Anita, covered in blood, coming down the stairs distraught, and God knows it could have been Marlon playing with the gun. Or: Keith's driven his car off the road (again) with Marlon inside (again). In his book Keith stands back, amazed at the things that just … happen to him. He is frequently the victim of faulty wiring in the hotels in which we bivouac; a surprising number of times this phenomenon has caused fires. Ritz-Carltons are not built the way they use to be, I guess. Redlands burned down a couple of times as well, as did a house he was renting in Laurel Canyon. It's a wonder Marlon survived his childhood. A third child Keith disposed of by sending her off to his mum back in Dartford I to raise. The second? That was another son, who was left with his paranoid, unstable, heroin-addict mother and didn't make it past infancy. Keith says he blames himself, and on that at least I think we can agree.

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It is said of me that I act above the rest of the band and prefer the company of society swells. Would you rather have had a conversation with Warren Beatty, Andy Warhol, and Ahmet Ertegun … or Keith, his drug mule Tony, and the other surly nonverbal members of his merry junkie entourage? Keith actually seems not to understand why I would want my dressing room as far away as possible from that of someone who travels with a loaded gun. And for heaven's sake. No sooner did Keith kick heroin than Charlie took it up. In the book Keith blames me for not touring during the 1980s. I was quoted, unfortunately, saying words to the effect of "the Rolling Stones are a millstone around my neck." This hurt Keith's feelings. He thinks it was a canard flung from a fleeting position of advantage in my solo career, the failing of which he delights in. He's not appreciating the cause and effect. Can you imagine going on tour with an alcoholic, a junkie, and a crackhead? Millstone wasn't even the word. I spent much of the 1980s looking for a new career, and it didn't work. If I had it to do over again I would only try harder.

When I came back I resolved to do at least something well. Which brings us to money. We did not entirely mismanage our career in the 1960s, save for the calamity of signing with Allen Klein, who, with fatal strokes of our pens, obtained the rights and total control of our work throughout the 1960s. It was my responsibility. Keith downplays this, but the fact is we signed the thief's papers. It was all done legally. Klein was a Moriarity, truly; he didn't wait to sign us to steal. The signing was the theft, a product of a scheme so encompassing that in the end, he paid us a pittance and walked off with our songs. This is by far the single most important nonmusical event in our history, and yet it is rarely remarked on. I was not 30 and had lost us a historic treasure.

In the 1970s, we worked very hard, and with Some Girls we eventually sold a lot of records, but in reality you couldn't make much money back then, even touring. In the early 1970s we might play for a period of, say, two months, 10,000- and 20,000-seat halls at $6 or $10 a ticket. Back then, we were lucky to take half the gross home. You do the math. Then take out expenses and manager and lawyer fees ... and split the remainder five ways. Nor did we live frugally. It got better over the decade, and Keith and I had the songwriting, of course, but compare us with Paul or Elton during the 1970s (who outsold us by many times, for starters, and among other things did not split their income with anyone) and our fame was entirely inconsistent with our back accounts.

In 1981, I put us in stadiums and charged a more reasonable tariff and might have made us more money that summer than we'd earned in our entire career up to that point. And I've done it several times since—each time, I mean, to be precise, literally earning close to as much as we had the previous 30 or 40 years in total, including those previous tours. The Bigger Bang outing grossed more than $588 million—more than a million dollars a day for 18 months—and we pocketed the lion's share of it. If the promoters didn't like it they could raise price of the nachos, or the parking. And I'm not even mentioning the sponsorships, the ticket fees, the merchandise …

I sound, now, like the accountant who earns my bandmates' jeers. But I don't remember Keith complaining about these sums, or, incidentally, that it took me 20 years to remember to give Ronnie a full share, just as we both pretended not to hear when Mick Taylor, or Ronnie, asked for credit for songs they'd written.

Does Keith really sigh for the good old days on tour? Shabby theaters, shitty sound? Wound-up kids standing for hours in the hot summer sun in dreadful mid-American cities waiting for a chance to race recklessly for general-admission seats? Us enduring a day of hassle and travel to take home perhaps $3,500 each? I remember Keith asleep or not showing up until hours after the scheduled start time. Our feral fans running, fighting, throwing rocks at police. Today, the shows start promptly, there are video screens for the folks in the back, and we offer $1,000-a-seat ducats for the fat cats.

Here's the thing: I'm a rock star. What is the measure of my success if not the biggest rock and roll tour of all time?

I know what you're thinking. It's what Keith thinks, too. 

What about the music. Isn't it all, in the end, about the music?

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I must note that the Stones rarely get a bad review, no matter how poor our albums. (Jann again, and so many wannabe Janns; how is it that we somehow manage, again and again, to record our "best album since Some Girls"?)

But let me ask you to imagine yourself, as I was, unimaginably, partnered with the writer of "Satisfaction," "Paint It Black," "19th Nervous Breakdown," "Honky Tonk Woman," etc. And then imagine that your partner, seemingly overnight, lost some essential part of his talents.

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