When You’re Old: Mick Jagger at 80

Saluting rock’s rowdiest octogenarian

Andy Warhol’s Mick Jagger (Image: MoMA)

“What a drag it is getting old…”

I hesitate to Google myself and find out how many times I’ve used that line from 1966’s “Mother’s Little Helper” to write about the late 20th century/early 21st century Rolling Stones. 

I guess Mick Jagger set himself up for that kind of easy irony years ago by squawking that he wouldn’t – or couldn’t – see himself at 30 singing, their hit of one year prior, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Stones concert where that hasn’t been played, whatever the year. 

And, of course, the protagonist in “Mother’s Little Helper” is a woman who turns to pill stimulants in an attempt to combat ennui and aging. Is Jagger sympathetic or is there a bit of a sneer in that vocal? Maybe there was sympathy in the mix, but I always heard the sneer as the top note.

And, yeah, there’s a few more Stones songs in that gettin’ old realm: “Time Waits for No One” is the empathetic take – about Jagger, about us all – but with “She’s So Cold” it’s the sneer again. Here, we find Jagger being unable to get laid (as if) by this frosty lady: “When you’re old, when you’re old/Nobody will know/That you were a beauty, a sweet sweet beauty but you’re so cold!” Jagger’s paternity record – eight kids, ages 52 to 6 – would suggest that wasn’t a problem the singer encountered frequently.

The Rolling Stones “Brown Sugar,” Atlantic Records 1971

Now, Sir Mick Jagger turns 80 July 26 and improbably enough the Rolling Stones – Jagger and Keith Richards plus – is still both a band and an eternal brand. As to that brand, how’s that big, fat sassy tongue-and-lips logo looking these days? A little, I dunno, age inappropriate? Do you think of old guys leering at young girls? 

A couple of years ago, my wife and I were watching the music/culture series on Apple TV called 1971, and there was Mick kvetching about getting old when he was all of, what, 29. We’ve all thought that, though, haven’t we? At various ages. We celebrated our youth, what Colin MacInnes wrote about in 1959’s Absolute Beginners. Young and proud of it. Not looking forward so much to a career opportunity as a night of fun. And a lot of that had to do with the music we listened to on radio, bought in the record shop and what we heard in concert. All of it interwoven with our lives.

When, we might’ve wondered now and then, do we lose our rock ‘n’ roll cred – as fans, as musicians, as fans. Is there a Logan’s Run principle in play? Thirty and out? Should there be?

Clearly, there isn’t and shouldn’t be. The Stones, like their American cousins Aerosmith, have blues roots and look to the old bluesmen who kept plying their trade deep into their golden years. There’s no reason either band shouldn’t be out doing their job until it becomes physically impossible or fate intervenes. I mean, the ticket sales on Aerosmith’s farewell tour are through the roof. I golf with Aerosmith bassist Tom Hamilton sometimes and in July he emailed me, “I’m leaving for rehearsals on the 9th of next month.  I’m glad to be going back to work but not happy about the abrupt end of summer.” If you love your work, you’re glad to be going back to work. It’s who you are, or at least, a chunk of your identity. 

But we grew up thinking thought age was anathema to rock ‘n’ roll. “My Generation” and all that. Rock ‘n’ roll was created by the young, supported by the young and we were part of it. Most of us reveled in your youth, and feared what we’d seen age do – psychologically, physically – and fiercely not wanting to go that path we’d seen others take, looking for an escape hatch.

As a mid-period Boomer, I saw myself as part of the ‘60s generation that came of age with both pop and psychedelia and then the ‘70s generation with first, glam and hard rock, and then punk, post-punk and new wave, etc. Through the ‘80s and ‘90s, youthful music – Blur, Pulp and Nirvana – still spoke to me. Some of it – but less of it – does today, though I love it when Icona Pop and Charlie XCX’s “I Love It (I Don’t Care)” comes on and same for Wet Leg’s “Chaise Longue.”

Back to Mick and his band: They age. How about the songs? Do they age? The Rolling Stones still touring. Well, we think.  They toured last year and a 12-date North American tour this summer was scrapped, but with hints dropped of a tour to come. If it’s not at a goddamned football stadium and nearby, I’ll probably go.

The Rolling Stones are probably not making new music anymore and I don’t think anyone cares. Arguably, they haven’t made a good album since 1981’s Tattoo You and a great one since 1978’s Some Girls. At the Stones’ last concert, August 3, 2022 in Berlin the only 21st century song they played was their pandemic-era single, “Living in a Ghost Town.” There was 1981’s “Start Me Up,” of course, but most everything came either from the 1960s or Exile on Main St. I doubt anyone complained, and I certainly wouldn’t have screamed for anything from Bridges to Babylon or A Bigger Bang, especially if it knocked out, say, “Midnight Rambler,” “All Down the Line” or “Gimme Shelter.”

Which is to say the Stones know that as they age – along with their audience – the songs they want/need to play and the songs their fans want/need to hear came from a distant time. Written and first played when they were younger, wilder versions of themselves and people like Brian Jones, Bill Wyman, Mick Taylor and Charlie Watts were still in the band. I’m guessing your idealized era of the Stones has some of the folks on stage (and maybe Ian Stewart, Nicky Hopkins, Bobby Keyes, and Jim Price) not so much – and no offense – Darryl Jones or Steve Jordan.

Mick Jagger (Image: Roza Yarchun)

My wife Roza took this great pic of Mick in June 2013 in Boston at TD Garden. I wrote this, then, of that show, looking back first to 1999: “Fourteen years ago, I covered the Rolling Stones at what was the Boston’s Fleet Center and is now TD Garden and pondered the notion that Mick Jagger had to be rock ‘n’ roll’s Dorian Gray. He was spry, lithe, ageless. He possessed a full head of dark hair, a babe magnet still as he exhorted the graying and well-heeled nation of Rolling Stones fans to relive their youth via his group’s adamant decision not to be put out to pasture. All I can say is: At the TD Garden, he was all that and, as such, even more of a miracle.”

So, I last saw them a decade ago – Mick at 70. Me, I was – well, am – 14 years younger than him but if 70 seemed kinda old as I approached my 60s and approached the show, it most definitely did not upon exiting. The man was a workout fiend, lean and lithe and still full of fire. Yes, his face was craggy, but he was still handsome and still did the rooster strut and no one gasped when he took the stage. I’ve seen that happen: You decide to see a rock band you haven’t seen in concert in a couple of decades and when the spotlights hit them, there’s an internal “OMG.” The hair may be white or gray or not there at all, and there may be substantial weight gain, or just the general ravages of time. (This, of course, forces you, publicly or privately, to look in the mirror and maybe say same about yourself and wonder “How did this happen?”)

We look at all these survivors of the British Invasion – the Davies brothers of the Kinks, Colin and Rod from the Zombies, Pete and Roger from The Who – as to what they’re doing to maintain their lives and careers and how we might do same. Or at least maintain a level of fandom for these bands. That level can’t be the same as when we and they were young – it just can’t. We’re not anticipating them pumping us with new songs every few months, not fantasizing, like Mick about being a street fighting man – which neither he nor we would ever have really wanted to have been.

We accept their elder statesmen status, but still believe in their right to rock and our right to enjoy that rock. Maybe the rose-tinted glasses we put on help that process a bit – take away a bit of the remove – and if so, so be it.


VIDEO: The Rolling Stones “Memo From Turner”


Jim Sullivan
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Jim Sullivan

Jim Sullivan has written for The Boston Globe, Boston Phoenix, the Boston Herald, Boston Common, the Christian Science Monitor, and Creem. Follow him on Twitter @jimsullivanink.

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