There are two kinds of books about Rolling Stones lead singer Mick Jagger: (1) the kind that takes a tabloid approach which is mostly interested in telling scandalous stories about his sex life and (2) the kind that takes a historical approach which attempts to have a well-rounded description of who Jagger is and his influence on pop culture.
In 2012, two unauthorized biographies about Jagger were published that had these two very different approaches: Christopher Andersen's: "Jagger: The Wild Life and Mad Genius of Jagger" (published in July 2012) took the tabloid approach. Philip Norman's "Mick Jagger" (published in October 2012) took the historical approach.
Overall, Norman's book isn't fawning toward Jagger but there is the sense that Norman held back on a lot of criticism of and information about Jagger's worst behavior. Overall, it portrays Jagger in a mostly sympathetic light, since Norman describes Jagger as having almost saint-like patience with Keith Richards when Richards' drug problems were seriously affecting the Rolling Stones' career.
That's not to say that Norman's book glosses over Jagger's flaws and life mistakes. It just doesn't do so in the unforgiving manner of a hardcore investigative journalist. However, the book doesn't take the other extreme, which would be to portray Jagger as the unrelentingly cold and cruel taskmaster that he's described as by writers who clearly more of a fan of Richards than of Jagger.
It's basically a requirement for any Jagger biography to discuss his infidelities and womanizing, but Norman does so with a certain amount of tactful restraint. For example, unlike Jagger biographer Andersen, Norman is not concerned with the estimated number of Jagger's sexual conquests or what Jagger did during his sexual encounters. Rather, Norman is more concerned with how Jagger's most important lovers affected Jagger and the Rolling Stones, and how Jagger showed a side of himself in those relationships that he rarely showed to the public.
There are some descriptions of Jagger's role as a Rolling Stones songwriter, but Norman believes Jagger's greater role in the band has been as a business planner. Like many people, Norman doubts that the Stones would be the giant moneymakers they are today if it were not for Jagger's shrewd business decisions over the years.
Norman is best known for his Beatles and Rolling Stones biographies. In "Mick Jagger," the author goes into greater detail about some aspects of Jagger's life than other previous biographers have done. Here are some examples:
- There are extensive interviews with Cleo Sylvestre and Chrissie Shrimpton, who both dated Jagger in the 1960s during the earliest years of his career as a singer. (Sylvestre says that although she dated Jagger, they never had sex.) Norman describes the "explosive, sometimes physically violent quarrels that [Shrimpton] and Mick always have." However, Shrimpton denies former Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham's account that she would use her fists in fighting Jagger.
- Speaking of Oldham, Norman doesn't come right out and say it, but he implies that he believes the rumors that Oldham and Jagger used to be lovers when Oldham was the Rolling Stones' manager. The author recounts stories of people seeing Oldham and Jagger sleeping in bed together and holding each other's hands like lovers.
- More details are revealed about Jagger's attempts to become a movie star in 1970s. Norman says that Maggie Abbott, who was Jagger's film agent at the time, brought Jagger opportunities to work with directors such as Steven Spielberg, John Boorman and Franco Zeferelli. "Yet thanks to indecision, conflicting obligations with the Stones, or — most frequently — last-minute attacks of cold feet, he ended up doing not a single one."
- Chris O'Dell, who was Jagger's occasional lover and a Rolling Stones assistant during the early 1970s, is clearly a source for this book. O'Dell had her own tell-all book ("Miss O'Dell," published in 2009) that described her personal experiences with the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and more.
- The painful attempt to get Jagger to write his memoir in the early 1980s is also detailed. The way Norman describes it, it was a frustrating waste of time for everyone involved. According to Norman, Adam Mars-Jones was interviewed for the job of being the book's ghostwriter, but didn't get the job because when he smoked a joint with Jagger during the interview, Jagger disapproved of Mars-Jones not savoring the joint long enough. (This sounds like Mars-Jones' interpretation of what happened.) John Ryle, a London Sunday Times literary editor with no background in covering the music industry, was chosen instead as the ghostwriter. It's now common knowledge that the book project was discontinued and the advance money was returned to the publisher because Jagger couldn't or wouldn't remember a lot of important details about his life. Norman doesn't directly quote any of his sources about the Jagger memoir project, but his descriptions of closed-door meetings during this project sound like he got this information from people who were at these meetings.
- There is a new interview with an unnamed woman who claims that she had a torrid affair with Jagger that started in the late 1970s when she was in her late teens and ended in the early 1980s, but Jagger would still keep in touch with her years later. The other Rolling Stones knew about her, and Jagger would openly take her out on dates. Jerry Hall, who was Jagger's main lady love at the time, knew about this mistress and was very jealous of her, according to Norman. Even though he doesn't name the mistress, Norman gives hints about her identity. He describes her as "beautiful," "intelligent," "belonging to a distinguished aristocratic and literary family" and having a grandfather who was a "high-profile member of the House of Lords."
Norman has a term called "the Tyranny of Cool" that he constantly uses in this book. The essential meaning of the Tyranny of Cool is anything that has to do with Jagger maintaining an image that he's too cool to care about things that make him look too old, too boring or too insecure — whether those things are old-fashioned society conventions in the 1960s, a monogamous marriage in the 1970s or Keith Richards' insults in the 1980s and beyond.
This "Tyranny of Cool" has led to Jagger being charming but aloof in his interviews. Indeed, even though there's been so much written and said over the years about Jagger's sex life and about Jagger being a sex symbol, Jagger himself has almost never talked about his sex life in interviews. It's a big contrast to the numerous celebrities who have a "let it all hang out" attitude about what they reveal to the public.
However, Norman says that Jagger has never been "too cool" to be a social climber, which is why even during the Rolling Stones' most rebellious years, Jagger loved hanging out with titled socialites. And it's why Jagger readily accepted the honor of being knighted in 2003, in spite of his band mate Richards being enraged that Jagger accepted the knighthood.
Jagger's attitude toward money is also described in the book as that of someone who can be generous with gifts to the trusted people in his life, but he can be a notoriously cheap skinflint who will nitpick over tiny costs that would be affordable to even poor people. It's not uncommon for multimillionaires to be this way. Essentially, Jagger's generosity and willingness to spend money depend on whether he considers what he's buying an investment, a means to an end, or a total waste.
Like most books about the Rolling Stones or any of the band's original members, the 1960s is the decade that gets the most pages in the book. Norman's "Mick Jagger" book is no exception. And, as with most unauthorized biographies, some of the facts in Norman's "Mick Jagger" could be called into question because the sources are not named. However, the book is indexed and in chronological order, which is very helpful for anyone wanting to find certain points in Jagger's history.
"Mick Jagger" is a book that comes to the same conclusion arrived at by many other books about Jagger or the Rolling Stones. And that conclusion is that Jagger is complex, brilliant at business, sexually voracious, obsessed with being current and youthful, and someone who's been able to be one of the most famous rock stars of all time without revealing too much about himself to the public.