Mick Jagger Shoots Birds

The Beatles don’t exist anymore. You’ve got to get it through your heads. There’s only us. —Mick Jagger

Mick Jagger in concert
Associated Press

Jagger lay on his side on a couch, drinking Château Lafite-Rothschild from the bottle. The hotel in Copenhagen faced the North Sea, and the windows were thrown wide-open. With him were three other members of the Rolling Stones and a few friends, playing poker, clowning, laughing, and smoking. Much lost all the money he had on him, borrowed some, lost that, threw in his socks, and finally his room key. “There,” he said, laughing. “That’s worth a lot. It was the first night of the Stones’ Grand Tour of Europe, 1970—eight countries, nineteen cities, in six weeks—and the kickoff, a press conference at the Marina Hotel, was a letdown or both press and Stones. Reporters had come from all over Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Germany, and Austria, but they filled barely four rows of seats. The band walked in a half hour late with Jagger at the head, revved up and laughing, wearing a straw hat with flowers and ribbons in the brim, enormous round sunglasses, a blue shirt open in front, and close-fitting blue trousers. He flopped in a char and started banging the table. “Can you hear the drums?” he called to guitarist Mick Taylor, and cackled, flapping his slips. Turning to the reporters, he mugged, “Good afternoon, children. We’re here today to talk about religion.”

Les Perrin, a kindly Britisher who is press representative for the Stones, asked for questions. A young man from Swedish radio asked four, to which he received one-word replies. An Austrian newspaperman took over the rest of the conference. The Austrian, sitting at a table with pretzels and crackers, asked what the Stones though of bootleg records of their music.

Mick stuck out his foot in horror. “We’ve been bootlegged, lads, it’s very painful!” No, we love bootlegs. Music’s for everybody, we don’t really care. If we get paid, it’s nice but if we don’t, it’s OK.”

The Austrian said, “It’s been nine months since Altamont ...”

“Let’s drink to that,” Mick said, tilting a bottle of Carlsberg beer to his mouth. The Austrian asked, “How does it affect you that the Beatles are broken?” Mick said, “It’s good for us. I’m very sorry they broke up, but there you are, you can't have everything. They've been together a long time.”

The Austrian: “What is your opinion about the problem drugs?” Guitarist Keith Richards put his head down and sighed, “Come back tomorrow.”

The Austrian asked Mick about his role in the film Ned Kelly.

Mick: “I didn't like Ned Kelly. Don't bother seeing it.”

“What about Performance?

Mick said, “Quite good film.”

The Austrian: “The critics don’t say that.”

Mick: “I say—you to the critics. They write rubbish. Any more questions, before we throw beer on you? C’mon, you can do better, you really can. You get one question each, except that bloke in the center.” He pointed at the Austrian. “He’s got the most ahw-ful questions. Look at him, he’s got a whole setup of his own, sticks and nuts and beer.” The Austrian was radiant and, as no one else spoke , plowed on. “How do you feel the world politics?”

Mick: “We’re not interested in politics. We’re interested in music. We like playing music, live, better than talking to you.” He stood up. “Let me get out of here.”

When they left, the Scandinavian press charged up the stairs, complaining, “We needed more time.” Journalists, photographers, and fans began prowling the corridors, listening outside doors. The most brazen would barge in blind, not knowing what to do if they scored. Thomas Beyl, a heavyset writer for Bravo, a german pop magazine, walked into Mick’s room and said, “So, it’s good, ja?” Mick kicked him out. Bey said, “You have to have a skin like an elephant to write about Rolling Stones.”

A Stones tour is like a presidential campaign, with identifying buttons, code words, security and advance men. The musicians, even Jagger, wear large purple and white buttons, because policemen can’t always distinguish the Stones rom their fans. Crew members wear red buttons, and guests blue. All the Stones except Mick have their wives or girlfriends with them. Jo Bergman, a twenty-five-year-old American who has run the Stones’ London office for two years, acts as a secretary, press agent, organizer, and interpreter of Mick’s wishes. Ronnie Schneider, a tough New Yorker who heads Rolling Stones Promotions, safeguards their commercial interests. When a Swede named Tommy asked Schneider if he could film the concert in Malmö, Schneider agreed but said he couldn’t use lights, and that Jagger would have to approve any film to be released. Tommy ecstatically began borrowing money for film stock, but one of the crew warned him, “You’ll never be able to do anything with it. The Stones’ office is filled with cans of film Mick doesn’t like, so they just sit there rotting.” Tommy decided to shoot everything at the concert but Mick. “The way I will edit it,” he said, “you will know the mind of Jagger, though you will not see him on the screen.”

Chip Monck, who has staged rock festivals from Monterey to Woodstock and Altamont, is in charge of producing the show. He brought seven of his crew from New York, five from London, and had materials shipped from four countries. Everything was assembled in Copenhagen the week before the tour started, and the crew held a dress rehearsal without the Stones at the auditorium, to see that they setup—two forty-foot aluminum towers, a truss, stage, lights and three sets of curtains—could be assembled in eight hours and torn down in one.

All afternoon before the first concert, across the channel in Malmö, Sweden young people rode bikes and scooters through the quiet park to the hall, looking for last-minute tickets. (There were none.) Inside, Chip was playing tapes of rock radio shows in Los Angeles, made from 1957 to 1960. The tapes were to be the warm-up music before the concert, “to hit the audience with the atmosphere that existed when the Stones were breaking in.”

A 4 p.m., the crew spread a blue carper with a starburst in its center on the stage and vacuumed it. Everyone sprawled in the aisles drinking Cokes, waiting for the Stones to arrive for rehearsal. Two Finnish girls, who had been hanging around for days and had managed to ingratiate themselves with the crew in exchange for blue guest buttons, walked back and forth chain-smoking. They had limp straight hair and wore limp silk and velvet clothes—one in knickers, the other in a midi skirt, with sashes, tassels, and Indian jewelry. The girl in knickers had painted a star on her forehead. One of the British crew members said to a friend. “Those two groupies are utterly stoned. That’s why they look so vacant.” The friend smiled. “Disgusting.”

Suddenly, without anyone having seen him come in, Mick was on stage, playing the piano softly. He walked around checking equipment, testing mikes and guitars, while the band gathered around drummer Charlie Watts. Everyone was cleared from the center of the auditorium except Bill Wyman’s wife, Astrid, Mick Taylor’s girlfriend, Rose, and Ronnie Schneider’s wide, Jane, who sat in the front row, in their long costumes and boots, like three ice princesses.

Mick sang at the empty hall, thrusting his lips out in exaggerated motions. He flipped over the carpet as if he had wheels on his feet, like the pawns in the table hockey games, and swung the mike around his body like a baton. During “Sympathy for the Devil,” he arched his back, put one hand on his hip, let the other hang limp, and shuffled, knees floppy, head pecking forward, the length of the platform. Jagger’s androgynous quality seems to heighten his attraction to both men and women. The oversized masculine head on a girl’s slender body, the limp gestures, and the tough mouth combine to produce a pansexual figure of almost mystical force.

The Stones rehearsed the same basic concert they performed in America, starting with “Jumping Jack Flash” and peaking, an hour later, with “Street Fighting Men.” They did several Chuck Berry songs and a new number, “Send Me Dead Flowers,” which contains a typical fragment of Stones’ wit, “Say it with dead flowers.”

Ten minutes before the concert, the gates opened and Swedish kids filed in carry orange drunks and programs in English. It is striking that while rock has pervaded the globe, it has remained primarily an English-language medium. All the Western European countries, and others such as Poland, Mexico, and Japan, have indigenous rock groups, but not one has achieved recognition outside its national boundaries. Rock, almost on its own, has made English the international language of young people, and helped create a sense of world youth as a class.

The Malmö concert began with Buddy Guy’s all-black group, featuring Junior Wells on harmonica. The audience demanded two encores by clapping their hands rhythmically. After a brief pause, the Stones appeared, with Mick swooping out in a silver top hat, a blue shirt with the sign of Leo on the chest, gold necklaces, a long whit scarf, and black pants decorated with nail studs. Kids surged toward the stage. A middle-aged usher waded among them, asking them to go back to their seats and they all complied. At the American concerts, such a man would have been trampled.

The Stones played the same song as in rehearsal, but now there was an urgency, a majestic fierceness to their playing. Mick danced like a fiend bumping and grinding so feverishly it seems his spine would snap. He worked harder with each song—punched his fists at the crowd, shrieked, crawled on all fours, leapt, did splits in the air. The crowd cheered, but sat rooted to their seats. Occasionally someone would creep to the stage, snap a picture, and skulk back, so as not to obstruct anyone’s view. During “Midnight Rambler,” Mick took off his shoes and twirled them in the air, shed his hat and scarf then took off his metal-studded belt, raised it high, and, his face a snarl, whacked the belt on the ground. Dust flew. The crowd screamed. Mick cracked the whip three more times, with diminishing results. He looked at Chip Monck and made a spiral motion with his hand. The house lights came on—a tricky Jagger perfected last year on the American tour. Earlier, Chip had explained how it evolved: “Every time there’s been a riot at a concert, the authorities say ‘throw on the house lights, so we can see what damage they’re doing.’ It was Jagger’s idea to put on the lights in the middle of the show, so he could see the crowd. The minute we did it, there was a burst of energy. The whole audience moved. It’s impossible for a performer to use the amount of energy Jagger does without some exchange of energy with the people.”

In Malmö, the lights came on with no effect. Chip called for magenta spots to swing across the audience, but the kids just smiled and sat still. Jo Bergman ran out and danced in the aisle, her eyes on Mick. The Stones’ photographer jumped off the stage and danced with her. Finally, when the band hit “Street Fighting Man,” the ice princesses, Jo, and the staff hurried out to the limousines. “They won’t do an encore,” one of the crew said. “The kids didn't freak enough.”

The Stones walked straight off stage, out the door, and into the first limousine. They never heard the Swedish kids clapping in unison, begging, in their own way, for more.

Back at the hotel, the restaurant was closed to the public and an elegant long table had been set for the Stones. The two Finnish girls drove up with the German press and sat in the bar, watching the party assemble. Charlie, wearing a white T-shirt with red stars, took a seat at the head of the table. “You know, we’re better than we thought,” he said.

Mick swaggered in, his face hidden under a bushy Afro wig. Everyone roared and passed the wig around. Makeup was running from Mick’s eyes, and he was still wearing his costume and jewelry—a gold serpent choker and a necklace strung with bullet cases, tusks, and animal feet. One of his suitcases, lost the day before, had just been delivered. “It’s beautiful,” he said. “I had more stuff in there than I remembered. Like white leotards.” He laughed. Charlie said, “Did you have a good time?” “Yes,” Mick said. “You could hear the drums beautifully where I was. Every time you hit a roll it went right through me. Keith was terrific tonight. And Mick Taylor played a great solo on ‘Love in Vain.’ He never gets it on in rehearsal. You know why? He’s lazy.”

After hors d’oeuvres of shrimp, caviar, melon and prosciutto, the waiter brought out a tray of roast veal. Mick and Charlie had ordered lamb. The waiter stammered, “A mistake in the kitchen.” Jagger mimicked the waiter’s accent: “No weal! We can’t eat weal, on moral principles. We don't like the way they kill the animals.” He drew a finger across his neck. He accepted the veal, though and after he had taken a few bites, a German photographer walked up and called to him. Mick stiffened, and looked aside guardedly. The photographer said, “If you want one of those two girls, you should say so.” Mick bounced around. “Where? Which two? Come back.” A few minutes later, the Finnish girl in knickers slouched out of the bar and into the lobby. Mick studied her and grinned at Charlie and Keith. “Oh, yes. I like her. Looks about fifteen.” One of the wives went to talk to the girl, came back, and said, “She’s horrid!” Mick patted her hand. “Now, now, it’s all a matter of taste.” He nudged Charlie. “Go and get that bird for me.” Charlie laughed.