“Jagger: Rebel, Rock Star, Rambler, Rogue” by Mark Spitz is less of an in-depth biography about Rolling Stones lead Mick Jagger and more of an extended essay arguing the theory that Jagger is underrated and Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards is overrated. It’s not a bad premise to form the basis of a book (since there are so many other books about Jagger and the Rolling Stones), but unfortunately, Spitz misses the mark in many ways. The book won’t take that long to read, but it might feel longer since so much of it is boring and pretentious.
At a little less than 300 pages (not including the bibliography and index), this book really does not reveal anything new about Jagger.
Instead, the author spends page upon page describing Jagger’s life in comparison to Richards’ life. That in and of itself is not something that needs to be avoided, but the comparisons get tedious in this book. What makes it worse is that Spitz has an underlying condescending tone in his writing that somewhat lectures the reader about what’s “cool” and what “isn’t cool.” There’s nothing worse than people telling others what’s cool and what isn’t.
Here’s an example of this kind of pretentious prattle. This is a sentence from the book in which Spitz describes Mick Jagger’s first wife, Bianca, who was married to Mick from 1971 to 1980: “Unlike Marianne [Faithfull] and Anita [Pallenberg], Bianca is still not cool, and therefore never given any credit for her crucial contribution to Mick’s building of a ’70s Stones model, only the lashing blame for exposing them to toxic celebrity culture.”
Was Bianca famous before she got involved with Mick Jagger? No. How exactly did she “crucially contribute” to the band’s songwriting, tours and/or business decisions that built the ”70s Stones model”? She didn’t. And weren’t the Rolling Stones famous for their partying lifestyle and got a lot of tabloid coverage because of that lifestyle, long before Bianca came into their lives? Yes. Enough said.
It’s true that most Rolling Stones fans prefer either Jagger or Richards, in terms of their respective personalities. But the reality is that you don’t have to be a Rolling Stones fan to know that saying either Jagger or Richards is “better” for the band is like saying either milk or sugar is “better” for ice cream: Both are essential components that make up the whole. Just like you can’t have ice cream without milk and sugar, you can’t have the Rolling Stones without Jagger and Richards, who are the co-writers of most of the band’s songs.
The book loses a lot of credibility early on, in the introduction’s description of Mick Jagger and his father, Joe Jagger: “Father and son looked alike, with lean but extremely long musculature, jutting ears, knowing brown eyes, and, most famously, pronounced, fleshy lips, thick and uncommonly rouged.”
One might argue the accuracy of describing Joe Jagger’s mouth as thick, uncommonly red lips (just look at any photos of Joe Jagger, and “thick, uncommonly red lips” do not immediately come to mind), but there’s no arguing over this glaring mistake in the author’s statement: Mick Jagger has green eyes, not brown eyes.
Any Mick Jagger biographer who can’t even describe the correct color of Mick Jagger’s eyes should hang his or her head in shame. It’s hard to take any book seriously that can’t even get that simple fact straight.