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At 80, Mick Jagger Is Still a Man With a Plan

It's only rock and roll, but Jagger has been liking it — and entertaining the world with it — for over six decades

By Jon Friedman

Mick Jagger, the lead Rolling Stone who turns 80 years old on July 26, has always been a man with a plan. This is why he has achieved almost unparalleled longevity in an industry that is notorious for creating one-hit wonders as well as for chewing up and spitting out even the most ambitious pop stars.

A black and white photo of a young Mick Jagger. Next Avenue
Mick Jagger   |  Credit: PBS/Getty

Jagger has demonstrated an uncanny knack for anticipating societal and cultural upheavals and for solving problems over six decades of stardom. The kicker is that Jagger has achieved so much in full view of the intrusive media and the prying eyes of fans.

Jagger rocks on whether the hot subject is the Stones' music and touring or Jagger's women or the bickering between Mick and his bandmate, good friend and collaborator of more than 60 years, Keith Richards, or how the latest fad in rock and roll threatens to do in the Stones.

Behind the glitz and the glamour, Jagger is a cold-eyed businessman.

Jagger is also the most enduring sex symbol in the entertainment industry. He has simply outlasted everyone else and continues to entertain and fascinate us.

Behind the glitz and the glamour, Jagger is a cold-eyed businessman. He attended the London School of Economics as a schoolboy. He is the member of the Stones who tends to the business aspects, whether that means supervising the Stones' stage show, approving the music industry contracts or conducting interviews on behalf of the band.

His goal seems always to keep the Stones' brand relevant; it can be said the group has mastered and survived every twist in rock and roll.

With Jagger in the lead role, the Stones have exhibited a remarkable ability to turn defeats into victories. In 1969 alone, the Stones sacked co-founder Brian Jones and added virtual unknown guitarist Mick Taylor to replace Jones.

The same year, the Stones also experienced the Altamont disaster. As shown in the excellent documentary "Gimme Shelter," a young man was murdered during the Stones' free concert in northern California in December 1969. It was a tragedy that only enhanced the Stones' carefully cultivated bad-boy and satanic public image.

The Stones have mastered and survived every twist in rock and roll.

Lessons from Jagger

All his life, Jagger has shown a capacity for getting things done.

Learning the Game: As a teenager, Jagger was not content to be a fan of the Chicago bluesmen that he revered. He had to own their records, so he took the extraordinary step of writing directly to Chess Records on Michigan Avenue, from his home in London, to procure copies of the music of Muddy Waters and others. (Perhaps it's no coincidence that Marshall Chess, whose father Phil Chess headed the label, went on to run Rolling Stones Records.)


Songwriting: When the Stones started recording in 1963, the band knew they had to create their own songs. So, Jagger learned the fine art of songwriting from his new friends John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

Monitoring Success: When the Beatles and the Stones ruled the British and American singles charts, it was Jagger who'd call McCartney to make sure that the two bands were not going to release new songs at the same time and, thus, not cannibalize sales.

Performing: On the Stones' first visit to New York, Jagger went to see James Brown perform at the Apollo Theater, the performance cathedral in Harlem, and made Brown's legendary dance moves his own.

Changing With the Times

Jagger has exhibited an admirable capacity to change with the times. Jagger has never been "out of time," to quote a Stones song title, through the English blues scene, the two-minute AM radio hit, the more sophisticated FM stylings of "Sympathy for the Devil," glam rock, reggae, disco, punk, New Wave and more.

Above all, he has always been a Star.

Jagger has always had a never-ending supply of ideas to keep the Stones' stage show looking and sounding fresh. Above all, he has always been a Star. Jagger stays focused regardless of whatever is swirling around him, which has included the deaths of drummer Charlie Watts in 2021, co-Stones founder Brian Jones and Ian Stewart, "the sixth Rolling Stone."

A Memorable Concert Moment

I last saw the Rolling Stones perform in concert on Dec. 8, 2012, at the Barclay Theater in Brooklyn. It was a fun show and I remember feeling happy to see the geezers putting on such an inspiring concert at their advanced ages. There was a moment that stood out.

At one point toward the end of the night, during "Sympathy for the Devil," in fact, it was time for Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood to step out and take guitar solos. The spotlight was on them and Mick Jagger, the band's front man, who had been working his butt off all night long, could finally slip off stage and ease into a well-deserved break.

But, of course, Mick stayed on stage, tactfully standing off to the side to let "Keef" and Woody have their moment in the sun. Mick kept on dancing and moving. The man simply could not – or would not – stop performing. That little slice of life told me all I needed to know about Mick Jagger in his twilight. It was actually the same scenario as watching Mick in his prime, when I saw the Stones play at Madison Square Garden on July 25, 1972.

Jagger has achieved greatness in two ways: by being the best in his time and by continuing to outlast everyone else. It's been reported the Stones are working on a new album.

Jon Friedman 
Jon Friedman, who teaches The Beatles: Their Music, Influence and Legacy at Stony Brook University, is the author of the Miniver Press ebook "Goo Goo Ga Joob: Why I Am the Walrus Is The Beatles’ Greatest Song."
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