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one rock star biography you can skip

November 9, 2011

Jagger by Marc SpitzI don’t write many negative reviews. Generally, I devour any rock memoir or biography through my rose-colored glasses of  “Man, what a great story.” Even if the writing itself is flimsy or self-indulgent.  I often find myself at odds with a lot of critical reviews of such books, but not this time.

I was very much looking forward to reading Marc Spitz’s new biography of Sir Mick, Jagger: Rebel, Rock Star, Rambler, Rogue, but I’m afraid it’s a flop. The book opens with a foreword by Spitz that I found utterly baffling. In it he discusses at length his understanding of the negative public perception of Jagger. Many of the “public” complaints he registers were news to me, and his defenses against them were only off-putting to someone who actually doesn’t have a negative opinion of Mick Jagger. While reading it I couldn’t help but think, why would you begin a biography by villainizing your subject?

Further, the book doesn’t present a very nuanced understanding of the Stones’ dynamic, and at times it reads like little more than celebrity gossip. The chapter on Anita Pallenberg and Performance strives for such lurid indulgence that it becomes difficult to take seriously. As Pallenberg, a singular force of a woman who is hard to over-describe, is represented as a caricature of dark desire. And an entire paragraph is devoted to debating the merits of Keith Richards’ now infamous literary swipe at the size of Mick’s manhood. This chapter felt like it was pulled straight from the tabloids and, for me, it was hard for the book to recover from.

Spitz injects welcome touches of humor throughout, but the book doesn’t feel that serious. A majority of the quotes are second-hand and the decisions on what events from Jagger’s life to focus on seem sort of haphazard. While the book never really hits its stride I did find certain chapters to be somewhat more engaging. For example, Spitz, who has written at length about the punk movement, offers an interesting discussion of the late 70’s musical fissure between the punks and the aging Stones.

The book doesn’t illuminate much that isn’t already known about Jagger. It read to me like Spitz, for whatever reason, felt personally affronted by some of the jabs that Keith Richards took out against Mick in his recent bestselling memoir Life and decided to write his own defense of sorts. This method becomes a distraction when you’re really just looking to learn more about the man. There are plenty of rock & roll biographies out there worthy of your time and attention. But this one, you can skip.


musicnotesTake It or Leave It”  – From the Stones’ Flowers album

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