Unlike fellow Rolling Stone Keith Richards—or Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, Neil Young and Pete Townshend—Mick Jagger has failed to produce a memoir. He tried once. In 1983, he spent nine months with a ghostwriter, then returned a £1-million advance because he couldn’t (or wouldn’t) remember anything of interest. But the price of not enshrining your past is that someone will do it for you. As the Stones mark their 50th anniversary, Norman, who has written biographies of several music legends, adds a tome to the mountain of lore about the world’s consummate rock star. His book lands just three months after Christopher Anderson’s Mick: The Wild Life and Mad Genius of Jagger, a breathless ream of gossip about a sex addict working his way through 4,000 women like so much plankton.
Norman’s diligent biography, which dwells on the ’60s and ’70s, is more substantial, and less salacious, if marred by a winking tone. Even though he discredits the infamous legend of Marianne Faithfull being caught in a compromising position with a Mars bar in the Stones’ 1967 Redlands drug bust, he can’t let it go—it becomes the book’s icky leitmotif. What’s most revealing in the book is how Jagger has survived some serious threats. Treating him as a dangerous subversive in the ’60s, the FBI colluded with Britain’s MI5 to plant “Acid King” David Snyderman among the Stones as an agent provocateur. (He set up the Redlands raid.) And ever since Altamont, the Hell’s Angels have threatened to kill Jagger, who was later spooked by John Lennon’s assassination and took to carrying a gun.
Norman, meanwhile, makes some sense of the sexual conquests, the seven children and the cravings of a rock czar who manages to be both a cool Lothario and weepy romantic. Most sympathetic is Jerry Hall, towering above all the supermodels and plundered girlfriends of rival rock stars; Carla Bruni and Angelina Jolie are the ones who got away; L’Wren Scott is the one who tamed him. But at the end of this half-century coming-of-age story, Mick’s most enduring bond remains his fractious marriage to Keith.