At the worst moment of the relations between the two heads of The Rolling Stones, Keith Richards defines it in his book Life as follows: “That’s when World War III broke out.” It was 1986 and the group had just delivered the irregular Dirty Work. Richards wanted to defend it live, get the machine going. Four years had passed since the last tour. The guitarist had rashes that would only go away when he hung up his guitar to play with his band. But a letter arrived (a letter!) from Mick Jagger. In the letter he stated that he preferred to focus on his solo career, which he had started with the album She’s The Boss (1985) and had the second ready, Primitive Cool (1987). Well, that: World War III. But it was not the end. No musical society has been united for so long in the history of rock, 60 years, which are in 2022 since the Rolling Stones were formed in 1962. The ship has splintered many times, but in the end an ironclad capacity has prevailed of resilience. Tonight they play again in Madrid.
Although the economic issue is at all times tipping the balance towards keeping the business afloat, his followers love to appeal to romanticism as the main cause of the couple’s long-standing relationship. Maybe there is something like that deep down. There is no better story in this regard than one that Richards himself discovered in 2010. It is a letter that he found among the papers of his aunt Patt’s. Keith was 18 years old and was narrating to his mother’s sister the moment she lit the flame of the Rolling Stones. The encounter with Mick Jagger in a train station is well known. What is revealing is the passion that imprints the story. “You know, Aunt Patt, I love Chuck Berry and I thought he was the only one within a mile radius who knew him. But recently, one morning at Dartford station, I was waiting for a train with a Chuck record in my hand when a guy I knew from primary school walks up to me and it turns out he has every Chuck Berry record, from first to last. . And all of his colleagues have them too, and they all like the rhythm&blues, I mean the rhythm & blues really, no to the shit of Dinah Shore, Brook Benton and company. I’m talking about Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters, Chuck, Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker and all the good old Chicago blues stuff. Wonderful. The guy’s name is Mick Jagger.”
Exactly, that is the force that unites the couple: their love for the blues, for music. But not even Muddy Waters could prevent the roosters from jumping into the ring from time to time. Richards’ most dangerous moment (and he has lived through many) occurred in 1977, when Canadian police arrested the guitarist in Toronto with a significant amount of heroin. Richards had been using it for almost 10 years. In the mid-seventies it was difficult to live with him. In some recording sessions he excused himself to go to the bathroom and could leave at six o’clock. “I have to say that during the whole racket in Toronto, in fact whenever I was caught by the cops, Mick took great care of me and never complained about anything. He was the one who took care of everything and organized the forces to rescue me. Mick took care of me like a brother would have, ”he notes in his memoir. And so far the outstretched hand of Richards.
In 1978 the trial was held and the possible seven years in prison were left in a fine of 25,000 dollars, the obligation to enter a rehabilitation program and two benefit concerts for an association of the blind. Surely having to play for free is what Jagger has never forgiven him for. As the guitarist began to come out of the narcotic fog and experience sobriety, he realized that he had lost his influence over the group. All control now rested with Jagger. And with a certain logic: if he doesn’t get to pull the bandwagon, Richards’ opiate drift would have sunk the Stones. The problem came when the guitarist cleared his mind. The one who was in charge was the singer and he was no longer willing to give 50% to Richards.
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The disc emotional rescue (1980) closes with a beautiful ballad called All About You, a song sung by Keith with his heart in his hand. Dedicated to his friend in those moments of bad relationship: “If you call this life, why should I spend it with you. / If the show must go on, let it be without you. / I’m so fed up, so tired of hanging around with assholes like you”. The song ends with the most heartfelt line Richards has ever publicly dedicated to Jagger: “So how come I’m still in love with you?”
By 1981 the two stones They barely communicated. they pulled ahead Tattoo You, a good album, thanks to its sound engineer, Chris Kimsey, who found gems among the recording sessions of the previous works. Jagger completed those sketches in the morning, and Richards in the evening. They never matched. The tour of the album was celebrated with great popular success, but the phrase that the guitarist remembers the most that his partner said to him was: “Oh, shut the hell up, Keith”. A fact to understand the nature of the relationship between the two musicians: in 1983, when the chemistry was negligible, Richards married Patti Hansen (with whom he is still) and Mick acted as best man.
Around this time, Keith’s clan began calling Jagger “Your Majesty.” Also other things. Richards had an ingenious idea. She discovered an English writer of romance novels, Brenda Jagger, in a library. From then on, Brenda would be Mick, so they could insult him in front of him, without the vocalist finding out. “I shit on Brenda, that self-centered bitch.” Jagger assumed they were talking about someone else. This is how Richards describes the panorama in those years: “There were two universes, Mick’s, made of mundane life, and ours.” The Stones had already been in their 20-year career. They had started doing covers of Chuck Berry for audiences of 100 people, and over the years they became the biggest band in the world. Rock And Roll, with a stratospheric income. Pressures, interests, inflated egos, the wear and tear of living together… his generation mates, the Beatles, lasted 10 years and ended unpleasantly. The Stones were facing their big crisis after two decades, something quite understandable.
With World War III declared, Jagger offered an interview to the magazine rolling stone framed in the promotion of his second solo album, Primitive Cool (1987). “We’ve had a lot of ups and downs, and this is one of the low moments. I love the Stones, I think what we’ve done is wonderful, but I also think it’s done. At my age [tenía 46 años] And after all these years I have to do something else with my life. I feel like I have the right to do it.” This statement is the closest the group has come to disbanding. Jagger’s solo albums offer rock, but also songs full of somewhat artificial eighties sound traps. Trendy dance music of that decade, with all that that implies. Fed up with Jagger’s flirtations outside the Stones, Richards had already released his first solo album in 1988, Talk Is Cheap, more recognizable than Jagger for the Rolling fan.
Jagger and Richards’ solo careers never took off. Richards performed in Spain in 1992 in venues with just over 1,000 people (Zeleste in Barcelona and Aqualung in Madrid, two days each). Nothing to do with the audiences of the Rolling, although, on the other hand, it was a pleasure to enjoy the stone in a reduced format, without giant videos or the circus of the stadiums. It was time to return to the ship, repair the damage and fill stadiums. The two ate their pride and in 1989 they reunited for the recording of a new work, Steel Wheels. That same year they went on tour, the first in seven years.
Keith, always accurate, defines in Life their relationship since then: “Mick and I may not be friends anymore (too worn out for that), but we are two brothers so close that nothing can separate us. Your best friends are your best friends, but brothers fight. Regardless of what happened, Mick and I have a relationship that still works. And if someone says anything bad about Mick in my presence, he would slit their neck.”
It will never be like in the sixties and seventies, but they have realized that once that crisis is over, they are no longer old (they are both 78) for narcissistic fights. Tonight at the Metropolitan, even sincere smiles will be exchanged.