They're the kind of character that wants to be in front of the lights, the cameras, the audiences and is generally called a show-off in school, before they become (laughs) anybody, you know. They're out there, you know, with the flashiest clothes or trying to make jokes or talking to girls or whatever... They're the show-offs.
(The Rolling Stones are) wiry little blokes. They don't look like much. But they're as tough as nails, man. They've got energy to burn, and they know where to put it now.
I don't know what the Rolling Stones are. For that you should talk to someone else other than me. I don't know what they are. To me, they're friends of mine. They are whatever you've read and they're worse and they're better.
The Stones can get away with whatever they want. They're universals. They're Gods, they ain't even immortals anymore. They're whites makin' black music. Everybody black digs the Stones. Everybody white. And they even got the Chinese and the Mexicans, too. Do ya understan' what I'm talkin' about?
Like the speed of light in physics, Proust's grandmother in Remembrance of Days Past, like Muhammad Ali, Picasso and Einstein, the Rolling Stones are the constant against which all others are measured. They have defined what a rock band is.
The whole thing with the Stones is the groove. They might settle into a groove, they might start to get a groove going but what they're looking for the whole time is that fuckin' ROLLING STONES groove. It drives you fuckin' nutty 'cause they are SO good but they can sound like the WORST fuckin' band in the world. Keith can be out of tune, Charlie will miss a beat, everyone will play too loud, and Wyman will give up in frustration. But when they do get a take, everything converges into one.
Only rock and roll? The Stones are the proof of the form. When the guitars and the drums and the voice come together in those elementary patterns that no one else has very quite managed to stimulate, the most undeniable excitement is a virtually automatic result. To insist that this excitement doesn't reach you is not to articulate an aesthetic judgment but to assert a rather uninteresting crochet of taste. It is to boast that you don't like rock and roll itself.
I think the great thing about the Stones is the simplicity of it - that slightly ragged rhythm that always sounds like it might fall apart by the next bar, but never does. We always have scrappy endings; we play with a kind of pulse that fluctuates between being slightly behind and slightly in front of the beat, but it swings like that. And it works for us. I hate bands that play on eighths or sixteenths; there's no feel there, nothing seems to be coming from inside them.
The Stones present a theatrical-musical performance that has no equal in our culture. Thousands and thousands of people go into a room and focus energy on one point, and something happens. The group's musicianship is of a high order, but listening to Mick Jagger is not like listening to Jascha Heifetz. Mick Jagger is coming in on more circuits than Jascha Heifetz. He is dealing in total, undefined sensual experience of the most ecstatic sort. Wagner was interested in the idea of total art - total effect, total experience. The Stones are doing something similar. They have created something that is much closer to a complete experience than any other public entertainment available. It is compelling and it is very satisfying.
I'm sure there are people who are better than I am, there must be, because I'm not very good. But I don't really care. The Rolling Stones have never said they were the best rock and roll band or the greatest, ever.
When the Stones come out from under their rock and hit the touring trail - a phenomenon that happens, regular as clockwork, every 3 years - what they do is something that transcends mere music. You don't get a concert so much as a rock and roll happening, an electrical storm of fevered emotions and jagged - I'm tempted to say Jaggered - nerve ends. People talk about the various tours, '69, '72, '75, '78, and now '81, as milestones. There's no other band I know, not the Who, not Led Zeppelin, or the Grateful Dead, can do this. So maybe the Stones really are the best rock band in the world. It depends what you judge them on.
I've decided that every night there's another world's greatest rock and roll band, because one night somebody has an off gig, and some other shit band has a GREAT gig. That's one of the great things about rock and roll - every night there's a different world's greatest band. We've been maybe a little more consistent, for whatever reason, mainly when we're going together on a tour and also because we've managed to stick together. The chemistry - that's got nothing to do with musicianship. It's got to do with personality and characters and being able to live with each other for 20 years.
World's greatest rock and roll band. And what you realize now is that they invented the style, you know. Nobody else can do that style. That kind of white blues style, R&B style, as derivative as it seemed in 1965 - Oh, it sounds just like the Chess studios - well, in fact, it sounded just like the Rolling Stones.
(The greatest rock and roll band in the world is) just a stupid epithet. It just seems too Barnum & Bailey to me - like it's some sort of circus act. The first time we heard it said was to introduce us every night (note: in 1969). So I used to say, Will you please not use that as your announcement? It's so embarrassing. And what does that mean? Does it mean the best, the biggest, the most long-lasting? You know?
They love music so much. That energy comes from being addicted to music, that's the central passion. They have to want to dig playing to continue and continue and continue.
When they walk onstage they're not just musicians, they carry a lot of history with them. You see their talent, but you are also watching that reputation and they know it. They work hard to live up to it. They don't slack, they don't coast, they don't pretend they're big enough so they don't have to do much. They go out and give it 110%.
People overestimate the Rolling Stones. I don't think we're as good as people say. Lots of people think we're great but sometimes we're not. We're a GOOD band. (Mick is then asked which band is better). Ah-ha! (laughs) There's not many people BETTER!
I'm not proud of achievements. Pride can come just before a fall, you know, and all that. I'm not particularly proud of - some of the things the Stones have done have been great, some have been rubbish. That's the way life goes. That's the lot - I chose it and I could have sort of got out of it at any time. But I'm still in there. And I wouldn't be there if I didn't... enjoy it.
Our strengths are Charlie Watts' drumming, whatever it is that's made it possible for us having stayed together, and the fact that we all ike incredibly different types of music but can somehow fuse them together into one thing. There aren't many drummers like Charlie who can play rock & roll and various other things and still swing, which is the basic thing. That goes for the rhythm section as a whole.
Most Rolling Stones albums have been varied... I think it's really interesting to play in a band like that. It's not the times... There is a whole, weird sort of... What I was trying to explain earlier on is that we all change around our instruments, for instance, you know. Like... apart from the drums and everything. But, you know, everyone in the band has a go at something else. And that you come up with different sounds - like Indian Girl compared to Emotional Rescue is very different - it could be another band! You know what I mean? I think... I find that interesting. And I think that's one of the things about this band which is... If it does anything good about it - I think that's one of the really good things about it. 'Cause everyone has a go. It's real English amateurism, really, when it actually comes down to it... It's always been like that.
We are uncapturable live. You gotta be there. The funny thing is, when you know you're recording, you can always guarantee that the Stones will not deliver. It's typically perverse. Either we try too hard, or something went wrong early on, and we're like, Oh, screw it.... That is why it is live. All you can do is make a recording of it. It's like movies: Everybody's getting splattered, blood and bones flying about. But it all just sits there on the screen; you can't smell it or taste it. That's the difference between the vicarious and the real. You gotta be there. All I can say is, buy a ticket - if you can find one (laughs).
I think the Rolling Stones have always been mostly stable; they've got a terrific history, a long tradition. It's very steeped in all kinds of things. The Rolling Stones are a very admired band, much copied and so on. And very flattering - it always is.
There's a certain chemistry applied to a particular band, as long as they can hold it together, that comes through work. What I'm trying to say is that there's something intangible about the Rolling Stones.
The Rolling Stones managed to achieve something that is very difficult. They create music that is beautiful, exciting, lazy and rude, all at the same time.
The thing with me and Keith is that we just have a go at things. And sometimes they work. I mean, analyzing it all after is another thing; that's for somebody else to do. We just enjoy playing it, and I just follow what he's doing.
The Rolling Stones are basically a two-guitar band. That's how we started off. And the whole secret, if there IS any secret behind the sound of the Rolling Stones, is the way we work two guitars together.
On many contemporary recording sesions, musicians are put in compartments to minimize leakage... and the result is a compressed sound that fills every niche. Stones records are virtual opposites, roaring with heavy artillery but airy and spacious as well. While every sound counts, the spaces, the holes, are no less important. The band's raw materials may be the deceptively simple basics of rhythm and blues, but with the doubled parts, the radical mix, and the air crashing around like a cyclone, the effect is complex, even abstract... Rough edges on double guitars may be as important as seamless overlaps. An "extra" guitar part - mixed far in the distance to work on subsconscious levels - may be as essential as obvious elements. As co-producer (credited or uncredited) on virtually every record, Keith Richards has proved to be both a master of the bold stroke and a subtle colorist, evoking not only the thunder and lightning but also a sky to put it in. For the Rolling Stones, atmosphere is everything. For many the sound and fury of the band is a transcendental experience. Although the musicians are gifted, the songs excellent, and the recordings finely tuned, the effect is not so much that of hearing sophisticated technicians processed through state-of-the-art technology. It's more like hearing the world's greatest garage band in the world's biggest garage.
Ambience... is one of my favorite things. All the stuff that I cut, whether it's with the Stones or the Winos, it's all room sounds. I've got ten microphones up in the sky - (waves arms) here, there, bring this one in, that one. The room is the important thing... You get a feel. It's almost instinctive; it's not something that you can guide technically and say for sure that this is going to work. But you can get a feel within five minutes of walking around a room:
Is that a big enough space? Is the ceiling high enough? You give a couple slaps to hear where the echo returns, where it returns from, and how quickly it returns. No room should defeat a band.
(The Stones' music) has such strong sexual connotations. It's basically music to fuck to.
(My music is not about precision). It's about chaos. I suppose it reflects my life and probably everybody else's. Nothing hits you quite where you expect it. But you've got to hold it together, right? It's very hard to explain, but I try to do the same thing with the lyrics that I do to the music - a juxtaposition that kind of slams you the wrong way here, and then suddenly it's in the right place. It's just like life. Nothing happens quite when you think it's supposed to or when you want it to, but when it does, you've got to roll with it.
It took years and ultimately it took playing music with the Rolling Stones, actually playing bass with them just during the sessions and between songs and everything like that, to understand what goes on in that band. The Rolling Stones, they really listen to each other. They're quick to react, as they are in conversation. It's a highly conversational band. The exchange musically between the players, it's jocular and it's loose and it's quick. Just as their conversational répartée is like that, so is their playing. And whatever goes on interpersonally between any of them, I believe it evaporates when they start playing. And they're loose. It reminds me so much of Miles Davis. Miles Davis was the jazz example, that band that he had around (the early '70s) that had Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter and Ron Carter and Tony Williams. It's loose, it's floating on this incredible drum thing that's happening. And confident and a little cocky. And it's the way you should play rock and roll. You know, without self-consciousness, without being stiff, without showing off.
When a band has stayed together this long, there is a certain secret professional pride in that. But I don't think any of us would go around saying that - certainly not to each other, or even to ourselves. I guess there's just a thing in our society about decades - numbers that end in zero. I don't know why.
How long can we go on? Forever. We'll let you know when we keel over.
The Rolling Stones were always loose enough to be on the verge of breaking up. That gave them enough tension to keep it together. There was enough space between the Stones, enough arguing, enough fuss for them to be able to say, What are we gonna do? Might as well stay together. It's always been that kind of relationship.
Keith and I have been friends for a LONG time. We've known each other since we were 6 years old which, I'm not going to tell you, is a LONG time ago... I've been friends with CHARLIE for 20 years. It's difficult to analyze WHY, you know, why us? You don't know. And, as someone said to me, those friendships last over the other ones, you know, with women and all that. So the band's been going on longer than any marriage or involvement I've been in.
Come to think of it, maybe the reason why the Stones are still going is because we've always been sufficiently aware of what's going on to be influenced, but not so that we slavishly follow trends.
This is one of the things we're proud of, to keep a band together this long and still deliver new things. We're not on a nostalgia trip. We're not playing for people who remember when they got laid to one song in the 60s. We're trying to connect then with now and keep going.
You can't get off on (recording and playing with the Stones) the whole time. It's like you can't be fucking the whole time. Because it spoils it for the times when you REALLY want to do it. You have to work yourself up to the moment when you really give yourself up to the feeling. That's what being in a band is all about, whether it's been together 30 years or 3 weeks.
We're out on a limb all on our own - nobody's kept it together this long. It's like one of those old maps where there are dragons, and it says END OF THE WORLD. Where is it? You don't know. You're supposed to fall off here. We have no road maps, no way of knowing how to deal with this. But everyone (wants) to do it... I'm very proud of this career, as long as it's gone. Still, it's the old story - who's gonna get off this bus while you're still feeling good about it?
(P)eople always question (why we continue to do it), it's very odd but people question it all the time that why you should do it, you know, it's like, people... I don't know why, people think in their own lives, if they work, you know, in an office, or whatever, they think well if I made lots of money I wouldn't do any work at all. And I think that's how they approach what you're doing in this kind of... - but it isn't like that, you know, when you're in a different kind of career. I'm just trying to explain why people always question why you would wanna do what you do. I mean it's not really like having a regular job, you know, because you stop for an incredibly long time. Like a year you don't do it, you don't go on stage, say for a year, or very little bursts here and there. And then you spend like you do four shows a week or something. It's very very hard work, but it's also quite rewarding and it's very exciting... It's not really a workadays job. It isn't really like that at all.
(Performing) is a great thrill. It's my vocation It's what I do. If I can do it well, I enjoy it. And if I can't do it well, I'll make sure I do it better.
I could see why some people may think we're phoning it in after all this time. But playing the music we do, and playing it with these guys, Jumpin' Jack Flash can be a new song to me every night. I mean, we don't need to do it to feed our families. We don't need to do it to prove anything. And nobody wants to be the first one to get off a moving bus.
Nobody in the band ever talks about (the band's longevity) amongst themselves or puts their finger on it. I think some of it is just what you do, and if you don't do it, you go nuts, and the other is how far can it go, you know. We still feel we're getting better and we have things to offer you know, and we ain't The Beach Boys, some nostalgia band, you know what I mean. There's plenty of nostalgia, obviously, after all these years involved, but I mean we don't rely on it alone. I mean our main joy is to make new songs - nostalgia (laughs) in a way it's ah... and nobody wants to get off the bus, because it's still going, you know. It's very difficult, you hurt yourself getting off buses when they're moving. Do not alight while moving.
Of course, I don't know the answer to our longevity. One of the important things is that we always had such amazing appreciative fans. If they didn't exist to keep this afloat, the Rolling Stones wouldn't exist.
Why do the Rolling Stones endure? I always say, because they're successful. Because people still like them. However much we might like to do it for ourselves, if nobody wants to see you, then we probably wouldn't do it. But you ask me what we mean to ongoing and changing audiences, I don't know what we mean. I haven't got a clue. I do think our sort of longevity, standing up for being long-lived, rather than being any good – I'm not saying we're not any good – but that longevity adds an extra sort of layer to the appeal. Adding a patina to the piece of old furniture. Because you've been around for 50 years, it does add this kind of . . . this luminosity, if you want.
(Why have we lasted so long?) ’Cos we’re damn good and we genuinely love what we do. We do it for ourselves. And I don’t mean that money-wise — of course, you don’t mind getting paid — but that is not the driving force behind this band. Sometimes I wonder, What do you really want to do, Keith? You can sit at home, do a bit of painting or writing or whatever. But there’s a certain magnetic thing that says what I really want to do is play with Charlie Watts and Mick and Ronnie. That’s the force that’s indescribable. You put this bunch into a room with a couple of microphones and some instruments and something is going to come out.
I'm timeless now, I'm beyond time. But also on the other hand, to us it's another tour and this is what we love doing and it just happens to come 40 years after we started... We're not here for nostalgia, we're not here to light the birthday candles or anything like that. But it's very nice to be 40 years old in the band. (Laughs) I'm a lot older in real life, (touring) keeps me young.
(Other bands that didn't last long are) not really bands. They’re groups. We’re a band. And a real band sticks until it dies! These bands, they become big, but they’re generational. Just for their one decade. They literally go when their testosterone goes... I mean, we work hard, no one takes it for granted. We’re still looking to make our best record and put on our best show. The Stones have managed to be part of life without being passé.
I must say the resilience of this band, all the crap that’s happened to us so many times, doesn’t stop the fact that we will keep going. Just as long as we’re here. It’s not even a point of honour. It’s just a case of what else are you going to do? We’re probably more solid than ever. I’m looking forward.