By Philip Norman
BARELY paragraphs into Philip Norman's Mick Jagger, Norman's tone towards his subject has been rendered - akin to the pout and disdain of a spurned lover. It's revealed later that Norman was cut from a shortlist of ghostwriters to accompany Jagger through his autobiography.
The trials of the chosen one, journalist John Ryle, in extracting a salacious-enough account of Jagger's amble through the past darkly earns not only more pages than the Rolling Stones' greater records, but a viperous account of the ''extremely pretty'' amanuensis' expanding waistline.
''Resisting the classification of a rock biographer'', Norman has, nonetheless, written popular biographies of the Beatles (Shout!), Elton John and John Lennon, heralded for their access to the subjects' intimate circles.
As Jagger is notoriously cursory, even churlish about his past (when not concerning matters financial, Norman often reiterates), Norman relies on the likes of Chrissie Shrimpton (first long-term girlfriend), fellow students, mysterious unnamed 17-year-old paramours, and many anecdotes filleted from books by Tony Sanchez (the ribald, riveting Up and Down with the Rolling Stones) and Marianne Faithfull's autobiography from 1994.
Reliably jocund saxophonist Bobby Keys' recollections of the knighted Narcissus' enthusiasm for cricket are welcome relief from the inevitable convocation of former lovers and the questioning of his ''legitimacy'' as a figurehead of ''rebellion'' when furiously scaling social ladders. Perennial English class gripes are bubbling away, even imputations towards the upward aspirations of Jagger's mother.
When Jarvis Cocker, lead singer of Pulp, reviewed The John Lennon Letters, he opined that what made Lennon's band - and Lennon himself - so magical, was that they were ''ordinary lads'' who thrust themselves to immortality with chutzpah and brio, making it up as they went along.
There seems to be, with the sustained deluge of books about the '60s, the perceived aura of patrimony, where a Dylan or a Lennon or Jagger can be lambasted roundly for betraying the ''cause'', be it '60s idealism or the casual observer's hedonistic fantasies of how scurrilous life in the A-list should be. Jagger's actions as a man and an artist are awash with contradictions and anomalies that are at least worthy of underscore, but snide inflections relinquish any opportunity to unmask the Harlequin from the Home Counties.
Fashioning a biography of someone so expositional and parodied, yet so discreet, leaves an exegete with a choice: to rehash the tried-and-true tales of a libidinous Peter Pan, defiling whole nations while retaining a shrewd business acumen, hence betraying the envious conceit once held for Sir Mick; or pursue a more generous investigation and catechise the music, and the art, for clues as to how the London School of Economics student and filially observant son became one of a handful of great English R&B singers and a persistently thrilling performer and occasionally enchanting songwriter (as perennially mawkish and hackneyed he also can be).
I am a wonk about musical vagaries, particularly about the Stones, and tried hard to remain objective, but as inaccuracies and the all-too-familiar dismissal of traditional punching bags such as Their Satanic Majesties Request and any recorded material after 1978 pile up, I'm wondering if it's a missed opportunity. Much could be gleaned if anyone really spent time with the music because, before he became the global shape-shifter he has become, Jagger was a bewitchingly great performer, who is still, possibly, making it up as he goes along.
It is also possible, that as a man born in the last year of the '60s, I don't feel the same sense of betrayal as fans who came before me.
Norman pokes fun at the lyrics of It's Only Rock'n'Roll (''If I could stick a knife in my heart/suicide right on the stage/ would it be enough for your teenage lust/would it help to ease the pain'') being sung in 1974 by a tax exile on the fringes of a knighthood, but 10 years later, no less a figure than Pete Townshend could wonder, ''Jagger was into rock'n'roll before me but, unlike me, he still lives for it''. Generous of Norman to let that one stay, though only subsequently to question its validity.
In another, unfortunately peripheral, book about Jagger and the band, John Perry's Exile on Main Street, more is posited about the relationship between Mick and Keith Richards purloined from the lyrics of Let It Loose than in the acreage of found quotes and press clippings that, along with liberal quotes from biographer Andrew Morton, kill any hope of Mick Jagger being more than a tip-toe through the trash files.
The great relationships in Jagger's life, the Svengali-Trilby union (Norman's allusion) with first manager Andrew Oldham, for example, or with potential heroine Marianne Faithfull, are teasingly attended to, then more often than not swiped aside by no other explanation than his callousness, which may indeed be a truth.
If I'm to be taken into Norman's confidences, an utterly errant and ignoble example of the author's immodesty kills it stone dead. Recalling a scurrilous, untrue rumour about Faithfull eked from the 1967 police raid that landed Jagger very briefly in prison, Norman, like a plum-faced schoolboy, references the rumour, unnecessarily, a dozen times, serving what purpose other than his own titillation and further disrespect to Faithfull. Who breaks a butterfly on a wheel indeed.
■ Tim Rogers' most recent album is Rogers Sings Rogerstein.