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Volume 14, Issue 3: Ex Libris

Outing Jagger

Theodore Letis

Goddess in the Doorway

Try these lyrics on for size,

I drove across the desert
I was in my four-wheel drive
I was looking for the Buddha
and I saw Jesus Christ…
I looked up to the heavens
and a light was on my face
I never, never, never
thought I'd find a state of grace…
hey, joy
love you bring
oh joy
makes my heart sing
oh joy
joy in everything…
I was tossing and a turning
like a ship out in a storm
and could not feel the spirit
there was nothing there at all
and I could not dial the number
and I could not make the call
…Cryin' for salvation
there was nothing there at all
I could not dial the number
I could not make the call.
A new contemporary gospel rock band? An old country gospel quartet? No. Mick Jagger.
Oh, how I recall listening in my undergraduate days to Dylan's Slow Train Coming, over and over, lying on my living room floor, with my head between two speakers, trying to grasp every nuance, of every inflection, of every word of his "I Believe in You." Was it really true? I asked myself. The greatest poet of my generation declaring his public allegiance to the Jewish Messiah before the cynical pop culture that had nearly made Dylan himself messianic? It gave me a secret confidence for days after, as I walked the corridors of my college, that God did surely pick and choose whom He would, when and where He would.
Is Jagger's Goddess in the Doorway yet another sign of an entry into the ranks of the redeemed by a rogue minstrel? Maybe.
Michael Jagger was reared within the Church of England and within what would be considered a middle-class English home. At his mother's recent funeral at the local parish church he sang "Will the Circle be Unbroken," which may just signify that he has himself in some sense come full-circle. In the track "Dancing in the Starlight," on this current solo CD, he confesses that he was earlier,
…groping in the darkness
seeing dangers in the port
tortured into silence
my back against the wall.
Could it really be that, for most of his dissolute and hedonistic life, Michael was in some sense longing for the comfort of his true religious identity, but was forever forced to play the role of "Mick"? In his recent Rolling Stone interview, he confessed that, "In the Stones, you're in the James Bond series. It's cool and enormously successful, but you're expected to behave like James Bond all the time." And Jagger didn't for most of his career? Certainly he did. But I am rather convinced that for most of the time he deceived himself into thinking he was "just going along" for the ride and was somehow detached from the debauchery by being above it all, even while involved in it. "Mick Jagger" was just a persona he put on and then took off at will: the mock cockney accent, the fierce lyrics of "Midnight Rambler," and the mock Satanic associations, all mere accommodations to his "market." There is some plausibility to this. Even his "Sympathy for the Devil" can be read as a critique of the essentially wicked and fallen nature of this earthly regime. By bringing the Devil out of the closet for the utopia-intoxicated hippie-tribes, was he not attempting to shake them free of their misplaced blueprint for a heaven on earth? Probably.
But as far back as Exile, he was singing the spiritual-like "Just Wanna See His Face," which must have made little sense sandwiched as it was between Robert Johnson's "Stop Break'in Down," and "Turd on the Run." But there it was. If this thesis is to be taken seriously, how will we deal with the rather frightening (I could never bring myself to listen to it) track on the album Goat's Head Soup—"Dancing with Mr. D"? There is no explanation; no arguing it away. He was in the throes of the densest of darkness. But perhaps he is offering a kind of recapitulation in this current offering, "Dancing in the starlight/ dancing in the strangest forms/ and I could not feel the spirit/ was a thousand miles off course."
Whatever the case, as of Voodoo Lounge (so named by Richards), he was lecturing the IRA, asking them if they really looked at the face of Christ on the cross, and did they really expect to see paradise. Soon after the release of those lyrics the cease fire that has led to the current peace fell into place. Moreover, in Bridges to Babylon—a telling biblical apocalyptic allusion in itself—he was singing behind Billy Preston's (a professed Christian at one time, though I think he did some time for illegal drug use) positively churchy organ strains.
St. Paul the persecutor
was a cruel and sinful man
Jesus hit him with a blinding light
and then his life began…
I said yeah, I said yeah.
Augustine knew temptation
he loved women, wine and song
and all the special pleasures
of doing something wrong…
[certainly something Michael could have empathy with]
But then the chorus proclaims, "…you'll never make a saint of me…" But just what does he mean by this? That he will never join the ranks of the redeemed? Or that his life will never bear the tests of ancient and medieval canonical "sainthood," such as Paul and Augustine eventually "passed." Let his lyrics speak for themselves:
And could you stand the torture
and could you stand the pain
could you put your faith in Jesus
when you're burning in the flames
I said yes…ummmmmmm
Well I do believe in miracles
and I wanna save my soul
and I know that I'm a sinner
I'm gonna die here in the cold
I said yes, I said yes,
[but?] you'll never make a saint of me.
Is Doorway really another Slow Train, though? Maybe. There still remains the problem of Michael's continuing in the alternative reality that is the Rolling Stones, Ltd. On his live VH1 appearance with fellow Christian Lenny Kravitz, this pushing-sixty combination of Tina Turner and James Brown looked all so awkward before that audience of twenty-somethings, singing, "God gave me/everything I want/ come on…/ I'll give it all to you."
Does he feel his mortality closing in, and does he want to set his house in order—shed his ill-gained wealth in a worthy cause(s)? He certainly seems to be expressing this pending departure on Bridges where he tauntingly demands that someone "flip the switch…" "I can't wait to see how I will go." Moreover, on Goddess he nearly shouts in a relentless chorus, "why don't you just get a gun, and shoot me," which is all the more ominous in light of how Lennon went out and in light of the novel that appeared many years ago that had "Mick" getting shot "right on stage" by a gunman. A death wish? Mick Taylor once boasted that he was the only one who ever made it out of the Rolling Stones alive. Or could it be in "Hide Away" he is wishing for that extended interlude that would allow him the opportunity to consolidate his "New Set of Rules"? Here he threatens:
I'm gonna fly away
and nobody is gonna find me
make sure that I never come back
I'm gonna rent a small hotel
throw away my cell
cut off all my hair
sweep away my cares
dissolve right out of this scene…
With multi-million-dollar contractual commitments to Virgin Records that involves the fate of three others and an entire army of hanger-ons, it may be that he nevertheless wishes to make a clean break.
Whatever the case, in the final track, "New Set of Rules," he says, "I've got a brand new set of rules/ I've got to learn…"
Here we could likely have a hearkening back to "Slow Train," "Gonna change my way thinkin'/ gonna make myself a new set of rules."
Only time can tell.
I end with a personal account in the life of Michael Jagger. Circa 1969_70 I was part of a youth counseling center located in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. One of the projects of this community was to take roaming hippies from the street and plant them in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where they would be locked away from American influences long enough to see the world afresh through the eyes of the poorest nation in that hemisphere. One of our counselors who happened to be our resident poet and folk singer, Susan Hill, found Jagger sitting in a cab with his flavor of the month, in the center of the city waiting to use a pay phone. She approached him, leaned into the car, and in Jesus freak boldness, asked him if he knew "Jesus was coming back." In reply to which he grabbed her arm and, without missing a beat, informed her that "Didn't ya know, he's already here." There was no conversion on that day. But later in the week as Jagger flew back to Miami, the director of our community was told that Jagger had just gotten on the plane, and he should attempt to sit next to him since he was returning on that same flight, which he did, giving him the full evangelion from Port-au-Prince to Miami, all the while calling him "Mitch." Oddly, on the cover of the single, "Saint of Me," is a picture of a scene from Port-au-Prince. Curious, I contacted the art designer responsible for the cover design, and he informed me that Jagger himself had provided him with the photo.

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