Let us set the scene: the year is 1984 and The Rolling Stones are in Amsterdam. The Stones had been out drinking until the wee hours of the morning. They had released Undercover the previous year and, despite their ongoing successes, emotional tensions were painting a different story within the make-up of the band, especially between the glimmer twins Keith Richards and Mick Jagger.
According to Richards, Mick Jagger began developing, what he refers to as, LVS or “Lead Vocalist Syndrome; Mick’s ego was becoming too big for his own good.” Keith recalls in his tell-all, honest autobiography, Life, “If you combine congenital LVS with a nonstop bombardment of flattery every waking moment over years and years, you can start to believe the incoming. Even if you’re not flattered by flattery, or you’re anti-flattery, it will go to your head; it will do something to you.” It seems that for one member of the group, drummer Charlie Watts, enough was enough.
Jagger had been at the pinnacle of rock for 20 years and, while the Stones were largely still the same force behind him, it was clear he had begun to detach himself from the band. Jagger was becoming increasingly cold, isolated, and self-righteous. As Keef puts it, “We’ve been through so many different periods together. I love the man dearly. But it was a long time ago that we could be that close. We have a respect, I guess, for now, with a deeper, under-rooted friendship. Do you know Mick Jagger? Yeah, which one? He’s a nice bunch of guys. It’s up to him which one you meet.”
The book is written by a man who has matured a little since the heydays of his hellraising, as he acknowledges that Jagger wasn’t, of course, all just ego. In fact, Mick is a very complicated person with many shades to him, with the ability — as he has been previously described — to converse with anyone about anything. After all, Mick and Keith wrote their very first songs for the Stones, in the kitchen, before all the fame and wealth.
The more attention Mick got, the worse his LVS became; but it also seems like part of the trouble came from within Jagger. “Mick had become uncertain, had started second-guessing his own talent,” writes Richards, “That seemed, ironically, to be at the root of the self-inflation. For many years through the ’60s, Mick was incredibly charming and humorous. He was natural. It was electrifying the way he could work those small spaces, as a singer and as a dancer; fascinating to watch and work with — the spins, the moves. Somewhere, though, he got unnatural.”
The breaking point, which would ultimately force even someone as calm as Charlie Watts — the solid foundation of the Stones — to lose his cool, came when Jagger piggybacked on a potential Stone’s multi-million dollar record deal with CBS to secure his own solo deal. “It became clear how much earlier the plans had been laid. Mick was the big star, and Yetnikoff (President of CBS at the time) and others were fully behind the idea of him taking off on a solo career — all of which flattered Mick and encouraged his takeover plans. So the real purpose of The Rolling Stones deal was for Mick to ride in on top of it.”
Back in 1984, drunk in Amsterdam after a meeting, Jagger and Keith had gotten back to the hotel at five in the morning. Jagger decided to call Charlie Watts’ room, despite Richards’ protestations “Where’s my drummer”, were the indolent words that “Brenda Jagger” (affectionately nicknamed by Richards, after the British novelist) uttered into the phone.
A few moments later, there’s a knock on the door; as Richards describes in his book, “Charlie Watts, Savile Row suit, perfectly dressed, tie, shaved, the whole fucking bit. I could smell the cologne! I opened the door, and he didn’t even look at me, he walked straight past me, got hold of Mick and said, “Never call me your drummer again.” Then he hauled him up by the lapels of my jacket and gave him a right hook. Mick fell back onto a silver platter of smoked salmon on the table and began to slide towards the open window and the canal below it.” Jagger almost fell in, except Richards caught him at just the right time.
Later on, Watts wanted to know why Richards had to stop Jagger from sliding into the canal. Keith replied in his usual sly and slightly sadistic charm, “My Jacket, Charlie, that’s why!”