In his memoirs Life, Keith Richards describes his worst conflict with fellow Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger as “World War III”. It was 1986, and the band had just finished the album Dirty work. Richards wanted to take the album on tour. It would be their first time on the road in four years. The guitarist was breaking out in rashes that only faded when he picked up his instrument to play with the band. But then a letter – a letter! – arrived from Mick Jagger. In the missive, he said he preferred to continue his solo career, which he started with the 1985 album She is the boss. He was preparing for a second, primitive cold, for its release in 1987. It was then that the Third World War broke out. But that wasn’t the end. No band in rock history has lasted as long as the Rolling Stones: this year marks the 60th anniversary of their formation in 1962. The band has broken up a few times, but they’ve grown resilient. And now they even started a European tour
Although the money is a good incentive to keep the group alive, the group’s fans love to appeal to romance as the main reason for the duo’s long-standing relationship. There’s no better story of the couple’s bond than the one Richards himself uncovered in 2010 in a letter he found among his Aunt Patt’s papers. Eighteen-year-old Keith had told his mother’s sister the exact moment the Rolling Stones flame was lit. The encounter with Mick Jagger at a train station is well known, but the passion that drives the story is revealing. “You know I loved Chuck Berry and I thought I was the only fan for miles, but one morning at Dartford Station I held one of Chuck’s records when a guy I knew in elementary school from 7 to 11, you know, came tome He’s got all the records that Chuck Berry ever made and all his homies too, they’re all fans of rhythm and blues, real R&B I mean (not that shit from Dinah Shore, Brook Benton) Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters, Chuck, Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker, all Chicago bluesmen, real stuff, wonderful. Anyway, the station guy, he is called Mick Jagger.
This is the strength that unites the duo: their love of the blues, of music. But even Muddy Waters couldn’t stop the two from bumping heads every once in a while. Richards’ most dangerous moment came in 1977, when he was arrested by Canadian police in Toronto with a large amount of heroin. Richards had been using it for almost 10 years. In the mid-70s, it was hard to be around him. During some recording sessions, he excused himself to go to the bathroom and stayed there until 6 p.m. “I must say that during the bust in Toronto, in fact during all the busts, Mick took care of me with great gentleness, never complaining. He was directing things; he did the work and gathered the forces that saved me. Mick took care of me like a brother,” he notes in his memoir.
Richards was tried for drug possession in 1978. He faced seven years in prison, but was ordered to pay a $25,000 fine, attend a rehabilitation program, and perform two benefit concerts for the blind. (Jagger surely never forgave Richards for having to play for free.) When the guitarist began to emerge from the narcotic fog into sobriety, he realized he had lost his influence on the band. All control now rested with Jagger. And it made sense: If he hadn’t taken the wheel back, Richards’ opiate drift would have sunk the Stones. The problems started once the guitarist regained his clarity of mind. The singer was in charge and he was no longer willing to give Richards 50%.
The 1980 album emotional rescue ends with a beautiful ballad titled all about you, a song that Richards sang from the heart. Dedicated to his friend in these moments of conflict, he sang, “Why do I have to spend it with you?/If the show must go on/Let it go on without you/So sick and tired of hanging out with jerks like you.” It ends with the most heartfelt line Richards has ever publicly dedicated to Jagger: “So how come I’m still in love with you?”
In 1981, the two musicians hardly communicate. They came out tattoo yourself, a good album, thanks to their sound engineer, Chris Kimsey, who found nuggets among the recording sessions of their previous work. Jagger recorded in the morning and Richards in the evening. They never met. The album tour was a great success, but the guitarist most remembers Jagger telling him to “shut the fuck up”. But the relationship between the two musicians continued: in 1983, even when the chemistry had faded, Richards married Patti Hansen, his current wife, and Mick was his best man.
Around this time, Keith’s followers began calling Jagger “Her Majesty”, among other things. Richards had an ingenious idea. He discovered an English romance writer, Brenda Jagger, in a library. From then on, Brenda became a stand-in for Mick, so they could insult the singer to his face without him realizing it: “that bitch Brenda”. Jagger assumed they were talking about someone else. By then, the Stones had a 20-year career behind them. They had started covering Chuck Berry for an audience of 100 people. Over the years they had become rock and roll’s biggest band, with stratospheric revenues, high pressure, conflicting interests, inflated egos and the wear and tear of being together all the time. Their generational peers, the Beatles, only lasted 10 years and also ended on nasty terms. Naturally, after two decades, the Stones were finally facing their greatest crisis.
With the outbreak of World War III, Jagger offered an interview to rolling stone magazine to promote his second solo album, Primitive Cold. “We’ve had a lot of ups and downs, and this is one of the lowest moments. I love the Stones, I think what we’ve done is wonderful, but I also think it’s done . At my age [he was 46 years old at the time of the interview] and after all these years I have to do something else in my life. I feel I have the right to do this.” This statement is the closest the band has come to breaking up. Jagger’s solo albums include rock, but also some somewhat contrived songs that attempted to tap into dance music 1980s. Fed up with Jagger’s disinterest in the band, Richards released his first solo album, talking is cheapin 1988, which was more popular with Stones fans than Jagger’s album.
The duo’s solo careers never took off. Richards performed in Spain in 1992 to venues with just over 1,000 people. It had nothing to do with the Stones’ audience, although on the other hand it was a pleasure to enjoy the musician in a more intimate setting, without giant videos or a stadium circus. But it was time for the duo to get back together, repair the damage and get back to selling stadiums. Both swallowed their pride. In 1989, they reunited for the recording of a new album, Steel wheels. That same year, they went on tour, the first in seven years.
Keith describes their current relationship in Life“Mick and I may not be friends – too much wear and tear for that – but we’re the closest brothers, and that can’t be separated. How to describe a relationship that goes back so far? Best friends are best friends. But the brothers are fighting.
The Stones of the 60s and 70s will never come back. But the 78-year-old realized they were too old for narcissistic fights. And during their European tour, they can even exchange a sincere smile.