"Welcome to the Palm Spring retirement home for genteel musicians," quipped Mick Jagger from the stage during the first of two headlining gigs with the Rolling Stones at the Desert Trip musical festival in Indio, California. This past year was the premier one for Desert Trip, engineered by the organizers of Coachella as a pair of blockbuster boomer-rock weekends in October; the event was immediately rechristened "Oldchella" for a lineup that also featured Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Paul McCartney, the Who, and Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, with nary a performer under the age of 60 (most, in fact, were in their 70s). The crowd, though, was varied—a mix of age-appropriate diehards and younger fans—and the festival, by most accounts, was a success, drawing more than 75,000 people over six evenings and grossing an estimated $160 million (or almost twice as much as Coachella itself in 2015). "I still want a challenge, and doing things like Desert Trip is a challenge," Jagger, 73, tells me on the phone from Los Angeles, where he has retreated between shows. "There are great people on the bill, and it's a special weekend. So that sets up a challenge for you, and you just want to give it your best shot and try to please everybody and make everybody have a great time," he explains. "You know," he adds, "that's really one of my roles in life."
At this point, Jagger and his bandmates Keith Richards and Charlie Watts have spent considerably more time on this earth as Rolling Stones than not. Even Ronnie Wood, who replaced Mick Taylor, who replaced original guitarist Brian Jones, has been a Stone for more than four decades. As a measure of longevity for a rock band, the Stones' ongoing 54-year run is virtually unprecedented—even among Desert Trip performers.
But while the Stones will happily rummage through their back catalogue in concert—four songs into the set at their first Desert Trip show, they unveiled a cover of Eddie Taylor's "Ride 'Em On Down," a song they hadn't played live since 1962—they've never been much for reminiscing. So it's all the more curious that they have decided to dip into the past for a pair of recent projects. In December, they're releasing Blue & Lonesome, an album of vintage blues songs that recalls their nascent period in the early '60s as a cover band. And then there's "Exhibitionism," the expansive multimedia Stones retrospective inaugurated at London's Saatchi Gallery last April; the show landed on November 12 at New York's Industria studios, where it will reside until March, and is set to travel to 10 more cities over the next four years.
Organized across nine different thematically arranged rooms, "Exhibitionism" explores the oeuvre of the Stones from a variety of perspectives, with the music as its locus. "It was really important to cement the Stones in popular culture and capture what a huge impact they've had on music but also fashion, film, and photography," says the show's curator, Ileen Gallagher. "They've really had this kind of broad view of the world, which I think has made their music so much more meaningful."
In many ways, nostalgia is the lifeblood of rock music, but revisiting your own history for a show like "Exhibitionism" is another endeavor. "I've got different feelings about it on different days," Jagger says. "Yes, it's all about the Stones and my life and the band, but it's still a creative piece of work. So you put yourself in the mind of the person who's going to visit this show and you go, 'Well, I think that's good, but this could be better, and let's change this,' so you're not just wallowing in nostalgia. You're being a critic of a creative enterprise."
When Jagger was first presented with the plans for "Exhibitionism," he was concerned that the show might be too slick. "What they put together was great, but a lot of it seemed to me a bit impersonal—there were too many big
That's when the idea emerged to include a full-scale re-creation of a dingy apartment Jagger and Richards shared back in 1962. The production designers couldn't find any pictures of the flat from when the pair lived there, but the apartment itself still exists, so they relied on visits to the space and the recollections of the band members to reconstruct it. "I think it came out pretty much like it was, but when I first saw it, they'd overdone the filth," says Jagger. "I was like, 'Don't have 10 ashtrays filled with cigarette butts. You have 50 beer bottles. Come on, guys. If we take it back a bit, it will still be filthy.'
The Stones have always been a great visual band, and "Exhibitionism" illustrates just how great, showcasing their collaborations with artists and filmmakers such as Robert Frank, Richard Hamilton, Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, Shepard Fairey, Jean-Luc Godard, the Maysles brothers, and Martin Scorsese. The Stones' connection to the fashion world in 1960s London also helped drive their ascent. Since then the band has worked with an impressive range of designers, from Ossie Clark, who made Jagger's sequined white jumpsuit for the 1972 Exile on Main St. tour, to Stephen Sprouse, Alexander McQueen, Hedi Slimane, and Jagger's late partner L'Wren Scott.
"I thought we'd made it when we put our first record out. Just to put a record out was 'making it' for me." —Mick Jagger
Jagger says that the Stones' association with David Bailey, the presiding image-maker of the swinging era, lent them early credibility. "When you got David Bailey to shoot you, that immediately meant something," he says. "It meant that you were fashionable." Jagger and Bailey were first introduced by Jagger's then girlfriend, Chrissie Shrimpton (sister of Jean). "Chrissie brought Mick round to my house in Primrose Hill," Bailey recalls. "We hit it off straightaway, as we liked the same music." Not long after, Bailey took a portrait of Jagger. "I took the photo to British Vogue, but they were not interested," Bailey remembers. "So I showed it to Diana Vreeland of American Vogue and she said, 'I don't care who it is, I want to publish it.' I think it was the first serious picture of Mick in America."
The grand irony of "Exhibitionism" is that the more than 550 artifacts in the show only serve to describe the great unknown at the center of it all: how the Stones have managed to do what they do for more than half a century. "It's hard to keep it alive," Jagger admits. "In one way, you kind of have to bury some of your ego and your controlling instincts. But the benefit you get from that is support," he explains. "You know, I thought we'd made it when we put our first record out. Just to put a record out was 'making it' in some ways for me. But we were always very cocky and self-assured. I remember walking up the King's Road and thinking, 'Yeah, this is it. I've definitely arrived now—a proper record out on a proper record label.' That was the achievement of an ambition that you never thought you'd ever see."
Jagger himself is not a collector—"I'm a throwing-out person," he tells me—but he did hang on to a lot of his clothes. "Years ago I put them all in a warehouse, so a lot of the clothes in the exhibition are ones I actually kept," he says.
Nevertheless, when Gallagher and her team went searching through Jagger's cache, they discovered that some key pieces were missing. An investigation revealed that his daughters had done their own comb of his closet. "There were certain outfits we were looking for, and they just weren't in the archive, and in various conversations with people, we thought that maybe his daughters had taken some things," recalls Gallagher. "And in point of fact, they did have one of the jumpsuits."
"My daughters had 'borrowed' them," Jagger says. "They thought it was funny to wear my '70s clothes. I got a couple of things back from them. I used it as a good excuse to say, 'Okay, time for you to give them back now. It has to be hung up in an exhibition.' " The biggest offenders? "Elizabeth and Georgia," he says. "They can get on those rail-thin trousers."
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