Hard facts get short shrift in Jagger bio

June 10, 1993|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Pop Music Critic

It used to be that writing an unauthorized biography was fairl easy work, requiring little more than a box of press clippings and access to a few ex-toadies eager to dish the dirt on their former employer. Just add hype and stir: instant bio.

Today's scandal-mongers need something more, though. They need an angle -- something juicy enough to get mentioned by the gossip columnists, and nasty enough to titillate even the most jaded fan.

Finding that angle can be a real challenge when the subject of your sleaze-ography is someone as notorious as Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger. Particularly since a Mick book will be expected to top the shock value of previous Stones tomes -- specifically the had-sex-with-thousands boast of "Stone Alone," the autobiography of bassist Bill "The Tabulator" Wyman, and the did-every-drug-imaginable approach taken by "Keith Richards," Victor Bockris' pharmacological study of the Stones' lead guitarist.

But Christopher Anderson, bless his heart, found one anyway: bisexuality. According to Mr. Anderson, Mr. Jagger wasn't just a lady-killer; the androgynous rocker appealed to guys, too. Sometimes, the singer even took advantage of that homoerotic attraction to (shock! horror!) fool around with fellas!

Just how often Mr. Jagger went that way is hard to say, and Mr. Anderson doesn't. In fact, the closest he gets to hard evidence is the word of an anonymous gay groupie who claims to have spent the night with a coked-up Mick Jagger. Not the most reputable source, admittedly, but as Mr. Anderson well knows, the readers of "Jagger Unauthorized" are far more interested in innuendo than documentation.

This book has innuendo in spades. Among those said to have been bedded by Mick Jagger are Eric Clapton (source: hearsay from John Dunbar, the abandoned husband of Jagger's then-lover, Marianne Faithfull), David Bowie (sources: Mr. Bowie's ex-wife, Angela, and ex-girlfriend, Ava Cherry), Rudolf Nureyev (source: none), Andy Warhol (source: hearsay from former Warhol hanger-on Chuckie Starr) and Allen Ginsberg (source: hearsay from journalist Barry Miles).

But then, that's the way these books go. Cut off from reputable sources by an uncooperative subject, the dedicated muck hunter must head downmarket for the choicest dirt, and Mr. Anderson is no exception. Indeed, the squad of ex-groupies, fired go-fers and retired sycophants he recruits should be familiar to any connoisseur of trashy rock bios: Angela Bowie. Bebe Buell. Liz Derringer. Lance Loud. May Pang. Tony Sanchez.

What leaves a sour taste is the way Mr. Anderson's zeal to document Mr. Jagger's alleged interest in men spills over into pernicious stereotyping. Every time Mr. Jagger comes into contact with a well-known homosexual, Mr. Anderson not only points out that person's predilection, but suggests his interest in Jagger is purely sexual. But then, the author appears to think that having sex with Jagger is all gay men -- even famous ones like Leonard Bernstein or J. Edgar Hoover -- ever think about.

Mr. Anderson also dutifully chronicles Mr. Jagger's heterosexual dalliances, and delights in hinting at trysts with the likes of Linda Ronstadt and Princess Margaret (though,to be honest, he seems to lose interest if a star or socialite isn't involved). There's also a numbing amount of data on the Stones' drug use, with Mick and the boys smoking, snorting and shooting narcotics.

But for all the attention he pays to sex and drugs, Mr. Anderson falls woefully short when it comes to rock and roll. Apart from the odd "went to No. 1" reference, the Stones' musical output is barely mentioned, and descriptions of the band's sound, creative process and stylistic evolution are absent entirely.

Maybe that's just as well, though, because when Mr. Anderson does make a move in that direction, the path is littered with mangled facts and laughable assertions. For instance, at one point he suggests that in 1972, the Stones had to fight for the attention of the teen audience, which was "now flocking to buy the latest offerings of relative newcomers David Cassidy, the Jackson Five, and the Carpenters." Surely, we all remember the number of Stones fans that defected to the Carpenters, don't we?

Even more annoying is the book's apparent lack of proofreading. For instance, in the chapter on Jagger's childhood, the phrase "Michael, as he was called," is followed a paragraph later with, "If Mike, as he was called . . ." Then, in talk of the band's early drug use, Mr. Anderson writes "Wood and Wyman dabbled . . ." Trouble is, Ron Wood wasn't in the band at this point, and wouldn't be for another decade. Could Mr. Anderson have meant "Watts and Wood"?

Badly written, ploddingly paced and shoddily researched, "Jagger Unauthorized" is, at bottom, a bore. Despite its stream of breathlessly hyped revelations, it reveals little about Mr. Jagger beyond the fact that he's had a lot of sex and made a lot of enemies over the years. And anyone who needs a 440-page book to figure that out has led a sheltered life, indeed.

BOOK REVIEW

Title: "Jagger Unauthorized"

Author: Christopher Anderson

Publisher: Delacorte

Length, price: 440 pages, $22.95

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