(First published in the Manawatu Standard and Nelson Mail, July 22.)
Mick Jagger is becoming a father again, and the first question has to be: Why?
He’ll be 73 when the baby is born. By the time the child gets to the age when he or she might appreciate having an active Dad around, Jagger’s likely to be getting pretty decrepit. He almost certainly won’t have the energy that a child demands and deserves.
If it’s a boy, Jagger will be pushing 80 about the time his son will start wanting to kick a football around or go for bike rides. If it’s a girl, Dad may be too old and infirm to take her to her first school disco (assuming, that is, that she would risk the embarrassment of being seen with a geriatric father).
He’s unlikely to be much help when the poor little rich kid enters the turbulent teenage years. And as a British female academic wrote this week about her own experience of having children with a much older man, there are other risks – such as the ageing father having little patience with a demanding, noisy kid, and of tension over generational differences in attitudes toward child-rearing.
So whose purpose is served by this late-life fatherhood? Not the child’s, I fear.
I’ve heard it said that Jagger’s wife, American ballerina Melanie Hamrick, shouldn’t be denied a child just because she happens to be 43 years younger than her husband.
Perhaps that’s a valid argument. Yet I can’t help wondering whether for Jagger, this will be a vanity baby – a child conceived so that he can enhance his reputation for virility and perpetuate his image as a rocker who defies old age.
He may be afflicted with the same peculiar form of male vanity that led Hugh Hefner, at 82, to marry a woman 60 years his junior. According to one report, Hefner is past the point where he can perform sexually, but appearances must be maintained.
Jagger is a complex personality who inspires mixed emotions among those who know him, but one constant seems to be that Mick comes first.
I recently heard Kim Hill interview American journalist Rich Cohen, who has written what sounds like an interesting and insightful book about the Rolling Stones called The Sun and the Moon and the Rolling Stones.
Cohen said he liked and admired Jagger, but his comments reinforced the impression that the pouting rock god is ruthlessly ambitious and single-minded.
Jagger and his bandmate Keith Richards elbowed the original Stone, guitarist Brian Jones, out of the way when he was seen as an impediment to the band’s success – although to be fair, Jones had become increasingly difficult as he lost control of the group.
Jagger didn’t even attend his old friend’s funeral, claiming contractual commitments forced him to fly to Australia to play Ned Kelly in a woefully misconceived film. But his behaviour was consistent with the Mick-first rule.
Cohen noted that Jagger and Richards were equally hard-nosed in the way they treated their loyal keyboard player Ian Stewart, “the forgotten Rolling Stone”.
They allowed him to be sacked because he didn’t fit the band’s image – and although Stewart continued to play on Stones records, including some of their biggest hits, he was never acknowledged as a member.
With Jagger as CEO of the multi-million dollar business that was the Rolling Stones Incorporated, business trumped loyalty.
Then there was his 60s girlfriend Marianne Faithfull. In her autobiography she wrote that Jagger didn’t want her acting career to distract people from him. There it is again: Mick first.
The other interesting thing about Jagger is that his entire public life has been a pose. In fact you could say he’s perpetrated the most audacious fraud in the history of pop music.
A white boy from a comfortable middle-class home in the outer suburbs of London, he’s spent his adult life singing in the accent of a black man from the mean streets of America’s urban ghettos.
He’s Dartford, not Detroit. His music career has been one long act of mimicry. But the fans are happy to go along with the illusion.
And here’s another thing. For more than 50 years, the Stones have successfully passed themselves off as working-class rebels and heroes of the 1960s counter-culture when in fact they’re hard-core capitalists, as committed to making money as any multinational corporation.
The cynic in me says good luck to them. But I can’t help feeling sorry for the baby who will be born to a man old enough to be her great-grandfather. Kids deserve better.