Mick Jagger and Keith Richards

He reflected further, and added sadly, “€œAn expensive habit.”€

A butler named Luigi provided further refreshments of a kind not widely available, and after that everyone lay around the galleried living room, which was lit primarily by black candles. Heavy Moroccan drapes shut off the outside world from the scene of rock stars sprawled out on the floor with gold-encrusted hookahs, clearly inappropriate here in West Wittering. I think I also remember a mirror ball. Luigi, as if suffering from some painful disease in the lower half of his body, soon shuffled back in with more drinks. Another trip or two to the greenhouse and one to the gents room, and Keith was flying. In time we were joined by a wild Irish Wolfhound named Ratbag with one blue eye and one gold.

Meanwhile, Mick Jagger, immaculately dressed in a velvet jacket, began tinkling a grand piano in the corner. Another large dog, this one nearly albino, lay sprawled at his feet, periodically emitting gastric noises and dubious smells in counterpoint to the music. As far as I could tell, Mick was writing a song about missing his girlfriend. His emotional distress was revealed to moving effect in this tune. As I listened Mick would sing a line about “€œBeen holding out so long,”€ followed by some low-register mumbling, and then he would rasp out another line about “€œsleeping all alone.”€ In due course this work of musical doggerel provided yet another surprise. About a year later I realized I had been sitting in a small room listening to the first draft of the Stones”€™ single “€œMiss You,”€ which they still belt out in the world’s biggest stadiums today. 

During all this, Charlie Watts sat bolt upright in a chair that appeared to be made out of antlers, studiously reading the new contract. He was the only man in the room actually wearing a suit and tie. I”€™m still not quite sure why he seemed so much cooler than everyone else there. Simply watching Charlie interact with his fellow Stones and their entourage was quite funny. For me, the highlight of the evening was when Charlie looked up and, apparently in all sincerity, asked the record label’s chief executive if he wanted the band to sign a morals clause promising that they would behave themselves when out and about in public.

A bit later, one of the label executives cleared his throat and began a short speech apparently concluding the business end of the evening. It was all about “€œbreaking the band to a whole new demographic.”€ After listening to it for a moment, Keith, now prone on the floor, looked over at me, winked, and surreptitiously made a vigorous rubbing gesture in the air just above his groin. It lasted only a second, but it said as much about his essential outlook on life as all the acres of newsprint did.

Five days later, the Rolling Stones flew to Toronto to record some shows for a live album. The Mounties arrested Keith on arrival and took him downtown, where he was booked with possession of heroin for the purpose of trafficking. The charge carried a potential sentence of seven years to life, but in the end he escaped with a fine after promising never to do drugs again.

The Rolling Stones will be back on the road touring the world in 2014.

 

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