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Sympathy for the devil: 50 years ago today Mick Jagger faced the Establishment on TV (Read 524 times)
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Sympathy for the devil: 50 years ago today Mick Jagger faced the Establishment on TV
Jul 31st, 2017 at 6:40pm
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Sympathy for the devil: 50 years ago today Mick Jagger faced the Establishment on TV

FIFTY years ago today, Mick Jagger faced the Establishment on TV and persuaded them the Stones were really the good guys

PUBLISHED: 07:20, Mon, Jul 31, 2017 | UPDATED: 07:26, Mon, Jul 31, 2017

This very evening half a century ago millions of television viewers were presented with a most bizarre encounter: the 24-year-old Mick Jagger in earnest, lengthy and painfully polite conversation with four members of the English Establishment – two eminent men of religion, a former Home Secretary and the editor of The Times.

Such a meeting would not be so strange today, when everyone is desperate to be down with the kids but then it felt like a scene from Alice In Wonderland.

They were in the beautiful garden of a grand house in Essex. The older men, apart from the bishop in his clerical collar, were, of course, wearing ties.

Their accents were cut-glass.

Jagger had on a collarless tunic top, satin trousers and white shoes.

The Times editor, William ReesMogg began: “Mick, you’ve had a difficult day and a difficult three months to put it mildly… what we’d like to do is discuss with you the things you believe in and think are important and see what we feel about them…”

Curiouser and curiouser, as Alice would have said.

The Rolling Stones – partly by their nature, partly thanks to their flamboyant young manager Andrew Loog Oldham’s brilliant image-making – inspired adoration, hatred and fear in equal measure as the sort of people parents told their children to avoid.

If there was excitement about the explosion of youth culture, music and fashion that made Britain the centre off the world, there was also fear.

“Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command,” Bob Dylan had sung in 1964.

The Rolling Stones certainly were.

Their public image suggested they were beyond anybody’s command. There is nothing the press likes better than outrage and Jagger in particular was a genius at helping them.

In those days it wasn’t difficult. John Birt, a 22-year-old researcher on Granada TV’s World In Action programme – later to become head of the BBC – came up with the brilliant wheeze of helicoptering Jagger to the meeting broadcast that evening.

It was a ludicrous event, one for which the singer was marvellously equipped.

Jagger is a man of many guises.

Using “one” as his preferred pronoun rather than ordinary “I” or “you”, cutting out the Cockney and going for long-winded abstract argument, he at least showed that his year at the London School of Economics had not been wasted.

At the start of 1967 the Stones’ single Let’s Spend The Night Together had been banned from the BBC for “promoting promiscuity”.

Such censorship was nonsense but it touches on what Rees-Mogg called Mick’s “difficult three months”.

Was everything Jagger said, wrote and did an example millions of fans would follow? Should he be punished accordingly.

Were the Stones revolutionaries campaigning to undermine public decency and bring down society, or were they just famous young men with money and freedom who were having too much of a good time?

For people in authority, the press and some sections of the police, both were punishable offences.

The Met turned persecution of Rolling Stone Brian Jones – whose habits were, admittedly, excessive to the point, ultimately, of self-destruction – into a kind of sport.

June was a seminal month in British rock culture. At the start of it The Beatles had released Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

At the end of it Jagger and Keith Richards were in Chichester Crown Court for an appearance as famous as any they’ve made since.

Five months earlier 20 police had burst into Keith’s house in Sussex. The Stones’ friend, the art dealer Robert Fraser, was caught with heroin but all Jagger had were four amphetamine tablets.

He claimed they were prescribed by a doctor. Richards’ sole sin was allowing cannabis to be smoked in his house.

These were piffl ing offences and Richards has said all they expected was a slap on the wrist. It was not to be and thanks to an overexcited judge, this became one of the most famous drug busts in history.

What the papers, the prosecution and probably the judge found most exciting and critical was something that wasn’t criminal at all.

When the police barged in, Jagger’s beautiful girlfriend, singer Marianne Faithfull, was wearing no clothes, though she was covered by a six foot square rug.

Rugs rather than drugs became the issue.

The prosecution barrister asked Richards: “Would you agree, in the ordinary course of events, you would expect a young woman to be embarrassed if she had nothing on but a rug in the presence of eight men, two of whom were hangers-on and the third a Moroccan servant?

Do you regard that as quite normal?”

Keith replied: “We’re not old men. We’re not worried about petty morals.”

It may have been this statement, and Marianne, that truly disturbed the judge and dictated the outcome.

As Richards says in his memoirs: “We won two world wars and these people are shivering in their goddam boots thinking all of our children will be like this if you don’t stop it now.”

Both Stones were found guilty. The sentence could be anything. In Jagger’s case a fine might have been appropriate. But the judge, perhaps feeling he was saving society from catastrophe, sentenced him to three months in jail and Richards to a year.

It was a shocking (or marvellous) miscalculation. As the two men were driven off to prison, the protests began. Fans, fellow musicians and liberal voices made themselves heard.

Richard Hamilton’s picture based on a photo of Jagger and Fraser in handcuffs, punningly titled Swingeing London, has become an enduring icon of Pop Art in Tate Modern.

There was immediately a successful application for an appeal and for bail. Jagger and Richards spent only one night in jail.

The most important support – Jagger says it’s what saved them – came from a most unexpected quarter.

On July 1 there was an editorial in The Times written by Rees-Mogg himself (a man at least as strangely otherworldly as his MP son Jacob).

Headlined “Who Breaks A Butterfly On A Wheel?” – a quotation from the 18th-century poet Alexander Pope – it argued that the judgment was flawed and unjust, Jagger’s offence was nothing more than a technicality and displaying him in handcuffs and sentencing him to jail was punishment not for this misdeed but for being a Rolling Stone.

On July 31 Lord Parker, the Lord Chief Justice no less, quashed the sentences and that was that. As one of the Stones’ most iconic tracks declared the following year, this was Sympathy For The Devil.

If there was a real victim in this case it was Faithfull, whose relationship with Jagger ended a few months later.

For many years she had a difficult life and is probably still most famous for the rug and a story involving a Mars bar – not true but too tasty to die. As she says, for the Stones the bust was a boon. It transformed them from a rock band into cultural heroes.

Link to the story and more photos here :

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Re: Sympathy for the devil: 50 years ago today Mick Jagger faced the Establishment on TV
Reply #1 - Jul 31st, 2017 at 7:36pm
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Thanks for the history lesson Gazza!
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Freya Gin
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Re: Sympathy for the devil: 50 years ago today Mick Jagger faced the Establishment on TV
Reply #2 - Aug 6th, 2017 at 11:40pm
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Tried the Mars bar thing once. Not as much fun as it sounded like it would be and he said it was "fucking awkward too."

Not long ago I commented to a friend that a recent commercial with a stereotypical s-o-c-c-e-r mom rapping about a salad bar showed how utterly pedestrian rap has become. She replied that we rockers are in no position to sneer given that Sympathy for the Devil was used in a PetSmart commercial. I had to concede her point. From being one of the most controversial songs ever to music for pet supplies ads... Talk a long, strange trip* indeed.

*Yes, that's the Grateful Dead, not the Stones. So sue me.
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« Last Edit: Aug 6th, 2017 at 11:41pm by Freya Gin »  

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Re: Sympathy for the devil: 50 years ago today Mick Jagger faced the Establishment on TV
Reply #3 - Aug 7th, 2017 at 5:35am
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Thanks Gazza for the article.
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The Rolling Stones ain't just a group, their a way of life-Andrew Loog Oldham.
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