SEX AND THEROLLING STONES’ PERSONAS, PERFORMANCES, AND FAN REACTIONS
IN THE ROLLING STONES: SOCIOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES, LEXINGTON BOOKS, 2013, EDITED BY HELMUT STAUBMANN, PP. 151-174
Andrea J. Baker
The term “rock and roll” originally meant “sex” (see, e.g., Tosches 1985), used as a slang term for the motion of sexual intercourse. The life styles of the Stones encompassed all three nouns in the slogan “sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll” to a high degree, and before the many bands that came afterwards imitated that. Commentators and fans have noted that the Stones' songs are about sexual interactions and that their performances continue the theme of sexuality.
From their early self-presentations as the anti-Beatles(see Millard, this volume), the Rolling Stones (the Stones), and especially their front man, Mick Jagger, have embodied the essence of sexuality, in their sound, and their performances. While not an exhaustive treatment, this chapter will discuss a few strands within the theme of sexuality, beginning with the importance of the band to the developing counterculture with its changing norms, to the present day responses of aficionados of the band. Data on fan response to the music and the band will supplement journalistic accounts and in-person observations. This chapter's title comes from name of the first mega-hit of the band, "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction", which prompted a reporter to ask Mick if he was "more satisfied now?" Mick responded, "Financially dissatisfied, sexually satisfied, philosophically trying" (Maysles et al. 1969).
First giving an historical background on the era of the band's emergence, I will then introduce ideas related to sexuality from works of symbolic interactionists within sociology. These are applied to the information to illuminate what it is that has fascinated audiences and still attracts them to the sexual elements of The Stones. After a summary of the methodology used here and in a larger fan project, this chapter will present information on the personas or personal lives of the band members and their performances or self-presentations onstage, in particular those of Mick Jagger, followed by primary data on fan reactions, further discussion of themes, and a few suggestions for future research.
Sexuality and the Stones: Cultural Context
Values of the emerging counterculture of the U. S. and Europe in the 1960s and 1970s included the changing norms and sexual behaviors of young, unmarried men and women. Not incidentally, the first oral, hormonal contraceptive method of birth control, "the pill" became widely available after its original approval by the FDA in 1960, virtually eliminating the need for men to obtain and wear condoms to prevent pregnancy. By 1965, the pill became the most popular method of birth control in the U. S. (see pbs.orgn.d.). The work of Masters and Johnson (1966) demonstrated through laboratory studies that the physical sexual response of females could equal or exceed that of males in frequency of orgasm, although women followed a different timing of the four phases of activity from arousal to climax. Ten years after their book Human Sexual Response, Sheree Hite published the results of her survey of American women, (1976), pointing out the most effective techniques for attaining female orgasm according to self-reports.
Female desire in itself became more accepted, rather than taking for granted that women would simply go along with the assumed strong urges of men. While the feminist movement contained both advocates of freer female sexuality and those who aimed for the decline of perceiving women as sexual objects, the general drift was toward more open tolerance of sexual activities for women than ever before. However, casual sex for women still carried a stigma, while sex with strong affection emerged as the ideal for both men and women (see Reiss 1964). In the minds of some white middle-class Americans, rock and roll, with its insistent beat and amplified sound, and the rhythm and blues filtering in from the black community were considered dangerous to the youth, because listening to such music could lead to wanton sex, anywhere, with anyone, at anytime (Leonie and Martinez 1996).
The Stones originally covered blues or rhythm and blues songs, then mixing blues with rock and roll in the music they wrote themselves to become a blues-based rock band. The Stones came shortly after the Beatles, and while they were posed as competitors, the two bands became friendly. In fact, it was John and Paul who wrote the song “I Wanna Be Your Man” for the Stones, an act that combined with pressure from manager Andrew Loog Oldham to inspire them to start composing their own tunes. The Stones became the bad boys to the Beatles more clean-cut good lads, partly a management ploy to create more interest in the scruffier, harder rocking Stones. An Oldham interview led to the provocative question “Would you let your daughter marry a Rolling Stone?” that made news headlines in the UK and the U. S. People often found themselves labeled in one of two camps, even though, in reality, many liked both groups. Even recently, the topic of fan loyalty to the two bands caused enough interest for two deejays to write a book called The Beatles vs. the Rolling Stones (DeRogatis and Kot 2010). Former Beatle Paul McCartney and Terry Gross of National Public Radio (Fresh Air, 2012) discussed how the parental generation of the times widely considered the Stones much more unkempt than the Beatles, though some perceived the Fab Four as dirty too. While Paul said both bands were in actuality “well-groomed”, he talked about the time an amazed police officer told him that Mick Jagger actually “wore the same shirt onstage that he'd worn in the afternoon.”
Methodology and Sensitizing Concepts
Journalistic accounts form the basis of discussion about the band's individual personalities and life styles, or personas, as I call them, and for part of the writing on the topic of androgyny. Primary data gathered from Rolling Stones fans for a larger project on identities and communities provides evidence on fan reactions to androgyny and sexuality during performances.
In an ongoing study, I conducted in-depth, “semi-structured” interviews (see Lindlof and Taylor 2002) with 104 fans for the larger project on Rolling Stones fans online, and posted an exploratory questionnaire at one of the online fan groups. Fans interviewed came from a variety of countries with nearly a quarter of them from outside of the U.S., and spanned a large range of ages, from 21 to 64 when interviewed, with four-fifths in their 40s and 50s. Most were male fans, a little more than two-thirds. Fans came from several online groups, with two major fan groups of focus, one with a leader from the Northeast U.S. and one run by a fan from Scandinavia. While the American group has a small percent of fans posting from outside the U. S., the other group has a much more international membership, especially from Europe, along with many Americans. Some fans belong to both groups, usually with greater participation at one over the other. About two-thirds of the interviewees can from the largely American fan group, with the rest from other online fan groups. My own membership in a few online fan communities since 2005 and appreciation of the band from around the time of their early recordings onward also informs the research and this chapter.
In the interviews these hard-core fans gave answers to questions on what “grabbed” them about the Stones, which Rolling Stone they liked the best, and whether or not they noticed gender differences in reactions of fans and if so, what were they? For this chapter, the interviews were also coded for mentions of “sex” or “sexuality”, even though questions in the interview guide did not refer to those terms in particular, and a few informants contributed to the topic of this chapter at my emailed request.
Three sets of ideas are used to frame the data. The first comes from John Gagnon and William Simon's seminal tome on sexual relationships (1975) published in the middle of the widespread cultural break with the notion of premarital chastity. The two interactionist sociologists show how much of our sexual behavior follows a set of norms derived from both our socialization and contemporary mores, countering the previous paradigm of sex determined by biological urges. The original work showed how limiting sex to the sphere of biology misses the reasons for variations in sexual behaviors, including those dependent upon individual preferences, sexual orientations, available partners and subcultures, to name a few factors. Here and in an updated version of the book (2005) they sensitize us to the effects of social change and social movements upon sexual behavior. Our “scripts” guiding appropriate behavior and attitudes shift and expand to encompass new modes. This idea of sexual scripts can shed light on reactions of fans, male and female, to the music and performances of the Rolling Stones.
Along with Simon and Gagnon’s writings, Ira Reiss’ typology of sexual permissiveness (1964) illustrates the modernization of premarital sexual scripts. Initially conceived in the first half of the 1960s, Reiss’ second most permissive category combining sexual intimacy with fond feelings for the partner prefigures the most common mode of interaction and acceptance well into the 21st century. His formulation of four levels of accepted premarital activity from least to most permissive includes (a) abstinence for both sexes, (b) the double standard, sex for men but not for women, (c) sex with affection, and (d) sex without affection. The last standard is sometimes called casual sex, as it does not preclude affection, love or commitment but it does not require any of those. The Rolling Stones reflected and encouraged freer sexual expression toward levels (c) and (d), especially for many women, who had at least publically adhered to the first two in the past. This cultural change in sexual behavior overlays both the positive and negative societal reactions to The Rolling Stones, perhaps stronger than for any other band of its era.
The last framework or set of concepts used here is applied to the performance aspect of the band and to fan reaction is from Randall Collins in his book Interaction Ritual Chains (2004). Collins stipulates that the concert experience is sought out because it goes beyond hearing the music to the interaction between the performers and the audience, and the interaction of the fans together in each other's presence in the “focused crowd” (59). He discusses the build-up of emotion, especially when the entertainers are already “sacred objects” for the audience, a case true for many fans in the fifty-year history of the Stones. When analyzing the activity in a dyadic sexual encounter, Collins writes of the coordination of breathing and mutual rhythmic motions growing in speed and degree of intensity in both parties.
The performances of Mick Jagger and the Stones contribute to this increase of tension and the release of it through the exchange of energy between the artist and the fans. These sociological frameworks will come up again later in the chapter.
Personas and Performances
To approach an understanding of the Stones’ effects on their fans, I provide a brief description of their personal/sexual lives, with the caveat that much of what is often given as fact, outside of the basics of numbers of marriages and children, is based upon hearsay or second and third hand testimony or rumor. An analysis of Mick’s appearance and demeanor onstage follow the personas section, with an emphasis on facets of his androgyny.
Personal Lives: Sexual Personas of the Rolling Stones
In the current line-up, we can look at Charlie Watts on one end of the sexual freedom vs. promiscuity continuum as the practicing monogamist in the strictest sense, and at Mick Jagger on the other extreme, known for sexual dalliances simultaneously occurring with live-in situations and marriages. Former Stones including Brian Jones practiced philandering with multiple partners, and in Bill Wyman’s case, with under-age consorts, acts considered outside the norms, even within the rise of behaviors condoning variant sexuality within the growing counterculture. Supplemented by journalistic references, this section is based upon informal speculation and reading of interviews and articles over the years, as, unfortunately, I do not know any of the principals personally nor am I closely connected with anyone who does.
The focus here is on Mick and Keith, otherwise known as “The Glimmer Twins”, the songwriters of the band. After experiencing an onslaught of groupies when becoming famous, Keith decided that he wanted to become involved with Brian's girlfriend at the time Anita Pallenberg. He stayed with her until he met and courted the model Patti Hansen. Patti and Keith married in 1983 on Keith's fortieth birthday and are still married now. Mick has married and divorced two women, and has appeared faithful, from the outside, to designer L’Wren Scott since they met in 2001. L’Wren did say early in their relationship that he was free to do what he wanted, though she may not feel the same today, co-habiting with Mick at residences throughout the world. If casual dalliances exist, they have not come to public attention as some had in the past and are only matters of speculation by the press and the fans.
In contrast to Mick, historically notorious for multiple sexual partners, Keith has preferred the company of one woman at a time, as he stated in his autobiography Life (2010). He said there that he was really in love with Anita Pallenberg, perhaps most of anyone. Anita left Brian Jones for Richards in 1967 to stay with him until 1980. While the two never married, they had two children together. Along with Keith's children with Anita, one of whom died, Keith had two daughters, Theodora and Alexandra, after he married Patti, his only wife. Mick has seven children by four women, marrying two of them, Bianca Jagger and Jerry Hall, although he later contested the legality of his second marriage. Keith has four children with two different women, one his long-term live-in partner, and one his wife.
Whether Anita cheated on Keith with Mick during their filming of Performance in the late 1960s is unclear, unconfirmed by either party. Keith thinks it happened. Keith also says in his autobiography that he took revenge, in anger, by having sex with Marianne Faithful, Mick's girlfriend at the time (2010). Christopher Andersen in his “unauthorized” biography of Mick believes both incidents are true, and also writes about Mick’s supposed sexual liaisons and flirtations with men (1993), including the controversial accusations of Angie Bowie who supposedly caught Mick and her husband David naked in bed together. The view here is that whether or not the speculations about Mick's bisexuality are true, even as he proclaimed them himself in at least one interview, they have to be set within the context of the era. In the 1960's and 1970s with the opening attitudes toward forms of sexual expression, youth were beginning to discuss the idea of how all people might, at least theoretically, have bisexual orientations, varying along Alfred Kinsey’s six-part continuum from completely homosexual to completely heterosexual (1948). Experimentation in heretofore forbidden or deviant sexual behaviors to accompany more tolerant attitudes was not unusual. Sexual identities were readily modified, if only temporarily, to reflect new behaviors. The number of women to whom Mick seems to have been emotionally and/or sexually attached apparently far out-numbers the men. Ultimately, according to any available evidence, Mick has never had any long-term, committed, sexually intimate relationship with anyone other than a female.
Mick often overlapped his serious involvements, (Anderson 1993; Sandford1993) starting with Chrissie Shrimpton, Marsha Hunt, the mother of his oldest child, and Marianne Faithful, and more recently with Bianca de Macias Jagger and Jerry Hall. Bianca became his wife for seven years, from 1971 to 1978, and he married Jerry in 1990, nineteen years after they met in 1977 while she was in a relationship with singer Bryan Ferry. They stayed together for over twenty years, until he had the marriage annulled in 1999 in the midst of the skirmish over the monetary settlement to Jerry finalized in the eventual divorce. While his spouses more or less tolerated his numerous affairs, some of them with other celebrities, Jerry could not bear to stay with Mick after he fathered Brazilian TV show hostess Luciana Morad’s child. The writer and publisher of the Stones’ newsletter during the 1980’s into the mid 1990s, Bill German (2009) talks about how he learned, after a staff member complained, not to print Mick's whereabouts if he was meeting another woman away from home. Mick first encountered designer L’Wren Scott when she was a stylist at a photo shoot in 2001, and has been with her ever since. No one except the two of them knows if he plans to marry again. Mick is now a grandfather to four children, and is regularly critiqued by some for not acting his age onstage and for writing and singing lyrics considered inappropriate for his years.
Performance: Mick’s Androgyny and Seduction
The British have historically dabbled in “drag” or cross-dressing by both sexes with their music hall tradition. These popular acts occurred in England starting in the late 19th century, (Ambisextrous, n.d.) well before such cross-dressing became more acceptable in the U.S. migrating from vaudeville to mainstream television, performed by “Uncle Miltie”, on Milton Berle's variety show in the 1950s. While, glam rock or glitter rock fashion for musicians didn’t arise until 1972, the five Stones in the then-band already had posed for the single cover art of “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby?” in 1966. In performance, at first Mick’s long hair combined with masculine Shetland sweaters and plain dark pants. Drawing from the heterogeneous assortment of the many stage costumes worn by Mick across time, photos from different years show a variety of gender-related looks. For example, he wore a more or less masculine and feminine mix in the late 1960s, switched to femme poses and outfits in the late 1970s, and finally returned to a more basic masculinity in his latest stage clothes.
Mick's Androgynous Costuming
Mick’s androgynous appearance, with the longer hair, the big lips and the sensuous facial expressions, sinuous movements, and seductive voice were perceived variously as tremendously appealing to men and women alike, or as threatening, a challenge to traditional roles. The long-haired hippies wearing love beads and colorful clothing valued peace and cooperation for both men and women. They were beginning to tear down the barriers between the sexes as far as appearance and demeanor, and would continue to do so throughout the sixties and seventies, joined by others in more political movements such as feminism and gay liberation.
Mick’s dress fell into a few stages, briefly mirroring the Beatles as enforced by Andrew Oldham's insistence on identical jackets, then very quickly moving into the anti-Beatles stance with their nonmatching though conventional clothing of neutral-colored sweaters, shirts, and pants. His iconic Uncle Sam apparel of 1969 represented a transition from traditional to more androgynous, combining hair worn fairly long, with two-tone pants studded up the sides, a wide belt embellished with jewels, a scoop-neck top and a long red scarf (see Figure 1.) A few years later in the early 70s, his appearance prefigured the glam rockers in the use of heavy eyeliner, lipstick (see Figure 2), and sometimes face make-up and more feminine dress with gauzier materials in lighter shades, more delicate footwear, and multiple bracelets and neckwear (see Figure 3, from 1978). Finally, since the 90s, he has returned back to his younger self in relatively mainstream clothing, if in brighter colors and skintight tailoring: jackets over long sleeved shirts or t-shirts, and slim pants, with his ubiquitous black Nikes (see Figure 4).
[Note: Insert Figure 1, Figure 2, Figure 3, Figure 4 and Figure 5 here, from below]
Mick has embodied both the masculine and feminine in his appearance and demeanor. His appeal is literally universal, to many men and women and his name appears in just about every discussion of androgyny. There is a often a masculine toughness of expression combined with the sometimes more feminine styling, illustrated in this photo from 1969 (Figure 5).
On the other hand, according to Naomi, a hardcore fan writing on the topic, Mick at one point in the 1970s became:
flamboyantly and over-the-toppedly foppishly effeminate. Not all the time, but some of the time, and I have never quite understood (no negative judgment – just curious) what that was about. Hanging with Warhol? Hanging with Robert Fraser andthat crowd? Kenneth Anger and pals? simply a vibe in the zeitgeist? feeling his oats and sensing that the world was becoming liberated enough to explore semi-publicly whatever he wanted to explore? fashion statement? cultural subversion/irreverence? I have no theory.
Her references to leading figures of the times evoke the countercultural changes in sexuality, and the greater freedom in style of dress once called “unisex” in the hippie community. Experimentation and the newly typical role of the youth culture in shocking the larger society dominated the worlds of entertainment, fashion, and art.
Looking at his androgynous self-presentation, Mick has incorporated various levels of the striptease into his act. When younger he would take off the upper layers of his apparel, ending up bare-chested, in an apparently conscious imitation of a female stripper. In his own words from 1978 (Simpson 2008): “It’s very nice to be just a body... I feel like a stripper when I go on stage. I have a great sympathy for girls that are sex objects. There’s nothing more sleazy than an old stripper!”
In fact, he does do a modified striptease, less as the years go by, not taking off his shirt from the 1990s forward. He usually wears a jacket onstage and then takes it off during the course of the show, following his pattern from the 1970s. For examples, we can compare his before and after dress (see Figure 6 and Figure 2) and the same sequence in another concert(see Figure 7 and Figure 3), each pair from within the same show. Sometimes Mick will take off part of the jacket, from the shoulders, hanging it on his upper arms before discarding it completely. Even during his musical guest stint on Saturday Night Live in 2012, he pulled the jacket off one shoulder, in the heat of “It's Only Rock and Roll”, and took it off completely at the private after-party show outside Rockefeller Center. At the 50th anniversary shows in Newark, New Jersey in 2012, he held a jacket in the air, twirling it around and around before tossing it onto the stage behind him. Often he pulls his shirt up to flash his nipples, as if inviting females in the audience to do the same. An early studded, form-fitting, stretch jumpsuit from the 1972 tour was cut down to below his waist, showing most of his chest including his nipples while retaining the shoulder straps. This outfit was one of many jumpsuits designed by Ossie Clark especially for Mick, often enhanced with wide sashes tied at the hip, and assorted zippers, lacings, and sequins.
[Note: Insert Figure 6 and Figure 7 here]
Mick exploited the combination of“the macho and the effete” (Simels 1987: 35) perhaps most dramatically in his role as the reclusive rock star Turner in the film on identity crisis, Performance, with James Fox as the gangster Chas (see Centawer, this volume). From 1969 through 1972, the Stones were virtually alone in their androgyny as a band, with many other bands picking it up and amplifying it in later years.
Seduction by Mick and Other Male Entertainers
One writer pointed out that young Frank Sinatra’s slight stature and his vulnerable demeanor, possible dimensions of androgyny in men, contributed to hysterical female audience reaction in the U. S. (Senelick 2000). Women swooned over this thin, unthreatening male singing romantic lyrics in a smooth, yet knowing conversational style. More overtly sexual in their music and lyrics from rhythm and blues, and rock and roll, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and James Brown performed for largely black audiences before their acceptance by mainstream culture. Later such rock gods as Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison exhibited overtly sexual gestures onstage, contributing to, by then, an almost expected seductiveness of male lead singers and solo artists in the rock world who came onto the scene after The Stones.
Mick studied the dance moves of James Brown when the Stones joined him and others for T.A.M.I. show in 1964. Before then, while “cribbing his pelvic action from various black performers”, Elvis Presley was “the first white male performer to flaunt himself unmistakably as a sex object” (Simels 1985: 15). Elvis self-consciously exhibited the seductive role for white men in rock and roll that we see so featured in Jagger's stage performances. Though dressing “butch” in a masculine jacket and a partially unbuttoned shirt, in performance Presley shook his famous “swivel hips”. He sported the pompadour hairstyle of Little Richard, wearing his half smile, gazing through the heavy-lidded “bedroom eyes” of the vamp. Mick himself took notice of how the older generation at the time perceived a threat in Elvis' androgyny, the “effeminacy” of his appearance (Wenner 1995).
An overtly sexual comment he made very early on was at the well-known live recording, Get Yer Ya Yas Out, taken from the Madison Square Garden concert in 1969. After a rousing “Jumping Jack Flash” and before starting “Carol”, Mick told the crowd “I think I busted a button on me trousers, I hope they don’t fall down …you don’t want me trousers to fall down, now, do ya!?” The female fans screamed their implied yesses, in answer. The 1971 album graphically titled Sticky Fingers echoed this theme in its famous cover designed by Andy Warhol, with the real zipper that opened to show a man’s underwear under his tight jeans.
Mick has also suggestively employed various sexual props, most notably climbing atop a giant inflatable phallus during the 1975 Tour of the Americas. He traded dance moves and lascivious expressions with Tina Turner, one of his performance role models, and has regularly entwined himself with his back-up singer Lisa Fischer. In a 2007 show in New York City’s Beacon Theater filmed by Martin Scorsese, he pulled guest artist Christina Aguilera backward into a close embrace while singing with her, both swaying together in sync with the music. During the five 50th anniversary shows of 2012, sparks flew between Mick and each female guest singing “Gimme Shelter”, most notably while trading riffs and dance moves in London with the red-haired, 26 year-old Florence Welsh of Florence and the machine.
With height and weight listed at 5’10” and 140 pounds, Mick’s very thinness even to this day enhances his ability to move freely and employ whatever gestures he wants. I saw him at the Radio City Music Hall benefit concert in 2006 where he joked on the narrow runway set out from center stage that this was the most affluent crowd he had ever seen, buyers paying into the thousands for seats toward the front. Quickly turning his back to the audience and taking a few steps upstage he jutted out his posterior at an angle, and with one hand on his hip, looked over his right shoulder flirtatiously as he said, “You could have seen us for free in Rio.” Sitting in the less expensive but still pricey seats above the floor, those who knew about the Argentina beachfront concert laughed.
Helping the overt sensual or sexual appeal is a feedback loop between the performer and the audience described in detail by a fan, Tod Page, a musician himself. He says that Mick
learned quickly and certainly being an object of desire was what he wanted. He milked it each and every night. It probably almost became somewhat of a competition between the guitars and the dancing as to who could entice the most reaction from the crowd. Later it became a staple of the show and necessary to meet the expectations of the paying audience.
It was probably by surprise somewhat later that Mick found out he could capture this feedback of his sexual energy on stage and use it to further enrich his energy levels and thus dance moves and thus more enticement. It’s like an undampened feedback loop that keeps pouring energy back and forth between the audience and the stage. Eventually getting so powerful that it becomes addictive and he can’t “get it on” onstage without it.
Making Sense of Fan Reactions to the Stones
Along with the rise in the popularity of The Rolling Stones were the newly changing mores of sexuality in the U.S. and the UK. Audience thoughts and feelings from listening to the recordings and shows are examined after a presentation of theories of sociologists Reiss, Simon and Gagnon, and Collins that help explain the behaviors of fans in their everyday lives and at concerts.
Sociological Context of Fan Sexuality
In the 1960’s, coinciding with the onset of the counterculture, the family sociologist Ira Reiss presented a new typology for premarital sexuality, ranging from least permissive to most permissive type of behaviors. The two at the most lenient or inclusive end of his categories were the ones most relevant to youth in the counterculture: sex with affection and then sex without affection. Impressionistic observational accounts and surveys with harder data indicated the popularity of sex with affection over without affection, with most young people preferring a degree of close emotional bonding ranging from liking to loving. They leaned toward this orientation alongside their experiments with casual sex, more sexual partners in succession, and for a limited number of young people, multiple partners at once. Portraits of the 60’s and 70’s often exaggerated the number of partners of each person through notions of communal living that in reality, rarely involved sexual exchange of partners in residence, but rather were mainly formed for economic cooperation and relatively equalitarian decision-making. However, the norms evolved so that sex without love and marriage was increasingly viewed more as freedom than licentiousness or perversion for both sexes. The Rolling Stones personas and lyrics encouraged both types of permissiveness noted by Reiss, assuming that sex was a crucial part of any relationship and also that sex could occur outside of committed partnerships.
Through the lens of symbolic interactionism, William Simon and John Gagnon produced their manuscript Sexual Conduct (1973) in the middle of the counterculture period in the U.S. They popularized the notion of “sexual script”, the set of guidelines used by each person setting out to have a sexual encounter. An aspect of the learned but changing sexual script is the gender of the individual. Complementing and expanding Reiss, the two sociologists postulated that scripts determine meanings attached to actions as well as behaviors. Sexual scripts had undergone a major recent change, in their depiction, with women now able to separate sex from love in a way previously only acceptable or common for men. While gendered scripts existed, women moved closer to men in their desire for some degree of personal sexual experience, implying not all sexual liaisons would start or end with committed unions.
Collins’ foray into sexuality within his conceptualization of interaction ritual chains (2004) may help understand the identification of audience with performer, as well as dyadic sexual relations. The concept of rhythmic excitement and progress from individually experienced patterns of rhythm to increasing synchronization may apply to individual audience members and band members. Mick Jagger is primarily responsible for rousing the audience as the front man. He is known to encourage clapping at intervals throughout the show, judicially saving his own hand clapping with arms held high for crucial moments. One song in particular has intentionally speeded up and slowed down sections, highlighted even more in performance than in the recordings of it: “Midnight Rambler”. The whole show is paced to vary the tempos of songs to keep audience interest in the whole from flagging, to build tension, to peak at the right time, and to sustain the excited feelings. This process of timing is elaborated in more detail below.
Sexual Aspects of Performance from the Fan Viewpoint
This section on sexuality draws primarily on interviews with fans in the online boards and from emailed conversations with informants. They name Keith as well as Mick as the objects of their interests. Pseudonyms or generalized references to fans are used unless fans prefer their own names or usernames. These opinions are supplemented by journalistic accounts and reports of interviews with Mick Jagger.
Introduction to the Excitement
From his earliest shows, Mick clearly appealed to both males and females with his blatant sexuality according to one biographer (Andersen 1993: 68). He drew young men to the front of the stage from their usual place hanging out in the back of the bar at the new London club Crawdaddy’s. Though not traditionally handsome, even called downright ugly by the non-fans, he had the large sensual lips that became the model for the iconic logo of the band, the red lips and tongue (see banner in Figure 3). He possessed a freeform style of movement and singing that seduced the audience. One informant, JP, told me that when he first saw “Micky” Jagger on the Ed Sullivan show, he had just recently turned eight years old, and yet:
I remember Micky leering into the camera and I thought he was so sexual at that point, even though I did not even know the word or the meaning of sex appeal and sexuality. It was certainly reinforced later that year when they came back and did “Under My Thumb”, when Micky enunciated certain words that made him the most sexually charged man on the planet, albeit at 21 years old.
Naomi expresses in writing that she never considered Mick “all that sexually attractive” as such. Nonetheless especially in the past, Mick’s sexual power came across for her
when he would make eye contact with a woman (or man, for that matter) and just hold it, not blinking. Not looking away. Very little expression, a sort of regally detached licentiousness. What's compelling about that is that he’s playing with power at a very animal level, which presents a challenge at the same time as offering up a sort of remote sensuality. Again, that's not my thing – but so objectively primarily compelling I can admire this seductive gift of his.
She cites a portion of a 1967 video of “Get Off My Cloud” as evidence of this performing tactic of Mick’s, his steady gaze.
When asked about what attracted them to the band, fans say the music and the performers, and they often mention the sexuality and sensuality of the sound and movements, in line with the quote from the person looking back on his young self, watching the televised performance of 1964. Some say the Stones epitomize the whole sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll ethos of the times, or that most of the lyrics are about sex. One fan says when he first heard them, “at that time of my life ... I never saw any front-man perform with so much abandonment and sexual energy. He (Mick) knocked me off my feet ... (I) still feel the same when I see him live today.” Others echo the comment on the magnitude of the sheer “energy” emanating from the stage: “the energy they generate is incredible and they give everybody courage for years and years and years”. Fans discuss the “excitement” that they feel before a show, like no other, they say. They anticipate the whole tour, and then look forward to each show they or someone they know will attend, down to the first chords of the band. Within the online venues, with the help of mobile devices, fans present at each show report the entire set list, often as it rolls out, and also actions and reactions of the band and audience.
Gender Differences in Relating to the Band
Many male fans distinguished their own response from their wives, girlfriends, or female fans in general, claiming their own interest in “the music”, whereas “a gal might have her tongue hanging out for Mick or Keith”. This man describes his spouse’s reaction to Mick, quoting her, “I just love the way Mick dances. It’s cool the way Mick moves.” He adds that he “can’t really say he loves it ... to women it’s more...sexy”. One fellow who agrees that it’s all about “loving the music” made the classic generalization that “all the guys wanna be the Rolling Stones and all the girls wanna do the Rolling Stones.” He does wonder how serious the women would be about having sex with the band, if they ever had the opportunity, rather than just the fantasy. Another male fan apparently expects that the women would live out their fantasies, bluntly articulating the gender divide as he observes it:
At Vegas #1 of the Bang tour, there were two couples sitting next to me who had gotten the tickets as casino comps...The two guys sat through most of the concert, the two women jumped up and down whenever Mick was on stage... So, I’d suggest men like the music andthe “scene”, (the two guys stood up whenever any babes were walking by), women want to boink Mick (or Keith or Charlie or Ronnie or the stagehands or the roadies or, well you know what kind of guys they want)...
Referring to a concert situation at a purely sexual level, this man shared an experience with a female audience member observed by two members of the band: “I had an R-rated experience at a concert. A girl asked me to, at the b-stage … she asked me to help her up on a chair. Mick saw it and brought Keith over to see it. They both got a laugh out of it. I put my hand between her legs and kept it there…”
One informant discussed how male admiration of a man for his dancing is unusual in North America, perhaps not common since the days of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly in the MGM musicals of the 1940s and 50s. Some may recognize that Mick is the alpha male, while older male fans see the leadership of the band shared by Mick and Keith, or more directed musically by Keith in the earlier years.
Attraction to a Stone: Mick or Keith
Men imagine themselves more as Keith than Mick, “being” Keith, and most claim to like him more than Mick, concentrating on his guitar playing skills and his quieter, sincere-seeming persona (see Baker, 2009). Some older male fans credit Keith with triggering their interest in becoming a musician as well as in drawing them to the rebel lifestyle. The men among the hardcore fans who do like Mick best appreciate his showmanship, his charisma, and his status as the front man extraordinaire, virtually none claiming any physical attraction per se.
A U.S. fan in his fifties, Fred saw the last two shows from the 2012 mini-tour. Afterwards, he wrote about the whole band how "it just blows me the fuck away how these guys at that age are still so great at what they do." He then focused his attention on Mick:
Mick is still a huge sex symbol at his age. I wonder if the young girls think he is? I am not gay but the Man is just Badass. He has lost nothing IMO! The best front man that ever was and may ever be.
Voicing the disclaimer on sexual preference is not uncommon among men reacting to Mick, whereas admirers of Keith or other band members feel no such need.
Females usually identify with either Mick or Keith among the band members, and on one discussion board, are known as “Mickchicks” or “Keithbabes”. When at a show, one Mickchick gushes, “I, of course rarely take my eyes off Mick... he is mesmerizing!” Another Mickchick remembers when she had an on-stage seat for a show:
It was amazing and hilarious watching the audience move their heads in synchronicity of Mick’s running around the stage. No doubt, Mick keeps the show alive. IMO, Micks’ performance over the years, from his sexy gyrations to looking like he’s having convulsions is always the BEST part of the show for me. If I’m not drooling at him, I’m laughing... When Mick is On...the show is usually on spot too!
One Mick fan points to Mick’s appeal, even though she prefers Keith now, saying “What woman doesn’t find him attractive and sexy? Look at his moves, and when he plays the harp, awesome.” Another woman agrees that women are attracted to the Stones, and especially to Mick, “the way he sings and moves”. For her, “Mick is so damn sexual, so hot.”
Female Keith fans see sex appeal in his laidback stance onstage and off. Writing when she was in her late teens about her favorite Rolling Stone, a young fan details why Keith has become “part of my life” because of his music, most importantly. Along with his “heart of gold”, she also lists sensual appeals, such as his
incredible smart Cheshire-smile, his eyes, his mumble-jumble speech, and this characteristic face he’s always had, even in the earlier days when he hadn’t had all these wrinkles which are beautiful – his looks.
Her friends tell her they think Keith is ugly, but she counters: “He shines from the inside.” Ultimately, from photos, films and videos, she concludes that to her, “from the late 60s on throughout the entire 70s Keith was the f****** hottest and sexiest man walking this planet!!” (asterisks hers).
Reinforcing that for the present day Keith, Blue Lena calls him “the king of cool”, with a “style that’s all his own, and with that comes sexiness at any age.” Another Keithbabe looks at Keith onstage: “There is nothing like the anticipation of waiting and watching for Keith to hit the stage, hitting the first licks, and looking SO damn cool.” “Cool” and “real” are words often applied to Keith by both men and women. A male fan sums up the attraction, saying that men are “in awe” of Keith, and that if “you look up ‘cool’ in the dictionary there’s a picture of Keith Richards.” In contrast to the women, a man says, “I know there are some women that find Keith Richards sexy, god help ‘em.”
Discussion: Ritual Excitement
In his book on the “slide” into the erotic dimension of life, Murray Davis discusses how two people move through phases of sexual excitement, turning from body contact to coordinating their rhythms with each other (1983). For maximum pleasure, within these rhythms, each person will need to match the other’s idiosyncratic slow-downs and speed-ups along with any stops and restarts. Synchronizing movements maintains and accelerates sexual tension (p. 70-71.) Collins’ in Interaction Ritual (2004) notes that processes of sexual pleasure rely on the partners matching their degrees of intensity and coordinating their movements as the sexual tension increases through the phases leading up to satisfaction for both parties. Going from casual kissing to erotic kissing, for example, breathing increases in depth, and participants begin to engage in "mutual rhythmic intensity” (p. 243).
While most all music contains recognizable rhythmic patterns, rock and blues have a distinct “beat”, and are particularly associated with sexual feelings, both explicitly through song lyrics about the topic, and more implicitly through performances of the musicians, particularly the voices and mannerisms of the lead singers. In his autobiography, for example, Buddy Guy (2012) tells of how he learned to play the blues, commenting that while the blues can be sad or happy, it “is also sexy.” He continues, “When the blues gets inside you, it stirs up your nature to get down and dirty” (20). Most fans and critics consider the Stones a blues-based rock and roll band. Individually and collectively members of the Stones have often played with blues musicians. They played recently as a band in concert in 2007 with Buddy Guy filmed for Scorsese's Shine a Light, and during the mini-tour in 2012 with Gary Clark, Jr., and blues-influenced guitarists Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck.
During the performance, a rhythmic tension builds between the band and audience members, matching Collins' delineation of a pop performer's connection to the fans (2004, 59). Collins notes how music is best heard through recordings, while concerts fulfill another function, creating a communal experience among fans. If the performers are also ritualistic icons, “sacred objects” of worship or adulation (59) as mentioned above, the connections are even stronger. Simon Frith and Angela McRobbie noted earlier a process whereby fans possess their idols and are possessed by them (1978, 46) embodying an inherently erotic tension. Certain songs accentuate the rhythmic intensity within the concert, which is paced to contain slower and faster numbers. A reason particular songs are loved, especially in performance, is their acceleration of tempo written into the song structure. European fan Roland discusses the uses of sexual pacing in the Stones song “Going Home”:
A couple of days ago I heard a bit of a radio program about sex. The sexpert used "Going Home" as a musical reference as to how sex should build up to a climax... In the seventies there was a popular tv series in Denmark that showed some men in a strip bar. A woman was pole dancing. The music was...”Going Home”.
“Midnight Rambler” remains a consistent highlight of shows not only because Mick ritualistically acts out a sordid tale of rape and murder but because of the changing tempos from fast to slow, returning to fast again. The long pause before the last song segment reminds at least some of the audience, more or less consciously, of the rhythms of sexual activity. Before Dudley Moore fantasized about having sex with his perfect woman, Bo Derek in “10”, Ravel’s “Bolero” was long known by classical music aficionados for its rising pitch, and building intensity and volume throughout the orchestral piece. In the film, she seduces him with a nearly five minute excerpt from the seventeen-minute long “Bolero” playing in the background. The seven-minute Stones tune, often extended to almost ten minutes in performance, “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” has increasingly exciting sections, all instrumental after the opening verse, that roll along until an abrupt ending. The original recording features the melodic playing of guitarist Mick Taylor, and the saxophone solo by Bobby Keys. The sequential variations on the themes seem to parallel the changing patterns of sexual interaction, slight and more dramatic, that maintain the tension among intimate partners. Apparently as the tape kept running, first Mick Taylor and then others improvised the jam at the end, just when the listener feels the band cannot do anything more to improve the song.
In a sense, a sexual metaphor describes the evolution of songs within each show, and may even include a series of events before and after the show. The opening chords of a show signal the arousal to come. The climax is somewhere before the last series of warhorses for the serious fan, and with the last song and then the encores for the more casual fan. During the Voodoo Lounge tour that started in 1994, Mick described the careful construction of the set list, that it is “like breaking down a screen play”, with “a plot” (Wenner, 1995):
It starts off with this moody thing, goes into this rock section, breaks down into this power section, then we have what we used to call the grab bag section. Then it goes into Keith’s two songs, it goes up at the end of that into this more audience-participation thing – “Honky Tonk Women.” Then it goes into the “Voodoo Lounge” section, where we change the set. Then it goes into the end, the rock & roll run-out section.
In the larger framework, the pre-parties for fans serve as foreplay. That is where the fans share their anticipation for the coming event. Then the concert is the main climatic interaction and the post-parties correspond to the denouement or resolution phase. Moving even further out in the participatory process of the fans, this perspective would say that the excitement begins with a tour announcement and moves into full arousal following success in procuring tickets for each show desired on a tour.
A female fan writing in an explicit manner to describe overt feelings of sexuality at a Stones concert sums it up by saying she likes to joke that fans should
...never have sex after a stones concert, they are orgasmic, I’m like I never have sex after a stones concert. Know why you never have sex after a stones concert? Cuz you’re already spent.
Before the sexual revolution, talk like this from females was rare to nonexistent. At least for those in relationships today, it is more acceptable, and sometimes encouraged among Stones fans.
This paper has covered select aspects of the topic of sexuality and the Rolling Stones. It has briefly addressed the Stones’ lifestyles, then examining Mick’s androgyny of performance and manner of dress and presentation, as well as the seductiveness of his stage presence. Fans react to the pull of Mick and Keith through their music and demeanor, expressing their attraction. Comparing phases of sexual interaction to the discrete rhythms and sounds pulsing between the fans and the musicians provides clues to the similar elements within musical and sexual performances. Further research and writing will add dimension to the discussion of sex, gender and the Stones, for example, by looking at the lyrics (see for example, Eastman's paper in this volume). This chapter on sexuality forms part of the story of illuminating reasons why the Rolling Stones have appealed to fans worldwide since their origin more than fifty years ago.
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Figure 1. Mick Jagger, November 9,1969. Oakland Coliseum, Oakland, California.
Photo by Baron Wolman.
Figure2. Mick Jagger, July 12, 1972. Indianaopolis Convention Center, Indianapolis, Indiana. Photo by Daniel Teafoe.
Figure 3. Mick Jagger, July 26, 1978. Oakland Coliseum, Oakland, CA.
Photo by Baron Wolman.
Figure 4. Mick Jagger, August 26, 2007. O2 Arena, London, United Kingdom.
Photo by Daniel Teafoe.
Figure 5. Mick Jagger, 1969. November 9,1969. Oakland Coliseum, Oakland, California.
Photo by Baron Wolman.
Figure 6. Mick Jagger, July 12, 1972. Indianaopolis Convention Center, Indianopolis, Indiana. Photo by Daniel Teafoe.
Figure 7. Mick Jagger, July 26,1978. Oakland Coliseum, Oakland, CA.
Photo by Baron Wolman.