Q&A: Mick Jagger on the new Rolling Stones documentary

The still-swaggering 64-year-old Stone spouts off on rude journalists, his brood of children, and his band’s new Martin Scorsese–directed documentary, Shine a Light.

Shine a Light is unexpectedly funny. After Gimme Shelter and Cocksucker Blues, did you consciously try to bring some levity to a Rolling Stones documentary?
We didn’t want to go straight into the concert, and all the normal backstage stuff we do is a bit of a cliché, really. You know, my “character” has already been kind of written. We had endless writers trying to write openings, and all these ideas kicking around, but in the end we created one about how I refuse to give Marty the set list before the show. Which is completely true, but it’s a film, so we made it funny.

The cameras were so close we could see your fillings. Keith Richards said he wasn’t aware of the cameras. Where you?
I was totally aware of the cameras. We shot two shows at the Beacon Theatre in New York, and on the first night there were so many tracks, cameras, cranes, and people scampering about. It wasn’t like we booked a show at Giant Sta­dium a year in advance and were going to suddenly film it. The show was created for this film. I was trying to find the audience that first night. I had to watch out or I’d get smacked in the head with a crane.

Scorsese has used the Stones’ music in many films: Mean Streets, Goodfellas, Casino, The Departed. Do you have a favorite scene featuring one of your songs?
I love the scene in Casino with “Heart of Stone”; then “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” comes up, and it’s a great use of the song. And I like the way he uses “Gimme Shelter” twice in The Departed.

How about a favorite Scorsese movie?
Goodfellas, but I like many others, too. I saw Kundun on TV when I was in London the other night, and I found it fascinating. It’s so completely different from Marty’s other movies. There’s no Rolling Stones music in that one.

What’s the last movie that cracked you up?
Blades of Glory. That made my children laugh, and once they start giggling, I can’t stop.

One of the best surprises is when you duet with christina aguilera on “Live With Me.” Are there any other musicians you would love to collaborate with?
Christina Aguilera is such a great singer, so I loved that. She was really on it. She delivers. I also love Mary J. Blige. I know she’s done duets with U2 and everyone else, and I love her vocal style. She’s on my music wish list.

You were in your early 20s when the Stones reached major stardom, yet you were bizarrely poised and self-assured. How did you keep your head screwed on ?
Yeah, I was self-assured, I suppose, when you think about it. It wasn’t as if I’d been to acting school or had any media training—that kind of thing didn’t exist in those days. I think I knew pretty much what I wanted to do, what I was going to say, and how I was going to go about it. I’m sure there were some shambolic interviews where you could say, “I don’t know what he’s talking about.” Journalists were so different then than they are now. They didn’t know how to talk to you. Remember in Don’t Look Back when Bob Dylan berated the guy from Time magazine? It was terrible! But oftentimes journalists were so condescending; they thought I was so thick and hopeless that when I started to be pleasant or charming, it worked for me.

When you’re really famous, there are always people around. When’s the last time you were completely alone?
I don’t have big entourages. It’s not the English style. I tend to be pretty low-key, and when I’m songwriting, I’m quite happy to be alone. It’s rather solitary. I’m pretty social, though, so I don’t like being alone for too long.

Can you ever run around incognito?
London is such a media center, so it’s a hard place to go unnoticed. There are other places in Europe where I can lie low. I go to Asia sometimes, where I’m not very well known—at least in some of the country parts.

We hear you like to garden, of all things.
Well, not really. I mean, I like looking at gardens. I like to watch other people working in gardens and say, “That looks very nice.”

I guess no self-respecting rock star wants that sort of rumor floating around—you want something more depraved. Although you once mentioned that you wanted to write a travel book.
I quite like travel writing. It’s an interesting genre. Could I do it? I don’t know.

Have you read Ron Wood’s autobiography?
I have not read Ronnie’s book yet, though he very kindly gave it to me, inscribed, for Christmas. In fact, someone else did, too, so I’ve got two copies now.

Funny. We assumed he would have shown you the manuscript ahead of time.
To be perfectly truthful, I did not receive any advance manuscripts from Ronnie. I think it’s always polite to do that, though, don’t you?

Ok, so what about Keith’s upcoming auto­biography? Do you have any involvement
with that book?
I have no idea what’s going on with that. I know it’s not imminent, but I do think it’s coming out in 2010. I’m sure Keith would appreciate the plug.

Shine a Light, starring Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, and Ronnie Wood, hits theaters April 4.