(While I’m away, I thought you’d like to revisit this post, which first appeared here in July 2010. I certainly never tire of watching the video . . . who would?)
I was watching a World Cup match on TV a week ago when I got to see, seated together and chatting amiably, Bill Clinton and Mick Jagger. What a priceless moment. How could I not smile at the sight of these two together, or resist composing an imaginary line or two of dialogue for such a pair? These men have gone as high in their vocations as human beings can go. Yet what made me smile—affectionately and, I’ll confess, enviously—was not the politician part or the rock star part or the humanitarian part. What made me smile was the rascal part.
Insofar as that goes, the difference between Bill and Mick is that the former president used to look us all in the eye and swear that he wasn’t a rascal, while the once and future Rolling Stone has always looked us in the eye and . . . grinned.
Which leads me to the something else I saw on TV: the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary Concert, which was filmed over two nights at Madison Square Garden last October and edited into a 4-hour show on HBO. One particular moment just knocks me out. It would take a neuroscientist from Johns Hopkins to explain what goes on in my brain when I watch it.
That’s U-2 onstage in the darkened arena—Bono, as always, fronting the band. They’ve been doing just fine tonight. Now they’re noodling around between numbers. On a platform in the smoky semi-darkness at the rear of the stage, sinuous in skin-tight leather that leaves naked her arms and thighs, a woman is slowly dancing. “Fergie’s in the house,” Bono announces.
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Not that I could have told you, until this moment, who Fergie is. Of the Black-Eyed Peas I know nothing. But watching Fergie. . . how to describe what stirs inside a man, even one as old as I? The irrepressible satyr stirs. He comes awake, stretches. He gives you a wink.
And of course he looks just like Mick Jagger. When you were young he looked like the young Mick Jagger. Now he looks like the old Mick Jagger. Bono’s guitar cranks out the opening chords of—no, can it be?—“Gimme Shelter,” and then . . . and then . . .
Mick himself struts forth from the wings, all 90 pounds of him, his cheeks sucked in, right hand pointing skyward, left hand swinging, in his eye the devil’s mischief. It is impossible to exaggerate the breath of carnal experience reflected in his face. Decadent? Debauched? What modifier would suggest, not just decadence or debauchery, but the fact of having gotten away with it for nearly 50 years? Mick looks like Klaus Kinski just before he died. But Kinski is actually dead, whereas Mick is still-cock-of-the-walk, strutting, jutting, pointing, so dominating the stage that Bono—one of the most famous entertainers in the world—is instantly diminished, a second banana.
But now comes the moment I was telling you about. Fergie has descended from her platform; she’s here on the stage, joining the act. She takes up a verse of “Gimme Shelter” and belts it out. She sashays. Mick Jagger, b. July 26, 1943, harrowing to gaze upon but mythically potent; Fergie, a temptress, luminous . . . they’re dancing, kicking, staring into each other’s eyes.
And watching this, I lose all access to my mental faculties. Words . . . what are words? Thank goodness for my autonomic nervous system, or my heart would forget to beat.
But if, watching Fergie dance with Mick, you can keep your wits about you, then you can feel the obvious question assert itself. Would they ever . . . I mean, really? They embody two powerful forces. She is youth, beauty, femaleness, with all the prerogatives appertaining thereto. And he, he—however horrifyingly wizened and pickled in appearance—he is still after sex. Since this is Mick Jagger, he still has a shot, and he knows that knowing that is half the game. But even if this weren’t Mick Jagger, but instead just some anonymous old blogger with no shot at all, the theme would be the same, because . . . well, because.
The concert is show-biz, of course. Who knows what’s really going on between them? But summed up in their dance is the eternal truth of the male’s helpless, comic, inexhaustible desire and the female’s ineluctable power. He—even if he’s so old it’s grown unseemly—gets to crave, or even perhaps genuinely to love, or just to find himself caught up in some other heroic or ludicrous or contemptible variation on the theme of yearning. She gets to say yes or no, or perhaps.
So what did I imagine Bill said to Mick at the World Cup? Bill Clinton, who a few years back had his bypass surgery, whose hair is white as snow, who looks perhaps a bit wan compared with yesterday? I can’t say. But I know what I would have said:
“What’s your secret?”