The Secret Museum
By Jim Webb & Michael Mooney
Death of a Salesman: Sir Michael Philip “Mick” Jagger
He sold because that’s what he did best. Some people knew him only as a musician, a singer, and writer of songs. Mick never straightened them out—part of being a master salesman is letting the customer think they know you, are comfortable with you. No one would ever have considered him an innovator in the musical products he packaged and sold since 1963 with various members of his sales team called The Rolling Stones. The quality of his wares varied considerably, with a noticeable decline in later years. In the fast changing tastes of the pop culture market place, he figured out how to stay active for almost 50 years, when others simply faded away.
“The man knew what he wanted and went out and got it! Walked into a jungle and comes out, the age of 21, and he’s rich!”—Willy Loman*
The last great product he had to sell was from 1972, called “Exile on Main St.” This period was at the tail end of when Jagger still gave a damn about what he was pushing on the showroom floor. His vocals on “Sweet Virginia,” “Loving Cup,” and “Torn and Frayed” have an authenticity that was rarely heard again. What followed in the coming years exposed how naked his ambition was to sell, regardless if it affected his credibility. A track from 1973’s “Goat’s Head Soup” called “Dancing with Mr. D” was complete nonsense, foreshadowing the inconsistent studio and unnecessary live albums to come. It took the young punks selling rebellion in the U.K. to get Jagger & Co. hustling again with “Some Girls” in 1978. By the mid-eighties, Mick was so bored he decided to go solo, before quickly coming to his senses when the sales figures for those efforts were reported. While his old buddy Keith Richards had been mostly chasing drugs, Mick was interested in being a celebrity and chasing women more than anything else.
“Just wanna be careful with those girls, Biff, that’s all. Don’t make any promises. No promises of any kind. Because a girl, y’know, they always believe what you tell them.”—Willy Loman
Mick Jagger was one of the greatest salesmen in the last 50 years. At one time or another he sold sex, seduction, danger, attitude, style, albums, 45s, CDs, DVDs , T-shirts, hats and anything else he could put his big lips logo on. We bought it all, and in the process he became a very rich man. A brief nod should be given to his first manager Andrew Loog Oldham who showed him how to use the media to his advantage. The group formed their own Rolling Stones record label in 1971 to increase profits and cut out the middle man, and also became one of the first to accept corporate sponsorship when touring. Budweiser, Volkswagen, Tommy Hilfiger, Sprint and Levi’s are just a few of the companies that have paid big money to be associated with The Rolling Stones traveling circus. Ultimately, the product that Mick Jagger sold best was always himself.
“The man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead.”—Willy Loman
In 2010, “Exile on Main St.” was re-released with a couple of previously unused tracks from the original sessions. After all these years, the strength of the writing and performances from 1972 still stands out as one of the high points in their long catalogue. “Exile” has unfortunately also reminded us that the Mick Jagger who wrote great songs has been a missing person for so long that it is time to officially announce his passing. Mick had a lot of big sales through the years, but his biggest was making people believe he was just a singer in a famous rock n’ roll band. It was a pleasure doing business with you Mr. Jagger. I won’t forget to put roses on your grave.
“He had a good dream. It’s the only dream you can have—to come out number 1 man.”—Willy Loman
*“Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller.
An Interview with Jim Webb
MM: Jim, what is your earliest Rock memory, and why do you suppose it stuck with you through the years?
JW: At first I was going to say seeing The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, then I remembered a special dance I did for parents to an early Herb Alpert/Tijuana Brass hit single. After about 30 seconds of making sure they were my first Rock recollections, I realized that the truth was that on Saturday mornings when I was about five years old (1963) I used to watch a TV show called “Sky King.” I don’t know who the actors were, but it was a Roy Rogers type cowboy show that was unique because the main cowboy flew around in a small airplane solving crimes and helping people. It took place in the Western U.S., and all of the scenery—mountains, boulders and trails—made it seem like a magical place. Not long ago, I researched the show on the Internet and found out it was from the mid fifties, with reruns being shown into the sixties.
MM: I faintly recall Sky King—mainly, I think, because of daughter Penny. But I don’t remember any music. Did the Sky King sing?
JW: That doesn’t ring a bell, him singing, but the combination of him flying a plane and being a cowboy seemed like an exciting life. The Sky King was surrounded by rocks, mountains, etc.…
MM: I see. But that hardly explains your subsequent interest in Rock Music, especially if Penny doesn’t factor in there someplace. Let’s go back to Herb Alpert for a moment. As an eight year-old, I dug him almost as much as The Association. Still do.
JW: My parents didn’t buy a lot of LPs, but they did buy some Herb Alpert & the TJB. My dad loved listening to the mid-sixties Ramsey Lewis Trio and anything by Anthony Newley. “Roar of the Greasepaint, Smell of the Crowd” was played a lot when it came out. The TJB was fun music, and not too complicated.
MM: Miles Davis once said that you could tell a Herb Alpert lead within three notes. Herb probably took that as a compliment.
So a nice mid-sixties Adult Contemporary vibe was going on at the Webb compound? In Philadelphia, you’d hear some of that stuff on the AM giants WIBG and WFIL, but mostly the mellower songs were only played on WIP. That’s where I first encountered The Free Design back in ’68. Did you know Chris Dedrick passed away recently?
JW: I didn’t know Dedrick had died. The first radio station I can remember listening to fanatically was CKLW from Windsor, Ontario, Canada. We lived in Toledo, Ohio, from 1965 to 1969 and that station was close to Detroit— it easily reached us. I have three brothers and four sisters, but my older brother and sister were buying 45s regularly in ’66 & ’67. We weren’t buying albums; the first 45 I can remember buying was The Rolling Stones “Ruby Tuesday.”
MM: Good choice for a very first purchase, and an extremely poppy song. CKLW—were they playing the noisier sounds coming out of Detroit at the time?
JW: A little bit of everything. But mostly they were a Top Forty station that took chances. Things like Bob Seger’s “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” was a monster smash in Toledo/Detroit, and they played The Who’s “Call Me Lightning.” Whatever they played I thought were big hits across the country—turns out some were just regional hits. The first 8-track I bought was The Cream—Best of, 1969. An older neighborhood friend was into The Doors, Hendrix and The Cream.
MM: Same situation in Philly. I always assumed Some Kind Of Wonderful by the Soul Brothers Six was a nationwide smash, as did Grand Funk Railroad, apparently, who were to discover otherwise when their version went Top Ten seven years later. Ditto Billy Harner and the Kit Kats. I’m still amazed that Call Me Lightning broke out in the Upper Midwest and nowhere else.
In 1969, your family relocated to the East Coast. Did you find the musical climate in the Delaware Valley to be much different from Northwest Ohio?
JW: I remember we moved during the middle of sixth grade. One of my teachers that year in Bensalem, PA., asked the class to write down their favorite group. Three Dog Night won, closely followed by Sly & The Family Stone. I was a little puzzled by that result, having written down The Rolling Stones.
MM: Hmm. It seems that the divide was already in place. I guess Bobby Sherman and The J5 hadn’t arrived yet. I, too, was firmly in the Stones camp in late ’69.
You are five years away from witnessing your first concert. Give us a sense of how your musical tastes expanded during the interim.
JW: The period of 1970 to 1973 didn’t spark any great new finds, I wasn’t looking that hard for any. I still listened to Top Forty radio, but that was getting hard to find good songs. People like James Taylor did nothing for me, and Jethro Tull’s “Thick as a Brick” seemed too weird. A good friend of mine got Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon,” but neither one of us could understand what all the fuss was about—not driving enough for my 15 year old ears. In late 1973/early ’74, the New York Dolls cleared the decks. Watching them on Don Kirshner’s TV show with their platform boots, wild hair and slashing songs made me realize I had ignored the great non-commercial bands that would never be on AM radio. I started listening to progressive FM station WMMR, and just kept checking out all the bands/artists that I hadn’t heard before. Any Rock magazine like Circus, Rolling Stone, Hit Parader was now consumed cover to cover.
MM: And so, the Dolls served as your catalyst to the possibilities of Rock. I would suggest that proximity to Manhattan, and later trips to London, were also springboards to wider musical appreciation. Many have taken that road and never looked back, yet you’ve always remained faithful to some of the less exploratory sub-genres. Explain.
JW: I’m not sure, but listening to all the great radio hits and almost-hits from the sixties made me appreciate a good three-minute song. Roger Miller’s “King of the Road” just seemed like a great tune when I first heard it. Once I got into the history of Rock music, it didn’t take long to have to run down all their influences from Blues, Country and R n’ B. The history of pop music and how it quickly evolved through the years just seemed like something important to check out. It was still reasonably new; in ’74, Elvis had only been around for about 20 years. Pop Rock music was being created by our extended peer group, for our enjoyment. The Rock community still existed in the mid-seventies, though corporate big money was already changing things.
MM: The decline of AM radio gave rise to the creation of specific airplay formats and a splintering of broadcast choices. Is that fragmentation responsible for the deplorable state of radio these days? Or does it no longer matter?
JW: For a long time, the record companies had no idea what would sell, they just released 45s and albums, hoping some of them would be big sellers. Then they signed a lot more bands that sounded like what was selling. The Underground/Punk scene in both the U.K./U.S. (1972-77) was a reaction to the corporate suits, and the kids finally could make “their” music. Radio today is simply about holding the most listeners as possible until the next commercial break comes. Someone like Sheryl Crow is very safe—she has homogenized the last 30 years of pop/rock music to the point that there is nothing left to taste.
MM: Apart from the U.S. Hardcore phenomenon (the ’80s version of a Folk revival, in my opinion) and some interesting rumblings from the world Underground, that decade appears today as a musical wasteland. Two questions: What happened to the promise of Punk, and is there anything of merit to come out of the 1980s that still resonates?
JW: The eighties didn’t have much to offer me that I could find at the time. I’m sure I still haven’t heard some great stuff released on obscure labels. My current favorite unknown/unheard (at least in the U.S.) band from the eighties is the U.K. group Half Man Half Biscuit. After about 1983, I dove into The Blues and didn’t come to the surface until 1987. I immediately went into a prolonged Jazz infatuation that ended around 1995 (thankfully I missed Grunge). The shambolic indie/punk band The Fall really blossomed in the eighties, and I still like their stuff.
MM: Which brings us to the last 15 years, and my final question: Do you see any hope in the future of Rock, or will it continue to splutter and meander before ultimately petering in the next decade or so?
JW: Mainstream corporate-promoted Rock is dying as we speak. What gives me hope is the young men and women who are currently pumping their enthusiasm into varying styles of music. As an example, there is a young band from Albuquerque called The Squash Blossom Boys that embodies that pure love of music. They take old blues and folk songs from the 1920s and ’30s and rave some of them up into an out of control freight train. When any group of people get together to pursue their shared love of music, great things are always possible.
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