Mick Jagger Noel Coppage - Essay

Noel Coppage

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Stones albums … have been not simply happenings in their time; they've also been peculiarly responsive to their time. There is no way one could adjust his mind to make "Sticky Fingers"—a much better album, in purely aesthetic terms—as apt just now as ["It's Only Rock 'n Roll"] is. "Beggar's Banquet" was recorded when it was widely believed that rock was art and art was life. Accordingly, it was vibrant with crusading fervor…. "Exile on Main Street" and "Goat's Head Soup" caught us—thanks to Bowie, Alice Cooper, Nixon, and countless others—cynical and woozy, and they sound cynical and woozy. "It's Only Rock 'n Roll" seems to be reading the latest phase as an effort to learn how to shrug again, and it suggests something of how self-conscious we are about that. There is no prescription for how to live a glamorous outlaw life … in here, just some songs treated as some songs. It's back to life-size for us, the album seems to say, and the listener's mind may construe in there somewhere some advice (which, to be fair about it, the Stones do not actually give) to accept imperfections in self and others. That message is somewhat more explicit in the endings of some of the better novels these days; Wilfrid Sheed's Max Jamison finds a little peace for himself by concluding he must be "a son-of-a-bitch in an imperfect world." Once you admit it, it may not be so bad—that's about as good a fortune-cookie aphorism as any, for the moment. The Stones do not write these fortunes, but they get a relatively early peek into the cookies …, once the people who actually do practice art are done with them. What the Stones do is turn these little notes into billboards, the unveiling of which are events. It is a real service they perform; the artists cannot do it—artists aren't good enough businessmen to stage events, and they refuse to have anything to do with billboards anyway. (p. 84)

Noel Coppage, "The Rolling Stones." in Stereo Review (copyright © 1975 by Ziff-Davis Publishing Company), Vol. 34, No. 1, January, 1975, pp. 84-5.