by Ed Symkus

Check out any biographical information about Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger, and his height will be listed as 5' 10 ". But it's a lie. He's a diminutive little fellow, can't be more than 5' 7 ". Standing by a crowd of reporters in a New York conference room, he's one of the shortest men there. Take a look at his performance outfits on display at the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame and you could swear that they would fit a small boy. No matter. Sir Mick has always been a giant in the music business.

He and his music long ago crossed into films, with a few acting appearances and lots of songs on soundtracks. His newest foray into movie music, in partnership with Eurythmics' Dave Stewart, is for the soundtrack of the remake of Alfie, with Jude Law taking over the old Michael Caine part. Jagger and Stewart have written four new songs -- which both perform -- along with lots of new instrumental music.

Jagger loves this type of composing but admits that working on a soundtrack has limitations.

"Well, the thing with a soundtrack is that you don't have the complete freedom to do what you like," he says. "You have to write a song obviously around a specific character or characters and to fit in or enhance a specific scene. So it's interesting because it's another form of writing. You have to get it right for the scene. On top of that, there's a lot of other craft goings-on where you then have to look at other scenes and make these themes for these characters work in other scenes."

For instance, in Alfie, the protagonist may be happy in one sequence that features an upbeat version of one of the new songs, but in a later, more serious scene, the same song will be played at a much slower pace with some of the instrumentation taken out. So the identical song will give the scene a much sadder feeling.

Other than that, Jagger and Stewart were given a great deal of freedom. And they knew they only needed to come up with a handful of material.

"We didn't want to write more than three or four songs," says Jagger. "We needed more themes [than songs] and we knew that we'd need more instrumental stuff. We worked on having three songs, which would fit primarily in three pivotal scenes, and from there we worked on the instrumentals and other stuff. And we did an extra song that started as an instrumental, but then we made it a vocal."

While Jagger is thought of as someone who only writes with his Stones partner Keith Richards, he points out that he's had many other writing partners.

"Actually, I've worked with David before," he says. "We did a song for the Bette Midler movie Ruthless People and got paid a lot of money which was then spent on worthless consumer items.

"I've obviously written a lot with Keith, and I write a lot on my own," he adds. "I just spent two weeks writing with Keith, and some days they're all songs where I'm there on my own and Keith walks in and paints the face on what I've written. And some days it's the reverse, and I go in and play the piano on something. I've written quite a lot of stuff with David. We're very, very concentrated and we're quite detailed and we get everything finished."

As far as the new Alfie versus the old Alfie goes, Jagger says that he doesn't remember much about the first one, other than it made Michael Caine a big star and that there was the actor-talking-to-the-camera business that has been recreated in the remake.

"The Alfie character is sort of the guy who doesn't want to commit to a relationship," he says. "And I think that's a character who, throughout the last 300 or 400 years in literary history, has come up again and again. Young men have lots of girlfriends, of course, before realizing they have to settle down with one of them. I don't think that's only something that would fit into a '60s lifestyle or indeed a lifestyle today. I think that's a stock human character. Perhaps it's a biological necessity for people at a certain age."

Jagger goes on to talk about Stones drummer Charlie Watts' battle with cancer ("He's been pronounced sort of free and clear of everything"), about the upcoming live Stones album ("It's one CD of well-known songs and another of not-very-well known songs"), and the fact that getting up on stage these days is not all that different from doing it 40 years ago, when the band started out.

"In a lot of ways, it's exactly the same," he says. "I think that the thrill or the excitement that drew you to that in the beginning is the same excitement that draws you to it now. The thing about it is that you never really know what's going to happen. You never know what the audience is going to be like. You never know how they're going to behave. And you don't always do the same things that you've done the night before. That's what makes live playing so interesting as opposed to being in the studio."

Publication date: 11/04/04

Art, Nature and the Voice of the River @ People's Park

Sun., June 13, 11 a.m.
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