The voice at the other end of the line is unmistakable: garrulous, formed by decades of cigarettes, whiskey, drugs and singing.
Half an hour later another unmistakable voice is on the line. This one is silkier, a bit of a posh accent, and the debauched living isn’t audible.
In separate conversations with Zap2it, Keith Richards, then Mick Jagger talk about their half-century — yes, 50 years — with the Rolling Stones, as featured in HBO’s “Crossfire Hurricane” Thursday, Nov. 15.
It would be impossible to capture what the quintessential rock band means in a single documentary, and this tries in just under two hours. The result is uneven. It has some excellent concert footage and reminders of how the world has evolved over the years.
Initially, the Rolling Stones were threatening; the Beatles were the darlings, and the Stones were the bad boys. The footage of hostile newscasters alone makes this fun, as stiff, disapproving middle-aged men of the 1960s pretty much castigated these young men.
And they were so very young when they shot to stardom. Jagger looks like such a baby in the early days, and he confirms that he was, indeed, carded in bars. This film is more like home movies — which are fun — than an objective or probing documentary. That makes sense considering Jagger and Richards are among the producers.
While rehearsing in Paris before setting off on tour, Richards and Jagger answer our questions.
Zap2it: What do you want people to know about the Stones that they don’t?
Jagger: I think people know too much about this band already. That is the trouble. There is no mystery left. There is absolutely nothing left. It’s like showing your underwear. (In the film, Jagger shows his underwear and is briefly nude, with his back to the camera).
Zap2it: How do you describe the film?
Jagger: It is irreverent enough. In the beginning I said to Brett [Morgen, the director], “It is not supposed to be reverent.” I think in the end, the film does turn out to be an irreverent look at the band.
Zap2it: Is this the final tour?
Richards: Well that’s an original question! I don’t know. We don’t look upon these shows as a tour. It is a special celebration – 50 years. The next year is actually the birth of the Rolling Stones because that is when Charlie Watts joined us. This year is like the conception.
Zap2it: Half a century is rather remarkable for anything. Does it feel so long when you are with the band?
Richards: I look around and see all the old faces, and then it all falls into place. This band is kind of strange. It has its own magnetic, chemical reactions, and once we are together and playing there is this satisfaction. Satisfaction! (He laughs at his unintended reference to one of the band’s signature songs.) You are doing what you are supposed to be doing any time I am playing with the Stones.
Zap2it: Are there any albums you are embarrassed by?
Richards: “Satanic Majesty,” maybe.
Zap2it: Given how much living was crammed into these decades, when you see this film, do you remember all of it?
Jagger: Most are pretty clear memories. I know this footage. I am pretty familiar with most of it. There are some good moments I can’t remember. Why did I behave like this? You have to remember how old you really were, and dealing with pressure and press. The age. You see the early days. You see the ride it was. You are dealing with the ride, the fame and the press. It was quite a lot to put upon your shoulders at such an early age. There was no school of rock in those days. A lot was being made up as you went along. It was not clear as to how this was to operate as a business, not really.
Zap2it: Can you see yourself at some point saying, that’s it? Or would you still play in public, like Muddy Waters, even if you had to do it sitting down, from a stool?
Jagger: Poor Muddy Waters; he was a very vibrant performer. I am all over the place. Would I do a show sitting down? That is like a theoretical question. I don’t know.
Zap2it: What are your favorite Stones songs?
Jagger: I don’t have favorites at all. Songs from certain periods I like, and [others I] can’t stand them any more and don’t want to sing.
Zap2it: You must reach a point when you don’t feel like singing “Satisfaction.” What happens then?
Jagger: If we don’t really want to do it, then we don’t. We are not doing that tonight; OK, it’s out.
Zap2it: So much of rock ‘n’ roll stems from being frustrated, unsatisfied, put upon. But the half century of success and acceptance had to change that. How do you recapture those feelings in concert when you’re not an angry young man anymore?
Richards: You get angry for five minutes, and you get young again for five minutes, and that is basically the truth of the matter. The music does it to you. You don’t do it to the music.