Ten life lessons from The Rolling Stones

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With a combined age of 297, the Stones spent the spring and summer of 2018 playing to euphoric crowds in stadium across Europe – more than half a century after their first gig. 

Excerpt from GQ magazine . Time was, the seventh age of man was the end of the road, but if you too want to blur the boundaries, take instruction from the grand old dukes of septuagenarian strutting.

1) Learn to survive
The Stones bounce back. They might get knocked down – by life-threatening tumours, by bereavement, addiction and brain surgery – but then they get straight back up again. All four members have survived life-rending trauma this century: cancer (Ronnie Wood and Charlie Watts), surgery to relieve a blood clot on the brain (Keith Richards after falling out of a coconut tree in Fiji and hitting his head) and the suicide of a partner (Mick Jagger’s girlfriend, the designer L’Wren Scott, hanged herself in 2014). Watts was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2004 and had two operations to remove the tumour. “I thought I was going to die,” the drummer told Radio 6 Music. “I thought that’s what you did. You get cancer and you waste away and die.” But it is hard to kill a Rolling Stone.

2) Let go of the past
What a contrast between the Oasis brothers and the Glimmer Twins: Jagger and Richards. Watts has said that Jagger and Richards are like brothers when they are getting along – but they are also like brothers when they are not getting along. They first met in September 1950, when they were classmates at Wentworth Primary School in Dartford, Kent,  Liam and Noel. The feud between the Gallagher brothers is almost entirely restricted to insults, 

The ill-feeling began with Jagger having sex with Richards’ girlfriend Anita Pallenberg, so it was claimed, on the set of Performance. “I didn’t find out for ages about Mick and Anita, but I smelled it,” Richards wrote in his autobiography, Life. “Mostly from Mick, who didn’t give any sign of it, which is why I smelled it. I never expected anything from Anita. I mean, hey, I’d stolen her from Brian [Jones]. So you’ve had Mick now. She probably nearly broke his back!”

But Richards – the most romantic Stone – was clearly devastated and has carried the scars for a lifetime. Richards had his revenge – back in the day, when he slept with Jagger’s then-girlfriend Marianne Faithfull and in his book, when he famously mocked the size of Jagger’s manhood. “She [Marianne Faithfull] had no fun with the tiny todger.

I know he [Jagger] has got an enormous pair of balls, but it doesn’t quite fill the gap, does it?” This stuff – sexual betrayal heaped upon sexual betrayal, vicious insults about abnormally sized genitalia – would destroy any other band, but Jagger and Richards manage to put the past behind them. If you want to own homes in multiple countries and you want to sell out stadia, then you keep the band together. And even if you can never forgive or forget, you must learn to let the past go.

3) Never get fat
You never see a fat Rolling Stone. There is only one fitness fanatic in the band – the singer – but every Rolling Stone is lean, hungry, without a gram of excess fat. Three of them – Jagger, 75, Richards, 74, and Watts, 77 – were born during the deprivations of the Second World War. The baby of the band – Wood, 71 – was born just two years after the war ended. All of them were raised in a country of ration books and have the gaunt, half-starved, high-cheekboned look of a generation that experienced real austerity.

The Rolling Stones are like those men who survived Normandy. Why are the Stones still alive when so many others are dead? Because Jagger has had a 28-inch waistline for 40 years.

4) Eat shepherd’s pie
Nutrition is vital to the survival of the Stones. Jo Wood, former wife of Ronnie, introduced Jagger to organic foods and he eats the diet you would expect of any endurance athlete – wholegrain breads, chicken, fish, lots of avocados (a good source of healthy fats) and a big bowl of pasta four hours before showtime. But half the Stones – Watts and Richards – have their own individual shepherd’s pie as a dressing-room rider (served on a warming tray with their names). The quickest way to enrage Richards is to touch his shepherd’s pie. “Don’t bust my crust, baby,” he warns. The fuel you put into your body is as important as any fitness regime.

5) Get better with agestones

Almost every artist runs out of puff in their middle years. But the true greats – Philip Roth, Pablo Picasso, the Stones – find an extra gear just as their contemporaries are slowing down or falling off their perch. Almost unbelievably, The Rolling Stones in their seventies are the most exciting live act on the planet. The 2018 No Filter tour was their equivalent of Roth’s late run of masterpieces – Sabbath’s TheaterI Married A CommunistAmerican Pastoral – or the searing self-portraits that Picasso painted in his nineties.

6) Moderation in all things

Never do anything that will stop you raising your children. Never take more than you can handle. “I never mainlined,” Richards surprisingly writes in Life, meaning he never injected heroin into a vein. “I was never looking for that flash. I was looking for something to keep me going. So I used to shoot it up in the muscles.” Moderation in all things – even heroin addiction.life

7) Manage your career without mercy

In the last summer of the Sixties, Brian Jones, the founder member of The Rolling Stones (and the band’s sex symbol), was dissipating himself with drugs. The Stones could have imploded in a morass of Spinal Tap-like self-destruction. But instead of letting Jones drag down the band, Jagger and Richards kicked him out. Jones was dead in a swimming pool at 27. Fifty years after Jones’ death, Jagger has a knighthood and Richards has a home in the tropical paradise of Turks And Caicos. In the course of their long career, the Stones have been ruthless when they needed to be.

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