Blur and Oasis even had the rivalry between each other that we associate with the Beatles and the Stones. Oasis, taking the strut of the Stones, had a couple of years in the limelight but then faded out. Is that a reflection on them as a band – that they're not made of the same legendary material that the Stones were; or a reflection on the times, and changes in the industry/media etc. To put it another way, if the Stones were starting now, do you think they'd be able to establish the same longevity?
From the time of MTV, the artist had the chance to grow taken away. He or she had to be brilliant NOW, and that is just not possible. Look at Steve Earle and how he grew. I saw him in a club in Vancouver the year before last and said to my wife, “Right now, my life is complete”. That is what music is about. Sting did the same for me last year in Vancouver. He took the recordings you knew, made you grow with him and performed them better. Oasis did not fade out. They just puked up in public once to often and hit the room service button once too often too be able to relate with new material; but I’m sure for a 19 year old with them at their moment it was a supreme moment in life. There is nothing better than when a song or an artist explains your life.
Marianne Faithfull, with similarities to yourself, has for many years been overshadowed by her relationship with the Stones. She's now starting to come back into the critical consciousness in her own right. Have you heard her latest album, Before the Poison, and what do you think of it?
Marianne is often the victim of her own press, she is often all too happy to talk about Brian, Mick and Keith. Marianne knows this. She and I discussed it last year in San Francisco. But I love her and she is a trouper and a hard-worker and her last two recordings are stellar; it’s a shame she cannot stay on the road more, then she’d have the opportunity to get that glue and nail it nightly.
To set the record straighter than she’s been telling it, she had her first hit with me in 1964. She had three more with my partner Tony Calder between then and the end of 1965. That’s a lot more hits than Jonathan King had. At the time she was married and thought about Mick Jagger in much the same way I view Jude Law: Not much substance, too much pancake, dear. She did not start dating, if I may be so coy, Mick Jagger until 1966. I should know because they first entwined in my suite at the Mayfair Hotel.
Reading Graham Greene inspired you to write, you've said. What is it about Greene in particular that you admire?
The ability to tell you a whole story in a dignified paragraph as opposed to just trolling on. Something Gabriel Garcia Marquez does too and it’s something I thought I should aspire to when setting about my own biographies. It’s something I thought that Terence Stamp accomplished with his three volumes of biography; he was a more recent example to adhere to. I think that the shared gift of the three I’ve mentioned is the ability to share their time and make it yours. Turmoil with taste. You make a long journey through time and you are just one of the characters and that, I think, is what lets the reader into the time, the circumstance and the magic.
How do you feel about record companies pontificating about music downloads? It's interesting that there are re-issue labels out there that, through legal chicanery, manage to sell product without paying a penny in royalties.
Record companies pontificating about downloading is as banal as the crap about weapons of mass destruction. The big weapon of record industry self destruction is overhead and lawyers. It got started in the ’60s when we got cocky and said, “Talk to my lawyer”. Big mistake. They did, and, from that moment on, the game was up. I’ve won and lost a few cases in the past few years. Interestingly enough, the only case I won, which was against EMI with all its guns, was one in which I had written the agreement upon which the case was decided. The law allowed record companies to sell product without paying royalties. It’s an awful game unless you managed to beat it or are 19, invincible and prepared to meet it.
Charles Shaar Murray wrote: “Tastlessness is an arrogant reject of the obsolete and restrictive concepts of both good and bad taste; bad taste is an acknowledgement of the existence merely of good taste and a conscious attempt to defy it.One would place the Stones and all other great pulp artists in the first category”.
Would you agree? Were the Stones tastless? Were they more important for what they stood for, than what they sounded like?
I do not have too much time for writers like Shaar Murray when they are writing down to the art and effort that puts the food on their table. The quote above is minatory minutia. I’m not saying they should be serfs to our agenda, well, not quite, but they often forget who the real artists are. I do miss the time when criticism was more actual and less self serving to the star agenda of the writer. Martin Amis-ism can be a dangerous disease. Better that art in this quarter remain the diminutive of Arthur.