What does a band that endlessly tours the world do when its members reach their seventies? Simple: launch a giant memorabilia exhibition that also endlessly tours the world. “Exhibitionism: The Rolling Stones” is a lavish retrospective of the band’s six-decade history, collecting 500 guitars, wardrobe garments, notebooks of lyrics, backstage photographs, original artwork and paintings and interactive installations that will make you feel—if only for a fleeting moment—like you’re part of the Stones. After opening in the U.K., the show makes its way to our fair shores for a five-month run at Industria in the West Village. And NYC is a logical first stop in the States: Besides Gothamcentric tunes like “Shattered,” which Mick Jagger wrote in the back of a cab, New York is where the scrappy outfit first took off in America (with a riotous gig at Carnegie Hall in ’64) and sparked a commotion that irked Ed Sullivan so much that he swore they’d never be back on his program, a promise the host didn’t stick to. (For more NYC music history, check out the 100 best songs about New York.)
For an inside look at “Exhibitionism,” I spoke with the creative center of the Stones since day one: vocalist Jagger and guitarist Keith Richards. (Drummer Charlie Watts is the only other original member who’s still in the band.) Of course, getting Jagger and Keef together for an interview proved impossible, so I had to settle for separate conversations. I caught Jagger on the phone, the day after his ex, Jerry Hall, married an Aussie hunk by the name of Rupert. He was staying at a hotel in Bogotá, Colombia (checked in under a surprisingly dull pseudonym). I interviewed Richards, by contrast, face-to-craggy-face in the smoking section of London designer hotel Chiltern Firehouse. He had an ashtray and a tall vodka tonic in hand and adopted an Italian mobster voice whenever he delivered a punch line…just as I would’ve hoped. Let’s start with him.
Photograph: AGF s.r.l./REX/Shutterstock
Keith Richards: “We used to shoplift! Also, we’d go to parties and collect all the beer bottles, because you could send them back for money.”
How involved have you been with “Exhibitionism”?
All I know is that I’ve been stripped of half my wardrobe! I still wear these damn things. They’re not history to me; they’re my clothes. I’ll find some more. I’ll tap up my old lady. That’s where most of my clothes come from.
Do you often swap clothes with your wife?
Yep. Anita [Pallenberg, Richards’s ex-partner] and I used to swap clothes. Patti [Hansen, Richards’s wife] and I have always swapped clothes. Even my daughters and I swap clothes. Not so much nowadays. Now they just take them.
If you’re low on gear, I’m sure Mick has some old jumpsuits you could borrow.
I don’t wear costumes; I’d rather be stripped naked. Mick and I have never swapped clothes much. There was a point in the ’70s when we all had a load of similar jackets made up, and it didn’t matter whose was whose—except when I got busted with acid in the pocket of one and had to say, “Hey, that’s not my acid!” Well, I’ll take the rap, I guess.
The Stones are prolific songwriters, so do you think it’s crazy that huge artists today, like Rihanna, use so many songwriters?
Well, they can’t rely on themselves, can they?
Ouch. What do you make of music nowadays?
It goes round in cycles. We’re in the midst of a heavy-duty “showbiz” period, even stronger than when we killed it last time. The X Factor and all this competition shit, it’s just for people who want to be famous. Well, if it’s fame you want, good luck. You’d better learn to live with it.
“Exhibitionism” has a whole room that re-creates the flat you, Mick and Brian Jones lived in back in 1962. What were you like as flatmates?
It was a slum! At the time, Edith Grove [in London] wasn’t at the best end of King’s Road. Brian and Mick sent their washing to my mum. We had another roommate who used to wear his underpants on his head.
What did you do for food and money?
We used to shoplift! Also, we’d go to parties and collect all the beer bottles, because you could send them back for money. At a large party, you might come out with £5. That was basically our main source of income.
I guess that’s a way of keeping your pants clean. I can’t picture Mick living in that kind of filth.
Oh, he can be squalid like the rest of us! It’s been many a year since I’ve seen him in squalor, mind [you].
Photograph: Amy Harris/REX/Shutterstock
Mick Jagger: “It’s odd that people are still banning Rolling Stones posters on the Tube.”
When I talked to Keith, he was complaining that his whole wardrobe seems to have been cleaned out for the exhibition.
I think it’s a good Keith story. Actually, my kids have a lot of clothes they’ve borrowed off me, so I’ve mostly been getting them back from my daughters. They’ve been wearing them all this time.
How has the process of putting on “Exhibitionism” been for you?
Obviously, it’s very personal for me, but you have to divorce yourself from all that and make it an experience for someone else. I mean, it’s not for my enjoyment! Don’t get me wrong, though; it’s fun to do.
Did you have a clear idea what you wanted?
Yeah, when we started talking about this about five years ago, we always said we wanted a lot of space so that there was room for our stage pieces. We looked at doing it in some huge warehouses, but they were all out of town. What I didn’t want was for it to all be on screens. People live their lives on screens so much that if people don’t see a screen for a second, they think they’re not alive.
What can people expect?
It’s the opposite of a corporate exhibition, in a way, because it’s so real. It’s not going to be predictable; there are a few twists and turns in it. The entrance room is a timeline of the band’s history, there’s a recording-studio room—based around Olympic Studios [the London studio where the Stones recorded six albums from ’66 to ’72]—and a re-creation of the house we lived in on Edith Grove. From a slick opening, people will go into this down-and-dirty room.
What were you all like as housemates, back then? What was the dynamic between you in those days?
Well, we never used words like “dynamic.” Not in that sense, anyway, Oliver! I can’t really remember, is the honest truth. I know that Brian and Keith were there all day while I was going to LSE [London School of Economics]. And it was definitely a time when we were working hard, learning the blues, endlessly, all night…imbibing it. It was a major part of the band coming together.
It’s almost impossible nowadays for a band to be able to live in the big city and exist like that. Are you aware of how lucky you were?
We were just living a student lifestyle. There were lots of other people living that kind of lifestyle back then. We didn’t think we were particularly lucky. During those days, we hardly had any money at all. Our parents used to give us some, like if we’d spent too much money in the pub and didn’t have enough for food—know what I mean?
The crotch-shot poster for “Exhibitionism” was banned by Transport for London. Were you surprised?
Well, it was never my intention to make it rude! It’s odd that people are still banning Rolling Stones posters on the Tube.
Do you still crave a chance to be antiestablishment after all these years?
I never craved it, and I never really cared about being antiestablishment! So, no.
“Exhibitionism: The Rolling Stones” is at Industria November 12–March 12 (stonesexhibitionism.com).