In an era of music careers created in the democratic nowhere of MySpace, where the members of hot bands dress as if they were office temps, the days of the rock show as spectacle and the rock star as circus star are unquestionably numbered.
Yet arena rock, at least, still has a certifiable god in Mick Jagger. And, as the Rolling Stones blew through this honky-tonk beachfront city last week on the last leg of its Bigger Bang tour, Jagger gave a performance that was a master class in the genre.
As lithe as a boy, Jagger seems to defy age. At least he does below the waist. Grooved and sunken, his weather-beaten face betrays every second of his 63 years, and this makes it all the more startling when he prances and postures like some curious and gorgeous superannuated Pan.
It is Jagger's persona that a Stones show is built upon, and Jagger who inspires fans to travel great distances, blow the rent money on tickets and follow the Stones to the ends of the earth.
The music draws them, too, of course, but there are few sights in entertainment as compelling as Jagger's almost vaudevillian brio, his eccentric presentation and his achingly singular style.
"Mick Jagger has been living on the style edge since 1966," said Joe Levy, the executive editor of Rolling Stone magazine. "The edge keeps moving, and so does he."
Even a cursory trip through the archives of fashion makes clear that whenever designers as unalike as Roberto Cavalli and Tommy Hilfiger invoked some emblematic rock star, or rocker "icon," or rocker "rebel," Jagger was the point of reference.
Bowie was stylish. Bryan Ferry looked good in a suit. But it was Jagger who preened himself in a Mephistopheles cloak at Altamont; wore Ossie Clark jumpsuits split to the navel; and who appeared in a flounced neoclassical Grecian-style jacket to read Shelley at a concert after Brian Jones' death.
It was Jagger who flaunted billowing trousers designed by Giorgio Sant'Angelo, "mad things, beautiful things," as Tony King, Jagger's media coordinator for four decades, said last week. "From the start, the Stones had kind of their own look," King explained before heading from Manhattan to New Jersey for the Bigger Bang show. "They were very much not the Beatles, four guys wearing the same suits."
In truth, the Stones dressed identically in their very earliest incarnation, wearing the matching suits that were the boy-band uniform of the British Invasion. That they ditched these in favor of dressing as rowdies or dandies or rough trade or women probably owes more to Jagger, a lifelong clotheshorse, than to any other member of the band.
"It was in 1969, when the Stones made Gimme Shelter, when all of a sudden there became a need to have a look for a tour," King said.
It was also about that time when Jagger and his bandmates began affecting eyeliner and the dangling earrings that would eventually provide Johnny Depp with the visual cues for the character Jack Sparrow, his Pirates of the Caribbean homage to Keith Richards-as-dandy, a characterization that helped make a multimillion-US dollar franchise out of a dull cinematic cartoon.
Even as far back as 1975, when Karen Durbin wrote a Village Voice cover article about the Rolling Stones, she was not alone in pointing out the gender games Jagger was already playing through clothes. "He was very, very androgynous," said Durbin, now a film critic for Elle magazine, and so avid a fan she claims to have seen the Stones 22 times. "But he was also simultaneously a little scary, a little hard and indisputably masculine."