I first saw Mick Jagger performing in 1962. I didn’t plan to. My chums and I had gone to the Ealing Club to see Alexis Korner’s band, we turned up, and we got this lot instead: the Rolling Stones. Babies. Not up to Korner’s standard, we thought, rather snottily. We’d never heard them. What a disappointment. Even if it was reduced from 2s 6d to 2s for the Stones. They didn’t even look that thrilling; ordinary jackets and woollies, hair a moderate length, Mick Jagger had a fairly chubby face and his V-necked leather jerkin wasn’t very hip. But we soon grew to love them. I still do, and now here we are, 51 years later, Mick is 70 this Friday and his band is still going.
Good. Why not? In those days, nobody sneered at elderly musicians. We, and the Stones, admired them tremendously. Muddy Waters, Big Bill Broonzy, Howling Wolf and Leadbelly were all our heroes, and all old men. Nobody thought they ought to bow out and shut up because they were over 60. More recently no one droned on about wrinkles or sneered at the Cuban Buena Vista Social Club because they were getting on a bit. Compay Segundo, the singer, was 89. Beat that voice if you can. Nor would we now tell Barenboim or Alfred Brendel to take a rest. These performers all prove what I always thought – that musicians improve with age. They have more experience and they’ve practiced for longer.
There was tons sneering after Glastonbury. I wouldn’t advise Jagger et al on what attitude to take towards this daft criticism; they presumably ignore it anyway. But I hope they all go on till they drop, and Jagger just carries on singing. As for his dancing on stage, what’s wrong with that? What is he expected to do? Come on stage, walk about slowly and have a sit-down?
How sick I am people who think that the elderly should act with decorum until they fade out and quietly drop dead in their cardigans. I didn’t know there was a cut-f age at which one should stick to shuffling around at a tea dance or give up dancing altogether. I still sometimes have a dance, usually by myself or with chums at home, including some Jagger moves, because I’m not brave enough to dance or sing in public, and never have been, but I can only admire someone who dares fling themselves about in front an audience thousands, and does not give a toss whether some stuffed shirts out there think they look a bit silly because they’re getting close to 70.
Nobody at Glastonbury this year seemed to mind the Stones’ performance. I watched them on telly, playing, prancing about, camping it up in front that vast crowd, Ronnie with a dangling ciggie in his mouth, Mick pouting, Keith doing whatever he fancied and Charlie just drumming and perhaps wishing he was elsewhere – it was almost a comic turn. They made me laugh, feel cheery and have a little dance (they made me even cheerier because they’re giving the shoes they performed in to smallstepsproject.org, a charity which buys shoes for barefoot children living on rubbish dumps). And it struck me that if you can entertain 100,000 people in one place and make them that happy, then you must be getting something right. That is the point music. It unites people, perks them up, and brings them pleasure. It gives them hope and strength, and ten makes them want to dance, however old they are. Whether the musicians have wrinkles or not has nothing to do with it.
Eubie Blake, the American composer, songwriter and ragtime and jazz pianist, lived until he was 100. He died in 1983. “If I’d known I was going to live this long,” said he sensibly, “I’d have taken better care myself.” Perhaps Jagger took note this advice, because he’s taken very good care himself. All that singing and dancing has probably been very good for his health. Let’s hope he has a good few birthdays left to go.
• This article was amended on 26 July 2013 to correct the spelling Alexis Korner’s name.