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It is around this point that people begin to wonder whether Mr Jagger’s hold over the
American psyche is wholly healthy. Barnum, who fussed about the moral component of his
entertainment, would have had a fit if he had spotted the mother and two children in Giants
Stadium singing along to “Sympathy for the Devil”. Left-wingers blame Mr Jagger for
“destroying” the 1960s at a violent concert in Altamont, California – another “day the music
died” in “American Pie”. In “The Closing of the American Mind”, Allan Bloom identified Mr
Jagger as the pied piper who led American youth down a blind alley of sex and self-obsession:
Mick Jagger tarting it up on stage was all we brought back from the voyage to the
underworld.” Yet if Mr Jagger – a surprisingly well-read and courteous man off-stage – had
not led American youth down that hellish track, somebody else surely would have.
Fundamentally, Mr Jagger’s hold over American culture comes from his ability to hold
up a Barnumesque mirror to the country. Unlike the Beatles, with their Anglocentric paeans to
Penny Lane and Eleanor Rigby, the Rolling Stones have always been an American band, from
their heroines (bar-room queens in Memphis) to their grammar (“I can’t get no satisfaction”).
Above all, there is something irredeemably American about Mr Jagger’s desire to compete: to
prove that, even in their dotage, the Stones are still bigger than anybody else.
The Economist once railed against America being taken over by “decadent puritans”.
Mr Jagger might be described as a hard-working libertine: and America has plenty of those,
too. “How were the circus receipts today at Madison Square Garden?” were Barnum’s last
words. The Stones, doubtless fired by the same question, should arrive there in December.