If author Christopher Andersen had turned out to be a lawyer rather than a biographer, it's easy to believe he'd have been one of the ambulance-chasing variety.
Andersen writes books that tend to be labeled "scandalous" and "controversial," tomes with titles like "The Day Diana Died" and "The Day John Died," or more florid affairs like "William and Kate: A Royal Love Story."
Now, Andersen has turned his attention and his pen to rock's most iconic frontman, Mick Jagger.
Jagger, unlike several of Andersen's past subjects, is still alive and able to defend himself. It seems reasonable to assume, considering this fact, that Andersen would tread lightly and proceed carefully. Instead, he runs amok, assembling a laundry list of former lovers and third-tier "insiders" in order to prove his overarching thesis – that Jagger is a bisexual sex fiend who has spent his entire career attempting to couple with any reasonably good-looking human foolish enough to sit still long enough to allow Sir Mick to make his move.
Yawn. Perhaps for his next book, Andersen will set out to prove that water is indeed wet.
"Mick" is tabloid fodder all the way, its assertions and hypotheses boasting more holes than a sizable chunk of Swiss cheese, and its tone condescending and tawdry throughout. Which means it's likely to match, if not outshine, the sales figures attained by some of the author's previous efforts. Dirt-dishing sells, facts and sources be damned.
As a "definitive" Jagger biography, however, its merits are a touch dubious. If Andersen has anything more than a surface understanding of the Rolling Stones as a musical entity existing within a certain historical era, he keeps that information to himself, instead concentrating his attentions on Jagger's sexual exploits and his purported appetites for drugs and drink.
"Mick," as advance buzz indicated, unveils new information on Jagger-ian exploits, based on the author's interviews with former wives, lovers and industry types, all of whom have axes to grind. Its big moments include Andersen's assertion that Jagger and Eric Clapton were lovers in the late '60s. Andersen's source for this little thunderbolt? John Dunbar, "Swinging London" hipster, co-proprietor of the fabled Indica Bookshop, and most tellingly, the man Marianne Faithfull dumped when she took up with Jagger in the late '60s.
When Andersen places Jagger en flagrante delicto with David Bowie, Rudolf Nuryev, Angelina Jolie, Andy Warhol and former first lady of France Carla Bruni, among dozens of others, his sources employ an equally hearsay-based approach. None of the assertions are particularly difficult to believe – Jagger's sexual appetities are not exactly breaking news, and he has fathered children with many women over the years – but Andersen falls short of "proving" anything other than his desire to cash in on the much-publicized 50th anniversary of the Rolling Stones, the coattails of which his "Mick" seeks to ride.
Even when Andersen cites no source, he is prone to making wild assertions and cloaking them in the language of straight fact. One of many examples finds the interjection of a hypothesis presented as reportage in the midst of a paragraph describing Jagger's dalliances with renowned "groupie" Pamela Des Barres. "But Jagger was obsessed with sleeping with the wives of his friends," Andersen writes, sans evidence beyond the fact that Jagger messed around with Keith Richards' girlfriend Anita Pallenberg during the filming of "Performance" in the late '60s. That's just plain sloppy.
Speaking of "Performance," Andersen seems to have been granted uncredited access to that film's initial showings. "At an initial screening," he writes in a sourceless voice, "one woman who had seen one graphic sex scene too many vomited on a studio boss' shoe before she could make it to the exit." Great story. Andersen offers no proof that it actually happened, though.
"Mick" is highly entertaining, however – even if its chief entertainment value is based on the fact that it's a journalistic nightmare offering insight into the shoddy practices of tabloid-style biography.
Not since the late Albert Goldman attempted to cut the martyred John Lennon down to size with his putrid "The Lives of John Lennon" has a rock biography so shamelessly sought to cash in on its subject's popularity by tearing him down based on hastily assembled "evidence."
When Andersen has a quote to back up a particular assertion, it tends to be of the less-than-specific variety. "Bisexuality and androgyny were not only accepted, they were encouraged," Andersen quotes Dunbar in support of the assertion that Clapton and Jagger had a homosexual encounter. On the very next page, he offers the same supporting quote again. Apparently, this is supposed to silence any questions the reader might have concerning the veracity of the assertion.
"Mick" never loses its condescending tone, nor does it ever manage to come across as more than an attempted hatchet job. There are laughs offered, but they don't come at the expense of Jagger. One found oneself laughing at Andersen instead.
Ultimately, the best that can be said about "Mick" is that it boasts 46 pages of cool, mostly rare photos. That aside, it's largely a waste of perfectly good trees.
If you've been waiting for the definitive Jagger biography, well, get comfortable. This ain't it.
Jeff Miers is The News' pop music critic and has been listening to the Rolling Stones since the age of 4.
Mick: The Wild Life and Mad Genius of Jagger
By Christopher Andersen
Gallery Books364 pages; $27