Saturday, June 8, is Family Fun Day in my neighborhood. That means everyone from miles around gathers in a park to play goofy games, eat hot dogs and potato chips and listen to The Rockamatics, a local band that expertly plays covers of classic rock hits.
This is an annual event, and every year, I’m called up to the stage to sing an old Rolling Stones tune, doing my finest Mick Jagger imitation.
Now I’m not one to brag, but the fact is, I do a pretty spot-on Mick Jagger imitation. In fact, it is so flawlessly executed that, on some occasions, it has made my mother cry.
Let me explain. Mom, like many people of taste and refinement, sees the Rolling Stones, and Mick Jagger in particular, as the embodiment of decadence and sleaze, even now, after 50 years of rock and roll have threatened to make them respectable. And there’s no arguing with the fact that the Rolling Stones have made a career out of being decadent and sleazy in a way that no one else has ever done before or since.
I read Stones guitarist Keith Richards’ autobiography last year, and that guy has taken enough drugs to choke a horse. Actually, that’s not true — he’s taken enough drugs to choke a stable of horses, a dozen jockeys and half the people in the grandstands.
It isn’t the lifestyle, however, that caught my attention three decades ago. It all began when I was a 16-year-old goofball in a performing arts group in Los Angeles called the Kids of the Century, which started as a children’s choir with clean-cut youngsters standing on bleachers singing Bach cantatas but then morphed into a pop music ensemble complete with Michael Jackson moves and lots of parachute pants. (If you don’t know what parachute pants are, be grateful for the era in which you live.)
This institutional transformation required dancing. And, put simply, I can’t dance.
I was also 6-foot-4 by the time I turned 14, so I was a head and a half taller than everyone else. I was also gangly, skinny, awkward and ridiculously self-conscious. I tried to dance along, but my height and my clumsiness always put me in the back row, and there wasn’t a back row that was back far enough to hide the incompetence of my boogie.
Then, on July 13, 1985, I saw Mick Jagger take the stage at the international Live Aid concerts for Ethiopian famine relief.
Now Mick was gangly, too. And awkward. And way too skinny. He looked like some kind of eel. But he embraced it rather than apologized for it. As he flailed and gyrated across the stage, the crowd went wild. There was an enthusiasm and an excitement that I’d never seen before, all being generated by a guy who refused to be ashamed of how strange he was.
That was my cue.
After that, I stole his every move, and it worked for me. I came to terms with my own wiry body in a way that gave me confidence and entertained others at the same time. It also made for a great workout — try singing along to a three-minute Stones song in full “Moves Like Jagger” mode and watch it drive down your cholesterol levels.
This is not an endorsement of all the Stones stand for, but rather an appreciation for the fact that nuggets of joy can be found in unlikely places. It’s also an invitation for you to join me as I channel Mick on Family Fun Day.
Come see what Mom’s crying is about.
Jim Bennett is a recovering actor, theater producer and politico, and he writes about pop culture and politics at his blog, stallioncornell.com.