Writer Barry Coleman has recalled the two frantic weeks he was given in 1983 to ghostwrite Mick Jagger‘s autobiography – a project which was ultimately axed.
The Rolling Stones frontman has still never published a memoir, and recently described the process of writing an autobiography as “simply dull and upsetting”.
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Speaking to The Guardian, Coleman recalled being drafted in by publisher Weidenfeld & Nicolson in 1983 to take the reins on Jagger’s autobiography after the previous ghostwriter failed to finish the project.
“[W&N] said: ‘You’re the only person we know who can do this,’” Coleman said. “So rather surreally I became Mick Jagger’s ghostwriter’s ghostwriter.”
Coleman went to work on Jagger’s autobiography in New York, though early problems arose when the original ghostwriter “stopped returning my calls” before Coleman was then given a deadline of just two weeks to finish the project.
“Two chapters were more or less presentable,” Coleman said of what existed of the autobiography when he started work. “The rest was a pile of interview transcripts, and nothing related to recent years. Stitching everything together was an awful experience.”
The Jagger transcripts included his recollections of meeting Keith Richards for the first time, guitarist Brian Jones’ death in 1969 and the Stones’ disastrous show at the Altamont festival where audience member Meredith Hunter was killed by a member of the Hells Angels.
“All the big stuff was in there, there just wasn’t anything interesting said about it,” Coleman said about the material. “There was always this sense in the transcripts that Mick was holding back, or trying not to hurt anybody’s feelings.”
While Coleman was able to finish the autobiography by the two-week deadline, Jagger had grown unsure about the project and ultimately decided to axe the plans to publish the memoir.
“We’d talked a lot about whether he still wanted to go ahead, or whether we could do it again, but differently,” Coleman said about those final discussions. “Mick didn’t blame me. He just didn’t want to do it.
“I think he respected his audience by not giving them something ordinary about an extraordinary life. I’ve lived with this story for 38 years with a certain frustration, but in a way it tells you more about Mick than anything that could have come out in a mediocre book.
“It needed Mick to be able to talk to someone like he might a therapist, approach his life from a tangent. Instead we ended up with something that was too pedestrian for Mick Jagger.”
Jagger previously said in 2014 that anyone who wanted to read his memoir should “look it up on Wikipedia”.
In 2017 the writer and publisher John Blake claimed to have a copy of the singer’s unfinished manuscript and described it as “a little masterpiece”.