Mick Jagger, amateur linguist

Mick Jagger has appeared on Sentence first before, in my post about “bad” grammar in song lyrics. But I was surprised to learn that the Rolling Stones singer and occasional actor is something of an amateur linguist. Here, from Werner Herzog’s Conquest of the Useless, is a note written in Camisea, Peru, in February 1981:

We shot some footage with Mick [Jagger] and the little Indian boy who is called McNamara in the film, and both of them did such a good job that the team broke into applause. During the scene Mick was bitten on the shoulder by one of the monkeys and laughed so uproariously about it afterward that it sounded like a donkey braying. Whenever we take a break he distracts me with clever little lectures on English dialects and the development of the language since the late Middle Ages.

Werner Herzog - Conquest of the Useless - Reflections from the Making of Fitzcarraldo - book coverHerzog’s book is a darkly poetic account of the director’s protracted attempts to film Fitzcarraldo, the centrepiece of which involves hauling a ship over a mountain in Peru. At one point Herzog, faced with the “obscene, explicit malice of the jungle”, describes feeling “like a half-finished, poorly expressed sentence in a cheap novel.” There are no such sentences in the book, which I highly recommend.

And in case you were wondering: Jagger’s role was later cut from the script, through no fault of his own.

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8 Responses to Mick Jagger, amateur linguist

  1. […] grammar problems in his song lyrics? Is he the only one guilty of it? Here is a chance for you to learn about […]

  2. Barrie says:

    Are there any examples of the clever little lectures? What is clever to one might seem banal to another.

  3. I’ve always loved Keith Richards’s comment about Mick’s linguistic abilities after he attempted to speak to the crowd in a language they would understand at a concert in Brussels: “He’s always been good at Belgian, Mick.”

  4. Stan says:

    Barrie: Unfortunately no; that’s all we’re told of the lectures. Looking at it the other way: maybe they would seem banal to a native-English-speaking student or teacher of the language, but Herzog is none of these things.

    Martyn: Ha, that’s a good line. Even better if the humour was intended.

  5. Having read Keith’s excellent autobiography, I’ve no doubt the humour was completely intentional. He clearly loves to puncture Jagger’s pretensions.

  6. Charles Sullivan says:

    I wonder what scenes of Mick Jagger were cut from Fitzcarraldo. Mick singing to the natives from the steamboat instead of a recording of Caruso?

    • Stan says:

      Charles: Jagger played a character called Wilbur, but the book doesn’t have much detail on what the role comprised, or precisely what scenes he appeared in. I don’t remember if there’s anything about it in the documentary Burden of Dreams.

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