‘You Get What You Need’: Interview on Rolling Stones Fan Culture with Dr. Andrea Baker – Part 2

Dr Andrea ‘andee’ Bakeris a Sociology Professor at Ohio University. She specializes in studying the Rolling Stones and its fan base. Her new book You Get What You Need (Miniver Press 2014) is based on interviews with fans that she met through online groups like Rocks Off. The book does valuable work in documenting a specific fan community, thinking about its empirical history and the emergence of a translocal music fan culture. Dr Baker can be reached at:


Why write this as a popular book? What issues did you face by doing the popular version?

I wanted to communicate more directly with general audiences at that point in my life. At first I had intended to do a popular version of my online couples book, collecting more stories, but I dropped that idea. With the fan boards, reading them affected my own attendance at shows – I was going to more of them, and travelling further. I had gone to a few tours before joining the online groups, and now attended fan functions before the shows, meeting other fans I had known from online. I became friendly with people who shared a strong interest. I thought the fans might enjoy a book about themselves that they could access and read easily, and one that incorporated the online world. I hoped too, that fans of other musicians, or of film and TV celebrities could relate to the fan experiences in the book.

I started out wanting to pursue journalism in high school and ended up in sociology instead, long story.  One issue I faced was pulling away from academic writing, (re) learning how to express myself in a more casual, more readable style. To that end I took a few writing workshops and two seminars at the University of New Mexico’s summer writing program.  I am still studying writing and working on improvement. As I long suspected, doing good creative nonfiction is much more similar to writing fiction than I had hoped, never personally aspiring to write a novel.

Another issue I faced was how to get a publisher. Some thought the focus was too narrow, centered around one band and, as always with book publication, more so in today’s market than before, the size of the audience was questioned.  I ended up with a small publisher, willing to take the chance.  I hope that word of mouth will create enough of a demand along with any publicity the book can garner.  Without an academic audience of peers who may know your previous work or at least are informed about publications and conference presentations in your specialty or sub-field, appealing to those in and outside of the fans in the online communities becomes an ongoing goal. Reviews on Amazon play a larger part in the process of selling popular books than for academic writings.

A third issue was that a few fans didn’t want to be published in a book for popular audiences, rather than an academic piece. Some online posters had assumed I was a student writing a paper for class before I announced I was doing the popular book, since I started out doing the academic work. One said she had problems with another book about fans, apparently not feeling accurately represented there before, from what I could figure out. Another said she didn’t want her picture used to make money for anyone. 

The Stones are known for their audacious inhabitation of the blues. How do their fans negotiate issues of race? Did you encounter any non-white Stones fans?

An interesting subject, given the blues roots. As to other non-white fans, quite a few Asian people, younger and older, attend the concerts that I’ve seen. The band is very popular in Japan, and also in South America. I need someone to explain to me, though, why so few black people show up at Rolling Stones concerts. I once met someone, back in the ’90s and he told me people called him ‘Brown Sugar’ – a good reason not to go back! Shocking and insulting, I thought, but he had still returned to shows after that.

Rick James, quoted in a recent biography, said that the reason people told him they liked his version of Stones songs better than the original was that Mick imitated black singers whereas Rick was genuine in his singing as a black man. 

At the airport at curbside check-in wearing my Stones hat, a black baggage handler started singing the “Woo woo” chant from ‘Sympathy for the Devil,’ and we sang more of the song together as he walked me inside. That was fun. I wish I understood more about why there are not more visible black fans of the band. 

Do you have any ideas, Mark?

My guess is that especially in the 1960s, when the band emerged, potential fans from the black community were turned off the Stones because of the group’s value system, style of music and audience. By that point – except, I think, on the live circuit – black audiences had generally moved well beyond blues, towards soul and then funk. Writers like Nelson George have proposed that African-Americans lead the development of popular music genres, while whites tend to ‘fossilize’ black genres. My friend Claude Chastagner wrote a review of George’s book The Death of Rhythm and Blues, and mentioned that its author described Mick Jagger’s stage performance as “lame” compared to that of James Brown. It’s a reminder that fan passions, ordinarily, develop only for objects that are deemed acceptable within the existing peer group. Much more empirical work needs to be done on why artists attract more fans of specific identities and demographics.

Your points make sense. It’s a fascinating issue. Much more work is warranted, I agree.

You detail how the Stones were emblematic of the changes that led to the permissive society. What do people most forget about the 1960s that might help us get more historical sense of the Stones in their heyday?

People forget that appearance of young people could often threaten the older generation’s ideas of masculinity and femininity, so that men’s long hair and increasing use of jewelry and bright colors was unacceptable to them. The drugs older people consumed were different, not the psychedelics of the younger generation. Young people experimented more with sexuality outside of marriage and new living arrangements. All this had more in common with the “beats” of the previous era than the establishment’s folkways and mores. The Rolling Stones in their stage personas and private behaviors, represented the epitome of these changes, provoking strong reactions, akin to certain happenings in the film Easy Rider (Hopper, 1969). The Beatles were seen as good boys, relatively harmless in comparison to The Stones.  Later on, away from the Beatles, with Yoko, John Lennon was much more politically vocal against the Vietnam War than the any of the Stones. He staged a bed-in, wrote ‘Give Peace a Chance‘ and become tracked by the FBI in the US. In contrast, Mick briefly walked in an anti-war march and then wrote ‘Street Fighting Man’ about the conflict, invoking a status as rock musician that outweighed any actions he could take politically – essentially agreeing with Lennon’s lyrics in ‘Revolution,’ recorded the same year.

Kenneth Keniston did a fine job explaining how the values of the parents having children after WWII translated into a more rebellious mindset of some of their Boomer kids.  He showed how the parental emphasis on equality, for example, led to the next generation believing in it as a cause and supporting all races, religions, and genders. Their idealism led to the growing social movements of civil rights, feminism, and gay rights, and seemingly greater tolerance of difference among individuals in their personal lives. All of this was the context surrounding The Stones, part of the social fabric.

Did you like the Rolling Stones when you heard them at first?

I really liked some of their hits (‘Jumping Jack Flash,’ ‘Gimmie Shelter,’ etc). I also liked Mick Jagger in the movie Performance (Cammell and Roeg 1970), which I saw for the first time last year. I’ve always thought that there were at least two Rolling Stones: the blues rockers (playing ‘Satisfaction’ yet again) and the avant-gardists (doing things like ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ with Jean-Luc Godard in 1968). Is there a canon within Stones fan about which items amongst output are more important? Do fans simply follow the ‘greatest hits’ model?

Some fans seem to like the more avant-garde creations of the band, while others follow the more conventional path. What many of the hardcore people I’ve studied have in common – and here I define that operationally, as people who come online nearly every day to talk about the band – is that they prefer to hear at least some of the deeper cuts in concert. They often go to more than one show per tour and greatly appreciate variations from the standard set lists. 

For the first decades of their career the Stones seem to veer toward experimenting with various musical styles whereas for their last few albums, not so much. The surprises come more in which cities they add to their tours, places they haven’t played, how they incorporated guests, from opening acts to special performers on one or two songs, or adding former band members Bill Wyman and Mick Taylor to recent shows.

Mick Jagger still likes doing his films, these days more as a producer, though he performed on camera for Martin Scorsese in the concert documentary film Shine A Light (2008). He seems to like the tried and true with regard to the song selections, playing for the masses that don’t recognize the rarer tunes, once in a while throwing a bone to the hardcore with a less well-known song. He likes to do a good job, which is harder with songs played infrequently or for the first time.

To be honest, I find Mick’s general combination of conservative ethics and swagger a little annoying. His musical performance does it for me more than he does. That said, The Stones are so much part of the furniture in the UK. It’s hard to separate them from their legends.

What do you mean about Mick’s conservative ethics combined with the swagger? Do you mean his penchant for making money or something more generally political? Fascinating. I guess I have lowered my expectations of performers acting similarly on and off the stage, or rather don’t judge the art by the personality so much. I may be writing more about Mick Jagger’s various personas: his public demeanour onstage over the years vs. his private self.

By conservative ethics, I meant that once you scrape off that swaggering musician persona, Mick is basically an upper middle class guy who looks after his money. In America that might be seen as admirable entrepreneurialism. In the UK, class is more socially divisive and free market ethics are less supported. You have to remember that we lived through Thatcherism too in the 1980s, which meant hardship for the many and greed for the few, and – well – because of the influences of folk and countercultural elements, many people wished that rock bands were, politically, on the side of “the people.” So it’s a kind of economic thing. While the Stones will probably be most remembered for the 1960s, the way that they integrated with the commercial inflation of live music from the 1980s onwards is equally important. The strange thing about the Stones is that it’s hard to see them as “selling out” the 1960s; they were, in a sense, opportunists at every point. And that opportunism is both appealing (kind of “We like a bit of rocking chutzpa”) and annoying (“Have some caring social values, guys!”). 

You raise some provocative points. Looking after his money, oh, yeah, probably more important in the more class-conscious UK, as you say. I have been surprised at how conservative some of the US Stones fans are, both upper middle class and working class fans. I guess the idea of playing for “the people” pushed the band to do Altamont. Yeah, they never sold out because they never seemed to buy into collectivist ideas. We had Reagan to your Thatcher and the middle and working classes never recovered, but somehow the voters in the US haven’t protested much with their flat or declining wages. There was the blip of the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement. I remember reading a while ago how the US now surpasses the UK in class inequality, something people couldn’t have predicted back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, I don’t think.

I guess I don’t see them selling out the ‘60s at all, because first, I don’t think I know exactly what they had originally bought into then, and second, I’m not sure others with their success from the age of 19 on, starting in that time period, would do things differently. We have the example of age peers Bob Dylan and Neil Young who’ve perhaps retained more purity, although even Dylan is doing TV commercials now. Still, issues of bands are not the same as decisions of individual performers. Bands are complicated, often dealing with the matter of whether to stay together rather than splitting up over the years, given the different personalities and life courses of the musicians. For example, after he married Bianca, Mick moved more into the “high society” orbit of wealthy artists and fashionistas, pushing to the back burner at least some of the bohemian ideals he may have entertained before. Keith, however, from a more working-class background, continued his outsider, rebel style indefinitely, as much as people who become rich and famous can do.

I think you are right that wage disparity is way bigger in the USA than the UK, though “class,” I think, is more of a culturally marked thing here. Even if Americans of different income brackets live very differently, they have a notional continuum to bind them (materialism)… I always thought that the UK fans of Elvis liked him so much because, however poor and working class they were, the dirt poor of Mississippi and Tennessee were a lot poorer.

The other aspect of my concern was that Jagger’s performed masculinity seemed like a kind of rebellion against the persona of the reserved English gentleman. I guess that in some ways Elvis offset his immense sexual magnetism with a certain quirky ‘country boy’ humbleness, and in some way I’d say the same for the Beatles, whereas Jagger was an opportunist who milked his role as strutting sex object for all it was worth. He therefore contradicted the famous British stiff upper lip and embodied the brash desires of the permissive society. In that sense, he was the godfather of louche, no doubt an inspiration for Robin Askwith – who himself had a small career basically playing a Mick Jagger wannabe in the Confessions films. Askwith even did one called Confessions of a Pop Performer (Cohen, 1975)!

Yes, rebellion against British stiff upper lip… louche, I guess so… maybe a female perspective is different here.  I don’t quite see the sordid aspects, perhaps because of my geographical distance from the phenomenon of Mick, or from coming up through the counterculture era. Certainly he deviated from the traditional images and roles of men in the U.S.

The Stones’ subsequent relationships with women and girls have not done a whole lot to suggest that they have matured or become committed adults in the usual sense. Is that an unfair statement?
I don’t know about that, lol. Maybe it’s true of Mick Jagger, and to some extent Ronnie Woods, and Bryan Jones, who was downright abusive to women, given the testimony of other band members. Bill Wyman’s life is a whole story in itself, dating an underage girl and then marrying her. On the other hand, Charlie Watts has been married to the same woman all along, and Keith Richards settled down with one woman at a time, now married to Patti Hansen for over thirty years. On the errant side, with his alcohol problems, Ronnie was bouncing around for some time, and has finally quit alcohol and married a producer of plays. Before he became sober, as recently as 2009 he went to court after witnesses called British police while he was allegedly choking his young girlfriend in the street outside his apartment. Mick’s most recent relationship with L’Wren Scott lasted for thirteen years. He has never done well with fidelity, true, even conceiving a child with another woman that led to his last divorce.  

I don’t think becoming “committed adults” was ever a goal of theirs. Mick greatly enjoys children, and by any accounts I’ve read, he’s a good father. Remember too, these guys defined the idea of “rock star,” what a successful “bad boy” type in the public eye could be and do.

Did you find gender differences in the way that people enjoyed the Stones?

Not too many. I found women were more physically attracted to the musicians, as we would expect given the heterosexual norm, and they were more demonstrative, perhaps, at shows. Sometimes I get the impression that women are the ones most interested in their personal lives, and in their clothes, on and offstage, following traditional gender norms, with a few men joining in. However, there are also women who join the men in discussing the more esoteric aspects of the compositions, saying how each song is played at each show or in various recordings.  People of both sexes sometimes claim disinterest in any aspect of the band that is outside of the music they make.

In Boston when our editor of the volume of Stones papers – The Rolling Stones: Sociological Perspectives (Lexington Books, 2013) – convened some of us contributors early on, we had a discussion on heterosexual mens’ reactions to Mick. It’s really rather a complicated topic.

Heterosexual men’s reactions to Mick Jagger – ha – yes, complicated!

Complicated for women too. I’ve not liked his glam persona but have always enjoyed his flirtatiousness, his seductiveness, even if he performed it in an unusual manner, for men, anyway.  His relationship with women? Not so great, but really reflecting the swing in the 60s away from traditional marriage, which he always claimed not to want. He’s been in some very long-lasting, if not monogamous unions, again, not claiming fidelity to one person. Not appealing as a long-term partner to most, I figure. 

Elvis was a pretty poor role model when it came to committed monogamy too.


Earlier you mentioned that you have a perception of Mick being almost like a pick-up artist who is unscrupulously drawing on his music? Hmm, it’s not that he didn’t work very hard on writing the songs and perfecting his performance, huh? That attitude might be true of many celebrities that are successful. I had an older male friend who would talk about the unattractive male stars who could pull in the hot young females… Here many of Mick’s fans still find him very sexy, no matter what their age.

Of course Mick is also a hard working and charismatic musican, but in his case it’s the way that his associated celebrity personae fold into each other. I think that more than many other rock stars, he can be read as the outlaw opportunist of the permissive society era. I’ve not actually seen the film Ned Kelly (Richardson, 1970) but I’m not surprized that he played Ned.

I guess so. I may need to hear more about that! He seems to have made quite an impression on you – I’m thinking maybe we have run into the British vs. the North American versions of him you’ve mentioned.  Have you read the bios of Rod Stewart and the self-described Mick-imitator Steven Tyler?  Maybe not quite as many bed mates, perhaps, but many more drugs in Tyler’s case.  I’m thinking Mick may be most visible, I mean, his every move is followed, even lately with the ballerina.  Has he been unfaithful more than most? Perhaps so. I read somewhere that the Stones may have almost done themselves in with their excesses. But they didn’t, not after Brian Jones’ accidental drowning, anyway.

On the sexuality / gender / gender roles part, there is a female fan on the current course I am taking on Coursera about The Rolling Stones who insists that Mick Jagger is not androgynous. I mean, I just pulled up a recent picture with his hand on his hip, and I tried to explain to this younger person that the word “androgyny” and Mick were almost synonymous when the word started going around. That shows how his current persona doesn’t read unmasculine at all to some. She does agree, after my feedback, that the clothes and gestures Mick pioneered are now so accepted, they almost go unnoticed.

Some men do admire Mick for his showmanship, I find, and the charisma, but may stop short of praising him, unless they are very secure in their own identity.

All interesting… Is Mick androgynous? Yes, but as much or more in a performative sense than a “natural” or physiological one. He’s not exactly in between genders. I’d definitely see Mick as masculine (perhaps even misogynistic in his depiction of femininity).

More in a performative sense, true.  He used to have much thicker lips, more hair, and then his skinniness was less muscled too… Mick himself has said somewhere that it’s easier to be androgynous when you are young.

Do you think the Beatles vs Stones contrast has been overplayed? Did you encounter fans who ignored the supposed either / or choice between the bands?

Actually, two recent books discuss just this subject. Jim DeRogotis and Greg Kot chose sides and took turns defending their favorite band while critiquing the other in their volume The Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones (2010). John McMillian’s more recent Beatles vs. Stones (2013) offered an integrated chronology of the image and progress of both bands from the start.

In one sense I do think the difference has been overplayed, in that people can and do enjoy both bands.  Also the band members knew each other and even worked together occasionally.  On the other hand, they were bound to spark debate as the two greatest bands to come out of the “British Invasion” – starting within a year or so of each other, and, arguably, becoming the two best and most prolific rock bands of all time. Early Rolling Stones’ songs derived more directly from the blues than Beatles songs did. Along with members of The Stones, most Stones fans recognize that without the success of The Beatles, The Stones may not have flourished. And, of course, The Beatles wrote a song for them: ‘I Wanna Be Your Man.’ In fact, the fans I studied divide in their opinions.  Some rank The Stones far above The Beatles. Regardless of the Fab Four’s influence, they view them a short-lived pop band that was better in the studio. The Stones, in contrast, are seen as a blues-based rock band, best appreciated live. Some liked both bands from the start. Some consider the question of who’s better moot, because only The Stones continued to tour and produce new music after the 1960s. Not counting Paul McCartney’s long solo career, after The Beatles stopped touring and split up, members of the group lost sense of their collective identity.

Certainly the Stones were encouraged, in Keith Richards’ words, to wear “the black hats” to the Beatles “white hats” – the edgy vs. the cuddly band. This “bad boy” metaphor, largely conjured in contrast to The Beatles, was first defined and stoked by manager Andrew Loog Oldham, and then born out in greater reality after the drug bust at Keith’s estate at Nellcôte. Oldham really pushed the bad boy idea, the Stones in the black hats (as Keith Richards says his biography) to the Beatles with the white hats, really a brilliant PR move. Not that the Stones weren’t ready to step into that closely fitting role.

I did some research on the Sex Pistols w while ago and was surprized how much they were compared to the Stones. It was as if the Stones had already set a kind of ‘bad boy’ template. You can even hear the comparison on the Pistols’ famous interview with Bill Grundy.

Interesting on the topic of bad boys and the Sex Pistols; makes sense, really.  Fans argue whether the bad boy image was more constructed or true…it’s all relative, I guess.  There’s not much doubt that they were non-conformists, as a whole, in my mind.  They really did not want to wear a uniform, for example.

On the subject of non-conformism: celebrities are often framed as role models, embodying the values of their generations. Did you find that the band’s ethical contentions (sex, drugs and rock’n’roll) directly translated across to their fan base, or is the picture more complex? 

I think what more or less happened is a complicated process that I can attempt to vaguely describe.  First the “boys” were seen as very different-looking and sounding, and of course, they were even more alien to us in the U.S (and elsewhere), before we all became more-or-less Anglophiles, thanks to you in the UK.

On the influence, I have to mention “The Beats,” precursors to the hippies, who spawned the punks, three generations pictured in a great cartoon I saw years ago.  Ken Keniston described two groups within the counterculture in his books – the hippie wing in The Uncommitted (1965) and the activists in The Young Radicals (1968) – although much overlap existed in reality, in my view.  The Stones fit more with the hippies: writing a few somewhat political songs. They followed the Beatles in the typical musician’s stance which was typically distant and on the edges of protest, until John Lennon with Yoko Ono became directly involved in anti-war efforts. 

On the sex and drugs, both their personal lives and songs reflected (and embodied) much social change in that area, implying the acceptance of casual liaisons as well as romantic relationships, and ingestion of different types of drugs not seen among middle-class youth until the ’60s. Certainly Jann Wenner was right in his concern for photographer Annie Leibovitz’ decision to join the band on their 1975 tour. The Stones became a prototype for lifestyles of rock musicians to come.

Did they cause a breaking away from established patterns?  For youth pre-disposed to conflicting with parents and other authority figures in their lives, I think the band had an independent effect – however large or small – mixed in with wider social changes: a youth culture supported by increasing spending power, the widespread availability of the birth control pill and the sexual revolution, films portraying disaffected teens, the general settling in of a rebellious spirit… I try to capture some of that in the book in an early chapter on the counterculture and music of the era. Many people were deeply moved, some becoming life long fans. A few of the stories in You Get What You Need really illustrate that effect: how fans reacted – viscerally and cognitively – to what they heard on the records and what they saw and felt in the live performances.

In my own life, as I wrote about, the song ‘Get Off of My Cloud’ coincided with moving into an apartment building filled with disaffected young people – all experimenting with new life styles featuring cohabitation and psychedelic drugs, with the men searching for ways to escape the draft.

I enjoyed your discussion in the book of the distinction between ordinary and more dedicated fans at Stones concerts. What were the main differences?

The hardcore or super-fans will go to greater lengths to procure tickets, pay more for shows or travel further get to them. They often buy a set of tickets and then sell some, trading up for better seats as they become available. Online communities support that process. The fans’ goal is to be as close to the stage as possible. As I described in that chapter in my book, people sometimes have to wait in line for a several hours to secure the front row or two if a general audience “pit” is added in front. They can also “negotiate” for better seats than those they bought and “relocate” on the day. Compared to ordinary fans, they collect every recording (official and bootleg), and books written about the band. Many wear Stones apparel and buy other gear marked with Stones emblems.

Some of that variation is regional rather than marking the more serious fan. For example, I noticed at my shows in London that very few fans dressed in Stones t-shirts, whereas in the States, I would say the majority did, even if they weren’t hardcore fans. The hardcore sometimes wear their Stones apparel to events other than Stones functions, so that people in their everyday lives know they are fans. They have Stones songs for ringtones on their mobile phones.  They may collect Stones-related art for their homes.  Pieces include framed posters from shows, or more rarely, the work of professional photographers who shot the band over the years, or prints by the band member Ronnie Wood or German artist Sebastian Krüger. I have an article in Information, Communication and Society (2012) on the “material culture” or objects collected by fans and how they obtain and share the “artifacts.”

Towards the end of You Get What You Need you talk quite a lot about an elite of dedicated fans who spend their time flying to Stones concerts across the world. To what extent do you think fandom mirrors the class system, insofar that, under the guise of ‘true dedication’ richer fans get more opportunities to see the band than poor ones? 

Good question. Past a certain level, a fan needs a large disposable income to travel long distances to shows and to afford the tickets. As with anything else that someone choses to pour money into, personal earnings are only one consideration. Another is related financial planning: how much a fan saves, or how much in debt a person is willing and able to shoulder. These depend on priorities and on life style issues as well as dollars. In one case, I asked an independent professional, someone who was open about his affluence, how much he had spent on tickets during one tour.  His answer was in the five figures – an astronomical amount to me at first, but then I figured out that he earned about ten times as much as I did per year. There are also friendships and personal relationships that can make trips less expensive: instead of paying for a hotel, some people stay with fellow fans in one city, then play host when the Stones visit their town. Fans also add visits to family or close friends when attending shows, or combine business trips with concert-going in a few cases.

What’s unfortunate is that when ticket prices go up, most younger fans are priced out, unless they have a parent who can finance their attendance. One young man with a generous mother seemed to turn up everywhere, posting online about all of his adventures. That’s what was nice about the 85-dollar lottery seats in the U.S. and their equivalent elsewhere, “cheap” tickets that also promised a chance at a better spot than the upper ranges of the venue.

In the end, though, money does count, as does a job that allows you to co-ordinate your vacation with the shows, or the independence to take time off work when you like. Dedication is definitely part of the mix, though.

Where is your academic work going now and to what extent has your investigation of Stones fans informed your concerns?

I am still “in phase” with the Stones’ fans work, so to speak, and may likely be there for the next couple of years. I want to work on a paper comparing the main two (or three) online fan communities, focusing on leadership and technology. I find it fascinating how different they are, while similarly concentrating on one band. I may do a piece on Mick Jagger: image vs. reality as portrayed online through photographs and interviews. From there, I’m not sure, but I will probably go ahead with looking at aspects of the interplay between people’s online and offline lives, the merging of them – a topic that has interested me for the last twenty years or so.