A rocker’s guide to management

Ian Leslie in More Intelligent Life:

In his languidly titled autobiography, “Life”, Keith Richards tells a story that captures something about the workplace culture of the Rolling Stones and his decades as the band’s guitarist. It’s 1984 and the Stones are in Amsterdam for a meeting (yes, even Keith Richards attends meetings). That night, Richards and Mick Jagger go out for a drink and return to their hotel in the early hours, by which time Jagger is somewhat the worse for wear. “Give Mick a couple of glasses, he’s gone,” Richards writes, scornfully. Jagger decides that he wants to see Charlie Watts, who has already gone to bed. He picks up the phone, calls Watts’s room and says, “Where’s my drummer?” There is no response from the other end of the line. Jagger and Richards have a few more drinks. Twenty minutes later, there’s a knock at the door. It is Watts, dressed in one of his Savile Row suits, freshly shaved and cologned. He seizes Jagger and shouts “Never call me your drummer again,” and delivers a sharp right hook to the singer’s chin.

Rock stars sometimes seem to exist in a completely different world to our own. It is easy to forget that they, too, are subject to office politics. Watts was the drummer, and Jagger was the leader, or co-leader, of the band. It was Jagger who commanded stages around the world and took responsibility for the band’s major business decisions. But by calling Watts mydrummer, Jagger had upset the delicate balance of deference and respect that sustains the relationships between co-workers in any workplace. Of course, there aren’t many offices in which the principals take industrial quantities of artificial stimulants and launch themselves into fistfights. (Imagine being the HR director for the Stones – the paperwork!) But the dynamics of an incident like this are familiar to anyone who has ever felt compelled to request that their boss get over themselves.

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