|Book Review: Life by Keith Richards (with James Fox)|
On the inside jacket cover of Keith Richard’s autobiography, Life, it reads in Keith’s handwriting: “This is the Life. Believe it or not I haven’t forgotten any of it. Thanks and praises, Keith Richards”.
Well, it seems pretty amazing to me that Keith could remember everything that has happened to him in his extraordinary life, considering I’m 21 years younger and can’t remember everything about my own less than extraordinary life and haven’t consumed a fraction of the drugs that he has! However, I will say that with his co-writer James Fox’s help, Richards has written a very compelling road trip of a tale of what life has been like for him from the time he was a boy in Dartford, England (he was especially close to his mum, Doris & Aunt Patty and we are privy to some of his letters to her), to his grandfather Gus teaching him his first guitar lick, to the day he met his destiny – and perhaps arch nemesis – in the form of the young Mick Jagger, to the day they formed The Rolling Stones; and later, to the lows of heroin addiction as well as Keith’s joy in being a part of the X-pensive Winos and the Wingless Angels.
The hefty, award-winning (Norman Mailer Prize) tome opens with a recount of Keith’s bust in Arkansas during the 1975 Stones tour with much humour and fond recollection for both foolish choices and dangerous behaviour. He reviews other busts as well, including one at his English home in Redlands, at Nellc?te in France, and the infamous 1977 Toronto arrest, and doesn’t shy away from talking about his drug consumption, what happened at Altamont in 1969, Stones mythology, or his own, at times, less than flattering behaviour. If it wasn’t for their powerhouse criminal lawyer, Bill Carter, Richards would have spent a lot more of his rocker days behind bars. Keith recalls, “The choice always was a tricky one for the authorities who arrested us. Do you want to lock them up, or have your photograph taken with them and give them a motorcade to see them on their way?” All laws do not apply to celebrities or really wealthy people and never have.
A lot of what has been written about Keith Richards has been fabricated or twisted by his own careless exclamations and the truth is that he has never had a blood transfusion; he just has a phenomenal constitution.
I can’t untie the threads of how much I played up to the part that was written for me. I mean the skull ring and the broken tooth and the kohl. Is it half and half? I think in a way your persona, your image, as it used to be known, is like a ball and chain. People think I’m still a goddamn junkie. It’s thirty years since I gave up the dope! Image is like a long shadow. Even when the sun goes down, you can see it. I think some of it is that there is so much pressure to be that person that you become it, maybe, to a certain point that you can bear. It’s impossible not to end up being a parody of what you thought you were.
What shines through in Keith’s Life is his absolute, undying passion for music, the legendary musicians who have influenced him throughout his career (Louis Armstrong, Elvis, Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters), his on-again, off-again love affair with The Stones, and his unquestionable love for his family: wife Patti Hansen, son Marlon, daughter Angela (whose mother is Anita Pallenberg) and daughters Alexandra & Theodora with Patti. He talks a lot about the technical aspects of being a musician and as a non-musician, that wasn’t quite as interesting for me, but I loved reading about his friendships and escapades with other celebs and infamous music figures.
There are some wonderful glossy black & white and colour photos from Richards’ archives in two sections of the book as well as black & white memories at the beginning of each chapter with a synopsis of the main events covered in the chapter which makes the book easy to skim through to find what you’re looking for.
I found Keith’s relationships with Gram Parsons and John Lennon (“He was so open. In anybody else, this could be embarrassing. But John had this honesty to his eyes that made you go for him. Had an intensity too. He was a one-off. Like me.”) very interesting and poignant, and reliving his relationship with Anita Pallenberg was somewhat akin to a raucous amusement park ride. Brian Jones seemed to be a walking disaster from the start, but we don’t get to know much about Mick Taylor (except that he was quite moody), Ron Wood or Bill Wyman as Keith is closest to Charlie Watts. We get a peripheral view of what was going on in the other band member’s lives from time to time, but this is, after all, Keith’s story and if you’re looking for the truth about the Glimmer Twins, you’ll get his side of the story here. I also noticed that he is a total gentleman when it comes to describing the women in his life and there have been a few (first love Haleema Mohamed, Ronnie Spector, Linda Keith & Uschi Obermaier), and is very loyal to his mates too.
I concluded from reading Keith’s book that Mick Jagger is the cold, pretentious, entitled prick I always thought he was (“Mick doesn’t like to trust anybody. I’ll trust you until you prove you’re not trustworthy. And maybe that’s the major difference between us.”) which is why I never really liked him or have considered myself a huge Stones fan even though I always thought that Keith was one, cool, f***ing freak of nature. It’s quite a miracle really that the band didn’t break up 30 years ago. Charlie Watts has probably just as much to do with their longevity than anyone else in the band, but Keith is indubitably its heart and soul. Perhaps because of the fact that for “many years I slept, on average, twice a week,” Keith Richards has done more in his 69 years than most people do if they live to be 120.
I love much of the Stones’ music because they created brilliant songs that are indelibly etched into the soundtrack of my youth (“You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, “Sympathy For The Devil”, “Paint It Black”, “Gimme Shelter”, “Satisfaction”, “Angie”). I regret, sadly, that I’ve never seen them in concert and likely never will. However, reading Keith Richards’ Life does help to dull the pain and it’s a helluva fun trip too!
Front jacket photograph: David LaChapelle
Jacket © 2010 Hachette Book Group, Inc.