Keith Richards //
Life starts as an action-thriller. Policemen in Fordyce, Arkansas hold up Richards. They want the drugs and put Richards away, but with the help of his smart legal associate he fends them off and the loot stays in the boot of his car.
The episode serves as a prologue and is told at a fast pace as if Richards is talking to the reader. It’s the style in which the whole book is written. Straight from the mouth of the hero. An aged and mellowed hero. Mellowed by all the things he has seen and all the things he hasn’t seen due to excessive drug use.
Richards like to see himself as a pirate, a free and honourable rebel who is always on the move and locking horns with the authorities. He’s not a lonely soul; he likes the company of men and women. The bonds of family and friends mean a lot to him.
“Keef” was never meant to end up lonely and miserable with a needle in his arm. His LIFE is ‘sex, drugs and rock and roll’, but in the tradition of ‘Yo Ho Ho and a bottle of rum’. It’s not surprising that he gave Johnny Depp permission to develop the character of Jack Sparrow in Pirates Of The Caribbean. He more or less is Jack Sparrow and he has several hideouts in the Caribbean to keep company and make music.
Life is about friendship and music and Richards’ gentle disposition makes the book an easy read. James Fox has directed this book pretty well. It’s pretty well structured and a few journalistic tricks are used to keep the reader interested. For example, every once in a while Richards hints at his impending troubles with Glimmer Twin Mick Jagger. He then promises to tell all about it later on. However, if you like cheap thrills and spicy anecdotes or if you are interested in “how it really happened”, you will be disappointed. There is enough anecdotal material, but Keith forgives a lot and does not stay angry for long. Reading above and between the lines he himself has done a lot of things that need forgiveness, whether he can remember these things or not.
The drugs really kicked in the late sixties and seventies and Richards is not very reliable as a witness. Ultimately friends forgive each other in the end. This will also apply to most readers of the book. It's impossible to judge Mr. Richards for his (many) faults. He is the lovable rogue with the heart of gold. Furthermore he has a real interest in people and in their well being. In one instance he observes that a lot of the Afro-American blues players stayed in Europe (Denmark, England, The Netherlands, Belgium) once crossing the ocean in the sixties. Here they found respect and admiration, not just as artists, but also as equal human beings. An observation that somehow struck me more now than it would have a few years ago.
What is most enjoyable in LIFE is when Keith talks about his love for music and the pleasures of making music. For him a band is the ultimate place to be where friendship and music merge. He's very complimentary about fellow musicians, but never sycophantic. He has an eye for talent and is highly accurate and honest in his assessment of other people's abilities. Richards tells it all very vividly and passionately. He reminisces about the effect of hearing 'Heartbreak Hotel' for the first time and how suddenly everything was clear. He preaches how Chuck Berry basically is King and God at the same time, how Chuck opened the door to the blues. He talks about the tenacity of the early Stones to master every detail in learning to play the blues. It's all fun to read, from the choosing of a guitar when starting out as a professional musician (in the end he buys the Harmony) to the sheer joy when Richards discovers the open tuning in the early seventies so “he has to learn to play the guitar all over again". It's not only fun, it is also essential to understand how the specific Stones style developed from rhythm and blues through country.
One Highlight of the book is the anguish of Richards when he can’t manage the guitar part of 'You’re Right, I’m Left, She’s Gone' as played by Scotty Moore, and his response of disbelief when Scotty finally shows him the trick many years later. This part of the book, the period of the early Stones up to the recording of Exile On Main Street in France, is the most exciting to me.
Unfortunately, as in real life, time waits for no one. From the latter half of the seventies onwards the Rolling Stones decline artistically and commercially and the niggling personal stuff takes more centre stage. Keith loses focus as well. His excessive drug taking has taken its toll. The stories are fuzzier, his accuracy of description of the events dwindle. There's still music, this time he turns his attentions to reggae and ska, but the once all overpowering focus on The Rolling Stones is gone. Keef starts doing stuff on his own, having fun with his own party band, the X-Pensive Whinos and with other projects like the Wingless Angels. Therefore the latter parts of the book lack a bit of spark and in the end we almost enter the realms of The Osbournes when Grandpa Keith gives us his recipe for bangers and mash while shouting at party guests, because they made the spring onions disappear by mistake. But hey, that's what free-spirited pirates do, especially among friends. In short, that's life.
text by Wim Jansen / photo by Markus Moning