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BOOK REVIEW: "Life" by Keith Richards

Little, Brown
"Life" by Keith Richards
Fertile Ground Compost Service
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 by Keith Richards (Little, Brown) 2010

Who would have ever thought that one day Rolling Stones
guitarist Keith Richards would allow one-and-all to read about his life in the
form of a hefty autobiography appropriately called Life?

Well, Richards did just that late last year and the journey
he takes us on has plenty of ups and downs, highs and lows (and I mean HIGHS),
and thoughts on music, his Stones bandmates and touring and what it is to be
Keith Richards, cuz we all know there is only one Keith Richards.

For me, the Stones made an early impression. My Dad was a big fan (still is) and he had a stack of Stones records that I enjoyed listening to when I was getting into rock in my early teens. The 1970 live album Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out! (the one with drummer Charlie Watts jumping in the air next to the donkey) and '72's Exile On Main St. made particular impressions, as did 1965's December's Children (And Everybody's). Changed my life!

Life is a wild
ride and it gets off on the right foot with Richards (aided by long-time friend
and journalist James Fox) recounts the time in 1975 when he and some companions
were traveling the back roads of Arkansas and the local constabulary – sounding
like something out of a Dixie-fried B movie - didn’t take too kindly to some
long-haired weirdoes with English accents looking like they were up to no good.

And it just gets better and better. How does “Keef” get out
of that pickle? Well folks, you’ll just have to read about it.

Okay, well, let me at least give you a taste: “It was 1975,
a time of brutality and confrontation. Open season on the Stones had been
declared since our last tour, the tour of ’72, known as the STP. The State
Department had noted riots (true), civil disobedience (also true), illicit sex
(whatever that is), and violence across the United States. All the fault of us,
mere minstrels. We had been inciting youth to rebellion, we were corrupting
America, and they had ruled never to let us travel in the United States again.
It had become, in the time of Nixon, a serious political matter. He had
personally deployed his dogs and dirty tricks against John Lennon, who he
thought might cost him an election. We, in turn, they told our lawyer
officially, were the most dangerous rock-and-roll band in the world.”

A gripping paragraph – and that’s the first page of chapter

Richards strikes you as a pretty easygoing,
live-and-let-live sort of bloke. He recounts growing up in Dartford, England
with two loving parents and he, an only child. He discovers rock n’ roll and
rhythm-and-blues and the guitar and of meeting Mick Jagger. his friend and
fellow Stones songwriter who, according to a baffled Richards, transforms into “Brenda”
by the mid-80’s, the name being his way of putting down his “brother” who he
thinks has become a pompous ass worthy of such a derisive name.

And I note that Richards considers Jagger his “brother” and
not so much a friend. That, he explains, is because brothers can fight and
squabble and still be there for each other when the going gets tough. How could
you be in a band together, off and on, for just under 50 years, and not
exchange a few verbal blows or have disagreements? In the mid-80’s, Jagger does
some backroom dealing without the other band members and ticks Richards off,
particularly when Jagger does some flimsy solo stuff while continuing to
perform Stones songs on solo tours. Richards finds this highly obnoxious.

And you can’t help but love it when the earthy guitarist
talks about Jagger accepting knighthood and laughing about it, saying that he
won’t be “Lord Richards,” instead he will be “F*cking King Richard IV, with
that IV pronounced eye vee.” Classic

Drugs do play a big role in Richards’ life - at least they did in the old days. “There’s not
much you can really say about acid except God, what a trip!” he writes, offering up one example of his parataking of mind-altering substances.

Coming in at 547 pages, the book really rolls right along
(like a rolling stone?), thanks, in part, to the conversational tone of the
writing (you feel like he’s right there in the room with you, strumming his
guitar and sharing stories) and the fact that it’s Keith Richards and he’s done
it and seen it all. The weird people, the drugs, the arrests, the parties, the celebrities,
the music the wild experiences that surrounded the Stones for years on end.
Richards brings his life into your life in vivid, living color.

Regarding their biggest hit, 1965’s “(I Can’t Get No)
Satisfaction,” the self-proclaimed “riff master” said that the “track that
launched us into global fame” just sort of came together in a serendipitous
sort of way – in his sleep. An amazing accomplishment. With that fuzz tone
guitar just seemed to work and it made the song what it is today.

Writes Richards: “A peculiarity of ‘Satisfaction’ is that it’s
a hell of a song to play on stage.”

And that song helped push the band further, he explains,
noting the sitar Brian Jones played on 1966’s “Paint It Black.” It was
reflective of the times and Richards said the newer, experimental sounds that
were developing were so he could “spread the wings a bit.” Lord knows it

Then there is their rivalry with The Beatles. Deciding that
the groundbreaking Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely
Hearts Club Band
needed to be answered with a Stones version of
psychedelia. Of course I speak of late ‘67’s Their Satanic Majesties Request, which Richards notes was “all a
bit of flimflam to me.” Richards said that after that decidedly mixed album, where
the Stones had ventured into experimentation that betrayed their R&B and
gritty rock roots, they get a new producer, Jimmy Miller (the stuffy Andrew
Loog Oldham is out) and “Out of the drift we extracted Beggars Banquet and helped that the Stones to a different level.
This is where we had to pull out the good stuff. And we did.”

And the good stuff continues to surface – the best stuff, in
fact. From Beggars Banquet to Let It Bleed. From Sticky Fingers and to their watershed Exile On Main St. The Stones were at their peak. All the while
there were those arrests, the wild parties, the death of the Sixties and
Altamont and Richards’ befriending of country-rock pinup Gram Parsons. They
also lost multi-instrumentalist Brian Jones in July 1969, via accidental
drowning. Jones had been fired prior to his death and the transition with new
guitarist Mick Taylor, at a big gig at Hyde Park a few days later, was fairly
flawless. The Stones simply moved on. Oh, and Mick Taylor inexplicably quits and Ronnie Wood of Faces joins up. Been there ever since.

Sadly, not much is said about the late and lamented Brian
Jones, the actual founder of The Rolling Stones back in 1962. Jones had his
particular problems by the late 1960’s, not showing up for practice on time or
much at all. Any real thoughts or feelings he may have had for Jones are not
expressed to any great degree, except in nasty sorts of ways. The only Jones
who gets real praise is the current touring bassist Darryl Jones who replaced
original bassist Bill Wyman in the mid-1990’s.

He does speak warmly about Ian “Stu” Stewart, the band’s
original keyboardist who ultimately was left out as a touring member – he didn’t
have the right “face” for rock n’ roll – he remained part of the organization
for years afterward.

“Ian Stewart. I’m still working for him. To me the Rolling
Stones is his band,” writes Richards. “Without his knowledge and organization ,
without the leap he made from where he was coming from, to take a chance on
playing with this bunch of kids, we’d be nowhere.”

Richards also makes good use of quotes from friends and
acquaintances old and new. Andrew Oldham, Ronnie Spector, Jim Dickinson, Marianne
Faithfull, Bobby Keys, and others. They offer some real insight into
experiences Richards is recounting – as best as he can remember it anyway.

There are the creative lulls. The death of his infant son The
“Sucking in the Seventies,” as it were. Dabblings in disco. Sounds that were
incorporated in the studio but added little depth to the final recordings. His
marriage to Patti Hansen. Life in Connecticut, forming the side project The
X-Pensive Winos, and the Stones’ comeback in 1989 with Steel Wheels.

And life seems to be treating Keith Richards pretty well
these days. Despite a nasty fall on a South Pacific island and the New Zealand
doc (and Stones fan) who put him right again, things have been going pretty well,
following successful tours behind Voodoo
, Bridges to Babylon, Forty Licks and A Bigger Bang.

But everyone wants to know about Keef and Mick. Are they
friends? What is their relationship like now?

Pick it up and find out. And find out so much more about a guy who tends to be a bit misunderstood but comes across as a real talent and a true gentleman.

Copyright 2011 West
Marie Media

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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