9 Random Thoughts about the Keith Richards Book

17Apr12

For Christmas, I received the autobiography “Life” by Keith Richards, and I’ve finally finished reading it. Here are some thoughts I had:

1.) If I had the means and the time machine to do it, I don’t think I could be friends with the Keith Richards of the 60′s or 70′s. Or even the 80′s. Maybe the 90′s. And Maybe the 2000′s. This might be a result of a celebrity loving and nurturing his own myth, but he seems really intimidating. There are way more “threatened a guy’s life/got in a fight/pulled a knife” stories than I would have expected. Even if half this stuff isn’t true, there’s enough crazy crap in the legit half that makes him a little scary. Fascinating, but scary.

2.) Of all the Rolling Stones members through the years, the one who gets the least amount of page-time is Bill Wyman. And probably the least amount of respect. When he’s introduced, it’s more about how Wyman had an amplifier. That seems to be the biggest reason he got into the group. Then any other time Richards mentions a bass line, it’s more about who other than Wyman was playing it (like Richards himself on “Sympathy for the Devil”). The score card for the members goes like this:
Bill Wyman: very little time, not a lot of respect.
Ron Wood: a healthy portion, and critical respect (like a brother).
Charlie Watts: lots of respect, and a good chunk of the book, though none of it is personal. I think he comes off the cleanest.
Mick Taylor: only some time — more about the process of installing him into the group and how he left — and confusion (“Why’d he leave?”).
Ian Stewart: Lots of respect and time.
Bobby Keys: Respect, but more about the crazy crap they did together. I guess that would be “respect for crazy crap.”
Brian Jones: A TON of the book, especially the early days, having to do with living together and stealing food to live, absorbing records, sharing the same woman, etc. Not a lot of respect, but it does explain how some tracks — especially live ones — sound like there’s only one guitar playing. There was only one guitar playing.
Mick Jagger: It’s complicated.

3.) I had heard it was written in Keith’s “speaking voice” as it were, so I was very nervous I would get frustrated and give up. I was scared it would be like Pete Rose’s book, which is to date the worst book I’ve ever read cover to cover (it’s written with lots of down-home slang and phrases like, “Hell, I ain’t gonna give a dog’s damn about [this baseball rule or that].”). That’s not to say Richards’ book isn’t casual in its language, but for some reason it works better here. Maybe it’s because Richards is from England, and the slang used is just foreign enough to sound unintelligible and charming. Maybe it’s because Richards is a writer, deep down, and he’s been writing for nearly 60 years and he’s just better at it. Or maybe it’s because Richards’ voice has been so developed over the years that it’s easier to hear it in your head while reading. Pete Rose’s voice is all about hitting and starting fights.

4.) Keith Richards was a good letter writer. He includes some love letters, letters to his aunts and family and they’re generally funny and lovely. Just something I wouldn’t have guessed.

5.) The voice of the book is rambly, to be sure. Paragraphs aren’t traditional paragraphs, if you follow me. One idea will lead to another and by the time you’re at the bottom of a page that started with Chicago blues, you’re at how dinner time is overrated. You follow it, but it’s hard to keep up.

6.) For all the stories included in “Life” — and there are a lot — my favorite Keith Richards anecdote comes from my friend who saw Keith fall asleep at a production of “The Producers.” I just love that image, and it holds up with my beliefs of who/what Keith Richards is, and that is a dude who has no patients for Nathan Lane.

7.) I’m focusing my Stones listening on the Ron Wood years exclusively. Or, another way to look at it, the “during my lifetime” period. Anything from 1976 on*. After reading this book, trying to get through the movie “Stoned” (which is pretty terrible) and my usual music-listening patterns, I need to get some sort of variety in there. And since it seems like half of “Life” deals with everything from 1976 to the present, I started to wonder, “How does Voodoo Lounge sound these days**?” Up until now, I’ve held out, only including “Love Is Strong” on my iPod. Currently I’ve added the Richards-sung tracks from both Voodoo Lounge and Bridges to Babylon. I used to skip them altogether when I first heard the albums, but now — with the help of this book — I realize what exactly what those songs are: they’re not Rolling Stones songs. They’re Keith Richards songs on Rolling Stones albums. . Richards and Jagger went through a serious falling out, and it seems like the inclusion of these songs happened by way of Jagger removing himself from the process. Like it or not, to remove Jagger from the song somehow disqualifies it as a Rolling Stones song. Kind of like how John Lennon recorded songs in the 70′s with Ringo and George, 3/4′s isn’t a whole. Majority does not rule in these cases, and the fact seems clear that in order to qualify as a Rolling Stones song — to have that feeling and that power and that energy — it must have some touch of both Jagger and Richards on it.  ”Happy” is a Stones song, if for no other reason than Mick Jagger helps on the vocals. “Infamy” qualifies as the lone exception of the last 20 years, because Jagger provides the harmonica track. These are facts, in as much as they can be facts. Anyway… now I have to add Tattoo You to my iPod.

8.) Of all the discussion of substance abuse and wild times, the thing I’m most craved while reading “Life” was smoking a pipe. And Keith never really does that. It’s his father who smokes a pipe. I miss the smell of my grandfather’s old pipe and tobacco. Taking up any form of smoking is a great idea now that I have a toddler, right? Regardless, my considering smoking a pipe and avoiding every other substance mentioned in the book — including his father’s ashes — only acts as further proof for Point #1 above.

9.) The cover of the book must hold the record — or at least tie it — for “Most Pictures of Author Holding His Head With One Hand While Wearing An Un-Buttoned Shirt.” The record is 2.

*To be clear, for my current collection, this includes the following: Some Girls, Tattoo You, Voodoo Lounge, Bridges to Babylon, Stripped and A Bigger Bang. “Life” did make me moderately curious about the missing albums like Dirty Work, but not enough to go buy them. I don’t know what could ever make me curious enough to buy them.

**Answer: exactly like it did in 1994. In a way, Voodoo Lounge counts as “my Rolling Stones” because that’s who they were when I first got into them. Like it or marginally enjoy it, I’ll always be attached to it. Maybe this is why kids of the Prequels will always identify “Star Wars” in that way. Poor bastards.

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