The Short Take:
If, like many people, you’re surprised Keith Richards has actually reached the ripe age of 67, you’ll be even more so after reading his autobiography. However it’s not his lifestyle but his commitment to music that will make a lasting impression.
I’ve never been a huge Rolling Stone fan – just ordinary “like them” — but there’s something about Keith Richards that fascinates. I knew I had to read his autobiography, and though it’s not the sharpest writing in the world (it has a certain rambling style that I found endearing but which others might find distracting), it is certainly revealing. And, while I don’t particularly mean “shocking,” there’s some of that, too.
The dust cover flyleaf gives you an idea of what’s in store. It reads: “This is the Life. Believe it or not I haven’t forgotten any of it.” No cute little essay about what you’re going to discover inside: Just start reading and get on with it.
The drugs, the arrests, the fights within the band, the loves, and the escapades are all in here. You’d be disappointed if they weren’t. But it’s his amazing passion for music — both his and others — that really defines the man. And there’s plenty of ink devoted to his musical life in this book. Some of it was beyond me — like his discovery of open tuning — but I loved reading about his love and respect for other performers and how they influence his own work.
Of course, being a Memphis native, I was thrilled to see local legends like Jimmy Dickinson, Scotty Moore, and the Stax and Hi recording stars prominently mentioned. But Richards’ musical interests not only encompass Blues but also Country, Bluegrass, Reggae, and pretty much everything else you can think of. And, you can feel his unfettered enthusiasm in every word.
One thing that struck me while reading this book was just how much things changed in such a short period of time in the 60s. Richards repeatedly points out how the establishment felt deeply threatened by this sea change in dress, behavior, and music. It sounds almost amusing today — the stuff of tabloid featurettes rather than mainstream news. But those truly were the times.
And, boy, didn’t Keith Richards fully represent most parents’ greatest fears for their own children? Absolutely!
A Little Plot:
You know the basics already. Richards’ autobiography covers everything from his school days as a choirboy soloist right up to his mother’s recent death. Along the way, some rumors are put to rest while others are given the stamp of approval.
More time is spent on the early years of the Rolling Stones, when they struggled simply to get a chance to play, then suddenly burst through and worked practically every day for years. Richards also includes segments written by others in his life who give their own point of view about various occasions. These observations highlight both some of his worse behaviors and some of his greatest moments. Heck, sometimes the two are one and the same.
But you expect nothing less from a man who was proud to be number one on the Rock Stars Most Likely to Die list for 10 years. You’ve got to say this: Richards delivers, both on stage and in this fascinating autobiography (with the help of James Fox).
If you want to know more about Richards, this book, and his many musical collaborations, click here.