Keith Richards Does Life As Only He Can
Life By Keith Richards with James Fox Little, Brown, And Company, 576 pp, $29.99.
Watch this first. It's Keef's own intro to Life: "It starts with a bang."
The first chapter of Keith Richards' first-ever memoir, Life, reads like a deleted scene from the Johnny Depp movie Blow. There are knives, cocaine, briefcases filled with cocaine, crooked cops, lawyers, more cocaine, a parade of fans and our boy Keef in the middle of it all, nonplussed and waiting it all out.
And within a matter of pages, we are back to World War II, watching little Richards being born during a rain of German artillery shells in England, proving that the man has never been one for serenity and silence.
Life, simply put, is perhaps the best rock and roll book ever written, by someone who has been on the front line since almost the beginning, first as a fan, then a struggling artist, a teen sensation, a counter-culture figure, a libertine drug user making some of the most iconic riffs we will ever hear, and onto rock and roll legend. He personifies the genre at this point, too tough or too stubborn to die.
For the longest time, what we all knew of Richards was tabloid-engineered, flamboyant rock-writer fantasy, or stern finger-wagging from straights who just didn't get it. Finally with Life and its 576 pages, we find out that only 75 percent of what were all brought up knowing was actually true. Even he stays flippant on the alleged blood-changing episode, but is up front about snorting his pops ashes. Read the book for the details.
Through Life, you find that the icon is incredibly coherent and open about his troubles. He makes no regrets known about his drug use, even hinting that he only just stopped doing cocaine after his head injury in Fiji. His heroin tales are frank and detailed. He never shot up intravenously, only muscle-popping, and medicinal-grade cocaine is the only way he has rolled or will ever roll.
The recording of most of the Stones' albums is chronicled, but making Exile On Main Street in France gets a good chunk of the book to itself. The extracurriculars around its creation will have you laughing maniacally along with Richards. He gets an allotment of pure heroin from an associate and basically has to mix it himself for the whole tribe, lest they not overdose. Keith the pharm tech...
The grind of touring with the Stones is alleviated with the help of his young son Marlon in the '70s. Marlon grew up with the band, and is more of a partner in crime than a child. It's a cute detour in the book. Marlon woke his father up for gigs because anyone else risked being stabbed or shot.
Richards' relationship with Stones singer Mick Jagger is testy but loving. He calls him "Brenda" behind his back and with the rest of the band. He hates him with the most love you can imagine. After 50 years of musical matrimony, how could he not?
There are long expanses where you hear the man speak about the art of guitar in terms and language only reserved for women's literature. He's been in a life-long love affair with the instrument, and will die with a guitar around his neck.
His love affairs weren't all of the guitar variety. Richards' cast of females is almost constant throughout, but a few you will know as well as him the end of the book. His wife, Patti Hansen, comes in later in the game to save him from the '80s; now they have two daughters together.
This book is a goldmine for Stones fetishists, and a must for anyone who calls themselves a student of rock and roll. Above all, it's a story about a man finding redemption in the strangest forms. Be it music, Jamaica, family, or the road.
Be sure to pick up the audio book version of Life. It's read by Johnny Depp and an actor portraying Richards. If you liked Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas, imagine that book stretched out over almost 70 years.
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