Life by Keith Richards

Life

With the Rolling Stones, Keith Richards created the riffs, the lyrics and the songs that roused the world, and over four decades he lived the original rock and roll life. Now, at last, the man himself tells us the story of life in the crossfire hurricane....

Title:Life
Author:
Rating:
ISBN:0297854399
Edition Language:English
Number of Pages:564 pages

Life Reviews

  • Steve

    I started listening to the Rolling Stones back in the early 1970s. “Hot Rocks” (an early “greatest hits collection – and still one of the best by any band), “Sticky Fingers,” “Exile on Main Street,” “It’s Only Rock and Roll,” etc. In terms of the group and its history, I caught them in their second wave, the one where they had morphed into the “World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band.” I saw the band once, during their “Tour of the Americas” tour (the one where Ron Wood joined the band). I hung with

    I started listening to the Rolling Stones back in the early 1970s. “Hot Rocks” (an early “greatest hits collection – and still one of the best by any band), “Sticky Fingers,” “Exile on Main Street,” “It’s Only Rock and Roll,” etc. In terms of the group and its history, I caught them in their second wave, the one where they had morphed into the “World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band.” I saw the band once, during their “Tour of the Americas” tour (the one where Ron Wood joined the band). I hung with them up through “Emotional Rescue” – and I might of even had a cassette copy of “Dirty Work” (the agreed upon low point for the band) lying around on the floor of my car. Only recently have I been listening to a number of their late period albums (which are better than I would have thought, but a bit more on that later). In other words, I’m a fan. I have followed the group for quite a while, know (or thought I did) the old war stories, the fights, the music, on a level that was probably beyond that of a casual fan. Which is why I hesitated at first reading Richards’ autobiography. I figured I would be sentencing myself to over 500 pages of stories I had largely read about before.

    Well, on the long Memorial Day weekend I saw that the book was out in paperback, and thus no longer the size of a phone book. Richards’ kohl rimmed eye (beyond the skull ring and lit cigarette) stared back at me. I had too much time invested with this group. I had to read it. I’m glad I did. I’m not a big fan of rock bios, but Richards (along with his writer pal, James Fox), has crafted the best book of its kind that I have ever read. The only other rock memoir that I would put on the same shelf would be Dylan’s “Chronicles.” But that effort is still uncompleted, and due to Dylan’s own cryptic approach, less revealing. Richards, on the other hand, will tell you everything, from drugs, music, and sex, to how to cook “bargers.”

    Does he wander a bit? Sure, especially toward the end. But part of what makes this book so interesting is that it does capture Richards’ voice. As a reader, you feel as if you’re listening to a long, fascinating conversation. It can disgust you at times, but also surprise you. Outside of a silly near drug bust beginning in Arkansas (which for me underscored just how lucky Richards has been over the years), the book is told in a chronological way. The early chapters, focusing on Richards’ childhood, hooked me right away. These were very well done, painting a post World War II picture of Britain that seemed more a cultural history than a rocker’s bio. Richards’ exposure to music came early, in large part due to the bohemian lifestyle of one set of grandparents. One surprise was Richards singing in a school choir – and being pretty good at it, at least until his voice broke.

    Then come the Stones years. Mick (an old childhood friend), Brian, Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman, and others, parade by on a quickly accelerating train to fame. One thing that struck me was how hard these guys worked at their music. Even then, Richards was surprised when fame came. As he tells it, “something happened.” One moment they were the opening act for the Everly Brothers, the next moment the screams were for them. He sensed the musical shift coming, but when it happened it was still a surprise. No doubt that other group down the road, the Beatles, noticed it even sooner.

    And it’s the Beatles, and their success, that make the Stones. The Stones, up to a certain point, were a cover band doing old blues numbers, and loving it. But their manager at the time, Andrew Lloyd Oldham, knew they had to do more, become original, in order to survive. At this point Richards and Jagger were shoved into a room and told to write a song. The chemistry was instant, probably already there due to a long established friendship that included a love of the same music. The songs, the hits, started coming, and at an amazing pace. The band was now a Jagger – Richards band.

    I may have enjoyed this part of the book the best, since Richards’ telling seems fresh. In addition, Richards takes occasional musical pauses, explaining how he learned to play this or that, and how it worked in X or Y song. I’m not a musician, so I don’t really know what he’s talking about, but taking a step back, you can see the man’s love of music on display.

    And then there are the drugs and the women. For Richards the perfect storm is Anita Pallenberg. Clearly he loved – and to some extent, still loves her (Richards is devoted to his women). But together they are also two addicts in love with heroin. Their relationship would produce three children. Two have grown up to be (against all odds) fairly normal, and one would die, sadly, from crib death (or neglect, it gets kind of fuzzy here). Pallenberg, a free (insane?) spirit, would film a movie with Mick, called “Performance.” There’s a brief affair between the two (rumored to be captured on film) that Keith finds out about later. In the book, Richards downplays this, saying he knew what Anita was like, but then childishly points out how he “had” Marianne Faithful (Jagger’s girlfriend), and then jumped out the window as Mick arrived. It’s a story that’s meant to wound. One personal trait that strikes you about Richards as you read on is that Richards is big on Loyalty. For those who want to find a fracture point with the Stones, I suggest that this, Jagger’s dalliance with Pallenberg, is it. I take Richards on his word regarding Anita, but it’s Jagger, his childhood friend, and what he did, that started the downward spiral between the two bandmates.

    I could go and on and on about this book. It’s a long book, a long history, and Richards tells it all. But the heart of the book is the relationship between Jagger and Richards. Throughout the book there is withering fire from Richards directed at Jagger. It’s not a black or white criticism however, since Richards often praises Jagger for his performances, his work ethic, his friendship. It’s an honest attempt to be honest. Less honest is Richards' treatment of his drug abuse problem. He pats himself on the back for beating smack, but does it in such a way that suggests he was always in control. This is junkie-speak. At one point he says, jaw droppingly, “I never really overdid it.” Even if Richards did beat his addiction, he merely substituted it for another: booze.

    In the late 70s and 80s, as Richards sunk more and more into drugs, Jagger began to exert more control of the band. He also started to look for an exit – via his own solo career. This is probably fracture point No. 2. Richards’ loyalty to the idea of the band, the Rolling Stones, is total (whatever that now means). Jagger’s attempt to start up his own career around the time “Dirty Work” came out, nearly ended the band. However, Jagger’s failure to get traction in his own career (his solo albums sucked), would lead to his return to the Stones. Interestingly, Richards’ solo efforts gathered some critical praise.

    Jagger’s return would also insure that the Rolling Stones would become very rich due to the new economics of touring (and Jagger's sharp eye). But for Richards, it’s not (so he says) about the money, but the music. Jagger would try and push the band into whatever (Richards says) Mick heard the previous night at the disco. Richards was/is the rocker who wanted to stay that way. Most critics would agree when actually looking at the later Stones albums (excepting possibly the last one, “Bigger Bang,” which strangely felt like a true band effort). These albums are hodge-podge affairs, with Jagger and Richards going to their separate corners, doing “their” songs, and then slapping a Stones tongue on it. I would argue that these are not really band efforts anymore. Oh, both Jagger and Richards are professional enough to crank out some good songs, but the album “feel” seems gone. Richards’ insistence regarding the band being true to it, seems anymore hollow – unnecessary. He’s probably doing more interesting things musically on his own. (Check out (on Youtube) his duet with George Jones on "Say It's Not You." He really should try doing a country album.) On the home front, Richards is happily married, a family man. He falls out of trees. He snorts his dad’s ashes. He likes dogs. Reads history. I just wish he would pick up the phone and call his “friend” a friend again. He still calls Jagger his brother (and I believe him – this is not an empty statement from Richards). Well, that’s what a brother should do.

    Note: If you decide to read this book, I highly recommend that you read rock critic Bill Wyman’s (not the Stone) mock Jagger reply letter to the Richards’ book that appeared in Slate. It serves as an excellent counterpoint to many of Richards’ claims (and it’s also a piece of brilliant writing). I’m not taking sides, which is why I suggest that you read it. I love them both, and I’m thankful for all the good music.

  • Petra Eggs

    A GR friend (who wishes to remain anonymous) has sent me a really good story about Keith's son Marlon, whom my friend knew well. I've posted it in the comments, msg. 67.

    ***

    7 star book!

    One of the best books I've read this year. Keith Richards was a clever kid, a talented artist, a choirboy who sang for the Queen and became an outstanding musician in one of the world's best bands. What is most on display in this book is his tremendous interest in music and musicians, not in rock, bands, mone

    A GR friend (who wishes to remain anonymous) has sent me a really good story about Keith's son Marlon, whom my friend knew well. I've posted it in the comments, msg. 67.

    ***

    7 star book!

    One of the best books I've read this year. Keith Richards was a clever kid, a talented artist, a choirboy who sang for the Queen and became an outstanding musician in one of the world's best bands. What is most on display in this book is his tremendous interest in music and musicians, not in rock, bands, money and fame - a lot of which he finds a bit of a pain but to be endured because that goes with the job. If you aren't fairly knowledgeable about music, blues in particular, there is going to be a lot of this book you are going to want to skip.

    What is also interesting is his drug use. We never hear the ins and outs of being a tremendously successful heroin junkie. No, the spin is always on those poor street people who will steal their own mother's wedding ring for the next fix as they are quite beyond work. Richards enjoys his drugs a lot and tells us exactly what it feels like to be high on them and how it helped his work. His main supplier is his best friend and partner in crime, the very flamboyant Freddie Sessler, a holocaust survivor and (handily) owner of pharmacies so he could supply medical grade cocaine and heroin, who travelled along with the Stones. There were other dealers to ensure that when the band arrived at their tour date, the drugs would be ready and waiting, always a difficult time for a junkie.

    The antics of the UK and especially US law enforcement officers to catch, entrap, imprison and get the Stones banned are hilarious as are the stories of Richards escaping them (most of the time). This is where money and being a big name helps! The story about Richards and Bobby Keys being got off a rap they had no defence against by the owner of Dole Pineapples is classic.

    Richards also went cold turkey fairly often, not because he wanted to give up drugs but because he had to be clean and without the desperate need for drugs so he could enter various countries and tour with the band. These parts of the story are fairly harrowing to read, I really had no idea what cold turkey was really like but how it is very limited in time and can be endured. (Dr. Phil's Celebrity Rehab is more about Dr. Phil and the Celebrities than the rehab). When he actually decided to give up drugs, he made two attempts and that was it, gave them up thirty years ago.

    His sex life was a great deal less interesting than, say, Mick Jagger's,as he was the sort of man who fell passionately in love, and then did whatever he could to keep the relationship alive. Not that groupies were totally unknown to him but that sort of sex wasn't anything he ever sought out. His first marriage to the actress Anita Pallenberg fell apart due to his wife's uncontrolled (as opposed to his controlled) use of drugs, and he has been married for decades to his second wife, the model Patty Hansen, who has never used them.

    Essentially Keith is a man who questioned the system at every turn, but take away the surface and what you have left is a family man. His mother, a tremendously musical person herself, is in the story pretty constantly. For some years he raised his son, Marlon, alone (rather unconventionally taking him on tour), although he quite obviously cherishes all his children and has never, ever got over the loss of his baby son Tara, who died of cot death.

    But this man, this clever, sensitive, man, this lover of books, this chronicler of arguably the best rock band ever, this musician's musician had that other side too,

    the drug-taking, alcohol-sodden, irreverant, authority-bucking wild side, the man who took a lot of drugs and lived exactly as he pleased because he had the money to do so and continues to entertain us with his really great guitar licks.

    Rock on Keith, rock on.

    Although the book is ghost-written, it retains more of the voice of the author than it does of the ghost-writer which isn't always the case. But I don't recommend the audiobook. Johnny Depp, Keith's friend, reads well, but he can't sustain the right accent for long and it sounds somewhat fake with an American undertone. This might not annoy you, but it did me and I preferred the written word.

  • Ana

    Probably the best audiobook I've ever listened to. Actually this is the first and only audiobook I've listened to. It's narrated by Johnny Depp. A Keith Richards biography narrated by Johnny Depp. How cool is that!

    Mr Keef is no mystery to me. Victor Bockris's celebrated Keith Richards biography and The Rolling Stones : In The Beginning photograph coll

    Probably the best audiobook I've ever listened to. Actually this is the first and only audiobook I've listened to. It's narrated by Johnny Depp. A Keith Richards biography narrated by Johnny Depp. How cool is that!

    Mr Keef is no mystery to me. Victor Bockris's celebrated Keith Richards biography and The Rolling Stones : In The Beginning photograph collection by Bent Rej have a special place on my parent's bookshelf.

    So, the age old question... who is better, The Beatles or The Rolling Stones? The answer is, of course,

    To say Keith Richards has lived an interesting life would be an understatement. He puts the R in rock star.

    I can't think of anyone cooler than Keith Richards. Can you?

    I had to write this down. It's... oh just read it.

    There's only one more thing I really want to say. Keith Richards will outlive us all.

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