Book Review – Life – Keith Richards

This book came out a few years ago. But I wasn’t blogging then. I am now. So here’s my belated review:

As a long-time Rolling Stones devotee, I seemingly can’t get enough of reading about them. Probably because to live like they have is fairly unimaginable to me. I can only do that vicariously.

Life is a welcome addition to the Stones’ canon, if for no other reason than that it comes straight from the source. (Or one of them.) Keith’s voice comes across as clear and unvarnished, even if his life doesn’t. And what a life it’s been. There’s a tone of astonishment that ‘just a guitarist’ whose band is doing ‘pretty much the same thing they did in 1963′ could reach such astounding heights.

His anecdotes are fascinating whether fighting his way out of a jam in Jamaica, dealing with rumors about changing his blood in Switzerland, hanging out with McCartney on Turks and Caicos, snorting his father’s ashes (no shit) or threatening a clueless disc jockey who wouldn’t stop playing Stones’ songs.

Keith is the original rock ‘n roll outlaw, the bad boy that all the other rock guitarists wanted to be. He is the template. At 73, going on what appears to be 150. he is still the coolest of the cool, the baddest of the bad, the leader of the posse, the sometimes incoherent mumbler. He is a black cat with more lives than the next 2 1/2 cats.

Richards does not flinch from talking about his drug abuse nor does he paint it as ‘you should do this.’ Quite the opposite. He could manage it to the level that he never died from it, but he could not manage it so that he wouldn’t get hooked on it. So for him, the mid-to-late-70’s are a lost era, causing Mick to take more control of the band.

Which turned out to be a bad thing because Mick – according to Keef – is not one who is happy giving up control. Yes, it’s all here, his love/hate thing with Jagger. In their worst days, behind his back he used to call Mick ‘that bitch Brenda,’ or ‘Her Majesty.’ Not even necessarily behind his back. In code to the other guys with Mick in the room.

Mick was pissed at him after reading it and Keith said, “Yeah, you didn’t actually read the book. You just went to the index and looked up Jagger, M.” (My favorite – “Jagger and giant inflatable cock, 12-13, 485.”)

Interestingly, despite Keith’s well-deserved reputation for partying and pirateing, what comes across in equal measure – believe it or not –  is what a softie he really is, what a family man.

He talks about his aunts, wife, kids with great affection. (All the time admitting he was hardly father of the year). Keith says he wasn’t even very forward with women, almost being coy with them because he didn’t know what else to do. In that respect, he comes across as kinda shy. I guess it all worked out ok for him.

Keith has been down to the crossroads and back with Robert Johnson. He’s got his mojo workin’, got some John the Conquerer root and plenty of good juju. He is a bluesman, a rock ‘n roller, a disciple of (Hail! Hail!) the gospel according to Chuck Berry, a true believer.

If you’re at all a Stones fan – or just like a good story well-told – Life is a must-read.

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17 thoughts on “Book Review – Life – Keith Richards

  1. Keith seems indestructible, but it’ll be a rough day when he finally goes. I took my boy (Nick) to see the Stones in 2002, on their “40 Licks Tour.” He was only 12, and probably the youngest one in the arena. I figured it would be something he could tell his grandkids, since they wouldn’t be around much longer. That was what… 15 years ago??!!

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    1. Yes, it will be a rough day when Keith finally shuffles off this mortal coil. For one thing, there won’t be nearly enough ashes for all us fans to snort.

      I saw the Stones a couple years before that and boy, it was definitely an all-ages show. Young girls, geezers like me. etc. There was even a woman there (by herself) who looked to be in her late ’70’s. She told someone to sit down so she could see ‘Mick and Keith.’ You go granny!

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  2. “what a softie he really is, what a family man”… yes, this struck me when I read it too. I guess I was expecting him to be as gnarly as his chops (both guitar and facial) but he comes across as such a genuinely nice bloke.

    Very much enjoyed Life when I finally got around to it and one of the best £4 books I’ve bought!

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    1. Yes, if I recall he opens the book up walking around his old neighborhood, talking about his dear old “aunties.” (Why does my mind drift to Monty Python?)

      I’m also fascinated by the fact that he was hardly a “player” with women. Don’t have to be if you’re a musician. Women throw themselves at you for whatever reason. (Yours truly excepted.) 😀

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      1. Yes, I believe it does; I remember having a good chuckle about his description of Dartford having been a place where people would once get robbed by highwaymen on the way into London and how it’s still the same whereas today they hide in tollbooths. The tollbooths have gone but the crossing is still daylight robbery. Dartford’s something of a shit hole these days too

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  3. Loved this book. The Steel Wheels tour was the best show I’ve ever seen, and that’s from a lifelong Queen fan who saw them with Freddie.

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    1. The first time I ever saw the Stones was the Bridges to Babylon tour in the late ’90’s. I can’t believe it took me so long to see them. Sheryl Crow opened up. Great show! thanks for stopping by.

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  4. Keef? Well, now that you mention it, suppose a certain guy from Dartford, England was recruited early on to be a spy. What better cover than to play for a rock ‘n roll band and pretend to be some wastrel musician? You get to every corner of the earth and in your spare time set up safe houses, recruit agents, whack bad guys, get to know the ladies (in the line of duty, of course.) Think about it.

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