29 December 2012

'Believe It or Not, He Remembers It All': "Life": A Memoir by Keith Richards

Keith Richards

Keith, Mick and Brian and Co. in 
Achmed's Hash Shop, Tangier, Morocco

"I think I can talk for the Stones most of the time, and we didn't care 
what they wanted out there. That was on of the charms of the Stones
And the rock-and-roll that we did come out with on Beggars Banquet was enough. 
You can't say apart from "Sympathy" and "Street Fighting Man" that there's 
rock and roll on Beggars Banquet at all .... This is music." 
-- pp. 238- 239, Life (paperback, 2010) by Keith Richards
Well his world is torn and frayed
It's seen much better days
Just as long as the guitar plays
He'll steal your hear away
Steal your heart away 
- chorus of Torn and Frayed (Jagger / Richards),
Exile on Main St (1972), The Rolling Stones

There is clearly no ghost writer here. Keith Richards, principal guitarist and co-songwriter for The Rolling Stones, let's his personality come shining through on every page of his memoir, Life. (Keith did, by his own admission, need an editor, his trusted colleage journalist James Fox.)

Livin' as hard as Kieth has, it's incredible all that he remembers. We read an unvarnished tale of this working class kid from the London projects (aka Estates) making good with the Stones, the band that fueled with his enormous talent. This memoir also gives us a window into how his music reflected his hard livin', on and off the road. Keith shares tales of sometimes dubious adventures, family lives, loves, and heartbreaks. We also hear of the battles Keith had with his partner and friend, Mick Jagger, with press distortions wiped away.

In a recent interview, actor Malcolm McDowell said he thought everybody should read this book. My goal here is less ambitious; I just want to share some pleasant surprises I founding reading the book. Wanna know how bands work: why some stick together and some blow apart? Interested in the evolution during the 1960s of the modern LP? And for hard core fans, there are details more specific to the Stones. I was fascinated reading that the original studio version of Jumpin' Jack Flash was done all on acoustic guitars, played through over-loaded 1st generation cassette players. Stones album back stories come alive with Richards' pen, just as his guitar brought brought a wealth of popular music to life. If you want to know more about why the music of late '60s and early '70s  is so important to a lot of folks like me, read this book.

Keith, a surprisingly charming man, tells his story with unexpected candor. He traces the path of a great British blues rock band making musical history over the last 50 years as well as his life inside and out of that band. I cherish what I learned from this detailed account of Keith on Keith.

Here's a little taste of Keith slowing things down, fronting his other great band, The X-Pensive Winos.

Keith Richards and The X-pensive Winos


paullinator said...

Makes me want to read it. Does he recount a lot of stories from there adventures ?

Paco Malo said...

Yes, he does, and he's a fine storyteller. The book is laced with stories of his adventures as well as his development as a musician.

Some of the tales come straight from Keith. When a colleague or fellow musician has already written about a recording session or adventure, Keith will step aside and offer us a long quote allowing his peer to tell his or her version of a story. The result is a fascinating look inside the life and times of a man unafraid to share his ups and downs with all who take the time to read the memoir.

And to reiterate, much of what we get through the press is pure fiction; Keith clears that up when necessary, giving us his version of what really went down.

Da' Big Galute said...

On Paco's recommendation, I picked it up on kindle. I also give it high marks for the genre. It does seem honest, although I'm not sure I'd totally trust all those memories verbatim given the extraordinary recreation he's indulged!