I'm assuming that this book was written by James Fox, who is credited, from a great deal in the way of interviews.
This book suprised me a lot. The first surprise was how it was written. Reading it really feels as though Keith Richards is with you, telling his story. Another surprise was that Keith Richards actually has morals at all. I just took it for granted that he only cared for himself and the band and that was it, but no, it seems not.
Keith comes across as a thoughtful, clearly very intelligent and moral man who does not tolerate fools lightly. He doesn't see race, and racism - when he encounters it - angers him. His closest friends are all jailbirds but he chooses them carefully and is then loyal for life. He has a wicked sense of humour and a self-discipline that belies his hedonistic lifestyle. He is also clearly very, very talented and totally absorbed in the music, which means more to him than anything else. He is also something of a philosopher and surprisingly humble, not to mention surprisingly undemanding - I can live with the fact that he has to be the first one who breaks the crust on the shepherd's pie and that he likes his bangers and mash a certain way (and no other), especially when he cooks them himself.
I was also surprised by how eloquent he is. He allowed extracts from what he calls his notebook - kept since he was 18 - to be printed and wasn't shy about allowing other people to tell their version of events.
Life has also kicked Keith, several times and quite badly, but he always turns to the music (and in the early days drugs) and somehow manages to get by. He has also been incredibly lucky through-out and keen to acknowledge that and often.
I'd recommend this book. I'm not a die-hard Rolling Stones or Keith Richards fan but I do like their music and Richards' descriptions of how he came up with the songs and what, if anything, they mean is fascinating, as is his whole take on music in general.
Well worth the read.
*he does state clearly why it is he thinks that he's not dead, why it is he'll never retire and why he can still play a song that's 40 years old*
#2 4th June 2011, 08:35 PM
After such a good and accurate review from Luna I’ll just mention some of the things that, if you’ll excuse the pun, struck a chord with me!
Firstly I agree with Luna, this is a good book, well worth a read. James Fox has done an excellent job letting us slip passed all the minders (drink and drugs and damage) to find our way into the inner sanctum of Keith’s mind. It turns out to be a surprisingly astute and inventive mind. A man of principle and determination.
I’ve been a fan of the Stones since the early seventies when I became old enough to appreciate their music. I’ve seen a few interviews with Keith and often found them painful to watch, this obviously talented man sunk in his addiction to heroin, occasionally surfacing to lucidity then sinking again. (It is good to learn he has been clean of that addiction for many years now.) Though I knew of his interest in history and had seen pictures of his library at his home in Connecticut I didn’t expect this book to be the lucid, structured and informative reminiscence it is. James Fox will have worked hard to bring Keith into our living rooms but in the end it is the words of Keith that make this book.
Early on he talks about composing songs and says, “The silence is your canvas, that’s your frame, that’s what you work on; don’t try and deafen it out.” Or how he can’t read music and when he looks at music written down it looks like “notes crammed in like prisoners. Like sad faces.”
His sense of humour shines through this book, on talking about Mick Jagger and harmonica playing, he says Mick is one of the best natural blues harp players he’s ever heard. He asks him “Why don’t you sing like that?” to which Jagger replies “They’re totally different.” Keith retorts with “They’re not – they’re both blowing air out of your gob.”
Or talking about an associate – “…he’s so shallow you couldn’t paddle in it.”
He talks warmly about another friend, Freddie Sessler, though mentions one time Freddie “put a lot of money into an amphibious vehicle which failed – one reviewer calling it the ‘car that may revolutionise drowning’.
Whilst recovering from his brain surgery he receives letters of concern from many people including Jerry Lee Lewis, Willie Nelson, Bill Clinton and also Tony Blair who said ‘Dear Keith, you’ve always been one of my heroes……’ To which Keith says – “England’s in the hands of somebody who I’m a hero of? It’s frightening.”
For Keith all that’s ever mattered is the music and the friendships he’s made along the way. He says, “Friendship is a diminishing of distance between people.” He constantly emphasises that trust and loyalty are important to him and it becomes clear that if Keith befriends you then you will have a solid friend for life unless you are foolish enough to let him down. As Luna mentioned the book includes contributions from friends and associates who with honesty and obvious respect help bring the soul of this wandering bluesman into focus. One of those was Tom Waits who seemed to sum up the essence of Keith.
You know, in the old days they said the sound of the guitar could cure gout and epilepsy, sciatica and migraines. I think that nowadays there seems to be a deficit of wonder. And Keith seems to still wonder about stuff. He will stop and hold his guitar up and just stare at it for a while. Just be rather mystified by it. Like all the great things in the world, women and religion and the sky… you wonder about it and you don’t stop wondering about it.
May this world of wonders always have someone like Keith to shine a light upon it.
#3 25th July 2011, 01:54 PM
I found this book absolutely fascinating but then I grew up to the Rolling Stones, so even though I was too young to enjoy swinging London much of what he writes about struck a distinct chord. (I was at the concert in Hyde Park and saw the butterflies being released.)
Luna and Tay have said pretty much what I feel about this book (apart from the fact that I felt that Keith's genuine love for music and the way it's created and performed got the better of him at times, my eyes started to glaze over a bit at yet another description of five string tuning etc but it was easy enough to do a bit of skimming). It does what good biographies are supposed to do, surprises you, interests you and tells you something about the charecter that you didn't already know.
Highly reccomended, booth as a read and an object lesson for anyone who ever thinks it'd be easy enough to come off hard drugs. Keith's descriptions of going cold turkey were enough to send shivers down anyone's spine.
#4 30th April 2012, 02:39 PM
I finished this book over the weekend and have to agree with luna, Tay, and Viccie that it is a very good read. I also was a Stones fan growing up (and reading this book has made me put "Exiles on Main Street" back at the front of my play list).
I am not musical at all, so I didn't understand a lot of the discussion of how Keith went about making his own sound, although I could often remember the songs well enough to remember the particular effect he talked about producing. What was interesting about that discussion was how much Keith loved the music that he loved (and, as he got older, what a wide range of music that was). It seemed odd to me because I guess I thought that rock stars got into the music to be rock stars, not to be about the music, but that's obviously wrong in Keith's case and probably in more cases than I think. I will have to re-visit my prejudice.
Keith seems to be one of those people who bonds with friends and lovers intensely and holds on to those bonds for as long as possible. His friendship with Bobby Keys (from Texas!) is an example of that long, carefully-treasured bond. He expects the friends and lovers to do the same, so that he is the most angry when he feels betrayed or when someone doesn't respect the importance of those relationships. His most intense anger against Mick Jagger, for example, was Mick's decision to have an independent career behind the band's back. If he'd been up front and respectful of the relationships, Keith says that he wouldn't have minded (maybe that's not quite right, but since Mick's separate career didn't go anywhere, Keith can afford to say that it would have been okay). And he still seems very hurt by what went on during the filming of "Performance," when Anita Pallenberg and Mick Jagger slept together, egged on by the director, Donald Cammell. Although he professes not to care and says he took his revenge by sleeping with Marianne Faithfull, it's about the most vituperative he gets in the book, referring to Cammell as, "the most destructive little turd I've ever met." He even mocks Cammell for only making 2 films: "Performance" and the video of his suicide. But the emotional pain led to "Gimmie Shelter," so I guess that's the silver lining.
And Brian Jones! I thought I knew that he was an early problem, but I had no idea he was such a complete and total disaster. Even from this great distance, Keith can hardly stand to think about him or talk about all the problems he caused. And it's not like Keith was all that easy on the band himself. His 10 years of heroin addiction caused all sorts of problems, during which, to his credit, Mick Jagger stood by him. It's funny that Keith is at pains to tell people he doesn't recommend heroin and they shouldn't do it. No one hearing what Keith went through coming off the drugs or seeing the ravages on his face would think, "Hey, that's what I want to do!"
Keith seems to have been crazy about his mother and all those wonderful aunts, so it's no wonder that he has generally had solid relationships with women and that he's picked some tough women. Anita Pallenberg sounds like she was practically a Valkyrie, although he's very respectful of her. He seems just to love and adore his children. The description of his newborn son Tara's death (a crib death) and his reaction was very touching: "As for me, I should never have left him....[l]eaving a newborn is something I can't forgive myself for. It's as if I deserted my post."
He seems like a very nice man, once a boy scout, who was also a drug addict for a big chunk of his adult life. A "Junkie Boy Scout," so to speak. To steal a joke from Dave Barry, I think "The Junkie Boy Scouts" would be a great name for a rock band.
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