Back in 2018, when we were all still blissfully unaware of what was coming in 2020, Bill and I took in our very first Rolling Stones concert. It was an absolutely incredible show. I was blown away by Mick Jagger, and his bandmates, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, and Ronnie Wood. I never understood why Jagger was considered so sexy until I saw him perform live. Even in his mid 70s, he had, and still has, phenomenal charisma.
But I also noticed Keith Richards, playing guitar and, much to my surprise, looking kind of humbled by the roaring crowd of 40,000 people. Everyone in the Stones has charm and poise on stage, and they are a mythical band. But Keith Richards kind of touched me because he genuinely looked like he appreciated the praise, even though he’s been playing shows for decades. I was charmed and disarmed by the sight of the legendary axman, who has been the butt of so many jokes about addiction over the years. I wanted to know more about him.
My friend, Joann, told me about Richards’ book, Life, which was published in 2010. I decided to download it, and I’ve been trying to finish it for weeks. I don’t know why, but lately when I try to read, I often end up falling asleep. I used to breeze through books in hours or days. Now it takes me a lot longer. I’m glad I stuck with Life, though. Keith Richards is a fascinating person who’s led a very unusual life. He had humble beginnings in Dartford, a community in Kent, England, where he met Mick Jagger and became a member of a boys’ choir. Seriously… I was surprised by that.
From there, he goes on to write about how he got in trouble with the law and spent time in prison. He got in trouble for tax evasion in France, had a relationship with Anita Pallenberg and had children, then had another relationship with Patti Hanson, with whom he has two daughters. It turns out that Keith Richards is extraordinary, but he’s also ordinary in the most relatable ways. He loves dogs. He loves Bangers and Mash and Shepherd’s Pie, and even includes his recipe for bangers and mash in the book. He’s unexpectedly funny and witty, as he describes how he and the other Stones went through a period during which they called Mick Jagger “Brenda” and complained about him when he was actually in the room. He describes a pesky bird that he once had that was like a “fractious aunt” who complained constantly. He said it was the only animal he ever gave away, and that it reminded him of Mick in a cage, pursing his lips. Those kinds of quips kept me reading when my eyelids were heavy.
I was kind of surprised by the ending, not because there was an actual surprise, but because it seemed rather abrupt. I was not expecting the book to end when it did. But when it did end, I considered what I’d learned about Keith Richards. I even looked up his band, X-pensive Winos, which he formed during a Rolling Stones’ dry spell. He explains, with some bitterness, that Mick Jagger would go through periods during which he wanted to promote his solo career. He’d hire other musicians to play songs by the Stones. Keith didn’t seem too impressed by that, and his disdain is palpable. And yet, he forgave Mick and still put on a wonderful show in Stuttgart, back in 2018.
Keith Richards writes about how he tunes and plays his guitar to get that distinctive Stones sound that so many people try and fail to emulate. He writes about the people who inspired and moved him… like Muddy Waters and Etta James. He seems like a genuinely nice person, despite his reputation for being an alcoholic and drug addict. And yes, there are plenty of stories about drugs in this book, too, some of which are written by guest authors. And more funny quips… like when he wrote about how Charlie Watts punched Mick in the face. Seriously, it sounds like Mick Jagger is a total asswipe at times. I’m glad they reconciled, though.
Life is full of hilarious stories… and some poignant ones, like the one Richards writes about how he once hired a couple of prostitutes in Jamaica at a brothel near his house. It wasn’t because he wanted to have sex with him. He was writing a song and wanted their insights about prostitution. They said they’d tell men they loved them, but “you don’t have to mean it.” Keith used that to write lyrics. Meanwhile, he’d let the hookers sleep, which they really needed to do. It was an easy gig for them, and a creatively fruitful one for Keith Richards.
Anyway… I definitely think Life is a good read, and well worth the effort if you like the Rolling Stones. I think I would love knowing Keith Richards. He doesn’t seem shallow at all. I love a life story that leaves me with the impression that I would like to know the person who wrote it. Keith Richards and his contributor, James Fox, have done just that.
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