Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

Life by Keith Richards (2011)

Keith-Richards-LifeFrom amazon.com

This memoir, written with the help of writer James Fox, is an intricately detailed account of Keith Richards life, both in and out of music-but mostly in. All the stories are here-the funny, the touching, the horrendous, and the amazing. Some are well known, some weren’t even known to Richards-he only hears later, from others who were with him, what went on. And he’s put it all in this book. Included are 32 pages of b&w and color photographs (including one of the band, with Jagger driving, in a vintage red convertible, across the Brooklyn Bridge) in two groups, plus photos throughout the book itself chronicling Richards’ life. Also of interest is an early diary that Richards kept detailing the bands early gigs and impressions of the music the band played.

Richards has been known as many things-“the human riff”, as some kind of prince of a dark underworld filled with drugs, booze, and skull rings, as “Keef”, a rock ‘n’ roll pirate, as someone who should be dead (several times over) from massive drug use and other lifestyle choices, and as someone hounded by law enforcement-looking to incarcerate this bad example to all the kids. But Richards is also known as a settled (for him) family man. But somehow he’s survived it all. And now, with this autobiography, he’s letting us into his life. This book looks back at all the times-good, bad, and just plain strange.

Beginning with Richards’ boyhood in post-war England, no stone is left unturned in detailing his young life. A life which changed forever with his discovery of American blues. From that era the book details the formation of The Rolling Stones (I would like to have learned more about Brian Jones’ in relation to the formation of the group), which changed his life again-a life he continues to the present.

This book is important, interesting, and at times, harrowing, with a myriad of details surrounding Richards, his band, and anyone caught up in their universe of music, good times, misery, drugs, violence, and just plain weirdness. But the book also shows another side of Keith Richards. The pain he felt (and still feels) when his young son Tara, died while Richards was on tour. The loss of musician and friend/band hanger-on, Gram Parsons. Looking back with regret as people close to him sunk into a hellish pit of drug addiction. And Richards’ own account of his years of drug use-especially heroin and the misery he brought on himself, even while he was careful not to go to far over the edge.

Of course no memoir concerning Richards would be complete without accounts of the ups and downs, over many years, with Mick Jagger. There’s a number of fascinating asides and insights concerning their ideas of what direction the band should follow. Unfortunately, but not surprising, Jagger (and the other band members) are not heard from. That’s unfortunate because of all the valuable insight concerning Richards’ life on and off the stage, and the inner workings of one of the world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll bands, that his long time band mates could bring to the story. But others who have known Richards over the course of many years were interviewed. People like Ronnie Spector, Jim Dickinson, Andrew Oldham, Bobby Keys, and a number of fellow musicians and friends, all have telling bits and pieces to add to the overall picture of just who Richards is.

The detail Richards and Fox have put into this well written memoir is almost staggering. Reading about the early days of the band is exciting and fascinating, if for no other reason the era they came up in is long since vanished. The discovery and idolization of musicians like Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Jimmy Reed, Slim Harpo, and other blues greats, trying to emulate the hard scrabble lifestyles of American blues artists, the small scruffy clubs the band played in the beginning, living in abject poverty and squalor, the large concerts in later years, the songs, the albums, the drugs, and the many fascinating (and sometimes disgusting) characters that drift in and out of Richards’ life-it’s all here. And taken together, this is a story only Keith Richards could live (and survive) to write about in such detail.

While there have been other decent books on Richards and/or the Stones, for the straight, unvarnished truth, as he sees it and lived it, this is the book that matters. This memoir, written in a Richards-to-you conversational style, is interesting, exciting, gritty, informative, harrowing, and important. And with this book, written in his own words, we can’t get much closer to the man and his life than that.

Advertisements

May 9, 2013 Posted by | Book Life by Keith Richards | , | 1 Comment