We shouted out this brand-new autobio in this week's Kaleidoscope; here's the full review.
|Little, Brown, Oct. 26
There's a lot of dirt to be found under rock's fingernails, so much so that science tests Ozzy Osbourne for his protean tolerance. But the DNA of Keith Richards is a rare and precious jewel
. Not just because of the copious amounts of drugs and booze and sex it's the rock 'n' roll, maaan, that makes Life worth tucking into
. As a player and a fan, his talent harkens back to ancient country, aged blues and tough sweet soul in America cut to the bone the simplicity of rugged rhythm and taut, memorable melody that birthed his Rolling Stones, that made him a devotee of Jimmy Reed, Slim Harpo and Bo Diddley. Richards started as a choir boy, and his pride swells in that revelation just as much as when he lets his devilish side prevail.
You sense the passion of playing music and a love of home (he's got a recipe for Bangers n' Mash) and family (his stories of losing his newborn son, his mom and his pal Gram Parsons are the autobio's most sadly wrenching moments). These basic elements are what make Life
worth reading. He doesn't speak as a pretentious rock god
whose recollections have the obvious sneer of self-congratulation or linear exposition. Richards talks deeply, longingly, scatologically, at length with great detail no, really great detail about he got from point A to point X with guys like his grandfather Gus having as equal importance to the guitarist's tale as Ron Wood. He's not even close to Point Z
. "I can't retire till I croak," he writes of the levitation he feels as a musician. Certainly co-writer James Fox
(a London Times
writer) jogged his memory, plumbed his correspondences (of which Richard was fond) and dug through his details with a fine-tooth comb through Richards' straggly hair of a tale
. But the bite and the bark (and never the bile) is all Keith's.
The starfuck theology and the salaciousness of hedonism (or vice versa) that makes Richards celebrated, his life with Jagger ("I have the feeling Mick thought I belonged to him"), with brand-name girlfriends like Anita Pallenberg, with coke and heroin they're cool. They're there. But there's surprisingly little trash talk or shark-fin-fucking tales of rock debacle
. If you're any kind of student of the Stones, you'll hear Richards' mumbling roguish parlance throughout Life
discussing all his mistresses, literal and figurative, with equal lust. Jagger is a mate and an annoyance whose egomania and attraction to high society and philandering simply bore and bother Richards desperately. He talks of an "Uncle Keith" that no one knows who dried the tears of Jagger's femme minion, and you can hear him yawning and laughing about the cock-walking singer. (Speaking of cock, Richards writes that Jagger's dick is nothing to brag about
Richards' frustration with Jagger/the Stones (not enough touring/not enough recording for his liking) apparently led Richards to more drugs. The epic amounts of chemicals he may have done (his take on partying: If you remember it, you didn't do it right
) or women he's had (he writes with great admiration of the groupies he's romanced, but doesn't like prostitutes) is weirdly inconsequential. Richards didn't need an excuse for chemical excess or road romance. He did them because he loved them. He wanted to play and make more music because he loved it. The book shows that it wasn't (isn't) decadence that drove him. The grand debauch is just a biproduct of the business
, of his need to score.
He doesn't make excuses. Apologies, yes, which is such a winning point of Life
. When Richards' son passed away, he doesn't let himself off the hook for being an absent father
. Richards owns the wrong and genuinely (at least in print) lives with the self-loathing.
What could've been a rich guy's blasÃ© rants becomes an abiding, well-etched story of one guy's many passions bad, good and simple. I wanted it to go on forever.