Friday, January 28, 2011

Keith Richards - Life

Before I read a word, I’m transfixed by the back cover.

It’s a picture of Keith, casually sitting with his shirt completely unbuttoned, his left hand holding the side of his head, visually stating “Whatta ride, brother!”

But it’s not his pose that captures my eyes, it’s his dangling right hand, the one that features his predominate skull ring, another one of Keith Richards’ numerous accessories that illustrate the dangerous attributes of his fabled past.

Another accessory would be a guitar, of course, and I always seek out a guitar player’s hands-just to see what kind of package they’re holding. Not in any “guess his penis size” way, but to see if their hand dimensions could potentially strangle the neck of their guitar. I’ve got small hands, so I’m in awe at Hendrix’s banana hands, or any guitarist who has hands big enough to qualify as an added appendage.

Richards’ also addresses hand size in Life, the autobiography that any self-respecting rock fan will have already read, downloaded, or physically purchased by the time of the review your reading right now. And with Richards’ image so vast and legendary, you could even imagine a few non-Stones fans wanting to get a glimpse of the pages just to see if there’s any logical explanation as to how he survived countless years of neglect and abuse.

There is no answer, of course, but Keef leaves no stone (ha!) unturned as he documents what may seem as insignificant points like his diet, sleep habits, and the pets that he’s had over the years.

To that point, Richards’ logs more words about cooking shepherd’s pie than he does about the death of his infant son, Tara. And what little he does say is terrifying; Richards’ recounts that he didn’t even leave the Stones’ tour to address his own son’s death. In fact, the day he learned about the child’s passing, he still found his way to the stage. I bring this up not to illustrate Keith’s sense of duty, but to point out that Keith Richards can be a real cold-hearted bastard.

To give another example would be to mention that, while he didn’t miss the stage on the day Tara died, he did once purposely push back a Stones concert by a few hours because someone cut into a freshly cooked shepherd’s pie during a pre-gig crew dinner. Keith barked at the hungry offender, demanded that a new shepherd’s pie be crafted and cooked and told everyone that he would not set foot on the stage until he had an opportunity to be the first one to cut into the still hot dinner.

Once the pie was delivered backstage, Keith brought out a knife to cut into the crust and immediately walked to the stage after making the incision without even taking a bite.

There’s a bunch of stories like this throughout Life, some funny, some dark, some with absolutely no relevance at all. All of it is delivered in Keith-speak, a writing style that takes a moment to find a proper cadence, but once developed, it’s like Keith is right there next to you.

This brings up a personal story of a dream that I’ve had about Keith Richards on more than one occasion. It involves Richards’ being in my neighborhood or within close proximity to me for inexplicable reasons. The dream progresses to where I am with my wife and with Keith Richards, a third wheel scenario that I have no problem with. I place my wife firmly in the background while I eagerly listen to his endless tales, each one getting harder to understand as he drinks us into the wee hours of the night.

At this point, my wife retires to the bedroom while I absorb our guest until it’s close to dawn and he finally begins to tire. Rather than make up a place on the couch for Mr. Richards, I promptly invite him to our master bedroom where we get into bed with my wife unceremoniously pushed over to the side of the bed. She voices some displeasure over the sleeping arrangements while I promptly scold her for not being a very good host for Mr. Richards.

I would totally still do it too, probably with a keener eye on my back. After reading Life, I’m more familiar with Keith’s tactics, temperament, and skills with a blade. He paints himself as an unpredictable character, one that’s capable of quick action if placed in harm’s way. Of course, he also admits that he likes that about his image, even if some tales are exaggerated or, at the very least, not edited for accuracy once the story hits the tabloids.

Life is written with a huge portion of unflattering portrayals of band mates, ex wives and lovers, and counterparts. The most fun is, of course, the tales and ridicules of Mick Jagger. It’s a relationship of complex proportions, reduced to nothing more than a business arrangement for the past quarter-century, but with the brotherly strength of the previous quarter-century binding them to a point of unconditional love, even when they’re not on speaking terms with each other.

The first half of the book flies by at a rapid pace; you’ll be beyond the halfway point in no time. And right around the time you’d guess-Mick Jagger’s solo effort She’s The Boss-you get the sense that things are slowing down. The singer/guitarist arguments sound more and more like an old couple bickering, playing these warped psychological games with one another, each spat a jockeying for position instead of any real conflict.

The material gets less interesting too as Richards’ lists a bunch of handlers, housesitters and home office employees. He peppers their stories with tales of criminal backgrounds and streetwise education. It’s telling, because the same time period brought us albums like Voodoo Lounge and Bridges To Babylon and there’s barely a mention about the creative aspects of those releases. I did learn that Voodoo Lounge is named after a cat that Richards’ rescued during a heavy storm, and that the cat eventually got lost just a few years ago.

It’s frustrating, but it’s Keith. You can feel him aging as the pages draw to a close. It ends with a woefully long recount of his more recent head injury, a final denial of the “I snorted my dad’s ashes” allegations and a quick bit of acoustic guitar to help his mum pass on.

But while it ends with a slow, squeaky brake, it’s loaded with so many awesome tales and antidotes that you’re really not interested in hearing the other member’s tales for any future books that they might have planned. It sounds like Keith’s lived enough to make their recounts a bit mundane.

I ended my time with Life and took one more look at that back cover shot, and looked at his skull ring hand a final time before putting the book in its new home on the bookshelf, right next to Bill Wyman’s whiney Stone Alone autobiography.

I notice what appears to be some evidence of arthritis on the knuckles of his hand.

I then see that there is dirt under his fingernails. How awesome is that? Even when faced with a planned photo shoot for his book jacket, Keith Richards couldn’t be bothered with a quick bit of grooming before the flashes start. In fact, his entire appearance suggests that even a shower wasn’t in the routine up until that point.

The photo is a perfectly depiction of what’s inside the book: and weary-headed dirty old man telling a bunch of hard-livin’ tales that’ll draw you in completely. And while the photo represents a good hint at what you’ll find inside, it’s the words within Life will clearly explain why he’s cracking a big smile in that same shot.

1 comment:

Belinda7 said...

An excellent review of Keith's "Life!" I just finished listening to the book on my iPod, and wished it wasn't over yet.

I lived through those same years, although never partied anywhere close to what they did. I saw the Stones on their first tour when they came to Jacksonville, FL. My best friend's father was the manager of the Coliseum, so we knew how to sneak backstage. We met Mick and the boys and got their autographs. I remember that Mick was really very full of himself, Keith and Brian were very nice, and the other guys were very quiet. My mother threw my autographed program away when I was away at college, and I have never forgiven her for that.

I have seen the Stones 13 times, and the closest I got to them again was 3rd row center aisle seats in their Voodoo Lounge tour in Gainesville in U.F.'s football stadium, "The Swamp." Saw Bigger Bang twice. I am hoping they will do one final, final tour some time soon, as it has been 6 years since Bigger Bang. We can only hope for one more evening with the world's greatest rock and roll band!