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Wednesday, March 2, 2011


Keith Richards' autobiography stirs up a whole bunch of feelings.  I think everybody who's a rock musician (not counting pure artist types who are more experimental than rock 'n' roll) has at some point (probably in their teens) wished for the life of a Rolling Stone:  biggest band in the world, big tours, millions of dollars, houses in multiple countries, orgies, top shelf drugs, incredible musicians floating in and out...Etcetera.  So the first emotion you have is "why this bloke and not me"?  "What did he do right and what have I done wrong?"

But, once past the jealousy, it's impossible for me to read Keith's story without marveling at the amount of amazing recordings the Stones made and the brilliant songs they wrote.   The tremendous, earth-shaking, heart-wrenching tunes.  Do I even have to list them?  Angie, Wild Horses, Jumping Jack Flash, Satisfaction, Ruby Tuesday, Salt of The Earth, Sympathy For The Devil, Midnight Rambler, The Last Time, on and on and on and on the tunes poured out of them - Paint It Black, Let It Bleed, Monkey think you've felt them all, but then a lesser known one pops out of a movie and you're back to rolling on the floor thinking "Oh my God, this is The Great Spirit coming at me with a Telecaster and a bluesman's drawl".   Keef (a nickname given to him by his family, by the way) goes into great detail about WHAT he loves about music and WHY, his songwriting process, and why the music still keeps him going after all these years.  That alone should make this required reading for any  aspiring musician of any genre who wants to write a song or play an instrument.

The book meanders through his schooling and upbringing, is most compelling describing the early days of the Stones and the abovementioned love of music, and goes into lurid, salacious detail of his junkie wanderings around the planet which usually ended in some model's bed or jail cell.  The last part is campy fun, but ultimately pretty boring.  Keith tries to justify years of drug abuse and familial neglect with stupid lines like "It was hard to be a Rolling Stone and raise a kid".  Yeah, especially when you're on the bill with the spoon. 

I admit, I have a grudge against the man for the terrible, terrible show I saw in Atlantic City in 06.  This was shortly after his fall in Fiji, but he was just staggering around the stage, off rhythm most of the show, clearly messed up on some shit.  Which was sad and awful because Mick was so good.   But I try to balance the good with the bad because the records are so very very great, so full of life, blues, America, England, partying, God, and everything....

Mick.  Mick is brilliant.  Keith gives him much credit in the book.  "The best R&B singer in the UK", "the greatest entertainer of all time", "a brilliant lyricist" etc.  From what dirt he dishes about their famously difficult relationship (and he lays out all the typical beefs - big ego, mad at Mick not letting him know about business deals, mad at Mick's lame solo career, etc).  The two of them have a typical addict/non-addict spouse relationship.  One can only hope that Mick has gone to Al-Anon or CODA at some point to work through his codependent feelings and anger.  It was starkly clear in the "Shine A Light" movie how much Mick overcommits himself to micromanaging the band's affairs to make up for Keith's active addict lack of presence in helping steer the Stones.  No wonder Mick's pissed.  His partner checked out mentally years ago.   F.u., Keith.

But the records.  The love of music.  The blues.  The Chuck Berry movie (where Keith built a band for that egomaniacal prick genius Chuck Berry) is beyond fantastic.

He really loves his kids, he just has a funny way of showing it.  The parts where Marlon (son with Anita) is playing junkie nurse at ages 7 - 10 for his dad and then has to live in a mansion on Long Island with no heat in most of the rooms during the winter are just creepy though.  Dumbass junkie has kids and then doesn't know how to take care of them.  They don't sound bitter in the book, however.  Word has it that Marlon turned out quite well-adjusted.  

So, like life, Keef is complicated and full of contradictions.  One can only hope that the man still has some actual music left in him.  Some have said that the AC show was a fluke.   But we will ALWAYS HAVE THE RECORDS.

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