Halfway through his electrifying new memoir, “Life,” Keith Richards writes about the consequences of fame: the nearly complete loss of privacy and the weirdness of being mythologized by fans as a sort of folk-hero renegade.
“I can’t untie the threads of how much I played up to the part that was written for me,” he says. “I mean the skull ring and the broken tooth and the kohl. Is it half and half? I think in a way your persona, your image, as it used to be known, is like a ball and chain. People think I’m still a goddamn junkie. It’s 30 years since I gave up the dope! Image is like a long shadow. Even when the sun goes down, you can see it.”
By turns earnest and wicked, sweet and sarcastic and unsparing, Mr. Richards, now 66, writes with uncommon candor and immediacy. He’s decided that he’s going to tell it as he remembers it, and helped along with notebooks, letters and a diary he once kept, he remembers almost everything. He gives us an indelible, time-capsule feel for the madness that was life on the road with the Stones in the years before and after Altamont; harrowing accounts of his many close shaves and narrow escapes (from the police, prison time, drug hell); and a heap of sharp-edged snapshots of friends and colleagues — most notably, his longtime musical partner and sometime bête noire, Mick Jagger.