Life is not a standard addiction memoir, because Richards sees his addiction as anything but standard. It’s not a weakness, not a disease. It’s martyrdom. “They imagined me, they made me, the folks out there created this hero,” he writes. “Bless their hearts. I’ll do the best I can to fulfill their needs. They’re wishing me to do things that they can’t. They’ve got this job, they’ve got this life . . . but at the same time, inside them, is a raging Keith Richards. When you talk of a folk hero, they’ve written the script for you and you better fulfill it. And I did my best.” In other words, Richards taunts death so that we can be free.
Much of the trouble between Jagger and Richards must come from the simple fact of longevity. They are locked in a partnership that started when they were too young to make lifelong commitments. How would you get along with your high school friends if you still had to depend on them today? Richards, a sentimentalist, cannot help but compare how it was then to how it is now with sadness. “Mick has changed tremendously,” he writes, “only thinking [back] do I remember with regret how completely tight we were in the early years of the Stones. First off, we never had to question aims. We were unerring in where we wanted to go, what it should sound like, so we didn’t have to discuss it.”
In the end, it does not matter that Richards is unfair to Jagger or that Richards sees the world through a coke-addled lens. In this book, as in his music, Richards’ real obligation belongs not to Jagger or anyone else. It belongs to the reader, and to the art. At this, Richards succeeds brilliantly. The result is a classic book of rock & roll.
While you are at it, check out Cohen’s 1994 Rolling Stone cover story on the band.