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.
I was downtown on Fifth Avenue. The first bit of news I got, I thought, “He’ll make it.” You know, “It’s just a flesh wound.” And then, later on, the news really came. He wasn’t just a mate of mine, he was a mate of everybody’s, really. He was a funny guy. And you realize that you’re stunned. You really don’t believe it. And you think, “God, why can’t I do anything about it?” I got well drunk on it. And I had another one for John. Then there was the confusion, the phone calls, trying to find out if Yoko was OK. There were the Beatles, and there was John. As a band, they were a great unit. But John, he was his own man. We got along very well. We didn’t see each other very often, but he would sort of turn up at your hotel. Usually, if I was in the city, I’d stay at the Plaza. If John turned up, that meant John wanted to party. He didn’t come there to discuss, you know, philosophy – although it would end up like that. I would just get into town, and there’d be a knock at the door: “Hey, man, what is going on around here?” We would get the guitars down and sing. And, in our spare time, discuss world domination. He’s rubbed off on me as much as anybody. A bit of me rubbed off on John, too, you know. He took it with him. My father just passed away, and he winked at me just before he died. I really feel a lot better about death now. I’m getting off on that wink. I’d give the wink to John.
I was nine-and-a-half when John was murdered. Funny, but at the time I thought of him as a New Yorker–an Upper West Sider, to be precise–first and a Beatle, second.
[Quote Via; photo by Ted Barron]
Apropos of nothing, here’s a 1981 Rolling Stone interview with Keith:
Did you find anything worthwhile in punk rock?
Yeah, there was a certain spirit there. But I don’t think there was anything new musically, or even from the PR point of view, image-wise. There was too much image, and none of the bands were given enough chance to put their music together, if they had any. It seemed to be the least important thing. It was more important if you puked over somebody, you know? But that’s a legacy from us also. After all, we’re still the only rock & roll band arrested for peeing on a wall.
Apparently, the punks weren’t impressed. They really seemed to hate bands like the Stones.
That’s what we used to say about everything that went before us. But you need a bit more than just putting down people to keep things together. There’s always somebody better at puttin’ you down. So don’t put me down, just do what I did, you know? Do me something better. Turn me on.
…Obviously, some of the Stones’ greatest music was made on dope.
Yeah, Exile on Main St. was heavily into it. So was Sticky Fingers….
Was it difficult for you to record those albums?
No, I mean, especially with the Stones, just because they’ve been at this sort of point for so long, where they’re considered, you know, “the greatest rock & roll band in the world….” [Laughs] God, my God — you gotta be joking. Maybe one or two nights, yeah, you could stick them with that. My opinion is that on any given night, it’s a different band that’s the greatest rock & roll band in the world, you know? Because consistency is fatal for a rock & roll band. It’s gotta go up and down. Otherwise, you wouldn’t know the difference. It would be just a bland, straight line, like lookin’ at a heart machine. And when that straight line happens, baby, you’re dead, you know?
[Photo Credit: Lynn Goldsmith]
Well, I never kept a dollar past sunset/it always burned a hole in my pants…
[Photo Via: Blossom]
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.
The media blitz promoting a re-issue of the classic Stones record Exile on Main Street has been a real turn-off–Keith Richards even hosted a quiz between innings on the HD TV at Yankee Stadium last weekend–but then again, as a friend said to me the other day, the Stones never have left a dollar on the table.
And, Exile is a great record, so it’s not all bad.
Neither is this: