Over a month ago a friend recommended the book Life by Keith Richards to me. Over three weeks I read the sprawling autobiography and I now recommend it to everyone. Anyone that has listened to music would appreciate his story.
For the intro Richard gives a taste of the rock and roll mayhem his life turned into with a recap of a 1975 near tour ending bust in the South. They had drugs all over their bodies and their car. The judge in a small town court room showed up drunk, fans yelled at them from the outside, and the Rolling Stones slick lawyer got them off. Richards can draw out his scenes, makes them interesting, and has a humor to it. I read this part with interest, but feel that my summary does not do it justice.
After that intro, Richards goes back to his childhood, his upbringing, and tells of how he first got interested in the guitar and music. His father or uncle would take him on errands around town, and they would stop by a music shop. Richards said he looked at one guitar for like a year on a regular basis before he even played. I find I’m interested in stories like this, in what peeked people’s interests in the art, music, or sport that they ended up excelling at. I guess I’m like any American and I am fascinated with the success story. And I think with every success story something peeked that person’s interest from the beginning, there is a initial spark.
Richards states that music was always there, but they kicked him out of choir when his voice broke, and in those odd teenage years was when he focused on the guitar. The voice cracking is told with humor, and I believe my dad said the same thing happened to him when he was a kid. I guess in the 1950’s they were serious about their choirs. If your voice cracks you’re out. Today with everyone being so sensitive and political correct they would probably let the kid still sing and then give false applause.
Richards studying of music is interesting too. Everyone has heard Elvis’s ‘Heartbreak Hotel,’ and it had an impact on Richards. He explains what makes that song so memorable is the silent spaces between the riffs. Because of the timing of the silences it creates a bare hollow sound that haunts the listener. I’ve never been able to play music but I always appreciated it, so reading Richards many anecdotes on playing music was fascinating. Richards also stresses that at that point, the early 60’s he was primarily studying American music. He mentions countless blues and jazz musicians, and states that Rolling Stones original intent was to simply be the best blues band in London.
Richards also talks a lot about the United States because touring this country has always been a priority for bands. He talks of a lot of segregation, and how in the south because they were musicians they felt more excepted with black America. I find the 1960’s to be one of more interesting time periods, so I enjoyed Richards perspective on the social issues of that time.
Richards also explains well the process of the Rolling Stones going big. They played live venues for years 1962 to 1964, and built a following. Apparently getting recorded was very rare back then, and once they got an album recorded it happened very quickly. Once they started recording they realized they had to start writing their own songs instead of simply doing covers. Reading this you can see how proud Richards was when he realized that he and Jagger could do song writing really well.
After he describes their initial success he tells of how they composed most of their songs. He tells of his drug use. He was addicted to heroin for about ten years and did cocaine off and on until he fell on his head in 2006, and the doctor told him no more. He did a lot of drinking too. This memoir talks about his drug use, and he states how he saw people die around him that simply did more and more when it was not necessary. Richards was able to live that lifestyle because he was careful with his doses and avoided excess. But he does dispel some myths too in this book. There was a famous one that he changed his blood every once in a while to clean up. That stemmed from at one point when he was about to go cold turkey he said without thinking, ‘time to change the blood.’ And that became legend. In the book when he talks about the rumors, he said that it is very difficult to dispel them or prove them wrong once they circulate.
I also enjoyed his talking of his time in Jamaica when he played with Rastafarian reggae musicians. And his descriptions of these music making bender type things when he does not sleep. The longest time he had without sleep was 9 days. That’s crazy. Richards does seem kind of nutty too, is it really necessary to brandish knives and guns in self defense when you are a millionaire?
This book is definitely worth reading, and Keith Richards has led quite the life.