A Review of Life

LifeLife by Keith Richards

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow. I thought I had a foul mouth, but I never met Keith Richards. He’s got a mouth on him, he does. Heh.

This is an interesting book to read because it’s like the ghost writer sat Keith down with a tape recorder and 100 tapes and said record anything that comes to mind. And so he does. It’s all stream of consciousness. It’s Keith rambling and babbling about just about anything and everything. Sometimes it’s wearing, but sometimes it’s juicy and good. It’s actually quite hard to put down. He even includes his own recipe for bangers and mash!

It was mildly interesting to read about Keith and Mick’s youthful obsessions with American blues music. Since I care nothing for blues, it held little interest for me, but Keith consistently refers to blues musicians throughout the book, so it’s good to be on the lookout for this. It was also interesting to see how the band came about and how they became famous almost overnight, right after the Beatles gave them one of their songs to perform (which I already knew). They apparently played for three years straight with only some 10 days off in between. If that’s true (and it’s hard to believe), that’s a lot of touring. Keith makes no bones about the fact that the Stones were making blues and country albums with a couple of rock songs thrown in on each to please the record companies, so they could sell some records. These rocks songs are the ones we know and love. I never knew Keith was such a song writer. He wrote “Gimme Shelter” and many others of the major hits, and he collaborated with Mick on nearly every song. It was sad to read about the disintegration of their relationship. Keith spends half the book bad mouthing Mick and then saying good things about him, that he’s his mate. Weird. Some of the friction started with Anita Pallenberg, a hottie Keith had stolen (“rescued”) from Brian Jones. Apparently, she and Mick were in a film together and had a scene in a bathtub and one thing might have led to another. Keith writes, “I didn’t find out for ages about Mick and Anita, but I smelled it.” He then goes on to write “I’m not that jealous kind of guy,” before telling us how he got back at Mick by porking Mick’s girlfriend Maryann Faithful, having to escape out the window to avoid being caught by Mick. There’s lots of these discrepancies throughout the book, which would normally make me want to give it three stars, but I’m giving it four because it is interesting.

It’s amazing how Richards dismisses Brian Jones’s death. He writes,

“I knew Frank Thorogood, who made a ‘deathbed confession’ that he’d killed Brian Jones by drowning him in the swimming pool, where Brian’s body was found some minutes after other people had seen him alive. But I’m always wary of deathbed confessions…. Whether he did or not I don’t know. Brian had bad asthma and he was taking quaaludes and Tuinals, which are not the best things to dive under water on. Very easy to choke on that stuff…. But when somebody says, ‘I did Brian,’ at the very most I’d put it down to manslaughter. All right, you may have pushed him under, but you weren’t there to murder him. He pissed off the builders, whining son of a bitch. It wouldn’t have mattered if the builders were there or not, he was at that point in his life when there wasn’t any.”

Doesn’t seem to care very much, does he? He gets angry about other people in his life dying, but could care less that a member of the group does. Odd.

Later in the book, Keith speculates further about Mick.

“I’ve no doubt, in retrospect, that Mick was very jealous of me having other male friends. And I’ve no doubt that that was more of a difficulty than women or anything else. It took me a long time to realize that any male friend I had would automatically get the cold shoulder, or at least a suspicious reception, from Mick.”

One of the things I didn’t like about the book was that Keith just skipped over songs and albums entirely. He mentioned Beggars Banquet, but only mentions Let It Bleed once in the book that I can recall. Yet he spends perhaps hundreds of pages on Exile on Main Street and Some Girls. Why is that? Is that because he was writing more of the songs, so he wants credit? Is he so insecure that he wants to gloss over early Stones history to get to where he contributed more heavily? It doesn’t make sense. He also totally skips over Tattoo You, the Stones’ last great album, while writing at length about inferior newer albums. Weird. Another thing that bugged me about the book was that he tries to describe himself as a real macho type. He carried guns and knives with him — slept with a gun under his pillow. And apparently he used these at times, and was well known for it. During his very bad heroin period, when he couldn’t get the “good stuff,” he’d have to go to downtown L.A., for instance, and read on…

“We knew the trick — you’d score upstairs, and on your way down the other bunch would take it back off you again. Most of the time you’d hear it going on while you were waiting for your turn. The thing was to leave quietly, and if you saw anybody outside — because you never knew if it was going to happen or not — usually you’d give them a kick in the balls. But a couple of times, fuck it, OK, let’s go for it. You cover me. You stay down there, and as I come down with the shit I’ll go bang, and they’ll go bang and then you go bang. Shoot out the lightbulbs and put a few bullets around and do the run, sparks flying. Then with a bit of luck we’re out of there. The statistic are well on your side against being hit when you’re a moving target. If you look at the odds, one thousand to one, you’re going to win. You have to be very close and you have to have good eyesight to shoot out a lightbulb. And it’s dark. Flash, bang, wallop and get out of there. I loved it. It was real OK Corral stuff.”

Keith’s heroin habit was VERY bad, but he really almost downplays it in the book, like he had some control over it. Never OD’d like others, knew not to take too much. Said it helped his creativity. I don’t know about that, but I don’t think you’re setting a good example for the kids, Keith.

Keith and Anita have several children, one of whom dies mysteriously in a crib death experience, but her heroin addiction is worse than his and when he finally cleans up, he can’t stay with her, so ultimately hooks up with Patti Hansen, whom he marries four years later and with whom he has two more children. Strangely, the book talks more of Keith and Anita’s relationship than Keith and Patti, until the final chapter.

Keith and Mick had been at each other’s throats for some time, but it got very bad when Mick piggybacked a three album solo deal on a new Stones deal. Keith felt betrayed by this, for some reason. He rants about it at length. He then goes on to write about the beginnings of “World War III.”:

“Dirty Work came out in early 1986, and I badly wanted to tour with it. So, of course, did the other band members, who wanted to work. But Mick sent us a letter saying he wouldn’t tour. He wanted to get on with his solo career. Soon after the letter came, I read in one of the English tabloids of Mick saying the Rolling Stones are a millstone around my neck. He actually said it. Swallow that one, fucker. I had no doubt that some part of his mind was thinking that, but saying it is another thing. That’s when World War III was declared.”

Oddly, while Keith is ranting about Mick’s Solo career, he goes off and forms a band and puts out two records of his own with zero remorse. Again, some hypocrisy. It’s disappointing. Keith seems so down to earth and real at times, and so spoiled and brat-like at others that it’s maddening!

So in 1989, a truce between Mick and the rest was declared. Keith wrote,

“Mick and I may not be friends — too much wear and tear for that — but we’re the closest of brothers, and that can’t be severed. How can you describe a relationship that goes that far back? Best friends are best friends. But brothers fight. I felt a real sense of betrayal. Mick knows how I feel, although he may not have realized my feelings went so deep. But it’s the past I’m writing about; this stuff happened a long time ago. I can say these things; they come from the heart. At the same time, nobody else can say anything against Mick that I can hear. I’ll slit their throat.”

Even though there is peace once again, Keith still gets some shots in. Mick called Keith to tell him that Tony Blair is insisting that he accept a knighthood. Keith’s reply? “You can turn down anything you like, pal.” And then he goes off!

“What’s all this shit about a knighthood? … Had I misread my friend? The Mick that I grew up with, here’s a guy who’d say shove all your little honors up your arse. Thank you very much, but no thanks. It’s a demeaning thing to do. It’s called the honors list, but we’ve been honored enough. The public has honored us. You’re going to accept an honor from a system that tried to put you in jail for nothing? I mean, if you can forgive them for that….Mick’s class consciousness had become more and more evident as we went along, but I never knew he’d fallen for this shit.”

Sounds like Keith could use some therapy to me. He never gets over Mick trying to get in with the popular circles and trying to manage the group himself. He resented Mick for nearly everything and it’s this poison that seeps throughout the whole book which makes it a bit disappointing. Don’t get me wrong — he may be right about everything and Mick may be a total asshole, but you’re sinking to a level you don’t need to go to when you start writing this stuff.

Keith’s linguistic skills are a marvel to observe in this book. He has a way with words, even when he’s describing shooting up in a shit hole hovel or he’s escaping being jailed once again. I think there’s too much emphasis on albums that don’t deserve it (like the recent ones) and not enough — if any — on some classics that do deserve it. I would have liked to hear a little more about his doings with Charlie and Bill and the others. They play bit roles in this book. Still, it’s a decent read, and quite long, and if you’re a Stones fan, you’ll probably find it quite illuminating. Hell, you probably will even if you’re not a Stones fan. Recommended.
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