Book Recollection: Life by Keith Richards

Keeping with my goal to get through my reading material, I was able to make a serious dent in the stack recently.  By dent I mean a good 2 inches thanks to getting through Life, the autobiography of Keith Richards from the Rolling Stones.  I need to stop reading about celebrities and definitely avoid all biographies related to those I happen to enjoy listening to or watching.  Every time I spend time doing this, I come away with a bad feeling or worse a complete desire to disassociate myself from that particular entertainer.  I’ve been an avid Stones fan since I can remember, have all my computers named after the band members, use one of their names as my gaming alias, have just about all their albums including bootlegs and spent way to much to see them in concert over the years.  After reading Ron Wood’s book previously and now Keith’s latest efforts, my relationship with the Stones is now reduced to a non-monetary enjoyment.  Translated, I doubt I’ll ever give them any more of my hard earned money.  I realize it is a lifestyle expectation, but pretty sick and tired of executives in the music industry (looking right at you RIAA and related production executives) soap boxing about how they are being driven into the ground by the hordes of criminals out there illegally taking their profits.  So let me get this right, a music enthusiast happens to download a song from his favorite band he has likely invested tons of money over the years in souvenirs and concerts and he is labeled a criminal worthy of dragging to court and seeking ridiculous fines.  Let’s contrast that with Keith Richards, an artist which thrives in this industry and essentially the reason the RIAA and music executives exist (who leach off the creativity of others).  In a quick summary; drug addict (illegal), transport of drugs across country boundaries (illegal), coercing others to do drugs (illegal), possession of firearms by a felon (illegal), moves to France to avoid paying taxes (actually probably smart on his part), although not a father myself I hardly believe what he exposed his kids to was healthy in any way,  driving under the influence (illegal), endangering the life of a pregnant wife (and baby) while wrecking under the influence, admitted poacher (illegal) and lastly considering the Beatles as friends (criminal in every aspect).   Now you tell me, who is the kettle?

The truth is, this book did have some interesting tidbits in it with my favorites being small comments here and there which give some insights into his approach to song construction and meanings.  Based on Ron Wood’s book, it was essentially a literary masterpiece but I must recollect a comment from another book I read recently called Bird by Bird.  In that excellent work, the author referenced a review she received from one of her books that simply stated “You have made the mistake of thinking everything that has happened to you is interesting”.  I can’t think of a better comment for this book.  This biography could have easily been reduced to half its size by glossing over pointless events – an up front summary stating that Keith is a medical grade drug addict in the first paragraph could have reduced another quarter inch of the book preventing the literary broken record.  Granted, Keith has had a very eccentric life and some of them are quite interesting.  The Stones had to work to get where they are at now and I’m guessing a lot of people gloss over that fact when they see them up on the stage.  The question remains as to whether they could have gotten there without the all too familiar Rock and Roll lifestyle.  Does the lifestyle lead to the success or does the creativity require that behavior?  (does the love of motorcycles lead to the need to wear leather or does the affinity for leather make you want to get a motorcycle.. but I digress).

To summarize, was there was some value in spending precious personal time reading this book, but this is pretty much the end of my future Stones investments.  Their recent albums have been weak, their concerts have been way overpriced as of late and, quite frankly, they are old (there Linda, I said it).  Feel free to hit the jump to see my takeaways from the time investment.  Meanwhile, I’ll just pop over to the local news where they are detailing Theodora’s (Keith’s daughter) recent arrest for drug possession.  Looks like the nut didn’t fall far from the Fiji tree (yeah, I know it was a bad pun, but I had to go for it)

Recollections:

  • Keith was born on 12/18/1943 along the Thames.  Besides the stark reality of how old this band is, it is a little shocking to put this into context and realize England was literally being bombed by the Nazis at this time.  I can’t imagine the horror of dealing with air raids, bomb shelters, warplanes and the destruction he and his parents had to endure
  • Keith’s father was the only survivor of a mortar attack while functioning as a dispatcher the day after D-Day
  • Like Tommy Iommi (Black Sabbath), he also suffered a finger injury that likely positively contributed to his guitar playing
  • His mom actually listened to Bix Beiderbecke – I always note when I see this name seeing as how I participate in the Bix7 every year in Davenport named in his honor… looks like Bix’s sphere of influence was quite extensive (and we’ll just leave the drugs and alcohol out of that particular story for now)
  • He credits the strong influence Boy Scouts had on his childhood – of course this introduced him to knives which made for some scary times in his adulthood
  • He actually lucked out and got selected to go to Sidcup Art College which seemed to be a catalyst for his interest in music
  • Bill Wyman actually did National Service in the RAF in Germany
  • Confirming what I already knew, he met Mick Jagger on a train (’61) thanks to common ground over albums Mick had with him
  • Mick actually went to the London School of Economics which probably trained him well to drive the eventual Stones revenue train
  • He credits Ian Stewart for actually making the Stones
  • Apparently you don’t let your wife alone with Mick Jagger as Brian Jones found out the hard way (of course Keith calls out Jones as a wife beater so no tears coming from me)
  • Their main influence … a city a mere three hours North of me
  • He actually gives some insights into his chord progressions/methodology and the songs that were generated from them (appreciated this)
  • Keith actually considers Mick a great harp (harmonic) player
  • Charlie is a jazz drummer (which is quite obvious) but what I didn’t know is he has his own signature thanks to a unique style of drumming (actually has a delay in it every two beats) which gives the Stones their unique sound
  • He states it himself, the Stones were designed to be the anti-Beatles but contrary to what I would expect, Keith considered them friends .. he even spend a number of drug induced evenings with Lennon and yes, the Beatles did give the Stones a song (I Wanna Be Your Man)
  • Phil Spector actually played bass on Play with Fire – I wonder if Keith shared some of his drugs during that session causing Phil’s eventual explosion of hair
  • Confirming Gladwell in Outliers and Super Freakenomics the Stones played thousands of gigs with little time off in between (maybe 10 days off in that period) honing their craft – talent may help, but hard word is clearly the key
  • I lost count of musicians he notes that have killed loved ones for one reason or another… killing a wife, hacking their mother’s up … think it has anything to do with the drugs.. anybody with me?
  • Locked in a kitchen, Keith and Mick starting their songwriting partnerships with As Tears Go By (originally recorded by Marianne Faithfull)
  • Did you know this about Roy Oberson – kids died in a fire and wife died in a car crash… I need to go try and validate this
  • Keith definitely has an affinity for guns which Ronnie also talked about in his book – at one point carrying a .38 with 500 rounds of ammo through the airport.  Of course all of these are illegal since he is a felon.
  • For the curious, Ruby Tuesday is about Linda Keith
  • June 29th 1967 – my birth year, Keith got sentenced so 12 months in prison thanks to their famous drug bust at Redlands (with Marianne naked incident of course) – imagine this, he only spent a day there
  • Jumpin’ Jack Flash and Street Fighting Man were both done with just acoustic guitars
  • And every guitarist should know by now Keith’s passion for the open FIVE string tuning (mainly G) – he didn’t invent the open tuning, but he sure made it his own style
  • Keith considers the film Sympathy for the Devil a load of crap – now that is a less than flattering review from someone the movie was focused on
  • Mick has a tiny dodger … note to Keith.. your readers don’t care (but apparently Mick is mad about it and they are still feuding about this comment)
  • So Keith credits pure (pharmaceutical) drugs is his key to success (and still being alive vs being on street crap).  By the end of this book I was pathetically tired of this repeated theme.  Worse was the constant excuses and rationalization as how he wasn’t a junkie, but was actually just using it to be more productive (being able to stay up weeks at a time).  Welcome to Denial phase Keith and if you don’t want to own up to that, maybe you should consider taking accountability for the others you brought into this altered state life with you
  • Keith pretty much glosses over the fact (and openly admits it) drugs were involved in his car crash with his son in the car and his wife 7 months pregnant.
  • Brian spiraled of control and was fired from the band two or three weeks before he died – there was a deathbed confession from Frank Thorogood who claimed he drowned Brian
  • Keith wrote Wild Horses originally as a lullaby to Marlon (not wanting to leave him), but Jagger rewrote it to be about him and Marianne Faithfull  – ironically, this was one of the songs I specifically picked out for our wedding reception
  • He did touch upon the Altamont tragedy where Meredith Hunter was murdered.
  • They were ran out of their homeland thanks to ludicrous tax rates (83% for highest earners and 98% for investments and unearned income – ouch) – this drove them to France and the famous Exile on Main Street
  • Keith spent his daughter’s (named Dandelion) birth in detox where he wrote Angie (turned out Dandelion was also given Angela as a middle name because she was born in a Catholic hospital.)  Up to this point I have always thought Angie was about Angie Bowie
  • Keith became friends with Mr. Dole in Hawaii which ended up saving him from the long arm of the law
  • Contrary to what I previously considered truth, Keith did not have full blood transfusions in Switzerland – apparently this was just a comment he made in jest while boarding a plane
  • Keith had a third child with Anita named Tara – he was found dead in his cot just over two months old.  I have some problems with this particular recollection in the sense he chose to take his older son with him (and expose him to road life with rock n’ rollers .. nice) while leaving his youngest son in the care of his addict wife.  When he finds out about Tara (while on the road), he proceeds to rationalize it to himself to stay and do the concert that night.  At this point he also decides to ship his daughter Angela off to his mother for the next 20 years (which I suspect was the best thing that could have happened to her)… sad, so very sad
  • To avoid authorities in the 70s, Keith put feathers on his needles and put them in his hat band.  Upon arriving at his destination he would hop over to the local toy store and buy a toy nurses kit, put the real needle on the fake syringe in the kit.  Pretty ingenious for a junkie, but more amazing is the toy kit was this capable.
  • He did reference the acquaintance with the woman that essentially killed John Belushi, but left out Ronnie’s book’s reference to Keith using a gun to keep her away from him
  • Anita’s boyfriend (17) blew his brains out in their house playing Russian Roulette.   Keith was on the road and Marlon got to see the aftermath.  Apparently this was the end of Keith and Anita’s relationship.. really?  drug addiction, car wrecks at 7 mos pregnant, lost child at 2 months, shipping other daughter off to Keith’s mother’s care… and this was the tipping point.. sigh
  • Marlon basically grew up transiting from place to place, Europe, New York (Manhattan Hotel),  Mick Taylor’s vacated house and on and on.  Apparently didn’t even go to school the entire year of 1980
  • How ironic that Little T&A matches his two future kids Theodora and Alexandra with wife Patti Hansen.  To bring things up to current times, Theodora was just arrested for possession and graffiti… Pretty much father of the year candidate if ask me
  • There is definitely a rift between Keith and Mick which appears to based upon Mick’s apparent need to control everything (LVS – Lead Vocalist Syndrome).  I can see how this might be, but then again, this is coming from a junkie so I’m not entirely sure the Stones would be where they are at today without Mick pushing
  • Keith has less than favorable reviews of Mick’s solo projects.  Ironic is the complaining about Mick’s solo efforts only to comment on his on solo efforts between Steel Wheels and Voodoo Lounge… glass houses?
  • Bill Wyman left if 1991 – Keith didn’t buy his excuse of not wanting to fly anymore and did mention he opened a fish and chip shop called Sticky Fingers
  • Keith admits to poaching.. what’s a few more violations in a lifetime
  • Mick was actually knighted (to Keith’s disgust) by Prince Charles because the Queen was …. busy
  • Misinformation from the press again, Keith did fall out of a tree, but not a palm tree – ended up being pretty serious with a cracked skull requiring a blood clot removal …  bright spot in the grayness, he doesn’t do cocaine anymore … mind you just because it thins his blood and we can’t have that now can we
  • He did admit to snorting some of his Dad’s ashes so the press got that right
  • Any guesses where he currently resides?  if you guess Connecticut you know your Stones trivia better than I do

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