Thursday, October 10, 2013

[Books] Book Look: Life, by Keith Richards

Book Look: Life, By Keith Richards: Keith Richards wrote a book (the mind reels!) of his life, about which he claims to remember it all (whoa, dude, seriously!). Although it is not as surprising as you might think. Time flies. It's been well over thirty years since Keefer was on smack. Imagine that: There are young couples raising children in suburbia who have never known a world in which Keith Richards was a junky in the headlines.

Keith has always had a way with words. He wrote most of The Stones iconic songs, after all. Life, to his credit, and that of his co-writer, reads exactly like Keith talking: a sort of awkwardly elegant ramble that makes you smile even at its most annoying. If you've never seen an interview with Keith, just read it in your head as Johnny Depp's voice from the Pirates movies.

If there is an overriding concept in Life it's how deeply it reflects Keith's version of the facts and the world in general. There is no hiding it and no pretense of objectivity, no self-questioning. In that sense it is an extraordinarily honest look into Keith's brain. Case in point is the introduction.

Dressed like a queen, in a flashy car that is packed with with an entire pharmacy's worth of drugs, hammered out of his mind no doubt, he and a couple of his friends are driving through the South on their way to a gig sometime in the 1970s. After some restroom drug shenanigans, they find themselves pulled over and arrested. We discover, however, that this is not the result of some bad decisions on their part. It is the fault of Richard Nixon and Southern redneck cops. There are some tense moments before they get out of it using expensive lawyers and their own fame.

Really, it's a remarkable vignette. Placing it in the introduction is brilliant because it tells you upfront what you are dealing with: The World According to Keef. It is, after all, an autobiography. But it is wonderfully clear that Keith's take on things is so deeply non-objective. Keith is the master of don't-judge-me-I-am-what-I-am excuses. When contemplating the notion of a jury of his peers, he claims to have no peers, except possibly Jimmy Page. He is unique, truly special. Late three hours for a show? Well, you'll just be happy that he gets there. It's not his fault anyway, it's rock and roll. Disagree with him in the recording studio? Well, you deserve to have a knife pulled on you. You don't mess with the Keefer.

Keith lived (lives) his life like a true rebel, a dangerous man on the edge. A pirate in the world. A self-destructive bluesman who answered to no one but his rock and roll ways. He's a man who holds grit and devilry close to his heart. Even when he's not being naughty, a lot of bad stuff just sort of "happens" to Keith, such as his penchant for finding buildings to inhabit that subsequently burn down through "faulty wiring." At least he doesn't blame Nixon for that.

Of course, the dirty secret is that he never had to pay for it. Any average person who lived his life would have be locked up for long stretch, first having destroyed and/or impoverished all the people he loved. Keith, in contrast, ends up with a loving family, an entourage of handlers, a compound in Connecticut and a regular vacations at exclusive Parrot Cay in Turks and Caicos where his celebrity neighbors drop by for tea. How hard is it to be a rogue badass when there no consequences except being on the outs with Mick Jagger? (Read this brilliant, imagined response from Jagger to Life, by journalist -- not bassist --Bill Wyman.)

So should you read Life, this monument to self-delusion and aggrandizement? Absolutely. It's entertaining as hell in a gossipy sort of way. And Keith is not without his good side. His passion and understanding of music stands out, as does his ability to reciprocate loyalty. Despite all the infantile nonsense and skull-ring posing he does, it would still be pretty cool to be buds with the guy and his mad cronies. Just don't get sucked into thinking you could behave like him. You're not rich or famous enough, and he might just give you knife for your presumption.