photo & text by nacrowe
LIFE (LITTLE BROWN & CO, 2010), written by the iconic ROLLING STONES guitarist / songwriter KEITH RICHARDS is one of the most expansive memoirs by a musician i have come across in recent years. it is exceptionally well written and conceived and was an enthralling read mostly due to the scope of its narrative.
following his early life you really get a feel for how early ROCK & ROLL was transmitted abroad and reintroduced by a bevy of talented BRITISH musicians who were steeped and obsessed with forgotten and dismissed stateside BLUES traditions. in a very real sense, these BRITISH INVASION bands reintroduced AMERICA to her own musical traditions.
for me that early period is the most interesting section of the book. you get a sense for how hostile the club scene in LONDON was initially to bands exploring the BLUES in the early 60s, instead focused at the time on ROCKABILLY and early ROCK AND ROLL. THE ROLLING STONES initially were just a group of CHICAGO BLUES obsessives (i.e. the roster of CHESS RECORDS) that aspired to be the best cover band of that music in town. songwriting wasn't even in the picture for them. one interesting tidbit during this period was the fact that there was a loose underground collective of record collectors that would play newly imported hard to find vinyl singles at house gatherings. these obsessives would argue about the authenticity of the artists while RICHARDS and MICK JAGGER were there only to glean off ideas about how to deconstruct the actual compositions themselves. its hilarious to think that these BRITISH obsessives thought they knew about the BLUES enough to judge them. its sad that when these musicians (like MUDDY WATERS) came to play ENGLAND they were booed for not fitting the prescriptive view of what a BLUESMAN should look and sound like (i.e. ROBERT JOHNSON). typical BRITISH snobbery. but you get a sense of what RICHARDS was fighting against.
this book goes deep into various parts of his career and personal life, as well as his relationship with drugs. its funny because RICHARDS has a public persona for being a modern-day PIRATE or DRACULA figure who, much like LEMMY KILMISTER, has consumed in inordinate amount of pharmaceuticals and yet somehow has carried on into his elder years. in actual fact throughout his memoir RICHARDS makes repeated commentary about the mistakes made by others regarding drugs. he speaks of using in moderation and consuming a base amount to maintain a steady level alertness, something he did to stay up for days on end recording albums in the late 60s and early 70s. he never upped the dosage in search of a higher plateau. it was all about stability.
this concept regarding stability also seems to be how he navigates relationships both personal and business alike. despite his bacchanalian reputation for debauched depravity, i mean he is practically the poster child for ROCK AND ROLL excess, he speaks about things like groupie-culture as less about sex and more about companionship while on the road for years on end, especially in the earlier years. its counter-intuitive from your expectations going in, but THE DIRT this is not. he comes off practically like an ENGLISH gentleman.
but again, for me this book is less about the extracurriculars and more about his appreciation for music and the art of collaboration. in many ways his strength as a musician, aside from his songwriting prowess, is to seamlessly integrate himself into a rhythm section, maintaining the groove without showboating or drawing attention to himself. they had JAGGER for that, the ultimate peacock. JAGGER for himself is given praise throughout but also consternation for his betrayal of the band in the 1980s when seeking a solo deal with the same company on the back of a recently signed multi-album deal for the band. JAGGER collaborates when necessary but ultimately is made to look like a selfish opportunist of the first order, seeking glory for himself which very much goes against the ethos of the band.
i could go because this book is beyond expansive and well-worth the time of anyone interested in ROCK AND ROLL, BLUES, COUNTRY MUSIC or the historical progression of popular music in the 20th century. can't wait to read JAGGER's perspective if such ever comes out.