Life by Keith Richards

L. R. Laverde-Hansen By L. R. Laverde-Hansen, 21st Jul 2014 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Reviews>Books>Biography

Celebrity memoirs are usually trash repackaged as literature. This Rolling Stone, however, turns in something special and one of the best books our blogger has read in years.

A Life In Full

Can you say, 'Kick Ass?'

Celebrity memoirs are usually trash packaged and sold as literature. Often ghostwritten, always self-serving, the most surprising thing about them is how badly they're written, even with a first-class collaborator and a sizable advance. Truth be told, fan magazines give better bios--and more quickly too.

Often the only stuff of interest in them is their gossipy revelations. We learn, for example, that Jane Fonda had three-way sex, and Wilt Chamberlain had sex with about 20,000 women (sic). But we hardly learn anything truly deep, except that famous people rarely make good authors.

There are always exceptions, of course. Danny Bonaduce's Random Acts of Badness isn't War And Peace, but it is a rollicking good read. His misadventures with fame, women, and drugs might be the starting point, but far more compelling is his determination to act like a grownup and build a serious life. He refuses to descend into self pity and blame child stardom for his troubles; though he does admit to struggling as an adult performer.

Then there is Life by Keith Richards. I'm no great fan of The Rolling Stones, but I respect their contributions to music. Nonetheless, I wasn't planning to read the book until I came across a favorable review by Maureen Dowd in The New York Times. When I opened Life I was surprised. Seldom have I enjoyed a recent book, especially a celebrity memoir, as much as this one.

It's not that Mr. Richards lacked a collaborator. It's just that whoever worked with him simply wove the strands together, and let the man speak in his own voice.

And what a voice! Keith Richards sounds less like one driving than driven. He comes across as astonished (and bewildered) by his success as we are. But the force and creation of his musicianship comes from a love for American blues music, which is completely raw and pure. Many artists pay lip service to their musical influences and idols; Keith Richards convinces you that though he had a life before listening to the Blues (and he gives a charming backstory of his days in Dartford outside of London), he really was never the same person since. There is such an authentic feel to this narrative, one suspects that if he were not a founding member of "Greatest Rock n' Roll Band In The World," he would still have become a distinguished member of the British Blues community.

Then there is the matter of what followed: rising status; worldwide fame; absolute love and hatred; girls; drugs; musical revolutions, etc. Keith is aware that he is retelling the story of The Stones, yet he manages to personalize that story; to show himself as a regular bloke, who came of age at an extraordinary time.

He ingratiates himself so well that you don't envy him; you admire his tenacity to find his music in spite of myriad distractions, which accompany superstardom.That's not to say he does not slip in some saucy celebrity anecdotes here and there, but he does not rely on them. Some celebrities traffic in outrage or self-conscious weirdness, yet are numbingly boring when not onstage. Keith Richards is fascinating even when he's tuning his guitar or looking out the window to see a rainy London below (his inspiration for "Gimme Shelter").

I always suspected that Keith, not Mick Jagger was the cooler one of the Glimmer Twins. It turned out I was right. Yet Keith is so generous and informative that he serves as a great character witness to his famous mate. We learn how Mick's love of blues music (at least initially) rivaled anyone's in Britain. His wit and style served the Stones very well, and no one else could take Keith's opening riffs and turn them into rock classics. Keith's magnanimity extends to not resenting Mick's womanizing and shameless opportunism, which needless to say, caused tensions in the band.

Then there are the drugs. Keith Richard's chemical indulgences are the stuff of legend. Without bragging, Keith relates how he outsmoked, outsnorted, or outdrank almost everybody. Those who could match him or tried to (like John Lennon) wound up hugging the toilet or instead (like Keith Moon) died. He is very matter of fact in his descriptions. Some will contend that he is glorifying illicit drugs, but that doesn't seem to be his point. He denies the common canard that drugs made him more creative. His argument is that he was able to manage his consumption due to his strong constitution and his own moderation (at least for him). Agree with him or not, he is an adult about it.

Additionally Keith is very politically incorrect with some choice terms. He freely uses words like "b*tches" and "f*gs," and some will take offense. Though it is good to see these passages in context, I cannot defend their use. He is of a time when people used such language and didn't think twice about it. Nonetheless, I feel Keith is far more enlightened than such references suggest.

Life is not a book for everyone. Doubtless some people will never become fans of The Rolling Stones, but if this book is any indication, Keith Richards is a mate worth knowing.

Originally Published on Yahoo Voices.
New York June 3, 2011

Source and Discloure

Life by Keith Richards with James Fox. Little Brown And Company. New York. 2010.

The Contributor has no connection to nor was paid by the brand or product described in this content.


Keith Richards, Memoir, Mick Jagger, The Rolling Stones

Meet the author

author avatar L. R. Laverde-Hansen
Poet, playwright, commentator. I write wherever I can. Currently I reside in the City of New York.

Share this page

moderator Mark Gordon Brown moderated this page.
If you have any complaints about this content, please let us know


author avatar Mark Gordon Brown
22nd Jul 2014 (#)

I was more into punk and goth but you really have to admire Keith and the Stones.

Reply to this comment

author avatar cnwriter..carolina
22nd Jul 2014 (#)

interesting indeed...

Reply to this comment

author avatar L. R. Laverde-Hansen
22nd Jul 2014 (#)

Thank you, Mark. Ironically I now work as a tour guide and pass by the old haunt of CBGB in New York.

Reply to this comment

author avatar L. R. Laverde-Hansen
22nd Jul 2014 (#)

Thank you, carolina.

Reply to this comment

Add a comment
Can't login?