Monday, January 3, 2011

Keith Richards Tells All!

I can't imagine that anyone could have predicted the runaway success of Keith Richards' autobiography Life, which has spent 9 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.  But having read a number of rock star biographies this year (including Ozzy Osbourne and Belinda Carlisle) I can say that this one is definitely a cut above.  Much credit must go to his cowriter James Fox, who captures Richards at his leisurely, storytelling best.

One thing that sets this book apart is that Keith avoids the trap that many rock stars fall into of trying to turn their life story into a moral fable of the temptations of drug use.  Keith is certainly very straightforward about his use of illicit drugs and some of the craziness that happened while under the influence (with many legal confrontations along the way - note: it helps to have friends in high places!).  He goes into great detail about his relationship with Anita Pallenberg, with whom he had a son, and who seems to have gone into darker places with her drug use.  He also presents the mythologized Brian Jones as an example of a musician who succumbed to the temptations of fame while forgetting what got him there in the first place.  Also unique is how Richards covers musical territory in great detail: his influences, his songwriting, his guitar style.

Much of the initial press coverage of this book centered around Richards' harsh words for Mick Jagger.  As he states late in the book, Mick is more of brother than a friend, with all the complexities of family relationships that that entails.  But Richards is actually very complimentary of Jagger through the much of the book, with praise towards his harmonica playing and songwriting skills.  And despite some years that were especially challenging to their relationship, when Mick was trying to go solo and Keith was trying to assert himself within the Stones, they do seem to have mostly reconciled.

If you are looking for a detailed history of the Rolling Stones, this one would not be it.  In fact, Richards seems to prefer to talk about his non-Rolling Stone buddies more than the Stones.  But much of the charm of the book can be attributed to these colorful characters who pop up through the book in Jamaica, Canada, Morocco, etc., many of whom remained part of Richards' entourage throughout his colorful life.  Kudos to Richards and Fox for creating the closest thing to cornering Richards at a party and listening, awestruck, to anecdote after anecdote!

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