Monday, November 15, 2010
As lead guitarist of the Rolling Stones, Keith Richards created the riffs, the lyrics, and the songs that roused the world. A true and towering original, he has always walked his own path, spoken his mind, and done things his own way. Now at last Richards pauses to tell his story in the most anticipated autobiography in decades. And what a story! Listening obsessively to Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters records in a coldwater flat with Mick Jagger and Brian Jones, building a sound and a band out of music they loved. Finding fame and success as a bad-boy band, only to find themselves challenged by authorities everywhere. Dropping his guitar's sixth string to create a new sound that allowed him to create immortal riffs like those in "Honky Tonk Woman" and "Jumpin' Jack Flash." Falling in love with Anita Pallenberg, Brian Jones's girlfriend. Arrested and imprisoned for drug possession. Tax exile in France and recording Exile on Main Street. Ever-increasing fame, isolation, and addiction making life an ever faster frenzy. Through it all, Richards remained devoted to the music of the band, until even that was challenged by Mick Jagger's attempt at a solo career, leading to a decade of conflicts and ultimately the biggest reunion tour in history. In a voice that is uniquely and unmistakably him--part growl, part laugh--Keith Richards brings us the truest rock-and-roll life of our times, unfettered and fearless and true.
A little known fact about me, that probably none of you are remotely aware of is I was once a complete Rolling Stone junkie. I was obsessed as a young teenager. Posters all over my room, the Stones insignia -that giant red mouth with the shiny lips on my bedroom door... a lifesize poster of Mick Jagger leering over my bed for everyone driving past our house to see. What can I say? I've been in love with the Rolling Stones for over 35 years. I didn't just love them, I grew up with them, I learned how to play the guitar with them - by them. Playing Rolling Stones songs as a kid, listening to the songs constantly and then becoming obsessed with them solidified my Stones mania. Mick and Keith in particular. I read up on them all I could - is it any wonder I'd drop everything and get this audiobook of Keith's - with Johnny Depp narrating? Come on - it's a no brainer!
This was an amazing autobiography, love, love, loved it! Keith's story is superbly told. One of the best autobiographies I've read (or listened to). An in depth view of life from the the resilient, indefatigable Keith Richards. Maestro, backbone, creative heartbeat and soul of the Rolling Stones. Never would I have imagined that the stoned out, heroine addicted, dark rhythm guitarist had been a choir boy and a boy scout! Tons of revelations on life, on the road, touring, drugs, his relationship with (and without) Mick, his girlfriends, children - even his pets! But most of all, the heart of it is the ever expanding love of his craft - the guitar and his music.
There are parts that get bogged down a bit in their early years. If you're not already aware of who the blues and jazz greats of Chicago were at the time, your eyes may glaze over as Keith extols over the greatness of these musicians. I remember reading their names way back when during my Stones obsession when I was thirteen or so: Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Bo Diddley, playing at the Crawdaddy Club. The early Stones were into rhythm and blues, that was their shtick. They then morphed into rock n' roll later.
One of the most amazing things Keith reveals is the fact that he was actually a choirboy - and a Boy Scout! It's almost a joke - as if he's putting us on heh, heh, "Let's fuck with their heads and make them think I was a choir boy and a Boy Scout - you think they'll believe it?" Well, let me raise my hand - I can't help but wonder, "Is he putting us on?" He was a soprano in a boy's choir in Dartford where he grew up and actually sang before the queen in the 1950's. On top of that he was really into scouting! He was even a patrol leader and to this day remembers it all - Keith remembers everything! I was really surprised and loved the accounting of his life.
In case you're not sure who Keith is, he's the dark horse, mangy, scary looking Stone who plays rhythm guitar while Mick struts across the stage, always in the limelight. Keith sings, but his speaking voice is gravelly, sexy, nearly incomprehensible. Yet his singing voice sounds so different! High and somewhat weak in the early years, he rarely sang except in harmony vocals with Mick. Never solo. Many of his songs, particularly on the "Steel Wheels" album are my favorites. "Can't Be Seen With You" and "Slipping Away" are great. His voice is good on them too. He really got into singing more in his later years and it shows. I can barely stand to listen to Mick on that album now, Keith is so much better and his songs are soulful with some beautiful melodies. Who'd have thought? Many of the Stones' great songs were written by Keith, they're his music, while Jagger mostly wrote lyrics, but later on wrote some big hits as well, such as "Miss You."
Keith was pretty cute in his early days of the '60's and '70's, you'd never know it now, with that leathery look about him. Check out his eyes, they've seen a lot over the years. I've seen the Stones twice in concert, first time was in 1981 on the "Tattoo You" tour. Keith looked very muscular onstage, I was surprised, I thought he'd look like a wasted heroine addict. He was off the stuff by then. Wearing a black leather vest and nothing underneath. Even from where I was, somewhere back in the crowd on an outdoor day in Philadelphia, he was someone to watch and follow. Keith was steady, much more than Mick, who was doing all his gyrations and turns and bumps and grinds with "Start Me Up" blasting. Keith held my attention, he looked focused and strong. Mick just looked, well... stupid. Ah, memories. The second time I saw them was on their "Steel Wheels" tour around 1989 at the Meadowlands at Giant Stadium. I remember it was a good concert, but not nearly as memorable as the Philadelphia gig. I don't even remember what Keith or Mick were wearing at that one - it was at night, outdoors, but I was older and more sedate by then. We actually had seats at that concert. *grin* I was married, but no kids yet.
Growing up an only child in a poor post-WWII Dartford, Keith got into scouting and singing in the school choir. But when his voice changed at around age 13 he was booted out of the choir and he was lost. He became a rebel after that, but still kept with the scouting until he heard Elvis' Heartbreak Hotel and began playing the guitar. That was it. His advice on guitar playing really interested me, for his advice is almost exactly what I did growing up. If you want to learn how to play the guitar, start with the basics and learn on an acoustic. Then work your way up to steel string and electric. I only got as far as acoustic with the gut strings (steel hurt my tender fingers too much) but I played and played constantly developing the much needed callouses. Luckily my older brother was just as into it as I was and he taught me alot. We'd jam together up on our third floor blasting "Sticky Fingers" and playing "Sway" and "Wild Horses," I was singing and wailing away on "Dead Flowers" over and over until we got it right. I was rhythm and my brother was lead. Hard to believe nowadays. I was very interested in Keith's trick by tuning his guitar with just five strings to get that quintessential sound. I play by ear most of the time nowadays and can learn a song simply by hearing it and playing it over and over - the same way Keith learned in his early days playing the guitar! Lots of craftmanship and hints and instruction abounds throughout his book. As he says at one point, musicians are always happy to help fellow musicians get it right. I haven't picked my Yamaha up in years - but I still have the same one I had from 1973-unbroken, no less! (I think it needs new strings - but that's about it.) I think it's about time I took that baby out of it's case - I'm so in the mood to jam again!
Everything you've ever wanted to know about the Stones you can probably find out in Keith's book. He pulls no punches and tells is like it is.
Keith was the real leader of the Stones. He rounded people up and got them to do stuff. Of course, during his heroine years, he might keep them waiting around for hours and hours, but he'd make up for it by not going to sleep for days to finish recording a track! He managed his heroine addiction to a tee, it was quite an art when you think about it. He's very open about it, I feel like, if the need ever arose, which I don't think it ever will thank-you-very-much, I would know just how to cut heroine - but it would have to be the good stuff. He lived with heroine for over 10 years, both he and his wife/girlfriend Anita Pallenberg were junkies -what an existence - but they managed it.
Keith's not malicious or spiteful, you can tell, he's just telling the truth about how he saw things. He's candid about Brian Jones and Mick Jagger - he doesn't hold his feeling back. He tells you exactly what he thought and still thinks of them. He basically hated Brian who had a mean streak. It was refreshing and clear - despite the 10+ years of when he was a heroine addict. Keith basically comes across as a great guy, a nice guy, a decent guy who just wants to play music and doesn't want to have to deal with egos and one particular member's LVS (lead vocalist syndrome) attempt to branch off to a solo career and undermined a record deal to do it. Keith is loyal and a friend for life but Mick's subterfuge really pissed him off. A must for any Stones fan, I cannot recommend it enough. I also liked the way the audio was set up. Johnny Depp did most of it as Keith before heroine, and then after heroine. During the heroine years, the voice is different, narrated by Joe Hurley, a fellow musician. He's more like Keith's real voice, slurry, sloshy, very British and just plain ... cool.