Monday, December 13, 2010

"Life" by Keith Richards

One of the hardest, and most enjoyable aspects of reviewing this book by Keith Richards, is the enormous amount of information he has to impart to the reader. There are, for instance, the names of many musicians who influenced Mr. Richards, but who are totally unrecognizable to those of us on this side of the Atlantic. Take "Wizz" Jones as an example. Mr. Richards cites him as an early influence. Mr. Jones was a British folk singer along the lines of our own Bob Dylan, and he used to drop by the toilet at the art school where all the kids would hang out and play guitar. This was in Chapter 2, so I had to stop reading and get acquainted with "Wizz" Jones. And thanks to our good friend You Tube, it's not that hard to do. Here is Mr. Wizz Jones, on BBC in 1960;

Don't take me wrong, I'm not complaining. This is just the type of book I love! One that will stretch my knowledge of the music I love and where it came from. And this book starts giving on page one! Then it keeps on delivering until the very last page.

I have been a Keith Richards fan since I first heard him singing "Connection" with the Stones in 1966. And when he wrote and sang "You've Got the Silver" on "Let It Bleed" in 1969, I was hooked on Keith Richards for life. The man is a human musical note. He sees most things musically, lyrically. That he is able to then translate these visions and craft them into music that rocks the entire world is amazing. That he has done it for almost 50 years is astounding!

I won't bore you with a review of this book and a rehashing of some of the wilder exploits. It would only cheapen this incredible work by Mr. Richards. Let's just say that there is enough sex, drugs and rock and roll in the book to keep the more voyeuristic amongst us very happy. And to that end, the book delivers very well.

But for those looking to read a more serious side of the man known to millions as "Keef", this book is THE place to be. The author explores every aspect of his life, from growing up in post war England, which was still on rations through 1954, his days at art college, an examination of how the British primary schools worked at the time, and everything else you will need to know in order to measure the man.

Musically, the book is a treasure. Mr. Richards explains his method of guitar playing and song writing, right down to the five string open G tuning which he uses on many of The Rolling Stones records, as well as in concert. This portion of the book was so inspiring that I immediatley retuned one of my guitars so that I could check it out myself. I'll keep you posted on that one!

Exploring his sometimes volatile relationship with Mick Jagger is also a very interesting part of the book. How fame affects different people is fascinating, and even more so when told by someone who has lived it.

From the early Bohemian days of the Rolling Stones, founded by Ian Stewart, to the chaotic days of Brian Jones death, and then on through the politics and drug scandals of the late 1990's and beyond, this book is a ticking bomb. Each page explodes with information about the music business, touring, and the petty differences that can plague old friendships on the road.

Many people will be interested in the history of Keith Richards drug use, and on this subject, once again, he dishes up the full story. He does not, as I have read in other reviews, glorify drug use at all, rather he just tells it the way it is. You make the choices for yourself. This whole topic of hard drug use is an education in itself, and written honestly by someone who has been through it all, several times.

The legal problems of the 1970's, when Mr. Richards was under indictment in Canada for trafficking, is of special interest. It is the typical story of a Government catching a tiger by the tail and not knowing what to do with it. And the story of the blind girl, who helps to influence the decision of the judge, will really let you in on who Keith Richards is beneath the surface. I'm no spoiler, so you'll have to read the book if you want to hear that one.

This book holds nothing back. Mr. Richards is completely candid about his family life and the book contains just enough photos to let you peek inside of that world. When dealing with the loss of his infant son Tara, in 1979, he moved me to tears, no exaggeration, and I'm a pretty hard case when it comes to that sort of thing.

His stories are, at times, interspersed with an account of the same event, told from someone else's point of view. This lends credibility to many of the more amazing stories. And there are many!

There are a couple of extra special portions of the book for me. One is the description of the making of the film "Hail, Hail, Rock and Roll", made in 1988. Keith Richards had always been a big fan of Chuck Berry's, but felt that Chuck had been touring for so long, using only "pick up" bands in each town, that he had lost his edge. So he put together a group to back Chuck Berry, with Jesse Ed Davis on guitar, Bobby Keys on sax, and a host of others, including Chuck Berry's original piano player, Johnnie Johnson. Actually, it had been Mr. Johnson's band until Chuck Berry took it over. That film has always been very special to me and it was nice to hear how it all came together.

But the most impressive thing to me was the phone call from Hoagy Carmichael, the man who wrote "Stardust" and a million other songs back in the 1930's through the 50's. The man who was friends with Bix Biederbicke. The man who co-starred with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in "To Have and Have Not." He called to say that he had heard a version of Keith doing "The Nearness of You", which had been written in the 1940's. It was a slow song, but Keith had done a tape of it for his lawyer, and had stepped it up to a barrelhouse piano number. He was knocked for a loop when Mr. Carmichael told him that this was the way he originally had envisioned the song.This was only 6 months before Hoagy Carmichael died, and Mr. Richards relishes that call to this very day.

I could go on and on about this book. But it would be better if you'd just read it. This is the side of Keith Richards that so many of his fans have embraced over the years. It is also a side of him that many do not know. Great book.

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