Monday, January 18, 2016

Book Review -- Life by Keith Richards and James Fox

I recently finished the audiobook version of Life, the autobiography of legendary Rolling Stones lead guitar player Keith Richards, which he co-wrote with James Fox. I checked it out from our local library the day I turned in Washington, a Life, by Ron Chernow. I told the librarian I was feeling too virtuous.

Those expecting tales of sex, drugs and rock and roll will not be disappointed, for there are many of them in this book, although Keith makes a point of correcting the record where the myths around him and the band have been exaggerated. The truth is plenty bad enough. One example was the story about him going to Switzerland to have his blood changed out, a tale which has helped create the myth that Richards is some kind of indestructible rock and roll vampire. According to Keith, he was at an airport and on his was to Switzerland to try and get off of heroin and jokingly told a reporter he was going to Switzerland to have his blood changed out. It never happened. (And he didn't stay clean that time, although he claims to be off it now.)

I was interested to learn about more personal aspects of the man's life. For example, I did not know Keith Richards went camping with his family as a kid and was a boy scout, and a patrol leader, no less. Do they have merit badges for lead guitar now? There was a vignette where he is in a hotel room in the United States in the Seventies when a program came on the television showing scouts honoring Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the scouting movement in England. At the appropriate moment in the ceremony, Keith stood at attention in his hotel room, gave the boy scout salute and reported in proper scout fashion as if he were present at the ceremony representing his former troop and patrol.

It was poignant that over the years he agonized over disappointing his father and described the fear he had about confronting his dad after having not seen him for many years. It turned out alright, because he did eventually reconcile with his dad, and they became friends, or "mates" as Keith put it. The book has not only Keith's words, but many instances where other people in his life tell part of the narrative, including his son, Marlon, who traveled with him as a child. That must have been an interesting upbringing.

At the time of its release, a lot of the publicity around the book was about its discussion of the sometimes turbulent relationship between Keith and Mick Jagger. There were obviously problems, and a lot of it centered around Mick's failed attempt at a solo career. Keith describes it as being something akin to a family dispute, and one that has been set aside in favor of further musical collaboration. This book is well worth the time of any Rolling Stones fan.