Life by Keith Richards
reviewed by Courtney
It seems like recently celebrity autobiographies have become as common as reunion tours. Everyone from Russell Brand to Steven Tyler to Patti Smith has published memoirs, some better written than others. It is easy to become cynical about the formulaic, ghostwritten nature of most of these books, particularly those detailing the excesses and abuses of former addicts in braggingly vivid detail, as background for their subsequent recovery. It can almost seem like a competition between hard-partying celebrities for the deepest drug-fueled depravities, and most miraculous recovery. For someone as legendary as Keith Richards, however, there is no need to compete, and this attitude serves both to reinforce his reputation and make Life a refreshing and surprisingly enjoyable read.
Richards is aware of his reputation, and though he spends enough time on his rock and roll exploits and heroin addiction to satisfy the most voyeuristic of fans (pretty much every story you've heard about him turns out to be true, including the infamous snorting of his father's ashes), he spends as much time waxing rapturous on his favorite blues musicians and the origins of the Rolling Stones. Readers may be drawn to the first-hand confirmation of the outrageous stories, but what prove more interesting are the unexpectedly emotional passages on the musicians that inspired him.
With a reputation as enormous as his (even inspiring Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow) it is too easy to overlook the music, but the anecdotes about the inspiration behind famous songs, or the recording process for Exile on Mainstreet are as fascinating as any of his exploits. That said, Richards' acknowledges the extent of his mythic persona, gratifying fans with outrageous accounts of property damage at Hugh Hefner's mansion, a particular week-long road trip with John Lennon of which neither musician had any memory, his tumultuous, drug-fueled relationship with Anita Pallenberg, the drug busts and legal tribulations, the explosive fights and creative rivalry with Mick Jagger.
None of these stories are surprising, but together they support the persona we have come to expect from Richards, who, unlike other hard-partying musicians, never embraced a 12-step program, choosing instead to kick heroin, and later cocaine, on his own terms. The rock and roll excesses are what we look for in our rock stars; we live vicariously through their exploits, and look to their eventual downfall and recovery as proof of their humanity and the ultimate superiority of our own, less outrageous life choices. Keith Richards single handedly defines the common conception of rock star behavior, and his seeming immunity to the consequences can make him seem inhuman.
The endurance of Richards' legacy, and his unrepentant attitude towards his former abuses has made him the ultimate rock star, so the humanizing effect of his fanboy enthusiasm and excitement come as a pleasant surprise. More troubling is the sheer number of former friends and acquaintances who have not had Richards' luck. Brian Jones, Gram Parsons, Jimi Hendrix, John Phillips, and many others of Richards' contemporaries did not fare as well as he did, and in his account of their loss it becomes clear that despite his cavalier attitude, Richards has not been unaffected by the consequences and casualties of addiction. So the success of Life is not, as expected, in the rock and roll battle stories, fun as they are, but in the surprisingly relatable character of Richards' voice and story. As it turns out, the prototypical rock star is actually also a human being.Posted by at June 20, 2011 02:33 PM