June 20, 2011

Keith Richards Speaks

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
Recent Entries
The Donovan Effect
Dirty Water
The Lifeboat
Escaping the Hollowgasts
Teleporting with George
Return to Pemberley
In den Alpen
Jeeves and Bertie
In the Calais Coach
Other Web Logs
Children's Room
Teen Book Buzz
August 2015
April 2015
March 2015
February 2015
December 2014
November 2014
October 2014
August 2014
July 2014
June 2014
April 2014
February 2014
January 2014
November 2013
October 2013
September 2013
August 2013
May 2013
March 2013
January 2013
November 2012
October 2012
August 2012
June 2012
May 2012
April 2012
February 2012
January 2012
November 2011
October 2011
September 2011
August 2011
July 2011
June 2011
May 2011
April 2011
February 2011
January 2011
November 2010
October 2010
September 2010
July 2010
June 2010
May 2010
April 2010
March 2010
February 2010
January 2010
December 2009
November 2009
October 2009
September 2009
August 2009
April 2009
March 2009
December 2008
October 2008
August 2008
July 2008
June 2008
May 2008
April 2008
March 2008
February 2008
January 2008
December 2007
November 2007
October 2007
September 2007
August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007
December 2006
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
June 2006
May 2006
April 2006
March 2006
February 2006
January 2006
December 2005
November 2005
October 2005
September 2005
August 2005
July 2005
June 2005
May 2005
April 2005
March 2005
December 2004
November 2004
October 2004
July 2004
June 2004
April 2004
Call the desk at 301-891-7259
Contact the director by e-mail