Notes From the Road: The New Keith Richards Autobiography is Great
I'm a long-time fan of the Rolling Stones, though admittedly not very enthusiastic about their recent albums and tours. In truth, it's been a disappointing road of diminishing returns from the band since at least the mid-1990's.
That said, I'm always intrigued by the overall career of Stones guitarist and co-songwriter Keith Richards. The guy is a survivor, and has enjoyed a debauched reputation for excess. Interestingly, though, he's obviously far more intelligent than is commonly assumed.
I can recall watching interviews with Richards over the years and being struck not just by his raspy, lethargic voice, but by his eloquence and vocabulary. In an MTV interview some years ago, he was asked about the difficult portions of the Stones' career, including long tours on the road, arrests, and the loss of privacy that comes with celebrity. In his response he said something like "...but obviously we've been remunerated quite well..." That always stayed with me-- that in casual conversation, this supposed tough guy would be so offhandedly articulate.
All of that comes through at great length in Richards' new autobiography, LIFE. Co-written with journalist James Fox, the book reads like an oral memoir. Apparently Richards taped long interview sessions with Fox, and the resulting text was culled and edited from key, transcribed passages. But the finished book is a riveting read, and comes off as really heartfelt and sincere.
I'm a particular fan of the Stones' 1972 masterpiece, 'Exile on Main Street.' The biography takes time to walk readers through the working process between Richards and Stones vocalist Mick Jagger as they crafted the songs that would make the album a classic. I can't recall another Stones book that immerses the reader so deeply in the actual songwriting process of that celebrated period.
Likewise, it's interesting, though not heartening, to learn that Richards holds the same distaste for Jagger's more recent, shallow songcraft. The past few Stones albums have suffered from Jagger's perceived need to replicate "flavor of the month" bands, which has merely led to watered down, forgettable songs. Richards is obviously just as disappointed by these failures as we are.
I read the book-- all 500+ pages of it-- in just a few days. And now my mom is reading it. I'd thoroughly recommend it to anyone with an interest in music and rock 'n roll. It doesn't even matter if you're a Stones fan. Just from a historical perspective, the book delivers great firsthand accounts of roughly 50 years of cultural history.
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