8.21.2011

what i'm reading: life, by keith richards


I'm reading Life, Keith Richards's autobiography, written with journalist James Fox. I believe this is the first celebrity memoirs or autobiography I've ever read - or ever wanted to. I'd say I'm an unreptentant, unabashed Keef fan, but there ain't no other kind of Keith Richards fan. (Not coincidentally, Keith Richards was the first interest Allan and I learned we had in common, probably less than an hour after we met.)

The book is terrific - engrossing, entertaining, and revealing, not for the dirt and gossip, but for the man's mind and heart. You've probably heard how Keith wanted to be a librarian; turns out he was a Boy Scout, too. And he became a junkie because he was shy and uncomfortable with fame, and because he loathed the idea of being a pop star.

The crazy stories are fun, the birth and trajectory of the band from Keith's perspective is fascinating. Thinking about this teenager in a working-class British town hearing Elvis Presley sing "Heartbreak Hotel" for the first time - listening to Scotty Moore's guitar sound over and over and over, his horizons bursting open at that moment - is incredible. But what's most interesting are Keith's reflections on music history, on the collaborative process of music-making, on being a songwriter - on art and life and the interaction between the two. Of course there are the drugs, the name-dropping, the wild life, the music industry, the road, but more than any of that, Life is a musician's and an artist's memoirs. If you don't understand where Keith Richards came from musically - the musical stream he leapt into, and how he helped change and re-create it - you might be surprised at the depth of this book.

This New York Times review of Life really captures the spirit of the book. Michiko Kakutani calls it "electrifying," and says:
Mr. Richards's prose is like his guitar playing: intense, elemental, utterly distinctive and achingly, emotionally direct.
Here's a passage her review quotes:
I can’t untie the threads of how much I played up to the part that was written for me. . . . I mean the skull ring and the broken tooth and the kohl. Is it half and half? I think in a way your persona, your image, as it used to be known, is like a ball and chain. People think I’m still a goddamn junkie. It’s 30 years since I gave up the dope! Image is like a long shadow. Even when the sun goes down, you can see it.
This blogger's book review contains some excellent snippets that give you a feel for the book.

Now if only Joni Mitchell would write her memoirs...

3 comments:

New Nova Scotian said...

I'm not much of a celebrity memoir aficionado either -- though I enjoyed Bob Dylan's Chronicles a few years back -- but you have me sold. I'll head to the library tomorrow to snatch Keith's.

laura k said...

I imagine I will read Chronicles one day - although if it's really going to be a trilogy, it's a bit intimidating! I'm also interested in Levon Helm's This Wheel's On Fire - and Peter Guralnick's books about Elvis, Last Train to Memphis and Careless Love. They're all on our shelf, I'm just always reading other things.

And I don't skim, I read every word, so it takes me a while. :)

laura k said...

I'll head to the library tomorrow to snatch Keith's.

Keith would approve. He adores public libraries. :)