10.25.2011

life, by keith richards, canadian content alert

This post - like its subject - is old but still relevant.

Over the summer I read Life, Keith Richards' memoirs. When I blogged about it here, I was loving it, but the book didn't turn out to be as fascinating and excellent as that post implies. The best part, for me, was the first third, when it's all about music - Keith's discovery of the music, how it transformed him, how he transformed it.

By the book's final third, if you know your rock history, you'll realize that this is distinctly The Story According to Keith. All history is coloured by the teller, of course, but there are facts and there are fabrications and there are rationalizations. Nothing was ever Keith's fault, and even if it might have been just a little bit his fault, it was all in service of the music, and that excuses anything. If Mick became a big bad meanie for talking about adult concerns, that couldn't possibly be the fault of his partner Keith, who was living an extended fantasy adolescence.

And it's more than a bit discomforting to read about Keith's young son, Marlon, on tour with the band, a seven-year-old pressed into service as his junkie father's keeper. So it might have been better than living with his crazy junkie mother - and we hear from Marlon, who tells us it's all grand - but still. Some things are not easy to rationalize.

If you know your Stones history, you know that Canada and the fair city of Toronto play a supporting role. I followed Keith's Canadian Saga as it happened through the pages of Rolling Stone magazine - then published on newsprint! and about music! - and through independent rock radio.

Reading this part of Keith's story was a bit surreal to me. Some Girls is laden with memories for me, crazy teenage memories from a semi-crazy teenage life. When Allan and I moved to the Toronto area and I first saw the El Mocambo club - steps away from where I attend war resisters meeting - it was quite unbelievable to me. Stones fans know why.

Life goes on at some length about the bust in Canada, and Keith confined to quarters in New Jersey, and the making of Some Girls, and of course there's the whole Margaret-Trudeau-in-the-bathrobe thing.
The Mounties never did try to bust me again. I was quoted as saying, "What is on trial is the same thing that's always been on trial. Dear old them and us. I find this all a bit weary. I've done my stint in the fucking dock. Why don't they pick on The Sex Pistols?"

Yet again someone was seriously after my ass, and the situation was further complicated by Margaret Trudeau, the wife of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, moving into the hotel as a Stones appendage, offering a double-big tabloid story. The prime minister's young wife with the Stones, and you throw in drugs, you're looking at a three-month run. In the end it may have played in my favour, but at the time it was the worst combination of circumstances.

Margaret Trudeau was twenty-two and Trudeau was fifty-one when they got married. It was a bit like Sinatra and Mia Farrow - the power and the flower child. And now Trudeau's bride - and this was exactly their sixth wedding anniversary - was seen walking in our corridors in a bathrobe. So then the story was that she had left him. She had, in fact, moved into the room next to Ronnie, and they were hitting it off really well, or, as Ronnie put it nicely in his memoirs, "We shared something special for that short time." She flew to New York to escape the publicity, but Mick flew to New York as well, so it was assumed they too were an item. Worse and worse. She was a groupie, that's all she was, pure and simple. Nothing wrong with that. But you shouldn't be a prime minister's wife if you want to be a groupie.
Several pages later...
The longer the process went on, the clearer it was that the Canadian government wanted to wriggle out of it. The Mounties and their allies were thinking, "Oh, great! Wonderful job! We've delivered him to the Canadian government with a hook in his mouth." And the Trudeaus were thinking, "Uh-uh, pal, this is the last thing we need." There were five to six hundred people outside every time I turned up in court, chanting "Free Keith, free Keith." And we knew at the time the enemy camp, if you want to call the Canadian government at the time the enemy, our persecutors, were unsure of their footing. . . . .

The Canadian people were the ones that got me off the hook. But really, the mastery of it was coordinating the faux pas of Margaret Trudeau. If they had hit me hard and quick, they probably could have got me just for importing. But when it came to court, clearly the new judge had said, get this thing off the hook. We don't want any more to do with this; it's causing us more embarrassment and money that it's worth. On the day of reckoning I arrived in court, this courtroom that had the air of England in the 1950s, with a portrait of the queen hanging strangely on the wall. The actor Dan Aykroyd, who I'd met when we did Saturday Night Live just before this, was on standby as a Canadian and a character witness. The producer of the show, its Canadian founder, who still produces it, Lorne Michaels, spoke in court about my role as a slinger of hash in the great cultural kitchen. He did a very elegant job of it.
Then Keith goes on to tell some John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd stories: "Belushi was an extreme experience even by my standards."

Can we even imagine some famously profligate rock band making tabloid headlines with Laureen Harper? Who could she be seen with - Courtney Love?

8 comments:

John F said...

It's ironic, because Trudeau was sort of a rock star himself in the late 60s. I give you CBC's Trudeaumania archive. My mother told me of the thrill she got from touching his hand at a rally in Ottawa. Too much information, actually...

John F said...

I should add that my favourite clip in the archive, besides John and Yoko, is the "Anti-Trudeaumania" radio clip featuring Tommy Douglas, and an astonishing little song.

laura k said...

Thanks for that, John. I listened to the Tommy Douglas et al clip.

OMG that song is reminiscent of the corny ditties that used to be written for baseball players. Really something from another time.

John F said...

If you like that song, try out the Expo '67 song, which earned its composer the Order of Canada(!)

allan said...

Nothing was ever Keith's fault, and even if it [was], it was all in service of the music, and that excuses anything.

Yikes. He's gonna show you the blade.

laura k said...

He's gonna show you the blade.

Keith himself says when you live a persona for long enough, you can't tell where the real person ends and where the persona begins. I don't know what to make of that "showed him the blade" stuff.

M@ said...

When Allan and I moved to the Toronto area and I first saw the El Mocambo club - steps away from where I attend war resisters meeting - it was quite unbelievable to me.

I totally played there. Twice.

And the first time was upstairs, where there were all these signed photos all over the walls. The only ones I remember were the Stones and Sammy Davis, Jr. It was quite stunning to be playing there, knowing the history -- I had been in the band for only three or four months by then and there I was on stage, in front of a dozen people, playing the rock and the roll.

Anyhow, it's not much but I take my rock star moments where I can get 'em. :)

laura k said...

M@, very cool! And we all have to take our moments when we get them. :)

Wish I could get my Wayback machine to work. I'd be at that El Mocambo Stones show in a minute.

"Keith of course is completely straight..."