Keef’s ‘life’

The reason I haven’t posted over the last few days has had nothing to do with the French weather and everything to do with my purchase of Keith Richards’ autobiography, ‘Life’.

My wife and I have both found it to be as addictive as the substances he enjoyed throughout much of the 1970s (also, reading it on an iPad means you can play the songs he discusses as you read).

For once, the dull ‘early years’ part is actually very interesting. With everything written in Keef’s inimitable voice, schooldays in Dartford become infused with a laconic attitude that elevates them above anything you did between 8 and fifteen. His time in the scouts is told with particularly surprising enthusiasm, and the knots he learns there come in very handy later on.

But of course, it’s the Stones years that are the most compelling. If you are looking for any kind of lessons in there, his incredible dedication to his music leading to his ultimate success is a clear echo of what I wrote about Stanley Kubrick last week. He makes the excellent point that recorded music democratised the art form, finally allowing almost anyone to listen to almost anything as often as they wanted (before then you’d have to pay a lot of money to see a concert, and that would only be possible if the artist you were interested in happened to be within travelling distance). Keith (and Mick and Brian) would spend their waking hours picking apart every song they liked until they understood how to play it themselves. With no money, they would do this down the pub, listening to the tracks and trying to make sense of the chord progressions. They did this for years, to the exclusion of almost anything else, honing their skills to a level of brilliance that served them so well for decades to come (this echoes Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours theory of how the Beatles became similarly brilliant).

Other lessons are less valuable: how to use the doctors and nurses kit from a toy shop to shoot up; how to marry a supermodel by throwing a guitar at her parents; how to bring up your son by exposing him to his junkie mother’s new boyfriend’s suicide etc.

But you can’t help leaving the book with the impression that Mr. Richards has lived a quite extraordinary life and miraculously has lived to tell the tale.