Keith Richards: The Biography

To say a person lived his own life is a statement far too general to be left all alone, yet the statement makes some sort of sense to us all. Keith Richards lives his own life. I personally interpret the statement to mean, “He lives impulsively, for better or for worse.” Well, Richards encounters life for both better and worse, and depending on who you are, one side probably outweighs the other by a great amount.

He was born in 1943. Author Victor Bockris takes Richards’ life apart in 30 chapters. Much has happened to this rock and roll legend that requires writing. Sadly for those who care to receive a very detailed telling of the drug user’s life, we find mostly short descriptions of events. But this doesn’t discourage the reader here because even within the context of small descriptions, we get so much. I can’t blame Bockris for bouncing from experience to experience without deeper discussion because Richards has lived the life of the untamed, allowed by great album sales and what could probably be described as ignorance.

Richards is the reason for the Stones’ success. Richards tells us of how meticulous and decisive releases to the public had to be back in the 60s: “You put yourself on the line every three months and therefore it had to be distinctive or else.” The Stones’ success (success here meaning wild popularity) can be attributed to its raw blues sound which maintained enough pop influence to sell. Interestingly, if Richards and company hadn’t achieved this early success, he would have lived an entirely different life. Though that statement seems like a no-brainer, it is still fun to think about.

Richards could literally afford to live the ‘Rock and Roll lifestyle’ because of early album sales and touring which rooted the band in pop culture circles. Its sound was influenced by the same folks who influenced many young Brits of the day: Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, etc. For this reason, the Stones is a bit more remarkable for its success. So many other bands must have been vying for what they considered  their rightful place in pop culture blues, but the space was occupied in the early 60s and since by The Rolling Stones. These bad boys, as many consider them, achieved their fame both on record and off, destroying much of what they came across.

Bockris observes that around 1969, “He had very little to hold on to in his life and needed to make a commitment to something.” Richards is no different from most in the way his life can be categorized. For many, the experience goes childhood, high school, college, job 1, job 2, etc., retirement. But for the life of Richards, only those first two are fitting. Richards is the type who acts off of subconscious desire, craving certain perceived necessities, yet never really considering what he wanted, nor what he wanted it for.

For awhile, Brian Jones was his mate, a great companion. Then others would occupy much of his life, but Richards didn’t really grow tired of people, then ask them to leave; his relationships were more like dams that were eventually going to allow a horrible disaster to occur, though when exactly was anyone’s guess. He, as Bockris comments, left a trail of bodies, some of which he never knew.

Richards inspires many people’s lives and this is where the “worse” comes in to play. Somehow, Richards himself is still alive and, from what Bockris says, is kind of unchanged. I feel money’s power can allow for an unchanged person for the simple reason that someone will always want to be where the money is and so they flock to whoever has the money. This makes for endless company and the feeling that you’re loved.

Bockris writes, “In the summer of 1975, John Denver, the Bee Gees, and the Captain and Tennille dominated the charts.” Bockris says this is a testament to the adversity facing the legendary rockers like The Rolling Stones who even at that time dominated audiences. It would be too easy to say The Rolling Stones were simply riding high off of success gained ten years before, because many bands touched audiences and eventually faded out, not into total obscurity, but certainly not at a similar strength as what they once had.

So, for what it’s worth, the Stones didn’t let its money largely influence what it did in the studio. Time shifts are inevitable as long as air penetrates the lungs, but the Stones very much decided to make certain kinds of albums and, though each album represents only itself, the basic rock and roll nature was untouched. The Stones did what it had to in order to survive musical shifts, but grit, it would seem, will always has some sort of appeal. Grit and genuineness are the two lifebloods of The Rolling Stones.

Relationships with women are another great way to break down a person’s life. For Richards, two stand out: Anita Pallenberg and Patti Hansen. Hansen came after Pallenberg and Bockris writes of Pallengerg, “If the pattern were to repeat itself, Keith wouldn’t be able to survive the consequences.” Richards, because of his reckless lifestyle, had a seemingly atrocious relationship with Pallenberg. But the views expressed in this review are very far removed from ideas bouncing around the brains of Richards and Pallenberg, who were both addicts. Their relationship endured for quite some time and definitely showed some bright spots, but from the reader’s perspective, many troubles attacked the star couple. As I’ve noted, drug use was among them.

Richards was also horribly blunt and his out lashings had nothing to do with past experiences with the person; Richards’s biggest battles were with those he knew best. He and Jagger have fought more than any other two people in this book. Richards takes criticism well from many. Those who lent their voice for what they thought was best for a situation, Richards was anything but willing to oblige. But the truth by which Keith Richards lives is definitely commendable, however much he offends along the way. He is passionate and devoted and because of this, the public is attracted to him. His is the life vicariously longed for by man.

Thankfully, Bockris gives the book many outside views gathered through great research. Those among the most interesting are reviewers’ comments on the Stones’ albums. David Sinclair is quoted: “Jagger melds his voice into an extraordinary approximation of quavering Eastern harmonic street bazaar freakout – the sort of thing the Pogues have been dabbling in recently, but which the Stones presumably remember from the original era of psychedelia.”

That quotation is from Q and about the Steel Wheels album. A tremendous testament to the above quoted review as well as Bockris’s inclusion of it in the final book is that I am hearing those noises without ever owning or hearing that album. Because of my improvisation, I want to hear the original source. So, in a way, Bockris has written a 453 page advertisement for The Rolling Stones. I’m going to assume I’m not the only one interested in hearing the real, “quavering Eastern harmonic street bazaar freakout” and seeing how it compares to the one composed in my head after reading the great descriptions included in this long but great book.

Richards makes the ideal candidate for writing material and kudos to Bockris for “finding” him.

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