There have been dozens of books written about the Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Not one of them is as engaging as Life, Richards' autobiography written with James Fox (author of White Mischief). Not one.
If you think of Richards as a brilliant guitar player whose brain has otherwise been fried, you’d be wrong. He is a man who is entirely aware of the image that is Keith Richards while still remaining true to himself, the real Keith Richards.
He is far from the burnout he often pretends to be. He’s smart, lucid and very aware.
The New Yorker called Life “half book, half brand extension,” and that’s probably true. After all, the publisher paid Richards $7 million to write this book (which took five years to complete). It seems pretty clear that in order to do so, he dictated tape after tape of recollections, packing them with stories and wisdom.
All of it was culled together into a mostly cohesive story by the talented and able writer Fox, who also took the time to interview Richards’ friends and associates to make sure the human riff was recollecting the facts. In short, this story is vetted.
From his earliest beginnings to whatever might come next.
Richards tells of growing up in Dartford, the only child of a mother he adored and a father who was working all the time. He then shares his first encounter with Jagger, a pairing that proved to be fortuitous, even if their eventual tight friendship would erode as they achieved astounding success as a band.
Richards gives away insights into the deal behind the late Brian Jones, a founding member of The Rolling Stones. Richards doesn't parse words, referring to Jones as a “vicious motherfucker.”
There is no sadness in tone as Jones dies in a swimming pool. Richards doesn't hide his contempt or possible relief. There is, however, guilt and regret as he describes how he learned that his infant son, Tara, died in his crib while Richards was away.
These revealing glimpses are only the beginning. Richards’ insight into his passion for the guitar and his love for the Stones are among the strongest aspects of his story, as is his recollection of life on the road and the desperation of being a heroin addict. It offers a sobering reality that even the very rich are willing to do anything for that next fix, just like any other guy.
Likewise, it seems there is some sadness and bitterness over Richards’ relationship with the narcissistic and power-hungry Jagger. The Glimmer Twins may have been joined at the hip and then they were (and maybe still are) mostly cordial colleagues, but Jagger’s lack of loyalty to the band is one that Richards may never get over. It's his sticking point.
Life by Keith Richards Rolls In With A 7.3 On the Liquid Hip Richter Scale.
It's the best of the books about Richards, but sometimes it reads much the same way. It rambles at times, but remains charming throughout. If you think of Richards as the coolest, most likeable Stone, then his elegantly wasted rock and roll persona and frankness will win you over forever. He paints a smile on life with his humor, even when it feels pained.
Life by Keith Richards is available on Amazon. The only thing that would make Life even better would be to hear Richards read it. It won't happen, but we can dream as the Rolling Stones are on the verge of their 50th anniversary.