Coming Down Again
Life by Keith Richards with James Fox (Little, Brown & Company, US; 2010; 564 pages)
by Jon Kanis
Book review for issue #31 of Ugly Things magazine [filed on December 15, 2010]
There’s always a bit of voyeurism involved whenever one cracks open anyone’s life story and that has never been more apparent than in the recently published autobiography of Keith Richards. Much as a steak lover might not wish to know how that piece of meat ended up on the end of his fork, appreciators of the Rolling Stones’ music might not want to learn of the circumstances that led to the creation of some of the greatest rock and roll music from the last fifty years. Life, if anything, can certainly be viewed as a cautionary tale and I personally find it fairly easy to laugh along with all of the depravity. But it frequently begs the question – would you enjoy these tales of excess if you were personally implicated in these scenarios? Life presents a classic case of the reader having to make the distinction between an artist’s lifestyle and the art itself, a debate that has been around for ages: does the fact that Pablo Picasso was a brutal chauvinist diminish his genius as an innovative artist? Of course not…the work has to be judged on its own merits and just because Keith Richards has lived the life of a proud outlaw with more than one foot in the gutter for many of his 67 years does not diminish his impact on the cultural landscape of the 20th century. He deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as a contemporary of Davies, Dylan, Lennon, McCartney, Townshend and Wilson. But in addition to all of the classic art he made, the reader will also know the subject from the trail of the dead…
All of the greatest hits are here, confirmed and/or debunked: the rise and fall of Brian Jones and the “theft” of Anita Pallenberg, a naked Marriane Faithful accessorizing with a Mars chocolate bar (even Keef declares that one “a classic”), his fractious “marriage” to songwriting partner Mick Jagger, his monumental run-ins with the local constabulary (including, of course, his drug bust in Toronto where they almost put him away for ten years). No matter how murky the proceedings get, Keith claims to remember it all. And much as it may be difficult not to judge the man, Keith rarely seems to judge himself and if one were ever curious about what kills most junkies, Keith officially sets the record straight. Apparently, it isn’t so much the ingestion of heroin that kills, it’s the “greed” of trying to get higher than your constitution can handle – it’s all about proper “maintenance.”
Yes, Dartford’s most famous son relates what it is like to live your life in the eye of a drug-infused hurricane whilst playing guitar in the “world’s greatest rock and roll band” (he finally got off of hard drugs but complains that his public image still hasn’t left him, even though he’s been “clean” for the past three decades). He does admit to exercising lousy judgment at times and was sensitive enough to feel slighted when Jagger stopped consulting him on the Stones business affairs after a decade or more of Keith’s supreme negligence to the business side of the enterprise. You can’t really blame Mick for refusing to entrust a multi-million dollar organization to the whims of a junkie. Still, at the end of the day, I’d rather hear Keith sing his version of the blues then any other member of the Rolling Stones. Life is a fantastic read by a great artist but after feasting away carnivorously for the last 550 pages I’ll admit to sticking to vegetarianism for awhile.