Life – the Autobiography of Keith Richards

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I will own up right at the start.  I have been a fan of the Rolling Stones since the early 60’s.  I have been to a Stones live concert.  “Jumping Jack Flash” has been one of my favorite numbers since the mid-60’s.  As regards a book written by Stones guitarist Keith Richards, you could expect that I would be biased.  Let me assure you, I did not need to be kind in this review.  Life is one of the best books outlining the era of rock music (ISBN 987-0-316-03441-8, Back Bay Books, 2010).

As both Richards and Mick Jagger have grown older (now in their late 60’s) they look just as you would imagine what sex, drugs and rock and roll does to a human body.  And you are quite correct.  They have lived that sex, drugs and rock and roll style, but that is just a facile skim of the surface.  Keith Richards turns out to be quite the philosopher as he recalls the events in his life, from schoolboy to legend.

The book describes his life and attitude to life with a refreshing candour.  As a schoolboy he reminisces that “One half are losers, the other half bullies.”  He then extrapolates that to the Dartford tunnel toll booths.  “It’s legal to take the money and the bullies have uniforms.  You pay, one way or another.”

Keith Richards takes you through the musicians and musical times which began to influence him.  Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochrane, Little Richard, Fats and of course, Radio Luxembourg.

He describes the feeling on playing their first real gig, “That feeling is worth more than anything.  There’s a certain moment when you realize that you’ve actually left the planet for a little bit and that nobody can touch you.”

The tie-up between himself and Jagger is interesting.  Richards came from the ‘wrong’ side of town, whilst Jagger actually came from reasonably well-to-do parents who could afford to send him to grammar school and then the London School of Economics.  Despite the disparate backgrounds they immediately hit it off.

Richards shares an affinity with black music which extends to black musicians and even to black women, who he finds are much more accepting than the British women.

To garner their ‘bad boy’ image, the Stones management used the media to the band’s advantage, setting up the band to be thrown out of a hotel at a particular time, so the press could be in place waiting.  Richards remembers this with all the cynicism that it deserves – but it got the Rolling Stones the publicity that was needed at that time.

Groupies get their mention, Rastafarians, a son dying aged two months, the bust-up with Jagger, broken strings on stage and a recipe for bangers and mash.  It is a frank, warts and all book.

B. 545 for about the same number of pages.  This book is for anyone who has lived through the post-war era, and especially post-war Britain which gave birth to the Rolling Stones.  In reading this book, you will even find how a gardener ended up as “Jumping Jack Flash”!