Back from the sunny Atlantic shores of Cuba where, in addition to sampling local liquid treasures, I read Keith Richards’ can’t-put-me-down memoir,Life. It’s a splendid and stupefying work.
Richards claims that he’s been awake for the equivalent of three lifetimes. Perhaps. What’s undeniable is that he has remembered a great deal.
In collaboration with his friend, the former Times of London journalist, James Fox, Richards has ingeniously fleshed out a narrative that is not only chock full of content; it’s humorous, tragic and, often, quite moving.
As social and cultural history, Life supplies an unparalleled first person account of working class post-World War II Britain and London in the swinging 60s. Musicologists and rock ‘n’ roll fans will lap up Richards’ detailed account of recording techniques and guitar tunings. Equally notably, it’s refreshing to read one person’s unapologetic, frank account of the ecstatic highs and miserable lows associated with the extravagant use of mind altering substances over many years.
Life reminds one of the outlandish inventive energy and intelligence of a great Rolling Stones recording. Decades have past since LPs such as Beggars Banquet, Exile on Main Street or Some Girls. Richards’ autobiography approaches the prosaic equivalent.
It is fashionable in some circles to assault the ‘rock aristocracy’ of the 60s and 70s. There’s no denying that Richards’ account leaves much to question about the human cost of the drug and sexual excesses that Richards chronicles with glee and panache. At the same time, it is equally undeniable that a plucky working class lad from the edge of London fell in love with some classical forms of American music, and that along with a handful of British musicians like Eric Clapton and Peter Green, ‘Keef’ and his mate Mick Jagger, helped give Chicago blues and 1950s rock ‘n’ roll back to the world just when they were being abandoned by American mass audiences. Life is a suitably rollicking take on the singular rebel spirit behind that enormous contribution to world culture.