From the humblest of beginnings in post war London to one of the most famous guitarists in the world as a founding member of The Rolling Stones, Life is Keith Richards’s eagerly awaited memoir, covering his life from dirt poor blues lover to rock superstar, his complex relationship with Mick Jagger, his infamous drug busts and addictions, his many relationship but mostly importantly, his undying love of music of all styles and genres.
Keith Richards’s autobiography is unusual in the field of rock music books and memoirs in not only being a blunt assessment of his life and relationships, it is written in a stream of consciousness style in stark contrast to the standard rock music autobiography fare which is heavily edited and polished by ghost writers. Richards’s book appears to be transcribed directly from audiotape which gives it an endearing quality not usually found in this genre. The downside to this style is that it can be hard work to labor through, showing why memoirs are usually ghost written by professionals. In this instance I believe the stream of conscious style adds immensely to the book. It gives an accurate and fascinating insight into this guitar heroes mind and inner working and gives his life story a warmth and character often lacking in self authored memoirs.
Most impressive to me was Richards’s never ending love of music. From his humble beginnings in London forgoing food and heat to scrape together money to import blues recording from the United States, his passion for music has never dimmed even with the fame and the money. This rock music book gives a true appreciation of just how deep his musical tastes range and how he has been able to craft this love and knowledge of music with his own unique life experiences to co-write with Mick Jagger as the “glimmer twins” some of the most iconic rock music songs of the 20th century. The book delves heavily into The Rolling Stones song writing and recording process and how even when fighting, Richards and Jagger have managed to combine to create some of the most iconic and powerful lyrics and guitar riffs in rock music history.
It wasn’t by accident that Keith Richards became one of the most acclaimed guitarists of all time. His dedication to the instrument, it nuisances and history allowed The Rolling Stones to create sounds that have defined multiple generations. By bringing 5-string open tuned guitar playing from blues obscurity to stadium rock arenas, Richards has crafted a sound that is uniquely his own with such famous riffs as Start Me Up, Satisfaction and Brown Sugar.
In his memoirs, Richards does not shy from the drug controversies that have been of such rabid interests to the media and fans during the course of his career. He covers the infamous Redlands drug bust of the 1960’s where he was sentenced to a year’s jail time (serving a day before being released on appeal), the media circus in the south of the USA in 1975 after being arrested and his famous trial for heroin trafficking in Canada from 1978. He recounts his drug taking history and his numerous attempts at quitting, not in a way that glorifies drug taking but as a simple recount of the major items that effected his career but also as a cautionary tale of the pitfalls of being a drug junkie and how it has not only cost him friends and family, but also his life.
Richards is remarkably complimentary of his band mates and goes to pains to highlight their musical talents, their contributions to The Rolling Stones and their strengths as people. Charlie Watts is given a continual glowing endorsement as the best jazz style drummer in the world and the crucial ingredient that allowed The Stones to jump from a mid level London blues band to one of the biggest acts on the planet. He levels praise on the guitar play abilities of both Brain Jones and Ronnie Wood while giving a detailed history of Brain Jones’s drugs spiral that led to his sacking from band shortly before his untimely death.
Richards spends significantly time talking about his complex relationship with Mick Jagger. From their friendship in the late 50’s spawned by their mutual love of blues music, he covers the highs and lows of their friendship through the fame and drugs. He is always complimentary of Jagger’s musical abilities, be it singing, song writing and show performance but is not afraid to list what he sees as Jagger’s failings as he tried to take the band in different musical directions, his ill fated solo career and Jagger trying to positioning himself as “Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones”.
As a man who has spent the last 50 years touring the world, Keith Richards’s memoir contains wild and amazing stories of his life on the road, from the tumultuous beginnings of the 1960’s when The Beatles and The Stones first captured the rapid attention of British teenage girls and the band was lucky to escape several theaters alive to his times living in France, USA, Sweden and Jamaica, to his extensive touring that has seen Richards play to hundreds of millions of people in every major country in the world.
A New York Times best seller even before its release, Keith Richards’s memoir Life is destined to become a classic in the rock music book genre and is a fascinating insight into one of the most complex and talented musician of the rock era. A must read for not only Rolling Stones fans, but fans of rock and roll or blues music.