I did half a post or something on The Rolling Stones a couple of weeks ago. A friend of mine had griped he should not have to teach college freshmen who’d never heard of the Stones.
This complaint was communicated to me via a one-line text, a little ping of middle-aged misery between two pals, both veterans of too many bar bands.
The joke was on us, of course. We are old, damn near 50, ready for The Eskimo Treatment. (In my troubled imagination, The Eskimo Treatment is when a toothless, infirm oldster is placed on a floating chunk of ice, which is then given a hearty shove in the direction of the polar bears. I apologize to the Eskimo community for reinforcing what is surely a wholly false stereotype about the Eskimo way of life. I’m betting Eskimo life is tough enough without some hillbilly blogger piling on.)
If you were born in 1992, there’s no reason why you should know anything about the Stones or their music. You would not feel, as I did, a surge of pure, unadulterated joy at the sight of Keith Richards’ new memoir, Life, sitting quietly on the bottom shelf of the New Non-Fiction book stand at the library.
Spoiler Threat Level: Nonexistent. There are no surprises in Life. There are pages at which one gapes in utter disbelief, but they’re all variations on the same story: It’s good to be Keith.
Life is exactly what lifer Stones fans want (dirt, and plenty of it) from Dartford’s Finest. Richards is now 66 and in robust health, if recent profiles are accurate.
I’d say a hefty amount of credit is due James Fox, the book’s coauthor, for producing a coherent narrative that also captures Richards’ pirate swagger and verbal stagger. Life is a breezy read, even when Keith takes time out for a body count.
Richards spends less than two pages on the death of Brian Jones, one of the band’s founding members. Jones, who played a critical role in the Stones’ early success, died in 1969, a few weeks after being fired from the band.
Altamont? Just another day at the office, man.
Mr. Richards pontificates on illicit substances and settles old scores, most famously with Mick Jagger. Some of Richards’ observations about his “brother” are appallingly vicious. Mr. Jagger, your serve.
Life is selling like hotcakes. This week, it’s the bestselling hardcover nonfiction title in the country, outpacing Glenn Beck, Jon Stewart and … Mark Twain!
Yep, Keith Richards and Sam Clemens are on The New York Times bestseller list. In the top five. At the same time.
It is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.
Okay, I’m going to write down four things about Keith Richards. Three of them are purportedly true. They’re in Life, I swear to god. The other one I’m just going to make up.
- KR once snorted the residue of his father’s ashes.
- Driving on a narrow, winding mountain road in Morocco one night in 1967, KR ran headlong into a military convoy, inadvertently causing a truck carrying a huge missile to plunge off a cliff and explode.
- KR came up with the idea for “Satisfaction” while folding laundry.
- In 1955, at the age of 11, KR, then a hotshot boy soprano, performed for the Queen of England in Westminster Abbey.
Yes. They’re all bloody unlikely. But that is the eternal charm of the man.
Keith does shut up every now and then in Life, handing off stories to musicians, family members and others.
As the narrative approached 1969, my pulse quickened. I knew what was coming – the three-day session at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio that produced two of the Stones’ greatest recordings, “Brown Sugar” and “Wild Horses.”
When the Stones land in Alabama, Richards wisely lets Jim Dickinson, “a southern boy and a good storyteller,” as Keith describes him, hold the reins for most of the action.
Dickinson, a legendary musician and producer who played piano on “Wild Horses” and passed away while the book was being written, recounts the experience with marvelous wit and precision.
The studio is still there. It’s about 10 miles from my place. I drove by 3614 Jackson Highway a couple of days ago. It’s a tiny, nondescript building.
It’s just something I like to do when I’m in the neighborhood. It’s a cheap thrill, but it’s always real.
Here’s how Richards closes out my favorite section of the book:
“And so we went from Muscle Shoals to the Altamont Speedway, from the sublime to the ridiculous.”
From the sublime to the ridiculous. Baby, that’s Life.