THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF KEITH RICHARDS — founding guitarist of the Rolling Stones, through the late 1960s and the 1970s at once a notorious and celebrated heroin addict and one of the most dynamic and least recognized songwriters of his time, today a long-married, deeply satisfied man, troubled, in his account, only by Mick Jagger's disinclination to take the band on the road more than every half-decade or so-has received almost uniformly ecstatic reviews. At least for this reader there was something queer about the raves: the more a reviewer quoted, the less interesting the book seemed to be. Always, it seemed, blah blah blah quotes popped up in the notices. "I also felt I was doing it not to be a 'pop star,'" as Richards says of why he took up heroin. "There was something I didn't really like about that end of what I was doing, blah blah blah." read more
Such verbiage is seemingly presented as the absolute height of coolness for the coolest person on the planet-with the hope, perhaps, that as one quotes such words, some of the coolness might rub off. But do the people writing these reviews know what they're talking about? Trumpeting 'Blah blah blah' from a man who for more than forty years has been the best interview in pop music? The wittiest raconteur, the most thoughtful witness and trenchant analyst, someone for whom language is a joy in itself?
Richards on the Rolling Stones on their first days, in London in 1962: "We wanted to sell records for Jimmy Reed and Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker and Howlin' Wolf. We were missionaries, disciples, Jesuits. We thought, 'If we can turn people on to that, then that's enough' ... There was no thought of attaining rock 'n' roll stardom — you had already made the decision to blow that out because if you wanted that then you would have to go through the ballroom route and some promoter, some agent, and you might be given a name like Vince Eager: 'As long as you do as we say, you'll look bloody tall — because Moe is not gonna stand for any fucking nonsense my boy, I'm telling you. This is Lou, this is me bruvver Johnny, don't arsk 'is name, 'e's the enforcer" — but these words are from the American writer Stanley Booth's 1995 Keith, not Life.
For all of its tales of narrow escapes and derring-do, of fortunes made and squandered, glamorous women, hit records, historic tours, honor paid to and scores settled with the living and the dead, Life is a dispiriting and finally tedious book. For that matter, unlike Chuck Berry's Autobiography or Bob Dylan's Chronicles, Volume One, Life is not a book, if a book is something more than pages bound between covers (as Richards says convincingly at the end, "I'm not here just to make records and money. I'm here to say something and touch other people, sometimes in a cry of desperation: 'Do you know this feeling?'"). Life is an amalgam of tape-recorded transcripts, interviews with fellow-travelers from Richards's son, Marlon Richards, to his wife, Patti Hansen, to the late record producer James Dickinson to the saxophonist Bobby Keys and many more, sometimes for a paragraph or two, sometimes for pages, and interpolations from the British journalist James Fox — credited as "with." The result is preening, plodding, with the grating overuse of the same adjectives and phrases and flat-footed transit...