240 of 262 people found the following review helpful
Keith Richards is in danger of becoming respectable, what with starring interviews on the Andrew Marr show, bit parts in Disney's "the Pirates of Caribbean" and an emerging status as national treasure. He has even received the ultimate accolade this week namely a vicious attack from the increasingly insane ex Trot and current bigot Peter Hitchens who blamed him for causing more damage than the Iraq War and described him as "a debauched, capering streak of living gristle who ought to be exhibited as a warning to the young of what drugs can do to you". As usual Hitchens couldn't be more wrong since after reading "Life" a electrifying autobiography ghost written with James Fox someone ought to work out the physiology of Richards since the man is clearly indestructible despite the most astounding chemical intake and even more remarkable he appears to going as strong as ever. The life of this man who founded the Rolling Stones, invented rock guitar, gave us "Honky Tonk Women", "Brown Sugar", the seminal "Exile on Main Street" and a host of other treasures is something we should warmly celebrate and not carp about.
Great rock autobiographies are a rare species but this book by Richards amounting 547 pages ranging from a drug bust in Fordyce, Arkansas to a quick final explanation that he did indeed snort his Dad's ashes (but in a very affectionate way!) and ending in the death of his dear old mum Doris is a very intimate, revealing, warts an all account of a fascinating life packed with brilliant photographs and stories to spare. Fox has captured his subject well and you can hear Richards voice loud and clear with its colourful language of "cats", his love of Shepherd's pie ("don't bust the crust") and roguish charm. You will not be surprised that a large part of the book deals with Richards copious pharmaceutical use. Indeed with parts of his memory wiped out sections of the text are given over to the first hand remembrances of family members and friends like Waddy Watchel, Don Was and his great mate Bobby Keys which are often very harrowing. The legendary Freddie Sessler "Keith's second dad" is a key figure here. This is a man who described himself as "the worlds oldest groupie", got Keith out of "scrapes" and supplied his drugs including pharmaceutical cocaine graphically described in a passage on page 373. Richards knows that he was lucky to survive all this hedonism and the poignancy of his remarks when he tells us stories about the deaths of fellow travellers like Billy Preston and Gram Parsons are all the more pronounced and sad for it. The fact that his co-conspirator Ronnie Wood navigated this madness particularly with a his own "freebasing" crack cocaine indulgences which Richards highlights from 1980 onwards is another example of the "get out of jail" philosophy of life employed by the two most colourful members of the Stones.
At the core of the book is the Jagger/Richards relationship which has gone through phases of almost tender brotherly love to intense visceral hatred (listen to "Had it with you" on Dirty Work which charts the nadir of this phase). The cleaned up Richards circa 1980s "Emotional Rescue" cannot today forgive Jagger's attitude on "his return" who had "fallen in love with power" and whose constant put downs of him are still very raw. As he states "the phrase which rings in my ears all these years later is "Oh, shut up Keith". Things gradually improved over the years and despite Jagger's Knighthood ("the Mick I grew up was a guy who'd say shove your little honours up your ar*e") by 2004 Richards and Jagger were working a closely as ever and he accepts "you've got to go through the bulls**t; its like a marriage"
The book charts all the great Richards myths, the blood changing, the skull ring, the tax exile in France, the falling out of the tree incident and the Toronto drug bust in huge detail which finally led to him giving up heroin. The part however which I especially enjoyed was his early years around Dartford and Sidcup and his passion for the blues particularly Jack Elliot and the impact of Elvis. The generosity throughout to the great Charlie Watts who clearly is the glue that holds the Stones together, and a great loss to the United Nations Peace Keeping Corps, is genuine and full of love. Watts survival from cancer is emotionally charted by Richards and his relief tangible that Watts came back. And then there is the music not just with the Stones but Keith's side projects like the X-pensive Wino's which is a tale well told; while his relationship with Anita Pallenberg and its impact on the construction of the Stones greatest song "Gimme Shelter" is fascinatingly unveiled.
The life of Keith Richards is a chronicle of the ultimate rock survivor and icon. Frankly he should not be here and the fact that he never sleeps means he has been here "longer" than the average 66 year old. Despite yourself you can't help but be absorbed by the myth and legend of the man, his bluntness and his often outspoken nonsense. Let us be frank anyone who calls his dog "Syphilis" must have something going for him. Consequently when in a hundred years time someone sits down and writes the definitive history of rock music it should start with the sentence that "In the beginning was the riff and the riff was with Keith".
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 11 October 2011
We're told that this book has sold over a million copies, so the subject doesn't need my help.
However, I would like to say that I have read this book six times this year, and I've enjoyed every minute of doing so. I shall dock one star for various inaccurate statements regarding records, musicians and so forth. For example 2120 South Michigan Avenue was not the place where ALL of the stuff (as Keef alleges) that the Stones had been listening to came from. Chess label music - including two Keef favourites, all of the music which became the first-rate albums 'The Best of Little Walter' and 'The Best of Muddy Waters' was recorded at Universal Studios by the legendary recording visionary Bill Putnam for many years before Leonard and Phil Chess acquired '2120' in 1957 - and then there's the output from other labels like Sun, Vee-Jay, Fire, Stax, Excello and others.
Also, I really would like to but I cannot agree that Mick Jagger is a world-class harmonica player when compared to the likes of Kim Wilson, Rod Piazza and Curtis Salgado - and surely (in reference to the song ' Down Home Girl') "Leiber and Butler" should be Leiber and Stoller - but that may be down to error by someone other than Our Man.
The very good news for me is that this book fires me with enthusiam for something which the estimable Mr Richards and I have in common: we love music, particularly blues and its related stuff. That's maybe all we have in common apart from being English and having the same initials and perhaps that's one of the reasons I enjoy the book, as I marvel at how very close to the edge a person can get and how often he and saxophonist Bobby Keys and several others do...
In reference to a fellow reviewer's comment about Eric Clapton only being mentioned in passing, I find it far stranger that another Eric, Eric Easton, who was The Rolling Stones' co-manager with Andrew Oldham in the crucial, formative years, is relegated to a couple of mentions. Then again, Easton was not particularly scrupulous, it is alleged in other publications.
I find this book fascinating, entertaining, informative (there's some wonderful insights into his and Mick's songwriting methodology) and many occasionally horrifying and often very funny anecdotes; I particularly enjoyed the pithy comments (Keef is of course a master of such comments as anyone who has seen or read an interview with him will already know..although he is strangely and disappointingly quiet on the subject of 'Stella Street') regarding Bill Wyman's decision to leave the Stones.
There's no doubt that I shall read the book again and again and it will be just as enjoyable and fascinating. Thanks Keef - well done!
41 of 45 people found the following review helpful
It's hard to judge this book. When I was thirteen my sister and I gravitated from Elvis and Cliff to the Beatles and the Stones, buying every LP as it was released. Later at University Beggars Banquet was played more than anything. Many years later I played Exile on Main Street solid for ten years, so much I can hardly listen to it now.
So I can't be objective, its like reading a book by my cousin. It's very very frank about relationships, about drugs, about occasional violence. There's a lot of stuff about musical technique, just like Miles Davis's autobiography, which it reminds me of. I don't understand most of this not being a guitarist, but the feel of these sections is great. It makes you want to get out all your John Lee Hooker and Jimmy Reed records.
The section about Brian Jones is revealing. This is actually the first book about the Stones I have read, so in comparison with the general familiarity from newspaper stories and rumours I had this is great, and Richards has an aura of telling the truth, by and large I would mostly buy what he's saying. There is also a very moving section about Gram Parsons, who seems to have been one of his closest musical associates and friends.
Earlier, all the stuff about his family is fabulous. Its worth tracking down the full length version of the Andrew Marr interview on BBCi incidentally, where Marr and Keith say his childhood was Dickensian which was exactly what was going through my head when I was reading about his wonderful family. His mother and his maternal grandfather were something else.
Some of the stuff about about the early sixties blues scene echoes what you can read in, say, a Pete Townshend biography I've read. Incidentally, Richards has almost nothing to say about any of his contemporaries musically, except to some extent the Beatles. But mostly that's about how the Beatles were marketed and about the scene they created. No opinions are expressed about say Clapton, the Who, or Hendrix. But then Richards isn't into judging much, unless someone steps on his blue suede shoes (or gets to the cottage pie before he does - read the book).
Mostly the book is about the folks he meets as he navigates his way through life which was always a struggle for one reason or another until the end of the seventies when he emerges from heroin and then meets his current wife Patti.
And of course there's some fascinating stuff about Jagger. I started to skip a little towards the end as I am less interested in their later music. But this is great for Stones fans and also it's a fascinating social record. If you want to know about superstardom south London style go for it.
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on 14 December 2011
Life is the best rock biography I have ever read (though it is not a genre I often indulge since it is mostly moderate talents with big heads blowing their predictable trumpets). The quality of the writing is actually poor, sort of speech rhythms, but that's fine since you just hear Keef's voice drawling at you in its charming, amiable way.
His life is full of surprises; being unwittingly used as getaway driver for a jewellery heist when the Stones were already big, delicate and understanding about the women who mattered, badly bullied at school, great, bizarre drug stories (which could so easily have been a tedious staple in lesser hands) and always the wry observer of the wild world he moved through.
Perhaps predictably, what endears the most is the artist in the man. He loves the music. He is as big a fan as any hormonal teenager. It even starts to seem odd that the (brilliant, wonderful) Stones should be such a success since what we have here is a man who adores other musicians.
Despite his laconic swagger on stage, there is none of the expected arrogance. He spent days on end learning tiny little variations on chords just to play London pubs - that was the horizon of his initial vision of the Stones.
In the end this is a life-affirming book, brimming with artistic passion and never taking the pop world seriously. Like all great artists, Keef comes across as a true one-off, and a pleasure to listen to.
65 of 72 people found the following review helpful
There are bound to be many glowing reports from lifelong 'Stones fans who won't put up with any criticism or doubt. I'm no huge fan but you'd have to be pretty obtuse to deny the huge influence of the Rolling Stones and there are plenty of their tracks that I like and have done for years.
To be honest I didn't hold out much hope for this but must admit to being surprised at how well the reader is led along and at the candid way everything is laid bare including no few moments that don't exactly cover Mr. Richards in glory.
All the famous myths about him that have almost become urban legends are spoken about and quite a few lesser/ unknown ones too. He is very open about his myriad substances of choice and how they have influenced so much of his life. But these anecdotes aren't really what set this autobiography apart from any other. Rather it's the fascinating insights into his dynamic with the rest of the band, (often destructive and bitter but ultimately artistically productive and mellowed with age),.
There have been a lot of reviews that have tried to set this up as some sort of 'Keef against the world' type thing which frankly is rubbish. He has done pretty much whatever he wanted and although has nearly killed himself off all in all it seems to have been a bit of a blast. In all fairness he himself doesn't come across as someone either feeling hard done by nor as some sort of hero, (although many fans and peers would argue strongly that he is), but neither does he pretend to be 'just one of the lads'. His life has been well out of the ordinary and the events described in this book show just what a rollercoaster ride this man has chosen to be on and a sad look at those who left too early.
Never dull, never self important or big headed, this is an interesting and page turning read that really has appeal for both the fan and casual follower alike.
Straight, witty and as mad as a hatter, Keith Richards life was always going to be a read to keep you glued and he hasn't messed it up.
Not for the faint hearted but nothing gratuitous or bragging either. One of the best releases of the autobiography season.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 17 January 2013
For an autobiog this proves to be a surprisingly good read. Keith comes across as not a bad chap really - a bit of a boy scout in fact - and ultimately a family man. He also reveals a nice dry wit.
The most interesting parts of the story are to be found in the years covering childhood and the birth of The Stones. We get a vivid picture of life at the wrong end of London and the shabby feel of postwar Britain.
Keith pays huge homage to his rhythm and blues influences. He's reasonably charitable towards Jagger and Jones despite several bust-ups. It's touching to read of the obvious deep feeling he has for Charlie Watts and for old pal the late Ian Stewart.
We could have done with more on how all the big hits were conceived and less technical guitar stuff. I'm not sure whom that was meant to impress - guitarists presumably - but 98% of the readers must have felt like skimming it.
Once the 80s roll around the thing becomes a bit of a bore. The band itself ceased to enjoy cutting edge status and stopped producing material that wasn't meaningless filler. Keith gets all bogged down in tales of drugs, drink, chicks, fights etc - in other words rock star stuff which we've heard already from countless other sources. He seems determined to have us believe he's some kind of gangster pirate figure with guns and knives to hand. Come off it, man!
It's best to remember him as the guy who gave us all those great riffs in the 60s/70s. That's where the fascination lies in this book.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 13 February 2015
The Stones – some truly great music… the soundtrack to an epoch of change. Sadly Keef, bless ‘im, seems to think that his role as human test tube was in some way a vital part of the counter-culture ethos that helped define an age of social revolution. He tells us that he took drugs as part of his “smash the state” mind set. Yeah, right…
The book spends far too much time listing session musicians and studios and far too little time focusing a critical lens on its subject. There is also the subject of accuracy to consider. Keef tells us how out of it he often was… with admissions that this tour or that stay in Morocco was a blur and yet still expects us to believe him when he’s listing details of events that happened 40 years ago. I don’t buy it and frankly no one else should either.
The book is very entertaining in parts, is clearly heavily ghost-written and is very light on analysis. But the biggest issue is that there’s no context for events… but being a Rolling Stones probably means you live in a bubble – this book certainly gives that impression.
In the end the book is very much like the Stones musical output – patchy, littered with throw-away and forgettable filler and deeply frustrating. It should be great – it’s often mediocre.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 28 May 2011
My previous experience of pop biographies gave me low expectations of this genre of literature. I began reading with the intention of giving up as soon as I got bored. However I managed to finish the book which proved to be quite readable and well written on the whole apart from the last couple of hundred pages which were mainly lists of names of all the amazing wonderful people KR has met. But the first two thirds of this bio was much better with lots of information about the early days of the Rolling Stones. To be critical I would have liked to know what KR thought about the music of the other great bands of the 60s and 70s but there was very little on this. It would also have been interesting to read some self-criticism of his parenting skills - he took his son Marlon on tour with him at the age of 7 and Marlon witnessed the whole drug scenario. Was that a good upbringing? How did Marlon turn out in the end? Those questions don't really get answers. On the whole it's a good read but not worth more than 3 stars.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 6 June 2013
Having read some of the adulation poured on both the man and the book, I'm left wondering if I read the same thing as everyone else. What I came away with was someone who plays guitar, quite limited musically, trying to pass himself off as the most important musician of the 20th Century. Apart from the few dead blues singers he (claims) to revere so much there isn't a good word to be said about anyone. Bill Wyman rates about 5 lines in the entire book, and when it comes to Brian Jone's death, a small paragraph pretty much saying, It was his fault, didn't seem to me to be an accurate reflection of what happened.
If you like reading the egocentric ramblings of someone with virtually no moral principles, not much musical ability and what appears to be jealousy of virtually all other musicians, this is the book for you, if not buy Chronicles by Bob Dylan.
By the way, there is a photograph in the book, Kieth walking to a Limo with a bottle of JD, look at his smug face compared to the look of disdain on everyone else. It sums up the man and the book.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 9 April 2013
This is a rollicking good read...full of gossip and re-telling of famous incidents that are the stuff of rock and roll legend. But Keith Richards brings much more to the table here: sensitive and affectionate recollections of a Dartford childhood and the family members who inspired and encouraged his early love of music. He comes across as rather wise - someone who hasn't lost his head on the road to fame and riches. Yes, there is epic drug abuse, and he chronicles this with honesty and sometimes wry humour. But throughout the book it is clear that, for Keith Richards, the journey has never been primarily about the money, the women, the hedonism or the celebrity. It has been about the music. I love the ending, and how he brings his story right back to Dartford with the passing of his mother and a delightful memory of her 'first review' of his music. I closed the book thinking..."I like this man."