Top positive review
"Don't try this at home..."
on 10 January 2011
It's reasonable to expect alternative guitar tunings to be a fair subject for dissertation in the autobiography of one of history's most famous exponents of the instrument. How best to smuggle `controlled substances' through international customs, along with guidance on ingesting said substances would also be conspicuous should they be absent from the account of a man whose very existence has become a byword for Byronian excess. Even the knife fight advice, "Never use the blade - use it as a distraction while you kick their balls to kingdom come..." is quite at home in the story of a man whose self-styled urban pirate persona is more or less the template for any aspiring rock n roller: but `jolly hocky stick'recollections of being a member of the Beaver Patrol of the Seventh Dartford Scouts? Or a recipe for bangers & mash?! "...let the f*****s rock gently, turning every few minutes..."
Surprises galore await in Keith Richards' autobiography `Life' in which the Rolling Stones' riff machine gives us the inside (ahem) dope on one of the most remarkable sagas in rocklore. Most of the legendary plot points are all present and correct - the Redlands drugs bust, Mars Bar mythology, hurricane Palenberg, the death of Brian Jones, the horror of Altamont and tax exile on mainstreet - or the Villefranche-sur-mer to be precise.
Perhaps, inevitably, he adds little to what we (think we) know about those land mark events as so much had been said about them already. (And continues to be said - Pop will eat itself right?)
The real jewel in the crown is his account of how he and thousands of other young British kids discovered and devoured rhythm & blues, resulting in a street level revolution which begat the `British blues boom'.
The result, according to the history books, is that the British bands that emerged from this phenomenon turned white America on to black music, who had hitherto been virtually oblivious to it due to segregation. But before we get too smug, his account of how blues purists were horrified to find that visiting black American artists had `gone electric' pretty much sums up the inverse racism of those supposedly against it. Artists such as Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed and John Lee Hooker were sophisticated, street-wise urbanites. When they appeared on our stages not in dungarees, chewing straw and carrying battered old acoustics mumbling "Yes'm boss", but in sharp suits and playing Fenders and Gibsons, it caused all manner of hostility.
It's also interesting to note that he, like so many of his counterculture contemporaries, all embraced the dream of cosy surburbia. Richards, like Lennon, Clapton, Page et al all wound up married with children and living in the stockbroker belt: the ideal of the previous generation to which they were all supposedly in rebellion against.
With a reputation that can do nothing but precede him `Keef' can afford to be blasé about his many brushes with death when so many in his orbit have gone to their great reward. He acknowledges that his persona is largely a fantasy of the public and he's always been up for giving them what they want - and a fine job he's done of it too. Many have tried and failed to achieve this death defying high wire act, which makes the kernel of his book a users guide to surviving stardom; but as the man says, `Don't try this at home.'