Sunday, September 14, 2014

Whatta Life!

Keith Richards' LIFE (2010) probably IS the best rockstar memoir ever. That doesn't mean you'll be missing something if you don't read every word.
For me, the reason LIFE ranks high above any other rocker's memoir is because Keith actually writes about where all those great old Rolling Stones songs CAME from -- how they were put together, and what that was like. This puts Keith's book miles ahead of some of those other rockers who barely touch on the music.
Of course, the dirt's here too, if you want that. How many drugs Keith took, and for how long? Check. Lots of details about his heroin addiction? Check.
There's also lots about the women he slept with -- Ronnie Spector, Anita Pallenberg, Marianne Faithfull, Patti Hansen, others.
I started around Page 140, where Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham locks Keith and Mick in a kitchen and orders them not to come out until they've written a song together. The song turns out to be "As Tears Go By," which they think is too wimpy for the Stones, so they give it to Marianne Faithfull ... until they decide to cut their own version.
Then Keith tells how he came up with the guitar riff for "Satisfaction" -- turns out he heard it in a dream. He kept a tape-recorder by his bed, woke up long enough to get the riff down on tape ... then the rest of the reel was 30 minutes of Keith snoring!
Keith writes at length about how he started playing an open-tuned five-string guitar to get the sounds heard in "Jumping Jack Flash," "Honky Tonk Women," "Happy," "Tumbling Dice".... He also confirms that on "Happy" it's mainly just him on guitar and bass, Bobby Keys on sax, and producer Jimmy Miller on drums. The song was written and down on tape within four hours. They sweetened it up a little later....
Keith talks about coming up with riffs or guitar sounds for songs, maybe a line or two of lyrics, then handing the rest over to Mick -- and it almost always worked out. Even when Keith was supposedly doped to the eyeballs while making EXILE ON MAIN STREET, Keith says he and Mick were still writing at least two songs a week.
The interest level drops later, unless you want to hear about Keith's fights with Pallenberg. I held on until Keith and Mick began arguing heavily in the mid-'80s, after Mick signs a solo record deal and Keith thinks it's a betrayal.
I could have heard more about TATTOO YOU, which I thought had a pretty great second side. The album's mentioned once, as the home of "Start Me Up." Even the hideous EMOTIONAL RESCUE gets more space.
I admit I haven't heard a Stones record since TATTOO YOU, so the details about their later adventures didn't interest me much. I took from the book what I was interested in, is what I'm trying to say.
But the parts where Keith talks about coming up with those great late-'60s/early-'70s hits is worth the read. The book could have been shorter -- it's another one of those 500-page memoirs. But I even learned a few lines of lyrics for "Happy" and "Brown Sugar" that I could never figure out before. The line from "Brown Sugar" -- a song I've never liked much -- made me laugh.
Of course lyrics usually haven't meant much with the Stones. Instead, they're all about the SOUND. Especially the guitar sound. Keith knows all about that, and that's where his book is at its best.

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