Any book that starts off about a road trip with Ronnie Wood through backwoods Arkansas in a car full to the rafters with weed is not going to be boring, and Keith Richards’s autobiography, “Life,” is rarely that.
“Life” recounts Keith’s childhood, which was largely unremarkable, up to the point in his late teens when he and a couple of friends devoted themselves to mastering Chicago blues. The friends were Brian Jones and Mick Jagger. The band they ended up with took its name from a Muddy Waters song and became The Rolling Stones.
The band’s various ups and downs are well-known, as are Richards’s long and varied battles with drug abuse. “Life” gives us a backstage pass to see exactly how all these events came to be. From constant recording and touring during the Stones’ early days, to the turbulent latter part of the 60’s, where Keith stole Anita Pallenberg from Brian Jones, then the band had to fire Jones for being too wasted…
Can you imagine? Being too drug-addled to be in the Stones?
It wasn’t all one big party, though. Keith Richards busted ass to make himself as good a guitarist as he could be. He has never stopped learning and experimenting with the instrument.
Obviously, Mick Jagger plays a big role in “Life.” He and Keith were good friends whose friendship went south. The best analogy, Richards says, is that they are brothers. Not like best friends, but if you come after Jagger, you’ll have to get through Richards first.
What surprised me most about “Life” was the importance of family to Richards.
His relationship with Anita Pallenberg was volatile, to say the least, but it produced three children whom Keith adored. After the relationship became untenable, Richards met the love of his life, Patti Hansen. They married, and had two daughters.
Richards talks about recording some of the Stones’ classic albums, but there really isn’t as much detail as you’d expect. Odder still, there is very little mention of Mick Taylor—the excellent guitarist who played on many of the Stones’ best late-60’s and early-70’s albums—and only a bit more about Stones bassist Bill Wyman.
Through all of “Life,” Keith Richards shows a fearlessness combined with surprising intellect and warmth. He doesn’t hold back, trying to soft-sell his various transgressions. He’s quite candid, especially about drug abuse and the ensuing arrests therefrom.
If nothing else, the guy is one-of-a-kind, and his “Life” is a hell of a journey.