Life, by Keith Richards
The Beatles or the Stones? Since the mid 1960's, it's a question that all music fans have had to answer. As Uma Thurman said in Pulp Fiction, you can like both, but everyone prefers one over the other. And despite the fact that I would definitely fall into the Beatles camp, I have probably read more books about The Rolling Stones than any other artist. I think it's because even though The Beatles had a far greater impact on both music and society at large, the Rolling Stones story is a lot more compelling. Sure arrests, drug overdoses, and concert riots are pretty much standard fare for a lot of rock music bios, and any Stones book has those in spades. But it also has murder, political scandals, and inter-band mate swapping rivaled only by Fleetwood Mac. And it's been going on for six decades. No other band can touch that kind of longevity at the level the Stones have done it. And that makes for a great story.
You might wonder if there is any new ground to cover after all the ink that has been laid to paper in recounting the tales of Keith Richards and company. Honestly, the answer is no for the most part, but the book does give fresh insight into the stories and tall tales that have surrounded the Glimmer Twins for years. Richards doesn't hold back, so there really isn't any issue that he doesn't address. He debunks the myths surrounding the fabled Mars bar incident and rumors of having his blood changed in an effort to detox from heroin. He is incredibly frank about his issues with drug use over the years. And he details the ins and outs of both his personal and musical relationships throughout his life. And that is where the book really shines.
There were two things about the book that really stood out to me. First is that it barely mentions Bill Wyman at all. He basically is mentioned only three times in 547 pages: 1) The main reason he was asked to join the band is because he was the only one who owned an amplifier, 2) He was the band member who reached out the most during Keith's arrest in Canada, and 3) that he quit the band three years before it was publicly announced. And the second big surprise was that the bitterness and infighting between Keef and Mick Jagger lasted well past the Steel Wheels album and tour. I always thought that they had kissed and made up in 1989, but Richards talks about how they were still avoiding each other in the recording studio five years later while recording Voodoo Lounge.
The best book about the Stones remains Stanley Booth's The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones. And if you're looking for pure entertainment value and are less concerned about actual facts, the tabloid trash of Tony Sanchez's Up and Down with the Rolling Stones can't be beat. Life will mostly appeal to Stones fans, but it's an enjoyable read for anyone who liked a good rock and roll biography.
Keith Richards - "Wicked As It Seems" (mp3) from Main Offender
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