Monday, January 10, 2011

Music Man

I'm almost finished reading Keith Richards' autobiography Life. It confirms almost everything that I knew about him--that he's talented, funny, pugnacious, curious, generous, chock full of joie de vivre, and intelligent. This last trait cuts both ways. As he writes, "Like all geniuses, [the producer Rob Fraboni] can be a pain in the arse, but it goes with badge."

Right back atcha, Keith.

I love this man enough to hang in even when he gives what I expect will be a geeky Keef guitar clinic early in the book. I was tempted to skip it altogether and get to the juicy bits about Anita and Brian and Mick and the drugs. But I'll be damned if I didn't keep reading because he explained it in a way I could understood, that I cared about, and that gave me insight into his skill as a maker of music. The guy hears sounds in his head--it might be harpsichord or taiko drums--and translates those sounds onto the strings of his guitars.

When he wrote that feminists hate the Stones, adding "Where would they be without us?" I got defensive. I consider myself a feminist who is also a big fan of the Stones, and Keith in particular. What's wrong with supporting equal rights for women? I sat with his question for a little while. Of course he's sort of pulling our leg--sort of. But he's also right. Where would the women's movement be without fighting against the sentiments expressed in "Under My Thumb"? While I'm not gonna thank the Stones for that, I'm also not going to pretend that the Stones invented it. Or that we'd all be in Paradise if sexism never existed.

In almost all cases, Keith is characteristically direct about his memories and his feelings. Though the journalist James Fox co-wrote Life, it is Keith's voice that blazes forth. Except in one instance, when he recalls his infant son Tara's death. It felt to me that Keith hid behind a curtain (for one of the few times in his life) and let Fox or someone else write it. Check it out for yourself. It's on page 386.

I didn't buy his rationalization about driving under the influence, about the time he crashed his Bentley with eight people inside, including his seven-year-old son. It was along the lines of what the Rain Man said, "I'm an excellent driver." And "Nobody got hurt." Except that his son recalls a bloody handprint he'd left on the dashboard that remained there for decades after. The best you can say about Keith's recollection of the crash, or his recounting of the obsession for arranging fixes, is that he didn't try to hide anything. Keith's addictions were clearly in control.

That's really no surprise. When you're as gifted a person as Keith Richards is, it's easy to believe you're in control. Maybe even that you're a god, or a damned good rival for God Himself. After all, Keith makes sounds people haven't heard before. He can go into a studio and make recordings that millions of people will pay good money to listen to

I'm one fan who's glad he kicked the most lethal addiction and has lived to pursue the real fascination of his life.

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