An upbringing in Post-War Dartford sets the tone: “When I was growing up the idea of leaving England was pretty much remote. My dad did it once, but that was in the army to go to Normandy and get his leg blown off.”
This down-to-earth black humour is one of the endearing aspects of Richards’ autobiography. Very rarely does he come across as totally out of touch with reality, despite his lavish rock-star lifestyle and so many years of over-indulging in numerous powders. Of course we aren’t talking Beechams. Richards is infamous for his staying power and not only on stage: “I don’t think John (Lennon) ever left my house except horizontally. Or definitely propped up.”
Richards talks about his drug use in a matter of fact manner – he doesn’t give it the “don’t do it kids” message, but nor does he recommend it. He also puts the record straight regarding his father’s ashes which he allegedly snorted. I won’t give away how it came about – basically there is some truth in the story – but it wasn’t as disrespectful or desperate as the press made it sound.
The title (Life) might seem a bit dull, yet it fits with Keef’s no-nonsense attitude. After all, this is a man who was brought up with philosophical gems like “There’s a difference between scratching your arse and tearing it to bits”. His frankness is far from diplomatic at times: “It was a Sunday, a wet dark Sunday in 1965. I don’t think you could have found anything more depressing anywhere… We were usually pretty good at entertaining ourselves, but Dunedin made Aberdeen seem like Las Vegas.”
This apparent honesty is quite refreshing. When talking about the people closest to him, be they family, WAGS or musicians, Keef doesn’t mince his words. Mick Jagger’s decision to start making solo albums in the 80’s stirred up more than a little resentment in his long-term songwriting partner. You can imagine that Jagger has been on the wrong end of Richards’ wrath often enough not to be shocked if he reads the following: “Mick’s album was called She’s The Boss, which said it all. I’ve never listened to the whole thing all the way through. Who has? It’s like Mein Kampf. Everybody had a copy, but nobody listened to it.”
Talking of mince, imagine a Stones gig being held up due to a dispute over a shepherd’s pie. Again, Mick was left in despair as he was informed that Keef wouldn’t be going on stage until the pie he’d been looking forward to had been replaced. The initial order had been scoffed by security. There was this scene backstage in Toronto where somebody actually said on the walkie talkies, “The shepherd’s pie is in the building”. Ah, the excesses of rock ‘n’ roll!
My main criticism of the book is that it is a bit longer than it need be. Too frequently for my liking, Richards hands over to others who give their version of events. This is your autobiography, Keith. I want your own descriptions or leave it out. There are plenty of biographies out there. Nonetheless, this is a really enjoyable read. One of the best things is finding out the background to some of my fave Stones songs and albums, which I can now re-listen to with a fresh perspective.