In my day (god, I cringe when I type that) there was a distinct division between those who were Beatles fans (count me among them) and those who were Rolling Stones fans. I also understand there was some competition between the Beach Boys and the Beatles but for heaven's sake, this isn't even worth two seconds of our time. The smack down is completely Beatles versus Stones, with no exceptions.
After having read a cursory review of "Life" by Keith Richards I thought, hmmm, sounds interesting, and put it on my birthday list. Heavens to Murgatroyd, what a fantastic, exhilarating read. This is extremely similar to the Agassi autobiography that I pimped earlier this year in terms of a wonderful read, but the voice in this book outshines even Agassi's compelling voice. In short, this is one of the best books I've read in the last five years. Absolutely.
Okay, we need to spell out some caveats here. I was born in '56, so the musicians that Keith Richards talks about in his book I know. And what could possibly be more endearing to an American than to go "Ahh" when Richards describes his ever-lasting fascination with rock and roll because he heard an Elvis single or a Chuck Berry single?
What stands out in this book is not the drug busts, the somewhat amazing constitution of these guys, the inevitable overdoses and deaths, but Keith Richards as a musician. Yes, a musician. This is a book about a guy who loves to create music. I've been to a few Stones' concerts, I have most of their albums, and like all people I've asked myself the question, when in the hell are the Stones going to pack it up? Aren't they sick of singing "Satisfaction"? You read Richards' book and you understand that this isn't about a grab for the filthy lucre. Yeah, that's part of it, but it's about going on stage and playing Satisfaction and saying that he's never played it the same way twice. And you believe him. I don't think I'll ever approach a concert the same way again.
Also part of what seals this book's place as one of the best reads in a very long time is how he articulates his never-ending quest to create the best music he can create. This is pathetic to admit, but he writes about music the way I feel about writing. Except, sadly, he articulates it much better. He writes perfectly about the triangle between the artist, the art, and the audience, and that high you get when you connect. When the triangle is a perfect isosceles and each point just keeps pinging as your vision is exacted in your art and resonates with your readers (or in his case, his audience).
This has one of the best "voices" I've read. Funny, insightful, honest, irreverent, reverent (when talking of his children and his wife he is especially endearing), and above all so honest that you think, wow, way to lay it out. I don't suppose he has anything to hide, but part of the power of this book is a take it or leave it sensibility. He doesn't make excuses for who he is or what he's shot up. For him it's all about the sound. Part of the real strength of his book is his discussion of how he plays, how he makes the "sound." I put sound in quotes because to him it's as important a factor as "voice" is to me. He's absolutely honest that the Stones are a bunch of white boys who parlayed the Chicago blues sound in a mega-band, and he's equally honest about his reverence for musicians, those both known and unknown. His constant tributes to his fellow musicians is yet another strength of this book. And while I think you need a healthy ego to be an artist, Richards never lets that get in the way. Because, really, it's about the band. Always. It's about making and nailing the sound as a "band."
I walked away from this book thinking that Keith Richards is a hell of a musician and a storyteller.