Many months ago I put forward Keith Richards’ “Life” as a suggestion to an English book club I have joined here in Bielefeld. I wasn’t really sure why I wanted to read it. I am not a big Stones fan. Before I read the book, as a figure, Keith Richards was just a pastiche to me. I was more familiar with Jonny Depp’s interpretation than knowing anything about the man himself. The book is written in colloquial Richards, and when you read it, it feels as if you are sitting over your pint, and him over his Jamaican rum, and when you fall asleep and wake up four hours later he is still recounting his life story oblivious of your presence. You can settle down cosily into your next pint knowing he is bound to repeat what you missed earlier. It is a charmingly hypnotic style, and the great thing is that it is not like some of those annoying books that you can’t put down because you’ve just got to know what’s happening next. In fact, I left it lying around for a few weeks before casually picking it up again and never bothered with a bookmark because precision didn’t seem appropriate. Its opening chapter appears random and is beguiling. Why choose that particular drug bust (out of how many,five?), and during a time that doesn’t appear to be more relevant than any other before plunging into boyhood days? Is this, then, the rock and roll “life” style. In fact, Keith Richards doesn’t portray his drug taking as a means to induce extreme behaviour at all, or to reach a different level. Instead, drugs have the function to bring him to a state of normality. He also shies away from mind altering drugs altogether, though he lets us know that he can handle those, too, of course. The extremes of drug portrayed here lay in the difficulties in supply and with the law, not with the drug taking itself. So, the opening chapter is beguiling because when you get past the weed smoke screen, you actually see it for what it is, a musician’s book. It pays homage to the music and the musicians who have inspired him, Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters amongst others, not to mention countless session musicians. Even if you can’t play the guitar, then you are going to learn about open chord techniques and be told about the pleasure it gave him to finally discover the secret of a certain riff he had heard that had eluded him for decades. Sometimes it feels as if he is telling you all the other stuff, the stories about his relationships, affairs and near misses with weapon loaded military vehicles, so that he can slip in the musical education he really intended. It was impressive, and wasn’t what I had expected. I admit, I had underestimated "Keef". By the time the book club met, it wasn’t surprising though that no one had finished the book yet. Some were confused, myself included:”I can’t quite work it out, is Brain Jones dead by Chapter 5, or is that still to come?” , “Who is that man in chapter 6, he didn’t really explain, but here is his name again?” “Oh, isn’t that the third or fourth time he’s said that?”
Luckily the book is so long, and the chapters so few, that it is beyond any normal person’s capacity to answer those questions, so that Keith Richard’s can be given the benefit of the doubt.