Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Long Lost Review: "Life" by Keith Richards (2010)

Author's Note: I'm a lousy blogger. I need to become more frequent in my updates; This every two months pattern is not good for a future journalist.

Anyways, here is a review that I wrote back in July. Enjoy!

Keith Richards can be described in many ways: a music legend, one of the greatest  guitarists of all time, and also one of the poster boys for rock and roll excess. But, after reading Life, you can add the following descriptor: master storyteller. Much like the first notes of many famous Rolling Stones songs, Life grabs a hold of you and does not let go until it is finished.

The novel discusses Keith Richards’ life beginning as an only child growing up in postwar England. His passion for music is evident at an early age, as he talks about his desire to play his grandfather’s guitar and his love of the blues. After being expelled from high school, he was transferred to an art school. It was during this time that he became reacquainted with his former neighbour Mick Jagger, bonding over the blues albums that they had in their possession. This friendship led to the formation of one of the most popular and controversial bands of all time.

For readers who want to know everything about the Rolling Stones, this is the book for you. Reading Life is the closest that many of us will come to meeting Keith Richards, and being able to pick his brain about anything regarding the Rolling Stones. He describes everything, from their early days trying to be “the best blues band in England” to the recording of the classic albums Exile on Main St. and Beggar’s Banquet. Despite the presence of an additional writer, the voice in the book is definitely Richards’; nobody else could describe the situations he encounters the way it is described in the book. Credit must be given to James Fox for allowing Richards' voice to shine through.

The phrase “brutally honest” has been thrown around so often that it has become a cliché, but it is an appropriate phrase to describe this book. Richards holds nothing back throughout the book, whether talking about his various run-ins with the law or his experience with drug addiction. At times, while reading the novel, it felt like Richards was bragging about his drug consumption and how his fame prevented him from serving serious time in prison. At other times, he seems more responsible than most addicts; he knew his limits, unlike several of his contemporaries. Richards lays it all out, and allows the reader to make their own decisions regarding his actions, which allows him to come across better than some other artists (Anthony Kiedis, I'm looking in your direction).

The deterioration of his friendship with Mick Jagger, whom he calls “unbearable,” was another subject that came up late in the book, and what the media focused on after the release.  It does not come off as sour grapes or jealously. Rather it feels believable that after 40 years of close quarters, the two of them have grown apart. Despite this, Richards insists that he still loves Jagger like a brother, even if they have separate dressing rooms. Recent events, however, show that Jagger is still bitter over the comments made in the novel. I hope they patch it up and tour one more time.

Life also had a personal effect on me. About a year ago, I began to learn guitar, but had stopped playing it. After reading Life, and hearing Keith Richards discuss the guitar in terms that even a non-musician can understand, I picked up my guitar and began playing again. Now, I play almost every night. Life sets the new standard for rock and roll memoirs; other musicians are going to have trouble topping it.

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