Life by Keith Richards book review

By Emma Brooks

I’ve just spent two weeks working at the Montreux Jazz festival, followed by 3 days as a regular festival goer at the Paléo festival in Nyon, both in Switzerland. So one could consider that by now, I am definitely at the height of my musical awareness and ready to take in as much as I can get. Therefore, what better to read than the autobiography Life by Keith Richards?

I won’t bother going into “about the author”, as most people will know that Keith Richards is one of the Rolling Stones, and in any case the book is an autobiography. This book was given to me as a gift, and was described to me as being “a book about partnerships in business”. Suffice to say, it’s not really about business but more about “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll”.

I was a bit hesitant about reading this book, because as I have mentioned before I am always a bit dubious about biographies/autobiographies and whether or not I will enjoy them. However, this book managed to take me by surprise, and had me hooked from the very beginning! It is the most interesting story for many reasons.

For a start, the Rolling Stones are one of the most famous bands in the world, and have been going for almost 50 years now. Even if you don’t know much more than that about them (as I did), it’s still pretty intriguing and makes you want to know more about how they got together, their success, the years spent together…and in more  detail than you will be able to find on a Wikipedia page. This book does exactly that, and tells you what appears to be practically everything, from Keith Richard’s point of view.

What first interested me in the book, is that Keith Richards starts by describing his childhood (and Mick’s) and we realise that he was just a regular kid growing up in Dartford just like anybody else. He loved music and grew up wanting to play the guitar, but not being able to afford one straight away. Just like many people out there, he simply had a passion for music that he was craving to fulfil. It may seem silly to say and to remind us of it, but in fact the Rolling Stones started out just like any other local band: jamming together, playing small gigs, and hoping that they would be successful. They never dreamed of the proportions of their success!

It’s therefore refreshing to see that their beginnings were really quite simple, if not to say practically bleak. Even though at times it’s possible to detect a hint of auto-appreciation in this book, more often than not Keith Richards appears to be quite humble and not constantly praise himself. This is most certainly a point to be appreciated, as a book that were only self-praise would not be interesting. He tells his story in a very simple manner, pretty much as if he were chatting away to the reader and had written it all down on paper.

We get to read first hand about everything: as mentioned before, the beginning of the band, when they first start to be famous, the world tours… The ups and downs, the fights between band members, the difficult relationship between the Glimmer Twins (Keith and Mick), the women and much more. Keith also tells us about the role drugs played in his life and in the band’s life. I can imagine this is something many people have wondered about, wanted to know, and no tabloid story can really tell us the truth. But Keith Richards delivers the story with a blunt honesty, not shying away from the fact that he was once a heroin addict.

But perhaps the most exciting thing, is to realise the genuine love for music that all these guys had, and what an exciting time they grew up in musically. Keith Richards talks about his music influences in Chicago blues: Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and many many more. He tells us how these people were his inspiration, how he and the Rolling Stones sought to reproduce a genuine style of music in the best way that they could. He tells us what it was like for him when he finally met some of his musical idols, and couldn’t believe they would ask to play with him.

He also meets many other famous artists, some of which were his contemporaries such as The Beatles, a close friendship with John Lennon, an encounter with Jimi Hendrix before he was famous, working with Eric Clapton, and many other famous artists who have truly marked the history of music. It is perhaps only then that we realise the era in which the Rolling Stones existed, the importance of the band in musical history, and what exactly their impact has been over the years.

Finally, a last heartening touch is to read Keith Richards talking to us about music in technical terms: how he plays the guitar, what chords he learnt, what techniques he uses, how to play the way he does… Yet one more element that shows us that he is utmost and foremost a musician before being an international rock star.

The book was written with simplicity, honesty and humility and it is most definitely an interesting read. For anyone who is interested in music, who wants to know what the 60 and 70s were like musically, or who simply wants to more about the Rolling Stones, as well as for the ultimate fan… I definitely recommend the book!

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