Friday, November 12, 2010

Several Species Of Small Furry Thoughts - KEEF

It’s going to be a very Keith Richards Christmas and New Year. What with the recent release of the incredible concert movie Ladies and Gentlemen The Rolling Stones, the re-release and re-expansion of Keith’s hypnotic Wingless Angels project, the earlier releases of the expanded Exile On Main Street and its accompanying documentaryStones In Exile, it all seems to be setting the stage for the massive two-year world trek that even the band is calling their final tour. Thus it is almost an embarrassment of riches that Keith has released his tremendously entertaining autobiography Life and put out a single disc retrospective of his solo career Vintage Vinos that elicits a reassessment of the man and the myth.
Life is so much more than I could have expected. The hoped for tales of excess on the road are all there; and he really hides very little in the way of juicy details. The book opens during the Stones’ ’75 tour of America with him tearing across the country in a rented car with Woody and the ultimate drug-dealer to the stars, Freddie Sessler (there needs to be a book about this guy too), completely ripped on every drug imaginable. They getting popped in small-town Arkansas, and through wile, bravado, and high-as-a-kite luck they talk their way out of it. We learn about both the recklessness and the charmed nature of his existence right off the bat. There is no other rock star - period. Keith is the ultimate! One suspects that he paints himself as a bit more saintly in the last decade or so than might be the truth, but for the most part he pulls no punches. After the ’75 incident, we jump back in time for a long, fascinating and very Anglo look back at his childhood. He seems to have grown up a cross between the Artful Dodger and well, Keith Richards. His post-war, lower class upbringing seems a perfect metaphor for the entire generation who came of age with him. He is a baby-boomer whose life was shaped by the immediate past (WWII) and whose life helped shape the future. The casual way he talks about the birth of Rock and Roll and his part in it just reeks of authenticity. You know he was there, and we now know he was not some drugged up moron. He was a drugged up keen observer of people and places. His take on the events of the times are always thoughtful and earthy. After all the many books written about the era, it is interesting that the Human Riff has some of the most insightful things to say about the times he inhabited.
His insights into the music of The Rolling Stones are also unique. He is impressed with Mick Jagger’s talent, but is clearly not star-struck and again pulls no punches when describing the large ego and small weenie of his 50-year partner. His overall feeling towards Jagger and all the Stones is loving and respectful, and in spite of some playful cattiness we actually get the clearest picture ever of the depth of their creative marriage and their love for each other. It is hard to remember a better book about Rock and Roll than Life, but then it is hard to find a better rock and roller than Keith Richards.
In addition to all the Stones albums you will listen to while reading this book, pick up Vintage Vinos. This superbly chosen set takes songs from all three X-pensive Winos releases; Talk Is CheapMain Offender and their Live At The Hollywood Palladium and shows Richards’ solo career to be pretty damn great. Songs like “You Don’ Move Me,” “Eileen,” Wicked As It Seems” and “Locked Away” would fit in perfectly with the Stones repertoire, but others like “Struggle” or “Take It So Hard” have a uniquely Keith feel about them, and the three Stones songs he performs live - “Connection,” “Happy” and “Time Is On My Side” - boast his rough and ready abilities to carry this material. Perhaps the most exciting song on the album is the rarely heard “Hurricane” which was released as a benefit for victims of Hurricane Katrina. Written by the Glimmer Twins, it is just Keith and Woody in the studio playing acoustic guitars and Keith singing the slyly simplistic lyrics about the great tragedy unfolding before his eyes. It is short, very sweet and it alone demands you own the album.

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