One of the sad realities of graduate student life is that more often that not I’ve had to put off reading or writing that I’m extremely excited about.
So it is that I’m just now writing this entry in praise of one of the two great memoirs I’ve read recently, Keith Richards’ “Life”, which was published a few months back. (My thoughts on the other, the brilliant “Just Kids” by Patti Smith, is forthcoming, I promise!)
Richards refers to women’s bands as “chick’s bands”, is intensely peeved and preoccupied with outrunning law enforcement worldwide owing to fairly open (and often heavy) hard drug use, and refers to Truman Capote as an “old queen”.
Let me tell you something: despite all of the above, I must confess I am now a little bit in love with him. He’s always been my favorite Stone, because when you listened hard to that impossibly deep catalog he and Mick and the others created, his guitar riffs and just plain genius were unmistakable to an old-school rock fan like me. How about this: he came up with the riff for “Satisfaction” in the middle of the night, when fortunately for us all, he half-awoke and used a bedside tape recorder to lay down the skeleton? That tale has been told before but finds its way here as well.
Sure, there are also the colorful episodes involving his best pals, downright tender and poignant musings on his epic brotherhood and decades-long falling out with Mick Jagger, and some great recollections of his boyhood in England.
Two themes stand out for me, one of which was pointed out by Liz Phair in her review of Life in the New York Times. He provides wonderful bits of insight and observation about what it is to be a writer (in his case, of course, of songs, but these bits transcend genre.) How about, upon realizing that one is a writer, you then realize, “to provide ammo, you start to become an observer, you start to distance yourself. You’re constantly on the alert…Which in a way, makes you weirdly distant. You really shouldn’t be doing it. It’s a little of Peeping Tom to be a songwriter”. That realization is both critical and endlessly weird to many of us; when I had it at some point a long time ago, I started thinking of myself as walking along the yellow midline of the road of life, always with one foot in, and one watching and listening, soaking it all in.
He sums it all up in my favorite line of this book: “I’m here to say something and to touch other people, sometimes in a cry of desperation: “Do you know this feeling?”
So, those two–and many other–sections are substantively wonderful, but then he takes it over the top for me by way of a few food-related riffs. First of all, do NOT crack the crust on Keith Richards’ shepherd’s pie. Ever. Just, NO. And while I cannot honestly condone his behavior, his response to someone getting a spoon in first, or running off innocently with some spring onions meant for a late-night bangers and mash supper he’s cooking, the fact that these episodes end with him basically threatening people’s lives kind of cracked me up, because, um, well, we won’t go there angermanagementcakes.
Bonus: his recipe for bangers and mash is included. I may have teared up with adoration right then. Not going to lie.
Definitely a great time for rock aficionados, and perhaps writers as well. I’ve been spending time during this break revisiting the Stones quite a bit as he mentions their process, and my god do they hold up.
Now, to have a nip of Dr. Daniels in the man’s honor…