Sunday, January 2, 2011

"Life" by Keith Richards

I just finished reading Keith Richards' new memoir, Life. I feel like I've emerged from a smoky bar where I've spent the last several hours listening to Keith tell stories about his many adventures over several bottles of Jack Daniels & way too many cigarettes, lol.

It's a hugely entertaining book, written in such a way that you can almost hear Keith talking as you read (with the occasional raspy laugh thrown in between drags on a cigarette). I imagine his cowriter relied heavily on interview transcripts for the wording. If you have any interest in the Stones, what it was like to grow up in post-WWII Britain, the evolution of rock & roll, how Keith invented certain chords for certain Stones songs, what the 60s were like, or how hard it is to kick drugs, Keith's your man.

It's a long book, dragged a little at times (e.g., I don't play guitar, so the lengthy explanations of guitar chords were lost on me, although I'm sure any guitar player with rock & roll ambitions or fantasies would find it fascinating). And there were certain topics that were glossed over, or that I read with a mixture of fascination & horror -- the drug stuff, for example -- and particularly the fact that Keith took his young son, Marlon, on tour with him and made him his "minder." Marlon contributes a few first-person accounts to the book about his bizarre childhood (referring to both of his junkie parents by their first names) that had me going "hmm....". But overall, I thought it was a great read.

You probably wouldn't expect a book by & about Keith Richards to be of interest to bereaved parents, but think again. As I blogged a few months ago when the book was first published and excerpts began appearing, Keith is a bereaved father: his second son & third child, Tara, died of SIDS in 1976 when he was a few months old. This part of the story is told as only Keith could tell it... and although I daresay there aren't too many of us who would refer to our lost babies as "the little bugger" (!), the emotions sound very familiar.

Keith was in Paris at the time, on tour with the Stones & just getting ready to go onstage. He turned down an offer to cancel the show & went on. ("What am I going to do?... It's happened already. It's done.") The mother, Keith's longtime girlfriend, Anita Pallenberg, took care of the coroners, cremation, etc., while Keith stayed on tour, accompanied by Marlon (then 7), "the only thing," he writes, "that kept me going... Thank God he was there... I've lost my second son, I ain't gonna lose the first."

To this day, Keith says, he and Anita have never talked about their lost son: "It's too painful... Neither of us, I'm sure in her case too, have got over it. You don't get over these things."

"What happened? I know very little about the circumstances. All I knew about Tara was this beautiful little boy in the cradle. Hey, little bugger, I'll see you when I get back off the road, right? He seemed perfectly robust. He looked like miniature Marlon. Never knew the son of a bitch, or barely. I changed his nappy twice, I think. It was respiratory failure, cot death. Anita found him in the morning. I wasn't about to ask questions at the time. Only Anita knows. As for me, I should never have left him. I don't think it's her fault; it was just a crib death. But leaving a newborn is something I can't forgive myself for. It's as if I deserted my post..."

"There's no question that losing a child is the worst thing that can ever happen, which is why I wrote to Eric Clapton when his son died, knowing something of what he was going through. When that happens, you go totally numb for awhile. It's only very slowly that the possibilities of your love for the little chap emerge. You can't deal with it all at once. And you can't lose a kid without it coming to haunt you. Everything's supposed to go in its natural order. I've seen my mum and dad off, and that's the natural order. But seeing a baby off is another thing. It never lets you rest. Now it's a permanent cold space inside me. Just selfishly, if it had to happen, I'm glad it happened then. When he was too young to form a relationship. Now he bangs into me once a week or so. I have a boy missing. Could have been a contender. I wrote in my notebook when I when I was working on this book, "Once in a while Tara invades me. My son. He would be thirty-odd now." Tara lives inside me. But I don't even know where the little bugger is buried, if he's buried at all."

Keith later met & married supermodel Patti Hansen. He says, without going into much detail, that she told him she couldn't have babies; with two older children already, he figured his nappy-changing days were over. But surprise! They went on to have two daughters, Theodora & Alexandra (whom Keith refers to affectionately as "Little T&A," in a nod to a Stones song).


  1. Wow, I wasn't expecting that when I saw that the book was by Keith Richards. He has quite a way with words, but it's very honest.

  2. fascinating reading. thanks for the review! and happy new year!

  3. Gotta love parenting Keef style!

    Patti and Anita: similar in looks, polar opposites as mothers.Still, good to see Keef remains friends with Anita and Patti has survived bladder cancer...

    LOL the passages about guitar technique...well they probably had to be memorialized somewhere - better it be by the artist himself!

    Long live Keef Riffhard!

    LS x

  4. I've been waiting for your review!

    And I love how Keith's voice (at least how I imagine it) come through in those two paragraphs about his "little bugger." These lines struck me:

    "Now he bangs into me once a week or so. I have a boy missing. Could have been a contender"

    Thanks so much for sharing.

  5. This made me all emotional. I think I'll have to check out this book. Thank you for sharing!

  6. It sounds like a very good book; I'm sure the interviewer/"with help from" writer enjoyed working on it. Richards is a good storyteller, which isn't always the case with larger-than-life people. I know very little about the Stones but think I will add it to the queue of "Loribeth's recommendations."

  7. I've never been a big Stones fan, but I'm a big music fan. I've heard so many good things about this book, I really need to check it out.

    Thanks for the excerpt - I could almost hear his raspy voice reading it.

  8. This is beside the point you're making but.... The part about where he brings his son along to mind him while he was a junkie...was there no exploration of that subject? What's the point about writing a book if you're not going to completely honest? Does he only talk about his suffering and none of the suffering he has caused other people?

  9. Ironically, he took Marlon on the road to keep him away from Anita, who was an even bigger junkie than he was, apparently. His daughter, Angela, wound up living with & being brought up by her grandmother, Keith's mother.

    I think he's pretty honest in the book -- but there are some subjects he sort of glossed over, or doesn't fully address -- that being one of them. Apparently his temper was legendary, & he mentions a few incidents where he lost it, but doesn't really delve into what was behind all the rage. He used to own (& use!) a lot of guns, but doesn't really explain what was behind that fascination either.

  10. thanks for the review. wow, he has a way with words, especially on this heartrending issue.

  11. I'm half way through the book, and I can't put it down. It's really quite fascinating! I would, however, love to read another book some day, written by one of the other members to see if there was a drastically different view point of it all. But I do think he is honest for the most part. He doesn't always paint himself as the good guy. And he goes into the ugly truth of his drug addiction, referring to his own self as nothing short of a junky many times.

  12. @ Anonynmous: Bill Wyman wrote a book, a couple of years after he left the band (early-mid-90s?): "Stone Alone." I read it but don't remember much about it, other than that he seemed to have recorded every girl he ever slept with, lol.