Keith Richards with Michael Fox Life

Monday, 10 January 2011

Having acquired the iPad and downloaded the iBooks and Kindle apps on Christmas Eve, it probably comes as no surprise to learn that Hughesy was almost immediately checking out the options at iTunes (where, to be quite honest there was relatively little of interest and the items were priced uncomfortably close to bookshop price tags) and Amazon, where the range was much wider and much more reasonably priced.

Sighting Keith Richards' Life for $US9.99 it was fairly obvious that I'd found my Christmas holiday reading, and, in any case, it was one of those books I'd been eyeing warily since it would probably tie comfortably in with my Interesting Times project.

In a way I couldn't help thinking Interesting Times may well have been a suitable title for this story detailing how a working class kid from an unremarkable background was transformed into the most elegantly wasted man alive, but Life, in its own way, sums up a story which has that unremarkable bloke going through the last fifty years or so doing what he does for a living.

The fact that what he did for a living involved playing guitar, writing songs, sitting around recording studios and ingesting enough chemical stimulants to keep him going might, on one plane be miles away from the routine of the nine to five wage slave, but when you look at it from Keef's perspective it's probably not a whole lot different.

It’s a job, and the lifestyle comes with it.

The differences, and for that matter the whole phenomenon of the Rolling Stones, comes across, in this account, as a remarkable combination of chance, coincidence, dumb luck and external factors over which the key protagonists had no control.

Anyone from my vintage would, of course, be familiar with most of the story, and while the narrative covers all the incidents you'd expect, Keef's version of most incidents is remarkably prosaic. Drug busts are the result of carelessness, bad luck or zealous law enforcement officers and are circumvented by a combination of luck, well-connected lawyers and the presence of the Canadian Prime Minister's wife in the Stones' entourage.

Born into a family with an interest in American music at a time when he was able to recognize Chuck Berry as a continuation of a tradition rather than an electric rock'n'roll heretic (don't laugh, Robert Gordon's biography of Muddy Waters has one well-known critic and his associates getting up and walking out of St Pancras Town Hall in 1958 when Muddy Waters struck the first note on his electric guitar once he picks up the guitar it’s fairly clear where he’s headed.

Then there's the coincidental meeting of two teenagers who's known each other at primary school meeting up as teenagers with Mick Jagger carrying a bundle of Chess LPs into a train compartment and explaining he was getting his albums by mail order.


© Ian Hughes 2012