Life By Keith Richards

March 29, 2012

Reviewed by Tyler Laing

Born in 1943 in war-stricken England, Keith Richards’s time and place very much shaped his musical destiny. As did his mother’s influence. Radio was ever-present during Richards’s pre-TV childhood. And his mother, “being a master twiddler of the knobs” played the good stuff. “She would point out who was good or bad, even to me. She was musical, musical.” But while mum had a role, so too did the dissolution of mandatory national service as Richards left high school. The two years he normally would have spent in the military he instead spent jamming with Mick Jagger and Brian Jones. By 1962 they had formed The Rolling Stones—arguably the biggest rock band of all time.

Before leaping into this gargantuan autobiography, I didn’t expect much more than a heroin-induced, cocaine-fuelled, booze-juiced joyride—an exhaustive look into one man’s excessive sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. And while I got that, to be sure—“There’s not much you can say about acid except God, what a trip!” “I’m on pure cocaine, none of that shit crap, I’m running on high octane.” —this book included more than that as well.

In light of his reckless and irresponsible lifestyle, Richards addresses mortality—his colleagues and friends who die—with an objective eye. “I hate all that crying shit, and moping . . . The fucker’s dead.” Even when it’s his young son Tara, who died while Richards was on tour, he maintains this distance. “Never knew the son of a bitch, or barely . . . it was just a crib death.” He neither writes for sympathy nor caters to sentimentality. For this, Richards should be commended.

But as touching and enlightening and exhilarating as this story is, a smelly fog clings to the pages. The rules of Creative Non-fiction have been debated for decades, but one universal truth exists—don’t lie! Fabrications and recreations are going to happen, but blatant conscious deception is unacceptable. And this is a crime Richards comes dangerously close to committing.
Before I bit into even the first paragraph, I read these words on the jacket: “This is the life. Believe it or not I haven’t forgotten any of it.” C’mon, Richards. Really? I’ve been on some benders before, though my most insane party experiences would be like a morning at the petting zoo for this guy. Even still, I’ve lost plenty of nights—weekends, even—to the blackout. And he openly admits, “sometimes I was absolutely fucking comatose.” So for him to come out of the gates and claim complete mental retention of his experiences is to pull his cock out and slap me with it.

This autobiography is at times a laugh, at others a cry, and it’s definitely a white-knuckled ride through a rock god’s life. But as entertaining and illuminating as the content is, respect must be shown for both the genre and the reader’s willingness to suspend reality. Was A Million Little Pieces a good read? Sure it was. But that didn’t stop the world from demonizing James Frey. Should Richards’s fate be any less cruel?

— Tyler Laing is a third-year in the Department of Writing. He will be
working as a summer intern with Harbour Publishing, starting May 7, 2012.

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