Hon­est re­flec­tions

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - BOOKS - Re­view by TOM PAYNE Life

Author: Keith Richards with James Fox Pub­lisher: Wei­den­feld, 564 pages

IF you can re­mem­ber the 1960s, blah blah blah. Boy can Keith Richards re­mem­ber the 60s, which is great. The real mir­a­cle is that he can re­mem­ber the 70s, con­sid­er­ing that Keith’s poi­son was heroin, which would surely make per­form­ing in a high-en­ergy band quite dif­fi­cult, let alone rais­ing two chil­dren, with a heroin-ad­dicted Anita Pal­len­berg.

So the very ex­is­tence of this book is a marker against the rav­ages of time. It sug­gests that Richards’s me­mory is fresh in a way that his face isn’t. His me­mory has had a lit­tle help: there are letters he sent to relatives, and even a diary, as well as tes­ta­ments from friends and gar­ner­ing from other peo­ple’s mem­oirs.

Good­ness, there’s enough ma­te­rial to start an ar­chive in some­where like Texas, or for An­drew Mo­tion to con­tem­plate an of­fi­cial bi­og­ra­phy. For now, though, we have a lot of kind, per­haps even in­dul­gent, tran­scrip­tion from James Fox.

Keith says in one of his many flips from de­tail into depth: “Me­mory is fic­tion.” But if it were, this book would be in bet­ter shape. It ram­bles be­tween crab­bi­ness and hu­mil­ity, like some 500-page record sleeve shout-out: on page 488 he ends up thank­ing God, as if the Almighty were a re­ally de­pend­able roadie.

Per­haps this trib­ute is fair enough. He seems un­likely to have sur­vived with­out some kind of in­ter­ven­tion. One widely be­lieved the­ory is that he went to Switzer­land to have his blood changed. Richards puts it colour­fully: “It’s said to have been some trans­ac­tion with the devil deep un­der the stones of Zurich, face white with parch­ment, a kind of vam­pire at­tack in re­verse and the rosi­ness re­turns to his cheeks. But I never changed it!”

He shows how we’ve swal­lowed his Faust myth. He even com­pares him­self to Robert John­son, the blues man who sold his soul to the devil at a cross­roads and died aged 27. Peo­ple be­lieve sim­i­lar things of Richards, and that tells its own story: we’re amazed he’s still alive. He ex­plains how New Mu­si­cal Ex­press put him on the top of their “rock stars most likely to die” list. Go, Keith! he imag­ines us say­ing, in a nasty way.

But he hasn’t gone, and as a re­sult his book pro­vides us with a star­tling link be­tween the past and the present. The Dart­ford of his child­hood had more carts and horses af­ter the war than there were just be­fore it; it was an age of smog and ra­tioning, and of Chuck Berry. The Rolling Stones be­gan life steal­ing stage time from trad jazzers such as Acker Bilk and Chris Bar­ber.

His evo­ca­tion of those days can be fun­nier than Spinal Tap’s rem­i­nis­cences of their na­tive Squat­ney. He re­lives his mother’s work dur­ing the war, dis­tribut­ing very few cakes among 300 peo­ple: And she would be the de­cider of who would get them. “Can I have a cake next week?” “Well, you had one last week, didn’t you?” A heroic war.

And he can be ten­der, too. If Larkin is right that sex be­gan in 1963, then Richards is a key wit­ness to what hap­pened in 1962: “Sex then was mostly just like, it’s a bit chilly, let’s cud­dle, the gas has gone out and no shillings left.” Isn’t that far more lyrical than Larkin’s “wran­gle for a ring”?

He isn’t al­ways this poignant, though. There’s a junkie-artist frank­ness through­out, cou­pled with a re­fusal to omit things: how he plays the gui­tar, how post-gig cou­pling works, and his recipe for bangers and mash (don’t try it at home). Both his style and his con­tent re­veal him to be fas­tid­i­ous: Mariah Carey sounds laid back when com­pared to Keith Richards’s pre-con­cert in­sis­tence on a freshly baked shep­herd’s pie.

There are cameos from friends and fam­ily and, to bring us to our own gen­er­a­tion, Kate Moss con­trib­utes a page. This is surely the most she has had to say about any­thing, and what a theme she has: it’s about the time when a young guest dug up Keith’s spring onions and ap­peared with them be­hind his ear af­ter the Stone had con­ducted a re­ten­tive search.

He chased the guest out of the house with a sabre (prob­a­bly). These vi­gnettes can be good fun, but the end­less ac­counts of bus­tups, drugs busts and tri­als – an im­pres­sive feat of rec­ol­lec­tion un­der the cir­cum­stances – left this reader sad­der and wrin­klier. – © The Daily Tele­graph UK 2010

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