Keith Richards is a rock ‘n’ roll survivor, music legend and member of the band widely acclaimed as one of the greatest and most influential of all time. This updated biography by Victor Bockris is a fascinating and detailed look at the complex and hugely talented Rolling Stones songwriter and guitar hero.
Central to Bockris’ book are the various turbulent relationships that have governed Richards’ life. Perhaps the most significant is that between Richards and Stones front man Mick Jagger. The union between the two here often appears as a dysfunctional marriage where both parties seem locked in a steaming rivalry. It frequently poisons their working relationship but also bears much in the way of creative fruit.
Anybody demanding proof need only look at the amazing canon of hits that the duo have written. Classics like The Last Time and (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction retain their edge today much like the Stones themselves who led the nominations at the NME Awards this year with nods in four categories.
The book traces Richards’ gradual metamorphosis from quiet working class boy to teenage rebel through to the very definition of hard-living, hell-raising rock superstar. Along the way there are the women, including his tumultuous relationship with Anita Pallenberg, a volatile and drug-filled partnership which struggled under the weight of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle.
In fact, the excess constantly present throughout Richards’ life acts as a dark backdrop which at times exudes glamour but ultimately seems to chew up many of his contemporaries. However, the reader is never left in any doubt that despite the living legend’s demons, drug addiction and drama, his love for music frequently dominates proceedings. While the book portrays Jagger as often driven by business acumen, Keith is very much ruled by his creative forces.
Bockris also takes the reader through the recording of each album and tour giving a fascinating insight into the changing nature and relationships within the band’s world. Their rise in the sixties is a feast of hedonism and hit-making while the seventies saw more success but frequent chaos. By the end of that decade, the band were derided by sections of the music press after punk and new wave has made their mark.
The eighties saw the Stones at perhaps their least unified, often soured by rising tensions due to Jagger’s solo career plans and disagreements about tour concepts. Albums Undercover and Dirty Work were disappointingly received while Richards is also quoted as not being keen on the MTV ethos, feeling that it accentuated visual acts over the music itself.
The Stones, of course, have kept on going and as they continue to pack out stadiums worldwide, this rock ‘n’ roll life story is one that will please many fans, old and new.
Published by Omnibus Press.
Words: Russell Iliffe, PRS for Music