Keith Richards's Revealing 'Life'

The memoir illuminates a man who ingested everything and "survived to crow about the fact"

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There's little need for a Keith Richards tell-all memoir that merely plays up the splashy drug revelations or details his long-running spat with Mick Jagger. Any casual follower of rock music knows that these are the most well-trod details of his life. This was, after all, the guy who helped spawn the cliché of the excessively decadent rock star. Instead, critics have tried to piece together the meaning of a grizzled musician who managed to--despite the years of abuses--come out a survivor. With the help of a skilled ghost writer, James Fox, the memoir appears to have hit its mark with audiences and skeptics alike. Here are five of the less publicized takeaways from the work (some will still be old hat to Stones devotees).

  • 1. He Had No Idea That the Infamous Altamont Concert Went Awry until the show was completely over that is, reports The Daily Beast's speed readers. Richards apparently delivers this understated explanation: "In actual fact, if it hadn’t been for the murder, we’d have thought it was a very smooth gig by the skin of its fucking teeth."
  • 2. One The Most Frightening Things Keith Confronted: Hordes of Teenage Girls  In a column about the chivalry of the crotchety "pirate" juxtaposed against the "misogynist" politicians littering the election cycle, The New York Times' Maureen Dowd notes Richards's reaction of "terror" to these hordes: "I was never more in fear for my life than I was from teenage girls...The ones that choked me, tore me to shreds, if you got caught in a frenzied crowd of them — it’s hard to express how frightening they could be. You’d rather be in a trench fighting the enemy than to be faced with this unstoppable killer wave of lust and desire, or whatever it is — it's unknown even to them."
  • 3. The Drug Emphasis Bolsters Richards Claim as 'Icon of Dilapidated Cool'  The Wall Street Journal's Andrew Stuttaford found "way too much" detail of the musician's colorful and varied drug history in the book, but nevertheless found that it buttressed the "legend of the world's 'most elegantly wasted man.'" Yet Stuttaford ponders why Richards has to act so manly all the time: "For all the laconic detachment of Mr. Richards's frequently amusing prose, there is something sweaty about the way this former choirboy (yes, really) is so determined to establish his machismo. It's not the girls...that give the game away but the hard-man anecdotes...the (possibly helpful) tips on knife-fighting, the brandished Jack Daniel's, the references to himself as an alpha male, the disparagement of Mick Jagger's 'todger,' even a competitive approach to narcotics."
  • 4. The Victims of His Excess Have Piled Up Over the Years   While Richards swears that the "shit" he ingested gifted him with longevity, there are plenty of others he partied with that weren't so lucky, notes Rollling Stone critic Rich Cohen. "Addiction is the recurring theme – sessions in which Richards did not sleep for days, and he makes heroin addiction sound sensible....[But]...There is an impressive list of people who partied with Richards and died or just went batty: among them, Gram Parsons and John Phillips, his friends; Anita Pallenberg, his love. Richards takes responsibility for none of it, unaware of his effect on all the would-be madmen who wanted to trade shots with a legend."
  • 5. His Life Is So Alien to Readers That It's 'Titillating'  The New Yorker editor David Remnick succinctly summarizes the memoir: It's "a slurry romp through the life of a man who knew every pleasure, denied himself nothing, and never paid the price...It's the titillation of hearing from someone who has never seen the inside of a factory or an office, and has consumed what there is to consume and survived to crow about the fact.'"
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.