I Finished Life (The Keith Richards Book)

Last year at CMJ we played a party for Relics Magazine that was in honor of Keith Richards biography, Life. I was already on a huge Rolling Stones kick. When we were on the road, our drummer liked listening to NPR while driving and we heard Keith’s interview about the book every other day. I finally got to borrow Lauren’s parents copy and give it a spin.

I’m always a sucker for music biographies and documentaries. It is always really interesting to see where an artist came from and what sorts of breaks they might have had to help them make their career something special. Who were they playing with? What did their scene associate themselves with? Did they work really hard or get extremely lucky? How involved were they in business side of the music industry?

Were they conscious about being cool or not? All these sorts of questions are fascinating to me, which made Life right up my ally.

As something well written and easy to read, Life falls in the average category. The biographer added very little of his own words to clarify the story and Keith’s messages. The result is that it really reads as a long rambling lecture from Keith Richards. The positive side of this is that you get a somewhat clear vision of Keith as a musician, what his perspective is in terms of making music and how he would work. The downside is that some of it feels somewhat out of proportions of reality.

The big story of course is the relationship between Keith and Mick.

There is also plenty of info regarding the loves of Keith’s life, but I think they are traditionally secondary to the larger story of the Stones. The Keith/Mick divide seems almost predestined with infidelity between the two friends. You get the impression that it is something that just goes with rock’n’roll, but I have a feeling those sorts explanations are more a function of expectations than an actual reality.

The interesting thing is how Keith describes the song writing process.

He would start and Mick would finish. That is a pretty interesting model b/c I think it has parallels to how Lauren and I write. The reality is Lauren does the majority of work here, but in terms of providing and important ingredient that helps define the sounds, I think we have a similar relationship. That said, I kind of get the impression that there are times Mick is actually doing the majority of work, even though Keith explains otherwise. I’m not slighting Keith as a song writer here, but as a musician, it is pretty easy to come up with riffs. Taking a song from a riff or chorus to a great song is a tough road.

This is the overarching issue of believe-ability with Life that kind of gets on my nerves. It all seemed so easy. The drugs, sex and rock’n’roll seem heavy, and yet Keith handles it all in stride. Either he is not telling the truth regarding how hard is working (it is not cool to let people see you sweat) or he really had massive amounts of help (from Mick for example, working to make the Stones what they were). No matter how far from the truth Life wanders, it is fascinating to see the life through the eyes of a great musician like Keith Richards. I’m a fan and a musician myself, so I’m probably biased, but finding that you find certain songs (Gimme Shelter, Can’t You Hear Me Knocking, Street Fighting Man) hold a similar place in the original writers perspective is cool. I have a huge amount of respect for Keith Richards and I think Life goes a long way in demystifying the legend while exposing that no matter what your opinions are, he is a lover of music.