Sunday, January 15, 2012

"Life" by Keith Richards: Destined To Be A Classic of Rock Literature

Review By Ken Korczak

Keith Richards’ biography “Life” is one of the best books ever written from the inside world of big rock-n-roll. It rivals other great rock-n-roll tomes, such as "Hammer of the Gods" the story of Led Zeppelin. It’s destined to be an important historical document that will show future generations what was happening inside and down in the trenches, especially in the early days of emergent British-brand rock.

It's also just an incredibly entertaining read through all 600 pages. Paired with journalist James Fox, the writing is somewhat "gonzo" style reminiscent of Hunter S. Thompson.

Richards comes off as frank, and yes, even humble. At times, though, evidence of a bloated rock star ego cannot be denied. As for the latter, how can you blame the guy? I'd like to see anyone else endure the onslaught of 50 years of adulation from the poor and powerful alike and not let some of it go to one's head. (Former Prime Minister Tony Blair praises Keith as "one of my biggest heroes" in a get-well letter he sent to Richards after his fall from a tree, resulting in brain damage).

I've read a couple of negative opinions of this book by other reviewers with amazement. I was astonished anyone could take a dim view. Most seemed disgusted by Richards' days as a junkie, and others found this book "rambling" and "unfocused." Some actually complained that he mentions "inconsequential" things like his near-death-experiences in several car crashes.

Well, I mean, the fact that Richards struggled monumentally with addiction to the hard stuff is a central aspect of his life story. He can’t gloss over it or deny it. He has to tell it, and he does. He doesn’t sugar coat his saytrism, nor does he justify it –- he just tells what happened. I can find no fault in his frank admission to this aspect of his life, nor do I see why other holier-than-thou types should.

I was touched by the way Richards handled his dreary childhood -- he never lapses into "poor me" sentimentality, yet gives the readers a vivid feeling of what it might have been like to grow up in a shabby post World War II London suburb, still gaping here and there with the holes of Nazi V2 rockets. Richards has also been accused in some circles of being a “momma’s boy.” And so, yes, his great love and close connection to his mother comes across in these pages – I mean, gee, the evil guy! He loved his mum!

The most admirable aspect of Richards’ attitude, for me, is this: He never claims to be anything other than “just a bloke who plays guitar in a band” – nothing more, nothing less – not a revolutionary, not a social engineer, not a man trying to change or enlighten society with his art, not an out-of-control anarchist bent on the destruction of “the establishment.” He just wants to play his gig, entertain the crowd, and then kick back with a smoke, a drink, fun with his mates and “the company” of beautiful women. That’s it.

Richards comes off as a screamingly funny guy. For example, his insistence on including his personal recipe and technique for cooking "bangers and mash" is nothing less than Vonnegut-esque! Truly hilarious!

"Life" delivers loads of Satisfaction.



  1. Sounds like a good read. Loved the Stones from the 60's. They really created some beautiful music. One thing you have to give Keith Richards he is IMO honest.

  2. Thanks, B53. This book (and others) show how it was actually Richards who was behind much of the music and sound of The Stones. Mick wrote lyrics, but all those great guitar licks, the music itself, that unique sound -- it was all Keith.