Keith Richards Memoir, Life: The Speed Read

Keith Richards' Life is an epic account of the heyday of rock 'n' roll. The Daily Beast presents our speed read, from the drugs to the women to where their name comes from.

If there’s a cooler book published this season, we don’t know about it. And if there’s a greater rock memoir to be published ever, then Sir Mick better start writing. But Keith Richards’ epic is THE story of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll. Full stop. All the clichés are here, but so is visceral, sharp prose, geeky riffs on music legends, scenes of legendary debauchery, and the most complicated brotherly love-hate affair you can imagine.

Do yourself a favor and read it—savor it—if only to believe once again that the Stones really do exist on a different planet than the rest of us. But while you’re waiting for your copy, here are a few choice moments.

1. Arrested

The book opens with a hilarious, gripping set piece of Keith Richards’ arrest in Fordyce, Arkansas, during the 1975 tour. Police across the country were out to get the Stones. As Richards says, “Open season on the Stones had been declared since our last tour, the tour of ’72, known as the STP. The State Department had noted riots (true), civil disobedience (also true), illicit sex (whatever that is), and violence across the United States. All the fault of us, mere minstrels.” The band was especially unwanted in the South, and the police chief of Fordyce was out to get them on whatever he could. After pulling over the car, the paneling of which was packed with drugs of all kinds, the cops tow it to the station. Richards and his friend Freddie Sessler clog the station toilets trying to flush down their drugs, the judge shows up drunk with a bottle of bourbon in his sock, and thousands of fans and journalists fill the town. In the end, Richards ends up paying a $165.50 fine for reckless driving and getting photographed wearing a fireman’s hat and banging a gavel with the judge. “The choice always was a tricky one for the authorities who arrested us. Do you want to lock them up, or have your photograph taken with them and give them a motorcade to see them on their way?”

2. Not Much in a Name

They came up with the name “Rolling Stones” on the fly. Richards, Brian Jones, and Mick Jagger were on the phone with Jazz News , “a kind of ‘who’s playing where’ rag,” and were asked what they call themselves. “We stared at one another. ‘It?’ Then ‘Thing?’ This call is costing. Muddy waters to the rescue! First track on The Best of Muddy Waters is ‘Rollin’ Stone.’ The cover is on the floor. Desperate, Brian, Mick and I take the dive. ‘The Rolling Stones.’ Phew!! That saved sixpence.”

3. Richards, Sex Symbol

Like many a rock star, Richards captures the strange experience of becoming an overnight sex symbol. First, surprise—“The incoming was incredible. Six months ago I couldn’t get laid; I’d have had to pay for it”—then it’s sweet—“I’ve been saved by chicks more times than by guys. Sometimes just that little hug and kiss and nothing else happens. Just keep me warm for the night, just hold on to each other when times are hard, times are rough.” Then it’s frightening. “The power of the teenage females of 13, 14, 15, when they’re in a gang, has never left me . . . You’d rather be in a trench fighting the enemy than to be faced with this unstoppable wave of lust and desire, or whatever it is—it’s unknown even to them.”

4. Satisfaction

Richards says he literally wrote “Satisfaction” in his sleep. He woke up one morning and saw the tape recorder near his bed was at its end. “Then I pushed rewind and there was ‘satisfaction.’” He also wanted horns originally, “the way Otis Redding did it later,” but because he didn’t have any, he just put the fuzz tone in as a place holder. But then the dub tape got released and before he knew it, “Satisfaction” was No. 1 nationally. “I learned a lesson—sometimes you can overwork things. Not everything’s designed for your taste and your taste alone.”

Gallery: Keith Richards

5. Anita Pallenberg

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One of his iconic and tumultuous relationships began in 1967, when as Richards is patching things up with Brian Jones, he began spending a lot of time with him and his girlfriend, the model and actress Anita Pallenberg. The problem, he was hopelessly attracted to Pallenberg. “Anita, sexy fucking bitch. One of the prime women in the world. It was all building up in Courtfield Gardens. Brian would crash out sometimes, and Anita and I would look at each other.” Meanwhile, Brian and Anita’s relationship gets increasingly abusive—though, Richards says, it was usually Brian who ended up with the black eye. It all came to a head in Marrakech. Brian comes home from the hospital, where he’d been with pneumonia, and starts fighting with Anita. Richards swoops in, telling Brian to record something in the town square, and elopes with Anita in his Bentley. “The great moonlight flit from Marrakech to Tangier was in motion.”

6. Had It With You

The tangled, complicated relationship between Jagger and Richards is one of the central motifs of the memoir. Jagger reportedly read the book before publication, but it doesn’t always make for pretty reading. In the early ‘80s, around the time of Undercover, Mick Jagger started “chasing musical fashion.” Richards accuses him of becoming “one of the crowd.” “He’d hear something in a club and a week later he’d think he wrote it. And I’d say, no, that’s actually a total lift.” Then Jagger started to get distant and defensive. “He put himself in the fridge, basically. First it was, what do other people want out of me? And then he closed the circle until I was on the outside too.” Then Jagger went behind the band’s back and tacked on a multi-record solo deal with CBS onto the band’s deal. By 1985, when the band was recording Dirty Work, the tension was manifest in the songs—“Had It With You,” “One Hit (to the Body),” “Fight.” At one point Charlie Watts, the drummer, punches Jagger, sending him almost out the window and into an Amsterdam canal. Of Jagger’s solo work, Richards says, “I’ve never listened to the entire thing [ She’s the Boss] all the way through. Who has? It’s like Mein Kampf. Everybody had a copy, but nobody listened to it.”

7. Counselor Richards

While nursing his own wounds from Jagger’s cavalier behavior, Richards apparently also ended up consoling many of Jagger’s exes. “The tears that have been on this shoulder from Jerry Hall, from Bianca, from Marianne, Chrissie Shrimpton... They’ve ruined so many shirts of mine. And they ask me what to do! How the hell do I know? I don’t fuck him!”

8. Trippin’ With John (Lennon)

There’s an epic acid-fueled road trip with John Lennon, but Richards’ recollections are “almost a total blank.” The trip lasted two or three days, or may have only felt that way, and may or may not have been chauffeured. “It was one of those cases of John wanting to do more drugs than me,” says Richards. “John had this honesty in his eyes that made you go for him. Had an intensity too. He was a one-off. Like me.”

9. Drug-fueled

In a book filled with serious bouts of drug abuse, Richards says he doesn’t think they had anything to do with his productivity, but they did help him focus. “I think it really became to me like a tool. I realized, I’m running on fuel and everybody else isn’t.” He would take cocaine to focus and heroin to relax. “I felt very Sherlock Homes about it all at the time. In order to deal with one’s morbidity, or in order to deal with one’s levity, it was like a balancing act.”

10. Altamont

Richards says they didn’t realize the infamous Altamont show went so terribly awry until they were done. “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.” As it happened, they’d agreed to play a free show with the Grateful Dead in San Francisco, but the city council moved the show from their equivalent of Central Park to the Altamont Speedway, way out of town, with security provided only by the Hell’s Angels, who parked their bikes in front of the stage and attacked anyone who touched them. “But at Altamont it was the dark side of human nature, what could happen in the heart of darkness, a descent to caveman level within a few hours, thanks to Sonny Barger and his lot, the Angels. And bad red wine.”

11. A Child’s Tour

In one of the sweetest—and more troubling—parts of the book Richards describes the 1975 tour when he brought along his 7-year-old son with Pallenberg, Marlon. “I’d never had a son before, so it was a great thing to watch him grow up, to say, I need your help, boy.” And help him he did: Marlon warned Richards when they were about to hit a border crossing so he could “pull over, have a shot and either dump it or re-sort your shit,” and told him when to wake up for a show. “’What am I wearing?’ ‘Pajamas, Daddy.’ ‘OK, quick, where’s me fucking pants?’”

12. End of the Affair

Richards and Anita’s relationship really started to decline as Anita’s heroin use increased. “I tried to clean up loads of times, but not Anita. She would go the other way.” It got so bad that Richards says he would hunker down in the kitchen with their son Marlon until she calmed down. “She was slinging shit about, which might have hit the kid. You’d come back to the house, and the walls were covered in blood or wine.” Then, in 1979, while Richards was on tour in Europe, Anita’s boyfriend shot himself in the head in Richards’ bed, “playing Russian roulette, the story goes.” Marlon flew to Paris to stay with Richards, and “That was the final curtain for me and Anita.”

The End…

There are no fireworks at the end of this memoir but just the sweet ease of geezer-rockdom. A nice life in the Connecticut countryside with wife, Patti Hansen, and his model daughters. Johnny Depp plays him (and records the audiobook) as a pirate. And, of course, lots of books—including his favorite Patrick O’Brian—and plates of bangers and mash. By the time you get here, you’ll want to return to where it all started with the music…

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