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Book Reviews

Life

By Published: January 29, 2011
Subjects include contemporaries from guitarist Eric Clapton
Eric Clapton
Eric Clapton
b.1945
guitar
to singer Willie Nelson ("A beautiful weedhead, is Willie. I mean straight out of bed. I at least wait ten minutes in the morning"), and wide ranging musical tastes. Women and honkey tonks are often sacred ground. Singer George Jones is applauded. Led Zeppelin not so much. Richards reserves his highest praise for the Chicago bluesmen like harmonica player Little Walter
Little Walter
Little Walter
1930 - 1968
harmonica
who inspired him.

"There are some people looking to play guitar. There's other people looking for a sound. I was looking for a sound..." writes Richards. "Our first aim as the Rolling Stones was to be the best rhythm and blues band in London, with regular gigs every week."

Instead, the group became saddled with staying true to its roots and then proving worthy of its "world's greatest rock and roll band" moniker. Richards clearly retained that early motivation. Part of the Stones' legacy is its lasting contribution to blues history and the genre's global identity. Music as a labor of love. The work was hard, the ethic disciplined; the karma paid off.

Despite what some shoddy reviews reported, Richards also has plenty of good things to say about singer and frontman Mick Jagger. Without a formal count, overall there seems to be more praise than poison, and plenty of credit for his estranged collaborator, though some acknowledged dues come with a backhanded sting.

By unscripted virtue of his place in the pantheon of popular performers, Richards transcends most standard rock star reflections. He casts a disapproving light on some suburban legends and verifies others with reportedly firsthand witness testimony.

There are abundant off the cuff takes for insights into pop culture peers, but not much is in depth. Richards tells some great stories, but there are few lengthy portraits whether someone is loved, reviled or, as in Jagger's case, both. That's fine enough since Richards' one-liners usually find the heart of their targets.

Richards sums up many folks with around a half dozen words. Some tidbits made for great publicity blurbs and tweaked the tabloids' social gullet, but in full context the book shows minimal snide intentions. Generally, Richards sounds like a typical English mate who'd joke at you and respect a bigger joke in return.

Artistic observations are admittedly biased, never too mechanical and usually quite earnest. Richards makes no great technical claims. Instinct is everything. To hear him tell it a central pillar of modern rock music comes down to a cherished Jimmy Reed
Jimmy Reed
Jimmy Reed
1925 - 1976
guitar, electric
"five chord" taught to Richards by the unlikely tutor Bobby Goldsboro (think about what Richards might do with "Honey") on a tour bus, one of many delightful surprise acknowledgements.

Forgive us lads, but you can judge a book by its cover and you can get plenty of satisfaction. This well-crafted volume boasts a beautiful jacket shot from David LaChapelle and includes more family snaps than celebrity poses. Smiles are sincere, and despite all the alleged debauchery Richards seems to have ultimately provided a stable, improbably quaint household for quite a brood. Some people create a private inertia and orbit a personal universe. Reading Life provides a sense of both the everyman type common ground and extraordinary privilege in the realms Richards rolls upon.

A stark, memorial description of his deceased two month old son reveals enough about Richards' persona that even a partial quote is a disservice to both author and audience. Conversely, much publicized, supposedly negative comments like some regarding Jagger ("tiny todger") or John Lennon
John Lennon
John Lennon
1940 - 1980
composer/conductor
("silly sod") were, in context, exaggerated.

Many consumers, and thus editors, are motivated by celebrity gossip so there are many famous folks indexed, but some of the name drops read more like a hasty VIP checklist.

Is it undeniable poetic justice that Jagger is by far the author's most interesting subject, just as Richards would probably be should Jagger reach for the pen? That's really no surprise since Richard and Jagger helped equally create each other's mythology. Still, anti-Jagger jabs hint at bigger bangs until becoming an almost anti-climactic tease.

Because the writing on Jagger includes many angry personal details, whether Richards' final embrace near the book's ending is heartfelt or concessionary remains unclear. If Richards couldn't come up with any physical confrontations or cockslinging duels between the Stones alpha mongrels, we might at least be privy to how Richards envisions a potential brawl turning out.


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