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Life

Phillip Woolever By

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Life
Keith Richards with James Fox

Hardback, 564 pages
ISBN: 978 0 316 03438 8
Little, Brown

2010

Life is a last laugh lullaby.

In guitarist Keith Richards' well-received and heavily hyped reflection, the defiant rock icon, humble blues ambassador and momma's boy family anchor keeps a laid back focus on the world around him since childhood. The Rolling Stones get cast through glass houses from London to Connecticut, with highlighted ports of recall in Jamaica, Muscle Shoal and the Cote de' Azur.

Richards' narrative voice remains a consistently engaging authority throughout every escapade. It's easy to imagine bits of muttered phrases trailing off, and much of the volume reads like a transcript of Richards' comments and summaries while perusing attributed diaries.

It's a very thick line between average bloke and international idol, but Richards achieves a vital, personal connection; puns intended. Unlike vanity projects, revisionist rehash or the complete PR nonsense that often belches up in this literary category, Richards conveys a genuine range of emotions; sometimes raw, sometimes remixed. The book definitively pulses from a singular perspective, this one a compelling cornerstone of contemporary music sagas.

Is Richards telling the truth? It almost always reads just like it.

The whole truth and nothing but? While the effort reads honest, Richards' claim to clearly recollect ancient activities sometimes clashes more than slightly with admittedly altered perceptions. A few proposals, like the estimation of how little he's slept ("I have been conscious for at least three lifetimes"), are hard to fathom. Rock and roll, baby.

To avoid diminishing any reader's ride, suffice it to say that anyone with a basic interest in popular culture over the last five decades, especially fans from the UK or US, will find all sorts of zany insights, everywhere from the top of the social food chain to the lunatic fringes.

There is no soul searching on Richards' behalf, but there isn't any apparent denial or justification of debauched adventures beyond describing immediate circumstances, either.

Only the subject himself knows for sure how much is "fact" or "truth," twins of prodigal glimmer that sometimes run parallel and sometimes crash head on. Anecdotal insights as to where things like trademarks or timeless tunes originated are sweet morsels sprinkled throughout. A foundation of collaborating memorabilia is consistently listed.

Little is elaborately illustrated as the authors keep details personably simple. The non-superficial formula works for most of this thick tome, no small achievement in Richards' multi feathered cap. Richards (and co-writer James Fox) could have continued for many more pages on narrative strength alone without digression.

A rollicking opening yarn detailing a redneck, Boss Hogg/Dukes of Hazzard-type Arkansas drug bust establishes high altitude for strong storytelling skills that carry this book above and beyond.

Plenty is minimized or omitted. With as many iconic settings and characters to discuss that's understandable, unless you were looking for 2,000 pages. Richards' best musings involve the core of his artistic process. Guitarist Brian Jones is recognized and illuminated. Altamont is not. Dance with what brung ya, little sister.

The book garnished a big publicity push, behind reviews from other musicians and celebrities who haven't reviewed another book in many a light year from home. Marketing aside, Life has remained atop winter bestseller lists in many languages. The success is highly deserved, as the book earns its high merit, line after line. Some non-spoiler samples:

"Oh guess what? Keith Richards is on smack. What else is new? The idea of the Prime Minister's wife buzzing around the hotel trying to get laid was another thing."

"I had to stop him (Billy Preston) beating up his boyfriend in an elevator once. Billy hold it right there or I'll tear your wig off. He had this ludicrous Afro wig."

"And the way he (Charlie Watts) stretches out a beat and what we do on top of that is a secret of the Stones sound. Charlie's quintessentially a jazz drummer, which means the rest of the band is a jazz band in a way."

Shooting pool is a popular pastime in Richards' haunts and his voice flows off the page without fluff, as if you were engaged in scattered conversation between lining up eight balls, miscues, and trick combinations. Richards is a magician that isn't afraid to reveal basic, simple secrets because he knows the trick is more than just the trick alone.

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