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Britpop Bookshelf: Life by Keith Richards

Keith Richards Life book coverKeith Richards is one of the best known and respected guitarists of the Brit rock scene. He’s wild, a little strange, sometimes unintelligible, but always interesting. The same can be said of his memoir, Life.

In the book, Richards reflects on everything from his early life growing up in a council estate and his love of American blues musicians, to the eruption of the Rolling Stones and beyond. Fans of the band and the 60s British rock scene will enjoy Richards’ first-hand accounts (often involving massive amounts of drugs) of Mick Jagger, Anita Pallenberg, Brian Jones, and Marianne Faithfull. Music lovers in general will appreciate his very clear love of music and stories about how revolutionary songs like “Gimme Shelter” and “Honky Tonk Woman” came to be. There are moments non-musician readers may gloss over, like detailed technical descriptions of songwriting and guitars. It is made clear, though, that Richards loves music. Needs it, in fact. Yes, he was addicted to illegal substances but music was his main drug.

“Music was a far bigger drug than smack. I could kick smack; I couldn’t quit music. One note leads to another, and you never know what’s going to come next, and you don’t want to. It’s like walking on a beautiful tightrope,” he writes.

The elegance with which he describes a specific key or note is beautiful and honest, and will garner a deeper respect of the man and the band.

It takes a few chapters to get into the odd flow of Keith Richards’ cadence. If you’ve heard him in his signature jumbled and muffled rhythm, imagine that put on paper. Sentence structure takes a back seat to honesty and rawness, but after a while the reader adjusts — much like reading Trainspotting or A Clockwork Orange. For extra fun, download the audio version of the book instead and enjoy listening to Richards himself narrate chapters along with Johnny Depp.

Updated: 12/27/2013

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