Monday, November 15, 2010
Keith Richards, Jerk
I have not read Keith Richards' memoir, Life, as of yet, but I did read the New York Times Book Review by Liz Phair (apparently, the Times has decided that all the big male rock-star bios should be reviewed by girl singers, following Suzanne Vega on Paul McCartney and Nellie McKay's embarrassing "writty" on John Lennon). About 60 percent of the way through this really long review, Phair writes that "Keith acquires a taste for working unholy hours in the studio that damn near kill his colleagues. He goes round the clock and considers it mutiny if anyone toiling with him leaves the deck."
"I realized, I'm running on fuel and everybody else isn't," she quotes Richards as saying. "They're trying to keep up with me and I'm just burning." I'm sure that this is how Keith remembers things, and at some points in the Rolling Stones' career, it was probably even true.
On the other hand, there are many stories from the Exile on Main St. days of the other band members assembled in the basement of Keith's home in the South of France, wondering if Keith was ever going to come down and get to work. Sometimes he'd show up for a six p.m. session at two in the morning; sometimes he'd be too heroined out to come down the stairs at all. And they were in his freaking house. Imagine if Keith had had to go down the block to a studio; he never would have shown up at all.
But when Keith was ready to work, he'd work all night and all day, if that's what it took. Great. I'm sure the rest of the guys in the band would have traded that for not leaving them all sitting there picking their noses, waiting for their musical leader to decided he was ready to get something done.
I remember a story from more recent times, when the Stones were playing a show at some outdoor venue, and Keith just wasn't "feeling it." It started pouring rain outside, and the fans were drenched and ankle-deep in mud, but Keith just wasn't in the mood yet. Finally, at three in the morning, he took the stage with the rest of the Stones, who finished their set as the sun was coming up. I wonder if any of those fans then headed straight to work.
The fact is, Keith Richards may have a strong internal motor that allows him to work rings round his colleagues - as long as he's in the mood to do so. When he's not in such a mood, he's more than willing to be extremely lazy, and let down the people around him. As I said, I haven't read Keith's book, and I don't know if he addresses his willingness to to be extraordinarily selfish, even to his closest friends and business partners. Having read Phair's review, though, I kind of doubt it.
Look, I love Keith Richards' music, and I could listen to it all day long (and have done exactly that). I love reading about his adventures and his bon mots, and I find his persona somewhat endearing. But I'm sure glad I don't have to put up with him firsthand for any great length of time.