“…the soundtrack for the rumbling of rebellion” – thoughts on “Life” by Keith Richards

I know this book is largely only about “sex drugs and rock-n-roll,” but I like it. While it didn’t quite give me the level of satisfaction I hoped for (I got a bigger bang out of Eric Clapton’s autobiography for example) I still got a lot out of it. I was late getting started on this book – which my book club is meeting to discuss tonight – but having taken some vacation days this week, you might say time was on my side. 🙂 (please don’t groan yet, I’m just getting started!).

With the way my book club picks books to read, you can’t always get (read) what you want, but this was a book I had my eye on anyway, and I was happy when one of my fellow members put it on our bookshelf and even happier when another picked it as our May book. I do have some mixed emotions about it though, and I know some girls who read it will likely condemn him as a misogynist (he often refers to them as “bitches”). It did shine a light on a lot of previously unknown (to me, anyway) incidents, and there were some passages where wild horses couldn’t drag me away from it. I had no illusions that were shattered during my reading and this morning – since it’s all over now – I’m finally ready to write about it… Okay. Enough silliness trying to work Stones song titles, etc. into this post; (how many did you spot, by the way?) let’s get to a “review.” 🙂

“Life” by Keith Richards

It seems allowances are often made for geniuses. I guess that’s one way a fan (such as I) can forgive bad behavior on the part of musical geniuses such as Keith Richards. There’s a lot in this book to be disgusted by, most notably his many years spent as a junkie, and his tendency to abandon or discard certain women in his life (at least until he met and married Patti Hansen), yet you can’t help liking him in spite of it all. And make no mistake, Keith Richards is also a very intelligent man; don’t believe all the drugged-out rocker stereotyped images you might have of him. One of my favorite pictures in the appendix of the book is of him in his vast library at his Connecticut home. I envied him when I saw that.

This is a book where the author seems as equally at ease dispensing recipes (bangers and mash, anyone?) as he is dispensing advice on the important art of knife fighting. Really. A book where we hear his side of the stupendous rumors we’ve heard in the media over the years: Did he really get his blood changed? Did he really mix some if his father’s ashes with cocaine to snort? (to mention just a couple)

There is also great humor throughout. One story I particularly liked was when the band was touring America and learned from their American counterparts that changing clothes several times during a performance was common and indeed expected. They looked at each other and agreed that was a good idea, so at a break in their next show they did in fact change clothes – with each other! On his often stormy relationship with Mick Jagger, he offers that when he (Keith) “picked up the smack, Mick picked up the slack.” at one point, when describing the family of longtime companion Anita Pattenberg, he says they were “a family that had gone down, apparently, in a blaze of syphilis and madness.” Perhaps my favorite was a sentence that began, “Then, unfortunately, the bedroom caught fire.” Oh, if I had a nickel for every time that has happened to me… An autobiography of Keith Richards is one place, however, where that sentence doesn’t even sound out of place.

What I liked best about the book, though, was when he talked about music and about the creative process. How “you never stop learning an instrument,” and how he met and worked with so many famous names in the music world – maybe as many as anybody ever has. The quotation from the title of this blog post comes from a passage where he is discussing the song, Satisfaction, and other songs of that era: “There was trouble in America; all these young American kids, they were being drafted to Vietnam. Which is why you have “Satisfaction” in Apocalypse Now. Because the nutters took it with them. The lyrics and the mood of the sings fitted with the kids’ disenchantment with the grown-up world of America, and for a while we seemed to be the only provider, the soundtrack for the rumbling of rebellion, touching on those social nerves.”

I’ll finish with a quotation from Tom Waits, who is lamenting how a “sense of wonder” at music and maybe art has kind of leaked out of humanity’s consciousness in the modern world, but that Keith doesn’t share this “defect of wonder.” He says, “…Keith seems to still wonder at this stuff. He will stop and hold his guitar up and just stare at it for a while. Just be rather mystified by it. Like all the great things in the world, women and religion and the sky… you wonder about it, and you don’t stop wondering about it.”

A very enjoyable book, especially recommended to those who are already familiar with the Rolling Stones and their music.

Below: The Rolling Stones (probably their most well known line-up)


  1. Alex said,

    May 27, 2011 at 5:37 am

    What interesting lives they do live! Any mention of the knighthood issue?


    • Jay said,

      May 31, 2011 at 6:35 am

      Hi Alex,
      Yes. He doesn’t spend too much time on it, but does express his disgust about it – something along the lines of “this is the same society that was condemning you and persecuting you and now you want to let them honor you?


  2. July 3, 2015 at 1:33 pm

    Arg. I’m trying to stick to my summer reading list… Life isn’t on that list.

    Liked by 1 person

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