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Life – Keith Richards’ Autobiography

By Stephen Marwell

Many of us loved ‘Life’. Co-written by writer and journalist James Fox, the book captures the natural story telling tendencies of the irrepressible rock and roller Keith Richards as he delivers anecdote after anecdote that defies belief and leaves you marvelling that the man is still standing let alone performing today. I found myself speculating what a movie based on the book would be like and then you start to realise that he has lived his life within or on the periphery of movies. In addition to the various documentaries on the Stones over the years there are a significant handful of films that either feature members of the stones, perhaps loosely influenced by their lifestyle at the time – such as ‘Performance’ – which featured both Mick Jagger and Richards as well as others that featured wives and girlfriends such as ‘Barbarella’ in the case of Anita Pallenberg.

The longevity of the man as a human being let alone as most iconic practitioner of rhythm guitar is truly impressive. It’s easy to make generalisations and exaggerations but when he himself says that everything that came after the early Stones in terms of rock and its illegitimate offspring was directly influenced by them you have to agree that he has a point. The two key things that the Stones did in the early days were a) go back to the roots of the Blues and completely deconstruct them in order to recreate them in London and b) fearlessly take the form forwards. You have to understand that at the time the purists, typically non-playing purists at that, did not mind young British musicians performing the sacred American music but they certainly did not expect to hear it taken forwards towards the upstart Rock and Roll that had any way become anaesthetised and commercial by then.

One of the most eagerly awaited and most complex and fascinating aspects of the book is of course the relationship with Jagger. In many ways there is perhaps less on this than you might imagine. What there is, is by turns both antagonistic and endearing and often both. Essentially, and inevitably, it is the classic sibling relationship of two brothers. Fight like hell for during the early and formative years. Live apart but in contact, and throughout undying and unquestionable love. I cannot imagine either of them not saving the other in the end but not before destroying their worlds.

Back to Richards, essentially a thoroughly decent chap. As he grows old, almost gracefully, the charm and mellifluousness shines through. If you are at all familiar with his music, and I cannot see how anyone really cannot be, then you have to be impressed by the longevity of the man. Decade after decade after decade, and the grooves are ingrained into our very psyches.

The book is very well written indeed. To take nothing away from Richards, he lived the life after all and probably recounted most of it, more or less, I am curious to know more about James Fox’s role as the below the line helper in the words department. But I guess we’ll never know, that’s the deal after all. It’s like asking who wrote what in all those great songs, you had to be there to really know. And this book is as close as most of us will ever get to the creative nexus.

Stephen blogs regularly about writing-related matters in this fast moving digital landscape on the key issues that matter to writers and and those interested in writing. Screen writing is a particular focus with regular tips and advice on story, character and plot matters. e-books and e-book readers are changing the way we consume and collect books and there is much to say about how this is changing our world. Thoughtful, comprehensive and always provocative and stimulating.

Read more on the []manifesto books blog.

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