“I wrote ‘Satisfaction’ in my sleep,” Keith Richards boasts in his autobiography, “Life.”
The Rolling Stones guitarist was temporarily without a girlfriend and home alone in St. John’s Wood, London, in 1965. Moaning about his lack of a companion, he picked out the riff on an acoustic guitar and dozed off, leaving his cassette recorder running.
In the morning he had the bare bones of a worldwide hit -- and 40 minutes of snoring. He briefly notes that Mick Jagger went on to flesh out the lyrics.
The story is typical of this memoir, which belittles Jagger in more ways than one (including some comments on his manhood). It spends a lot of time unpicking the myths behind the band, which has sold more than 200 million records and staged the highest-grossing tour of all time.
Heroin, cocaine and every other kind of drug leave indelible marks here. Richards, 66, denies having had a total blood transfusion because of addictions; says he was misquoted on his joke about snorting some of his father’s ashes mixed with cocaine; and dismisses the urban myth about Marianne Faithfull’s racy position at the time of a police raid.
Even with these stories out of the way, he has enough combustible material to justify an advance that has been put at $7 million. On the dust jacket, he notes: “This is the life. Believe it or not I haven’t forgotten any of it.” This might seem a stretch after those drugged-out days, though co-author James Fox has clearly done his research well.
Meeting the Ice-Cream Man
Richards first spoke to Jagger, according to many accounts, on a 1961 train journey from Dartford to Sidcup in southeast England. They hit it off because Mick was carrying albums by Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters. Richards disagrees, saying they had met earlier when Jagger, age 15, was selling ice cream for a summer job outside Dartford Town Hall.
Richards has been called “the world’s most elegantly wasted human being.” Now he becomes rock’s most indiscreet raconteur. One half of the “Glimmer Twins” reveals that he sometimes calls Jagger “Brenda” and “Her Majesty.”
“It was the beginning of the ‘80s when Mick started to become unbearable,” Richards writes. Jagger further blew his credibility in 2003 by accepting a “demeaning” knighthood, Richards says.
“Sometimes I miss my friend. Where the hell did he go?” he says. Richards hasn’t been into Jagger’s dressing room in 20 years, yet the two carry on playing together: “If you work with a guy for 40-odd years, it’s not all going to be plain sailing.”
The best bits of the book aren’t the sensational fights with girlfriend Anita Pallenberg or Richards’s criticism of Jagger and former Stone Brian Jones.
Richards lavishes attention on the open five-string tuning that transformed his playing. It’s the sound of “Honky Tonk Women,” “Brown Sugar,” “Tumbling Dice” and “Start Me Up.” Little did he know what he was starting when he drifted off to sleep mumbling that he couldn’t find satisfaction.
“Life” is from Little, Brown in the U.S. and the U.K. (564 pages, $29.99, 20 pounds). To buy this book in North America, click here.
(Mark Beech writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)