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Life by Keith Richards

Life (original 2010; edition 2011)

by Keith Richards, James Fox

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2,0821143,179 (3.84)175
Authors:Keith Richards
Other authors:James Fox
Info:Back Bay Books (2011), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 576 pages
Collections:Your library

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Life by Keith Richards (2010)


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Showing 1-5 of 110 (next | show all)
I don't often give 5 star ratings. Everything has to be right. I'd give this one 6 stars if I could. In listening to this book I felt I got to know Keith Richards, as a person , as opposed to just hearing a series of anecdotes from his life. He lets down his guard and tells his story as if he's talking to a friend. And it turns out that he is nothing like I would have imagined. Music is his first love, that much is clear. And his success is no accident. He is a lifelong learner, open to all kinds of experiences, and the result is that he grown constantly as a musician, songwriter and collaborator. He is also smart, sensitive, funny, sexy, shy, fiercely loyal, and brutally honest. I was sorry to reach the end of the book. ( )
  Eye_Gee | May 8, 2017 |
what can i say that has not been said by so many reviewers? i actually put this book down for a few days here and there so the experience of reading it would take longer. the only criticism i have is that it wasn't twice as long. ( )
  burningdervish | Nov 29, 2016 |
Keef got lots to say, a little too much info, but overall a good read. ( )
  AnnAnderson | Jun 25, 2016 |
Over more than 500 pages, its narrative only rarely fails to grip. Written in collaboration with James Fox, I feel that Keef mostly talked and Fox merely tidied up the tape.

Keef’s seen it all, done it all, and somehow, miraculously, survived. As he gently advises the reader on more than one occasion when his story begins to get particularly wild and twisted, 'Don’t try this at home.’ It might have made a good subtitle.

The book captures the spirit of rock and roll, the nitty-gritty of life on the road, and just what it feels like to be a heroin addict who doesn’t know where his next fix is coming from.

It also movingly captures Richards’s extraordinary love of music. Keith Richards’s love for his often sorely vexed parents also shines through and there is a lovely tribute to his wife Patti Hansen.

Richards doesn’t avoid the dark stuff. It’s a chilling reminder that while Keef survived the ride, there were many others who didn’t. ( )
  Arkrayder | Apr 22, 2016 |
The audiobook was narrated by Johnny Depp, and Keith Richards (KR). That's the first awesome thing about this book. There are many other awesome parts, though. Let's start with the great quotes, chosen at random.

QUOTES (There are some real gems here.)

(1) Childhood memory. “I hated infant school [i.e., elementary school for us Americans]. I hated all school.... What they fed you was awful. I remember ... being forced to eat Gypsy Tart, which revolted me. I just refused it. It was pie w/ just some muck burned into it. Marmalade or caramel. Every school kid knew this pie, and some actually liked it. But it wasn’t my idea of a dessert.... It was very Dickensian.

“I was known to have a temper -- as if nobody else has one. A temper that was aroused by Gypsy Tart.”

(2) About avoiding the man who wanted to ask KR for permission to marry Angie, KR's daughter. "I avoided him for two weeks. I just ... wasn't around. Finally one day I just said, 'For f***'s sake, of course you can marry her.' And then I threw him a skull bracelet to remember the occasion by." (It's the casual throwing of the skull bracelet as a memento that I love, love, love. Does KR just keep these on-hand, around the house, on his person, just at the ready? Immediate note to self: find immediately some kind of signature thing that I can toss to people whenever I want them to remember a moment we shared.)

(3) KR loves animals, all animals. With one notable exception: a Mina bird he once had. "The thing was loud and revolting, like an old, fractious aunt.... It always squawked hideously whenever I tried to play music in its room.... It was like having Mick Jagger in a cage, always pursing its beak."

(4) About when he cracked his skull back in 2006 when he fell out of a tree at a beach. "I had a real bad headache. [Because the back of his skull had cracked open!] So I took some aspirin. Which was the wrong thing to do. Aspirin is a blood-thinner. It thins out your blood. [Pause; chuckle] The things you learn when you're killing yourself."

In my humble opinion, the book should have taken its title from the end of that line: "The Things You Learn When You're Killing Yourself."

(5) Last one. Keith Richards apparently loves to eat a bit of Shepherd's Pie before he goes onstage. I gather that "Shepherd's Pie" is the English version the American "Pot Pie." The stage crew is forbidden from eating the first bite from the pie -- i.e., breaking the pie's crust. "Don't bust the crust," says KR.


KR famously became a junkie. This is not news. In his memoir, he wants to use the term as William Burroughs used it -- i.e., a junkie is someone who has become dependent on a foreign substance for his survival and thus has had his agency -- his moral and volitional agency -- compromised by whatever it is that animates that substance; i.e., the junk; therefore, in Burroughs’ usage, a junkie is a kind of slave to an alien (meaning only “foreign to that ‘self’ or ‘user’”) agency. But KR misuses the term, in my opinion, because he seems to want "junkie" to refer to someone only physically dependent on junk, that’s it. In KR's use, the term "junkie" doesn't have any spiritual or psychological connotations. Junk is illegal, thus the junkie finds himself in fights with a hypocritical and controlling-parent law system. But that’s it. The junk is kind of like Spiderman’s exposure to radioactivity; it has both warped and strengthened him. This is at least how KR’s depiction of his addiction to heroin reads to me. I.e., I don’t get the sense at all that KR has looked deep into the soul of KR and seen and met and introduced himself to the man who is wholly dependent on feeling good about himself at all and any costs.

That's about the only critical criticism I have with the book. It necessitates this minor bit of carping.


Mick Jagger sometime in the 80s developed what KR terms LVS: Lead Vocalist Syndrome. This phenomenon borrows its relevance from the Marxist term ‘alienation.’ The word 'alienation' is all but useless now, but in Marx’s use it expressed an important insight. Thus, Marx noted the tendency for people to attribute to the nature of some thing what was in fact the product of many people’s combined actions.

This tendency to misattribute certain natures to some thing occurs because we tend to forget about all the human effort, the myriad decisions and actions that went into the creation of that thing. You see this happen in the formation of a religion. There’s the initial formative event that people come together over -- that’s one thing; and then there’s the institution that arises from the interaction of these people and their converts and ancestors and ancestors’ converts, etc. At some point in this process, at some time down the stream of time and experience, some person x, a member of the institution, attributes the nature of the religion to The Religion.

A really quick example that works only if you are Mormon is to notice how various Mormons use the word ‘gospel.’ For many, the word seems to apply not only to Jesus’ prescriptions to ‘turn the other cheek’ and ‘forgive your enemies’ but also to the church’s present-day social organization. Thus, for these people, ‘sharing the gospel,’ is tantamount to getting someone to, as it were, “join the club”; i.e., follow the schedule these people follow, shun the politics and media they shun, embrace the politics and media they embrace, etc. This argument is becoming more complicated than I intended. My point, quickly, is that when, say, Jesus talks about his ‘gospel’ what he most certainly didn’t mean was the social organization of some organization two-thousand years in the future that he would be the (resurrected) head of. Or, to put that another way, the tendency to attribute to the ‘gospel of Jesus Christ’ not only what Christ is reported to have said in his day but to also attribute to the word ‘gospel’ the social organization and programs of the church that espouses that gospel, is an example of alienation. I.e., a 2010 member of the Mormon church might understandably neglect to consider ... this is way too complicated.

My point (which is meant to recap KR's point): sometime in the 1980s Mick Jagger the person became fully aware of how awesome the figure Mick Jagger was, as lead vocalist for the Rolling Stones. Except that in the process, Mick the man apparently forgot that the awesome figure Mick Jagger was a product of the Rolling Stones’ combined talents. I.e., Mick Jagger had became alienated from the cause of his greatness (i.e., the Rolling Stones and its other members) and focused only on the effect. Thus Mick Jagger lost his way, as KR has it.

Specifically, KR claims that MJ took advantage of the drug-addled Rolling Stones members and thenceforth sought after his own business interests to the exclusion of the other Rolling Stones. Mick Jagger cut a solo album deal, for example, on the heels of a Rolling Stones deal. That sort of thing.

But this criticism by Keith Richards, however, is itself proof of an interesting phenomenon that I've observed in a few of the junkie addicts I've had personal relationships with. I'm going to call this the Resentful Addict Syndrome (RAS). RAS occurs when an irresponsible party who has abandoned a responsibility comes to resent the responsible party that kept its s*** together enough to uphold the abandoned (by the addict) responsibility. Do you see the irony in this?

So yes, Mick Jagger sought his own business interests, and yes I can understand how that would seem like a betrayal to KR, but for hell's sakes, man (speaking now to KR), your de facto junkie abandonment (i.e., because you were just totally out of it) of the myriad day-to-day, quotidian responsibilities involved with keeping the Rolling Stones afloat was also its own kind of betrayal. KR doesn't seem to recognize this, and it kind of drove me crazy.

Sure, KR gives lip-service to the fact that "I was pretty out of it; I wasn't on top of things, etc.," but he seems to entirely gloss over the import of what he’s admitting to. In other words, KR completely elides the fact that his own abandonment of the day-to-day bullshit (as he puts it), the garden-variety mundane tasks inherent in the management of a rock band w/ world-wide appeal constituted a series of actions -- i.e., the myriad abandonments of responsibilities were themselves actions -- that created a state of affairs -- i.e., Mick Jagger making crucial business decisions -- that KR seems to have completely missed holding himself responsible for. In other words, KR appears to have alienated himself (in the Marxist sense) from his many contributions that led Mick Jagger to take actions that KR viewed as unforgivable betrayals.

I hope this makes sense because it's an important point. It’s exactly this type of what I’ll call ‘addict thinking’ that drives me out of my head. I’ve found that I can take the book, at least its later sections that are riddled with ‘addict-thinking’, only in small doses meted out over long intervals. That’s of course all about me and my own host of prejudices and neuroses, and shouldn’t be seen as a flaw in the memoir itself.


The really interesting thing about this memoir is how right KR is about certain things, not how shockingly wrong he is about others. Of course, I've just gone on at length about the kind of neon-green resentments that only true addicts of one kind or another understand positively thrums through this memoir as -- not so much subtext, but like a poisonous Euphrates giving flower to a veritable Babylonian Garden of self-justification and carefully cultivated, shiny, well-groomed grudges. There’s this, to be sure.

What’s interesting about the memoir, and why I picked it up, is that KR really does express a rather admirable love of music for the sake of music. KR’s memoir taught me enough about what went into at least his contribution to the Rolling Stone’s music that I now hear the songs with completely new ears.

For instance, I’ve looped “Satisfaction” so many times that I have become the predicate of its proposition that “I can’t get no....” And this is a song that I’ve heard my entire life! I’ve heard this song so often that it long ago ceased to signify anything for me other than a need to change the radio dial.

But now I love it. Here's what's changed. The Rolling Stones, on the surface, are all Mick Jagger. And I don’t really care all that much for Mick Jagger, so I haven’t cared much about the Rolling Stones. But KR’s “Life,” has gotten me to listen to the guitar and bass lines, and the drums, and the rhythm. In other words, I’ve as it were dialed down the volume on Mick, and have thus heard the songs anew.

So there’s that. And that’s nothing small or simple at all. ( )
  evamat72 | Mar 31, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 110 (next | show all)
If you can remember the Sixties, blah blah blah. Boy can Keith Richards remember the Sixties, which is great. The real miracle is that he can remember the Seventies, considering that Keith’s poison was heroin, which would surely make performing in a high-energy band quite difficult, let alone raising two children, with a heroin-addicted Anita Pallenberg. So the very existence of this book is a marker against the ravages of time. It suggests that Richards’s memory is fresh in a way that his face isn’t. His memory has had a little help: there are letters he sent to relatives, and even a diary, as well as testaments from friends and garnering from other people’s memoirs. Goodness, there’s enough material to start an archive in somewhere like Texas, or for Andrew Motion to contemplate an official biography. For now, though, we have a lot of kind, perhaps even indulgent, transcription from James Fox.
added by lkernagh | editThe Telegraph, Tom Payne (Nov 5, 2010)
The survivor's story is one of the predominant narratives of our time. It usually traces a familiar arc from excess through despair to redemption, and, as such, allows us to enjoy the vicarious thrill of voyeurism within the framework of a cautionary or salutary tale. Life by Keith Richards, the most famous survivor of them all, breaks with this tradition insofar as it contains excess aplenty but hardly any despair and very little redemption. Keith did it all, had a hell of a good time, and survived to brag about it.
added by lkernagh | editThe Guardian, Sean O'Hagan (Oct 31, 2010)
Mick Jagger has always looked -- will always look -- like Mick Jagger. But try to connect the glum schoolboy-guitarist of early '60s black-and-white pics with the Keith Richards of today. A heap of living and occasional bouts of near-dying have gone into that flayed, weathered, kohl-eyed visage, whose topography suggests a moonscape irrigated with Jack Daniel's. After half a century on the road, Richards has the face he deserves -- but not, it appears, the brain. Against all pharmaceutical odds, he has held on to a substantial portion of his own history and has turned it into the most scabrously honest and essential rock memoir in a long time....And yet here he is, defiantly alive, and defiant in every other respect, too, his language just as politically incorrect, his judgments every bit as summary.
“Life” is way more than a revealing showbiz memoir. It is also a high-def, high-velocity portrait of the era when rock ’n’ roll came of age, a raw report from deep inside the counterculture maelstrom of how that music swept like a tsunami over Britain and the United States. It’s an eye-opening all-nighter in the studio with a master craftsman disclosing the alchemical secrets of his art. And it’s the intimate and moving story of one man’s long strange trip over the decades, told in dead-on, visceral prose without any of the pretense, caution or self-consciousness that usually attend great artists sitting for their self-portraits.

» Add other authors (6 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Keith Richardsprimary authorall editionscalculated
Fox, Jamessecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Depp, JohnnyNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hurley, JoeReadersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lindert, Jolanda teTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 031603438X, Hardcover)

Amazon Best Books of the Month, November 2010: It's hard to imagine a celebrity memoir--or any memoir for that matter--that is as easy to drink in (so to speak) as Keith Richards's Life. Die-hard Stones fans will love tales of the band's ascension from the "interval" band at the Marquee to the headliners at Super Bowl XL; guitar gearheads will scramble to sample the one lick that has eluded Richards for 49 years; and historians and romantics alike will swoon over the raspy, rambling, raucous detail of this portrait of the artist in situ. Yes, some tales are told, but Life is refreshingly not gossipy, mean-spirited, or sordid--or at least not more than the truth demands. Richards is as comfortable in his bones as a worn pair of boots, and Life captures the rhythm of his voice so effortlessly that reading his tale is like sharing a pint with an old friend--one who happens to be one of the most iconic guitarists of all time. --Daphne Durham

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:47 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Autobiography of the guitarist, songwriter, singer, and founding member of the Rolling Stones, Keith Richards. With the Rolling Stones, Keith Richards lived the original rock and roll life. He tells his story of life in the crossfire hurricane; his listening obsessively to Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters records, learning guitar and forming a band with Mick Jagger and Brian Jones, the Rolling Stones' first fame and the notorious drug busts that led to his enduring image as outlaw folk hero, creating immortal riffs like the ones in "Jumping Jack Flash" and "Honky Tonk Women." He discusses falling in love with Anita Pallenberg and the death of Brian Jones, his tax exile in France, wildfire tours of the U.S., isolation and addiction, as well as falling in love with Patti Hansen, and his bitter estrangement from Jagger and subsequent reconciliation. He talks about his marriage, family, solo albums and Xpensive Winos; the road that goes on forever.… (more)

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