Monday, February 7, 2011

The Life of Keef

I just finished Life, the memoirs of Keith Richards as told to somebody's tape recorder. And it's a whole lot of fun.

Certainly it works as a celebrity tell-all, with dish on everyone from Dean Martin and Sammy Cahn to John Belushi and John Lennon. It also works as a harrowing chronicle of the consequences of addiction - albeit with a minimum of awareness of the effects on people around him.

What I take away from it, though, are the insights on songwriting, from a partner in one the best writing teams of the rock era. Keith and Mick's songbook from '66 to '75 produced an almost unparalleled stream of classics (almost, given the quality of the competition). And to me, great songwriting is even more satisfying than instrumental acuity (which is, though, a close second).

We get the great story about how Andrew Oldham locked Mick and Keith in a room and wouldn't let them out until they'd written their first song, which turned out to be "As Tears Go By." And of course we get the oft-told tale about Keef literally writing "Satisfaction" in his sleep. Like a lot of great songwriters, Richards seems to think the songs exist somewhere out in the ether, and his job is just to receive them from the muse. I enjoyed the peeks at the Jagger-Richards method; basically, Richards would come up with a riff, some chords, and a verbal hook like "wild horses couldn't drag me away." Then he would turn it over to Jagger to "finish it up."

This is so different from the Lennon-McCartney methods (back when they actually collaborated). As Paul described it to Keith in a memorable beachside summit (which apparently led to tantalizingly unreleased McCartney-Richards compositions), because he was left-handed, he and John could face each other and watch as the other voiced chords in real time. Paul and John usually sat down together to write (even as late as 1970), which Mick and Keith did less and less as time wore on.

Later both Mick and Keith, like John and Paul, ended up writing on their own, as well as with each other. I loved the scenes of Keith standing in front of studio microphones without any lyrics written, babbling out whatever came to mind, and trusting that something worthwhile would eventually emerge - as it often did.

Keith's passion for music comes through from beginning to end, and left me hungry for more. So after I closed Life, I broke out my CDs of Talk is Cheap and Main Offender, which have aged reasonably well. They're a bit stronger on the instrumental acuity than the songwriting prowess, and as he concedes, Keith's voice is a bit of an "acquired taste."

Then I looked to add to the 72 Stones songs on my iPod. I haven't actually bought a Stones album since the sublime Tattoo You, but I have paid to download highlights from the rest. The description of the recording of "How Can I Stop," for instance, was enticing enough to get me to shell out my 99 cents, and I was not disappointed. I also grabbed some great solo tracks from the X-Pensive Winos project.

There's a lot of info for techie geeks on the recording process, too, particularly the serendipitous circumstances that led to the release of his Wingless Angels album, recently reissued. Finally, having contributed to his grandkids' college funds, I stepped out on the World Wide Web to see what kind of, er, free samples might be available - and again I was not disappointed.

All of the above comes highly recommended, and here's hoping that the one-time leader of the "Rock Star Most Likely To Die" list keeps cheating Mr. Bones for many years to come.

PS: This video is worth whatever they're asking for it.

No comments:

Post a Comment