The lead guitarist for The Rolling Stones recounts his life, from a youth obsessed with Chuck Berry to the formation of the Stones and their subsequent stardom, and discusses his problems with drugs, the death of Brian Jones, and his relationship with Mick Jagger.
By turns earnest and wicked, sweet and sarcastic and unsparing, Mr. Richards, now 66, writes with uncommon candor and immediacy. He’s decided that he’s going to tell it as he remembers it, and helped along with notebooks, letters and a diary he once kept, he remembers almost everything ... But Life — which was written with the veteran journalist James Fox — 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.
Life has the macho swagger that rock'n'roll in general – and the Rolling Stones in particular – once possessed. This is both its strength and its weakness. It often reads like a historical document of another time: a lost world in which women were always 'chicks' or 'bitches', an inflatable giant penis was a non-ironic stage prop, and a bottle of Jack Daniel's was the de rigueur rock'n'roll accessory ... It is a drug memoir of sorts, albeit without the hardcore confessional descriptiveness of the genre ... Richards is cavalier about death – his own and others' – seeing it as a kind of occupational hazard best avoided by 'pacing yourself' ... He is surprisingly illuminating on chord structures and the like, the kind of thing that in most rock memoirs has me skipping pages to get to the next drug bust or wrecked hotel room. He brilliantly summons up the suffocating drabness of postwar English suburbia and the cathartic effect of hearing raw blues and rock'n'roll on imported albums.
Richards’s reiterative narrative of Stones songs, gigs and internal warfare in Life was all news to me, and not all of it riveting ... This marvel of collation and super-light editing has produced what feels like an authentic experience of many hours and days of sitting at a bar, or worse, in a Caribbean hideaway (with no train or clipper home) while some over the hill geezer (rhymes with ‘sneezer’) a.k.a. Richards – who has given up smack and coke but not booze and dope – rambles about his 66 years on the planet ... He boasts and whines about more or less everything else, but he talks intricately and interestingly about music, and even if knowing a fret from a fifth string is a struggle for me, I want to read about it.