Keith Richards' Life: Somehow He Still Has One

In his honest reflections on one of rock's most debauched careers, Keith Richards leaves no stone unturned

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Keith Richards in 1970

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Throwing Stones

Toward Jagger, Richards is less generous. He seems to believe that, since he's willing to bare all, his bandmates shouldn't mind being depantsed. Literally. He refers to Jagger's phallus as "the tiny todger. I know he's got an enormous pair of balls, but it doesn't quite fill the gap, does it?" In the '60s, actress Anita Pallenberg, whom Keith had "stolen" from Brian, cheated on Keith with Mick; Keith retaliated by having a fling with Mick's girl, singer Marianne Faithfull. ("While you were doing that, I was knocking Marianne, man. While you're missing it, I'm kissing it.") Richards portrays himself as often renting out his shoulder for Jagger women — Chrissie Shrimpton, Jerry Hall, Bianca Jagger — to cry on when they were sexually betrayed, and he declares he never came on to any woman. "I'm not Bill Wyman or Mick Jagger, noting down how many I've had," he writes. "I'm not talking about shagging here. I've never been able to go to bed with a woman just for sex. I've no interest in that. I want to hug you and kiss you and make you feel good and protect you. And get a nice note the next day, stay in touch."

To judge from the book, the Jagger-Richards tandem is the world's longest-functioning bad marriage. "Mick was very jealous of me having other male friends." "Mick doesn't like to trust anybody." Some remarks sound like insult comedy Keith has been nursing for decades. Of She's the Boss, Jagger's 1985 solo album, he says, "It's like Mein Kampf. Everybody had a copy, but nobody listened to it." Even a compliment about Jagger's harmonica virtuosity — "Mick is one of the best natural blues harp players I've ever heard" — quickly curdles: "His harp playing is the one place where you don't hear any calculation. I say, 'Why don't you sing like that?' "

Yet they stick together. Rather, every few years these ornery business partners convene to cut a record or embark on a tour. After the 1969 Altamont concert in California, which resulted in one murder and three accidental deaths ("I was amazed that things didn't go more wrong than they did"), the group took control of their own concerts and scheduled megatours, which Richards calls "the bread and butter of keeping this machinery running. We couldn't have done it on a smaller scale and been sure to do more than break even." On the 1972 STP tour, traveling North America in a private jet with the Stones' emblematic tongue painted on the side, Richards says, "We had become a pirate nation, moving on a huge scale under our own flag, with lawyers, clowns, and attendants." That tour was to promote their superb double album Exile on Main Street. Since then, Stones tours have become a showcase for oldies: the classic numbers and the energetic antiques who play them.

Confessional autobiographies, unless they're by William Boroughs, tend to have inspirational endings: salvation through strong will or a good woman. Life has both. In 1979 Richards kicked heroin with the help of his manager, Jane Rose; she "got me through the seventy-two hours [of withdrawal]. She watched me climb the walls, which is why I don't like wallpaper anymore." That same year he met Patti Hansen, a Vogue cover girl from Staten Island, N.Y. As he wrote in a journal soon after they met: "Incredibly I've found a woman. A miracle! ... I'm over the moon and peeing in my pants ... I'm kicking 40 and besotted." Richards and Hansen, who married in 1983, have two daughters. (With Pallenberg he sired three children, one of whom died in infancy.) After his famous 2006 fall from a tree in Fiji, he was advised to kick the cocaine habit — and did. "Actually," he writes, "I've done so much bloody blow in my life, I don't miss it an inch. I think it gave me up."

So now he's a happy family man with mansions in three countries. Disney, take note. Maybe this Captain Hook of rock 'n' roll will not be appearing in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. But given the engaging prose style and spellbinding storytelling on display in Life, Keith Richards really should be hired to write the script.

— With reporting by Nathaniel Jones and Mackenzie Schmidt

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