Monday, August 26, 2013

Review: 'Keith Richards on Keith Richards: Interviews and Encounters'


The cover shot says everything you need to know about the Keith Richards attitude. The bird he’s flipping says, “Fuck off.” The smile says, “Don’t take it so seriously, baby.” This is the Keith we encounter time and again in Keith Richards on Keith Richards: Interviews and Encounters, largely because Sean Egan chose so many pieces from the eighties onward when Keith was in full I-know-Im-a-living-legend mode. The editor, who also put together the excellent recent anthology The Mammoth Book of The Rolling Stones, had his reasons for skewing so post-golden years. In the sixties, Keith was actually third in line behind Mick Jagger and Brian Jones in the Stones hierarchy, so there were fewer interviews with him. Because Rock journalism had not matured yet, the interviews of that period tended to be lightweight anyway.

So The Rolling Stones’ most creatively fertile decade is represented by a mere nine pages. That includes a ghostwritten piece from 1964 dropping the first hints of Keith’s anti-establishment stance, an interesting piece from the same year about his early experiences with songwriting, and an amusing Better Homes and Gardens-style puff about Redlands from 1966 that does as good a job of highlighting his Gothic decadence/wasted clown image as any of the proper interviews (stolen truncheon hanging from the ceiling, burnt sausage in the frying pan, Dennis Wheatley book on the crapper floor, bedroom missing half its floor to provide a view into the kitchen).

After Brian’s death, Keith’s artistic influence over the Stones’ music became better known, and the rebel persona he earned with his 1967 drug arrest solidified his infamy. From the seventies we get one massive, uncut, 80 page interview with Rolling Stone and a zonked one conducted in 1976 first published online twenty years later. If you’ve read The Mammoth Book, you’ve already read these.

That leaves the period when the Stones’ greatest relevance was in the past as the most thoroughly represented. This is also when Keith Richards had his act down completely: sneering disdain swaddled in down-to-earth amiability. He has certain stock responses he likes to repeat: Spanish Tony’s book Up and Down with The Rolling Stones constantly lapses into “fairy tales,” Brian Jones was ruined by his pop star complex, law enforcement is a bigger problem than drugs, guitarists should spend more time playing acoustic, Mick Jagger’s solo career is dog shit. That there is truth and insight in much of what he says makes the repetition less irritating, but it remains frustrating that the selection isn’t better balanced. It’s definitely a problem when Dirty Work, the Stones’ one irredeemable stinker, gets more ink than almost any other LP. That Keith spends a lot of time defending that dreck, even saying that his band shuns technology at a time their music was caked in synths and processors, suggests he isn’t always the most self-aware guy in the world.

Yet there are still things to learn in Keith Richards on Keith Richards: his take on The Who, his cagey handling of Chuck Berry while making the Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll documentary, his surprising affinity for guitarists Johnny Marr and Glenn Tilbrook when he generally seems skeptical of every musician born after Chuck. Egan’s choice of pieces that veer from the expected format are interesting too: the aforementioned Redlands article, an excerpt from Gil Markle’s online memoir about recording Keith performing oldies and standards in 1981, an unpublished Ira Robbins interview from 1988, a Dutch one from 1989 printed in English for the first time, a 2010 interview devoted to Exile on Main St., and perhaps most intriguing of all, an ice-and-fire parallel interview with Mick and Keith from 2002 in which many of the guitarist’s criticisms of his singer become subtly apparent. And for those who have not read The Mammoth Book, that 1971 Rolling Stone interview is required reading.

Get Keith Richards on Keith Richards: Interviews and Encounters at Amazon.com here:

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