Keith Richards: The Face That Launched a Thousand Fuckups… And More Recoveries

KeithKeith Richards: The Biography

By Victor Bockris, Da Capo Press

“To the Japanese, Richards was the face and soul of rock and roll,” writes Victor Bockris in Keith Richards: The Biography (note the definite article; this isn’t just any old biography; this is, so it seems, it, other books on the subject notwithstanding), which has been updated to 2003. For many of us even here in the West, that’s the case as well. That visage with wrinkles that could rip through titanium and dark-rimmed eyes that the chemists at Revlon could never duplicate is certainly an image of rock and roll that has endured longer than anyone would have expected possible, jokes about embalming put aside. Bockris presents Richards with all of his flaws—although given the fact that he makes it very clear in the material that he’s appended to this new volume that Richards is first and foremost the first and foremost among the Stones, I can only wonder whether there are things that are even more outlandish in the life and times of Richards that the bowing author decided to be discrete with.

What is perhaps the most valuable part of this book are the multitudinous quotes from Richards. They’re the silver, they’re the gold. Consider this sampling:

“This music, it’s certainly not Beethoven or Mozart. It’s got nothing to do with intricacy. It’s got to do with a bunch of guys making accidents together, spontaneity and an immediate form of communication.” (Steel Wheels)

“Look around and you’ll see that there’s very little out there with our feel for the music. Nobody cooks. Today everything is computerized. The kids think it’s OK to sit in a little room by themselves and push buttons to get Boom-pah, Boom-boom pah/Boom-pah, Boom-boom pah, but their music’s not going to go anywhere except for that.” (circa 1990)

“We’re still looking for the ultimate Rolling Stones. We’re never going to find it, but it’s like the Holy Grail. It’s the quest that’s important, not finding it.”

“I played with Muddy Waters six months before he died, and the cat was just as vital as he was in his youth. And he did it until the day he died. To me, that is the important thing. I’ll do this until I drop.”

“I really feel for new bands that are coming up because these days you need a quarter of a million dollars before you can start. And with that big money, the marketing men want to play it safe. And when you play it safe, the best you’re going to come up with is something that’s not bad. We’re here because it is Fucking Great! Playing it safe is not what it’s all about. This music is about beautiful fuckups. And beautiful recoveries.”

If there’s one thing that Richards hasn’t done, particularly, is play it safe. And we can expect no more from the man with the soul of rock and roll.

28 thoughts on “Keith Richards: The Face That Launched a Thousand Fuckups… And More Recoveries”

  1. While I would never doubt that Richards heart is in the right place for a man of his years, but the Stones ain’t done shit since Some Girls. He did a couple good solo albums, but aside from just plain being around after so long the Stones are not really that important anymore, aside from classic rock station airplay.

    The late 70’s the 80’s and 90’s taught us that rock n roll thrives on change, regurgitation, and experimentation. In the long run The Velvets, The Pistols, Devo, and Nirvanna have a far stronger place in the overall picture than the Stones do.

  2. >the Stones are not really that important anymore, aside from classic rock station airplay.

    This sounds to me as if relevance or importance is only measured by whether a band is making some sort of a difference in real time, as in contemporaneously doing something. To be sure, the Stones circa right now aren’t. But the effects and influence of that band–even if they’d done nothing other than ‘Exile on Main Street’–far exceed that of many other bands, including the likes of The Velvets (should we believe that the pathetic Mr. Reed is still doing something?), The Pistols (sure, they started a demirevolution, one in some ways undercut by the calculations behind it), Devo (words fail–let me grab a Swifter and think about it), and Nirvana (the recent publication of Cobain’s journals strike me as a ‘Tiger Beat’ ploy, at which point I would include all sorts of secondary school emoticons, if possible).

  3. The Stones were the greatest rock and roll band in the world, and their string of albums from 1968 to 1972 (Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, Exile) is simply one of the best collections of music by any band ever. As much as I love the Velvets and think they’re incredibly influential, the fact of the matter is that real American rock and roll might not exist without the Rolling Stones.

  4. While I think Steve up there is a little confused with his assertion that the VU, Nirvana (and their measley three official studio albums), The Pistols (with their even measlier one album) and Devo, of all bands, are going to prove more influential in the long run than the Stones, I also think Jake has his position backwards. It’s the Stones who wouldn’t exist without real, American rock and roll, not the other way around. The Stones best music has always been a heartfelt and at times innovative reinterpretation of American roots music, from the blues of Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, to the plaintive country of Hank Williams, to the early rock stylings of folks like Chuck Berry.

  5. And then how many American bands have those albums influenced? It’s a cycle, man. There’s no question that the Strokes or Wilco would not be here without the Stones coming first.

    By the way, I am NOT diggin the new Strokes album. Is that wrong?

  6. My message has been misunderstood. Sure the stones where great yadda yadda yadda. Exile on main street blah blah blah. Were you alive when that came out?

    What I’m saying is that the cycle rock music goes through is more important than the musicians. Bands blatantly or subconsciously steal from music that came before them and then do their own thing with it. More join the club. More experimentation is done to the cycle the cycle moves forward and spits out something new. Different. As time goes by the cycles shorten. The mixing of genres increases the borders blur etc etc. The CHANGE itself is what is important in the long run. It doesn’t matter if a band has one great song, so long as it did something to move forward the cycle to define a moment in time. (Music after all is based on time) That’s when I reach for my revolver is just as important as Rip this joint is just as important as Radio Free Europe is just as important as Purple Haze is just as important as Runaway Train is just as important as 20th Century Boy is just as important as Ziggy Startdust etc etc .

  7. dude (steve) has to go and get all crazy post modern on us, eh?

    Those songs are NOT of equal importance. Runaway Train? Who the HELL cares about Soul Asylum today? I love their first few records, however, they are not aging very well.

    20th Century Boy isn’t aging too well either.

    I don’t care what Keith Richards and crew have done since their incredible 68-72 run of great records. Those four albums mentioned by Jake above (Exile, Beggars, Sticky Fingers, Let It Bleed) stand the test of time.

    That’s what matters.

    I think Nevermind stands the test of time also.

    Here’s my point; 8-10 years ago the Red Hot Chili Peppers were defining moments of time/or their time or what have you.

    When’s the last time you looked at your Uplift Mofo cd and thought it was a good idea to listen to it?

    Answer = you didn’t cause you have Nevermind, Loveless, Exile On Main Street, Goodnight Irene, Anything by Howlin Wolf or Muddy Waters, Trompe Le Monde, For Your Own Special Sweetheart etc., that all stand the test of time.

    the rest be nostalgia.

  8. Dan, one man’s nostalgia is another man’s genre-defining moment, so I’m not going to belittle anyone for dusting off “Uplift Mofo Party Plan,” myself included, but in general, I do agree with you. No, I don’t think “Runaway Train” will be remembered in the same light as “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (if it’s remembered at all), and that’s the nut of Bockris’ theme. Richards as archetype, right? And who could argue, but he’s one of many, and I concede that, too.

    And Steve, I was alive when “Exile” came out, but my Mom wouldn’t let me go to the record store on my bike by myself until I was 10.

  9. (** sigh **) Picture Charlie Brown

    You guys don’t get it.

    I’m not talking about staying power. I’m talking about diminished returns. Music cycles and recycles. The point of an important record is not lasting a test of time. It’s about making something new. Something that will move the machine forward. Make a future musician get excited. Experimentation. I’m not saying runaway train is some damn great song. I’m saying that right then at that moment in time it was important because it was a shift. I love Howlin Wolf to death (Willie Dixon anyway, he wrote all those songs), but good rock music is not defined by the blues anymore. Knock, knock, it’s 2003. Nobodys doing that kind of shit anymore. If they did it would suck. The Black crows can get away with it, but that’s a stretch. I went through stones worship back in the day. They were great. Do I listen to those albums anymore. Maybe sometimes, but I’ld much rather listen to the Handsome Family, Wilco, BRMC, Trailor Bride, Sterolab, Yo La Tengo, or even The Clash. (Clash had a great run too 76 -to – 82). Keith is not the guru of rock music. Not the way Cash is to Country. Ringo Star has better taste in music. Anyway. Don’t take it personal and get some new CD’s You guys think you’re all like the Word and all. I don’t know what makes a great record and I listen to stuff like Neil Diamond and Cat Stevens. What’s cool, yu tell me. I just like what I like and dig the change and give anything a chance. I’ll listen to anything once (and once was enough for Linkon Pork, I’ll tell ya)



  10. Steve:

    Your further explanation muddies the waters quite a bit (no blues reference hidden in that statement). What you seem to be saying is that any particular piece of music is of a moment and as that moment passes, so does the power of that music. That would then seem to mean that there are sell-by dates for all pieces of music, after which it either (1) becomes impotent or (2) smells like sour milk. Are you suggesting, for example, that no current musician could learn anything from those who have gone before–Richards notwithstanding?

  11. Not to gang up on Steve, but he also posits the theory that “Nobody is playing that shit anymore,” referring, I assume, to blues-based Rawk ‘N Roll. Uh, ever heard of the White Stripes? Hot Hot Heat? Delta 72? Mooney Suzuki? Do I need to go on? Not only are these guys, and many more, playing very obviously blues-based rock and roll, they all probably copped a move or a lick or a leer from Mr. Richards. That kind of influence doesn’t stop at the next immediate generation of artists (who needs Keith Richards after Joe Perry? He probably even shot more smack).

    More to the point, Bockris isn’t talking about just music. His point, I gather, is that Richards embodies the very essence of what we’ve come to understand as rock and roll. Certainly the music factors in to that equation in no small regard, but we’re talking lifestyle, look, chemical ingestion… the whole magilla.

    Your position almost sounds like you’re saying BMRC are more relevant than anything Keith Richards ever did because they’re contemporary, and while I agree that they’re contemporary, they also sound like a Jesus and Mary Chain tribute band. Yeah, the music keeps moving forward, and new bands re-introduce old styles to new fans, and the cycles are getting shorter and shorter, and I’m down with all of that, but I don’t think any of that detracts from what iconic figures like Keith Richards achieved or the influence they continue to have. Their inconography alone speaks for itself.

  12. Here’s why we know that Mick isn’t the face of rock and roll: On December 12, he is going to be knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.

    Somehow, I can’t imagine Richards in that position.

  13. Wow. This is intense.

    Ok Keith Richards is cool. He lives on his own Island and shoots smack and smokes a spleeph like Arnold smokes Cigars. He has the look. He has that Rock n Roll thang. I don’t disagree with that, although Jones is still my favorite Stone. Keith Richards certainly is a way cool due. No denying it. Neither do I question the staying power of the Stones or their importance in Rock History/influence.

    What I’m saying is that I disagree that there can ever be a single person or group that embodies a rock n roll spirit. I think it’s pointless to say that the White Stripes would not be doing what they are doing if it were not for Richards is ludicrous. There’s more Peetie Wheatstraw than Rolling Stones in the Stripes. Alt-blues acts have been around since the 80’s. Remember Treat her Right? An awesome band with little evident Stones influence. I think that The Dandy Warhols and the Hives certainly dig the stones. I don’t know if there the Stones necessarily influence music though. I think Neil Young has been more influential than the Stones. You don’t have to be a junky to “embody a rock n roll soul” What about Dylan? What about Lou Reed? (don’t give me that what is he doing now crap. He’s the god father of punk and no one can deny that).

    I also never said music isn’t relative if it’s not contemporary. I guess you read what you want to hear? All I’m saying is that it becomes more obvious that you can’t pick one guy out of the line up and make him an Icon for rock n roll. Be it the music, the sneer, the drugs (a roadie I know told me that Slash and Jimmy Page both exaggerated their drug and alcohol intake and that they performed almost stone cold sober) the clothes, etc. I particular enjoy the trend amongst bands like the EELs, Grandaddy, and Neutral Milk Hotel of looking more like gas station attendants from an Omaha truck stop, than Rock Stars. To tell you the truth I’m Anti-image. Anti-hero. Anti-star. And definitely anti rock critc! I love the product and hate the package. I know guys like you dig reading biographies and watching documentaries and love liner notes and album covers. Yea know what I do? I buy cds rip em to my hard drive and dump the packaging. Then I take this like 3000 song jukebox and let it play random. I could give two shits about the people or what they do or what ever. And for what it worth, I really dig Runaway train and you can eat shit!

  14. It gets better.

    Keith and Mick are rowing ( not for the 1st time!) about the Knighthood.

    Keith started it,

    he said in an interview with Uncut, a British mag, that it “goes against everything the Stones stand for” and that the people awarding Mick were “trying to arrest us 40 years ago.”

    Jagger replied saying he admired Keith always standing for the ethos of the band but that sometimes he went too far.

    You mentioned the Dandy Warhols and then wrote that you dont think the Stones influence enough. Bohemian like you is Brown Sugar-open G tuning-5 strings on the guitar-thats Keith.

    Me, I’m with Keith.

    Anyhow Keith IS the Stones, no doubt. You see em play live an everyone looks to Keef and Charlie for the cues. In Dublin Keef stopped a tune 6 bars in and bam the band stop. He runs the show.

    I understand where youre coming from though.

    All those rock n roll myths about Keith could never be true.

    But I think that alot of rock’s spirit comes from that “icon” element for better or worse.

    ps if Richards did as much junk as he says hed have to be dead.

  15. Ahhhh, and now I finally agree with you Steve. No, Keith Richards is not the only guy who embodies rock and roll. Of course not. Lou and Dylan and the like certainly are iconographic guys, the kind of artists that leap to your mind when you think about what rock and roll is. There’s tons more (why hasn’t Elvis been mentioned in this conversation? I mean, if you’re talkin’ icons…).

    I also understand and agree with your position that each successive generation of bands gets influenced by ALL the bands before it. Of course. I just don’t think that marginalizes what the Stones and Richards have done or the influence they’ve had and continue to have, along with other important artists from the past. When you’re looking at a long career like the Dylan or the Stonges you necessarily have to separate the wheat from the chaff. Nobody want’s to record their own version of Steel Wheels, but lots of folks want to record their own version of Beggar’s Banquet, ya’ know?

    And of course making great music isn’t contingent on being an addict or dressing like Keith Richards, or anyone else for that matter. But rock and roll does come with its own set of trappings that are picked up by artists and fans alike, and that’s fine. It doesn’t have shit to do with the music, but it does have a lot to do with the culture. And with that, I take my leave of this topic. I’ve already bored the unlucky souls who read this thread enough.

  16. The Stones are the greatest, weather you like it or not, they had more tallent than the Beatles ever could have dreamed of, they have more Soul than James Brown and can play the blues like BB King and Muddy Waters, they might not sell a #i Album but they made $230,000,000.00 on the Licks tour, more than any other tour in the last few years, and they came only second to themselves on the all time list…the stones are still the standard and Keith will probably outlive most of us!

  17. Yeah, the Stones have been pretty irrelevant since the brilliant artistry of “Grave Dancer’s Union.” Keef sits alone in his mansion, afraid to put out new product to compete with the intensity and spirit of the latest Goo Goo Dolls album, too.

    All kidding aside, while it’s true that the Stones haven’t made a really great record since “Some Girls”, even “Bridges to Babylon” or “Voodoo Lounge” are more challenging than most of the “pop-punk” and recycled “garage” rock out now. Not that aren”t great bands like Rainer Maria, Wilco, Interpol, Longwave, etc that I would rather see (and at less $$$!) but the run the Stones had puts them ahead of Jesus Jones, Soul Asylum, and even the Replacements, Nirvana, etc etc.


  18. I’m eleven years old and like The Beatles,and The Rolling Stones. I just read Steve’s note from last year. People have their own opinions I think. If he doesn’t like the Blues just don’t let him like it. Personally I don’t care what BAD things he has to say. I like all kinds of music. But I like Rock’n’ Roll and Blues. I play bass to Blues in a band and the drums.I listen to Keith Richards guitar to hear what he does becase I want to play guitar and bass and drums someday.

    Oh and Steve PEACE MAN!You don’t have to like it but your missing out on A WHOLE HELL OF ALOT!

    Rolling Stones Lover,


  19. I agree with Jamie too thier are more than just the Stones.(Elvis was the King of Rock’n’ Roll).

    At first I thought the Sones sucked. They are O.k..

    I do like thier music though I don’t HATE them or anything. I don’t know if Jamie’s right,but about what Steve was saying but if she is I agree. There are more than Keith but I stll like him. There’s George Harrison,John Lennon,(big ones I think)that are awesome too.Some people don’t like the Beatles. I do they are the first band I totally fell in love with. Through my dad I found them,and the Rolling Stones.They are both GREAT! I like the Beatles more though.I love the Rolling Stones too don’t get me wrong.I don’t think Keith was “THE” Rolling Stones I think the Rolling Stones are the Rolling Stones.And that’s just what I think.

  20. Who cares who is the king of rock of rock n roll or who symbolises what rock n roll is?each to their own-i love the stones,they are my favourite band ever bar none-keith is brilliant and symbolises keith richards,nothing more,nothing less-and so what if joe perry done more junk,remember aerosmith were fucked because of that-Keith was in the process of making let it bleed,sticky fingers and exile-so what if he’s done nothing recently of merit(yr long world tour for a 60 year old deserves some merit don’t it?)he was part of some great albums and at least he’s not a pretentious prick like david bowie,lou reed,sting,etc who are so caught up in their own ‘importance’ that they have not realised that they are presently crap-keith knows how good or bad he is,shame some others don’t.

  21. Few people ever bring up, what I believe to be, extremely important points when discussing Keith Richards. Here are a few:

    > Keith wrote the majority of the most famous Stones songs, including, of course, Satisfaction. As well as Gimme Shelter, Beast of Burden, Happy, and the list goes on and on…

    > Keith is in the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, which is not an easy thing to do… Numerous accomplished composers and musicians, from every which where, appreciate and acknowledge his talents. (And just for fun: since sometime in the late sixties, at any given moment, music composed, performed, and recorded by Mr. Richards is being played on airwaves, somewhere in the world. Did you get that? His music is being, and has been, played NON-STOP on the air-waves for about forty years. And there are people that want to argue his incredible influence that continues to this day?)

    > He approaches music very uniquely — and says that ‘writing’ music is a craft – much like cabinet making. And ‘art’ has very little to do with it (actually, his quote is something like, “Art? As far as I know, that’s just short for ‘Arthur”) He doesn’t take too much credit, stays humble (in his way), and simply continues to work hard at what he does – which he’s done for the last 50 years or so. The ‘art’ of music – according to Keith — is LISTENING to music. Lovely thought, I think.

    > Finally, for those interested, to hear a ‘different’ side of Keith, listen to his ‘ballads’ all together in one collection — country and jazz influences are obvious. His usage of lyrical/vocal arranging is unique — and great. And as always, the use ‘weaving guitars’ is genius.

    Here’s an example of a CD I burned that has become a favorite: “Losing My Touch” [forty licks], “Slipping Away” [steel wheels], “Thief In The Night” & “How Can I Stop” [bridges to babylon], “The Worst” & “Thru and Thru” [voodoo lounge], and “Locked Away” [talk is cheap – with the winos]. Enjoy!

    Anyway, when in doubt – just ask yourself: “What Would Keith Do?”

    Keep the groove!

  22. Steve, you have to be kidding me. You say some pretty dumb things. First you say Some Girls was the Stones last god album. Have you ever heard Tattoo You or Voodoo Lounge? You say that musicians need to experiment with different things. Have you heard newer Stones songs like Might As Well Get Juiced or even some of Jagger’s solo stuff. I don’t think you know what you are talking about and why comment like you are if you don’t know about the Stones newer stuff. You also do a great job of controdicting yourself.

  23. you guys don’t get the main point i’m afraid….the stones today are about a great rock and roll band maturing and having staying power and just trying to see where it can go…it’s not been done before….the majority of these comments have been about you guys living in the past….they don’t, why should you?

  24. Jon, the band currently calling itself the Stones is most certainly living in the past. If any other band put out the polycarbonate shit sandwiches that they have been foisting upon an all-too-willing public for lo these many years (post Tattoo You, with only occasional good songs sprinkled here and there), they wouldn’t sell more than 900 copies through CDBaby if they’re lucky. But because it’s Mick-n-Keef, not only do they continue to release new piles of steaming shit, they consistently sell out the tours to promote these piles of shit. And that’s not about living in the past??

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