We all know show business is a sham. When we've had our fill, that is. But there's a kind of truth to the larger-than-life figures created by popular culture that plainspun iconoclasm can't provide.
The Rolling Stones were never meant to be life size, and in a decent-sounding, surprisingly contemplative voice Keith Richards' Life gives us all the craziness we could want. No one's likely to pick up this book without looking forward to the bits about the busts, the women, the fights with Mick, and all the riotous excesses of 1970s rock and roll. And Keef doesn't disappoint. The first chapter is a blow-by-blow recounting of an almost-bust in Tennessee. Longhairs being hassled by the man? Check. Bigoted sheriff? Check. Pliable judge with bourbon stashed in his sock? Check. Spinal Tap was a parody, but like any successful parody, it kept the exaggeration to a minimum.
But it’s the story leading up to all the fun that proves to be the revelation. Sentimental ramblings about growing up poor in Dartford we might expect. Tough times at school and home...well, you've heard the songs. But serious talk about choir competition breaking his heart, or his time as a scout troop leader making him a man?
Richards truly finds his voice when talking about the music itself, and about fellow musicians. He's unfailingly generous to his colleagues—Mick chief among them—although he takes a few swings, too. If there's anything missing from these pages it's a sense of humour, but rest assured: there are lots of laughs.
- Jeremi Roth