Little Red Book Review: Life by Keith Richards by Karolina Rous

Here’s the funny thing about Keith Richards — you probably think of him as being a top-drawer drug addict, a consummate drunk, a rock-and-roll legend, the better half of the Glimmer Twins, but you most likely don’t think of him as what he is: one smart bugger. In his tell-all autobiography, Life, from Richards — who by all measures should be under the ground at this point he’s slept so little and shot up so much — you’d expect half-coherent ramblings and unfinished stories. Instead, what you get is this incredibly lucid and astute telling of everything that has encompassed his secondary Stones life.

So how did one of rock’s most notorious hedonists remember it all? By cribbing it from his journals, mostly. The man has been writing everything down from before fame met him. Starting with his humble upbringings in a working class town, to falling in love with early music idols like Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry, to his first tremulous crush, he made a point of jotting it all down at the end of each day. As a result, Richards has a rich trove from which he’s drawn upon in the telling of Life, with many details conjured up from the liners of his stories, then retold in a highly honest, transparent and often balls-out hilariously self-deprecating way.

If you’re like me (a massive pre-Tattoo You Stones fan), you don’t need a recounting of the already famous legends that surround Richards and The Stones. While Richards does give his optics on major events like what went down at Altamont and why Mick Jagger turned into a major asshole in the eighties (and believe me, he tells it from his short hairs), the rich spots in the book come from his telling of his early childhood days, his parents’ divorce, and the dear friends he’s made — and lost — along the way. He also speaks to why he’ll never stop rocking, simply stating, “People say, ‘Why don’t you just give up?’ I can’t retire until I croak. I don’t think they quite understand what I get out of this. I’m not doing it just for the money or for you. I’m doing it for me.” This attitude pretty much permeates the book, almost in a too-arrogant manner, but can you blame the man? He is a rock deity to so many, he’s earned the right.

That being said, you’ll also get a kick out of hearing how this SOB’s luck seems to never come to an end, with him getting out of several drug busts and arrests that would have landed another man in prison for three lifetimes at this point. There’s a particularly hilarious tidbit where he shares how, upon opening a car door in the Deep South circa the seventies, cops almost had his tail for the long haul thanks to all the drugs that poured out of the vehicle.

Or, another good one, where he shares about how The Stones “liberated Prague” by playing at the end of the communist regime in then Czechoslovakia, throwing a concert for Vaclav Havel and other Stones fans. “Tanks Roll Out, Stones Roll In!” The book is smattered with many such goodies.

In his lifetime Richards has found himself, thanks to The Stones, as part of major cultural shifts and musical revolutions, but it’s the small stuff he nails in Life that makes it so appealing to read. You’ll dig how he shares about his deep friendship with alt-country godfather Gram Parsons, his love of Etta James, how upon meeting women he’d rather sleep with them (as in actually get rest beside) than make love to them, oh, and plus his recipe for great bangers and mash (no, seriously! He gives you the damn recipe) — all this is wrapped up in his autobiography. Life just keeps on, just as Richards keeps on — moving forward, creatively, with audacity and a sense of self-righteousness and good humour, giving you a glimpse of a ubiquitous musician in a very intimate way you won’t soon forget.


Photo: Keith Richards

Karolina Rous is a Toronto-based freelance writer by night and non-profit digital media manager by day. You can see more of her posts HERE, follow her on Twitter at @karolinakonnect, like her Tumblr blog at, or check out her website at


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