It seems that in any biography about a rock & roll great from the ‘60s and ‘70s, a problem with drug abuse is inevitable, and legal troubles and violence are an optional feature present at least half the time. That certainly is true of this story of Keith Richards, who along with Mick Jagger wrote most of the music for the Rolling Stones and played lead guitar for the band. Most hardcore Stones fans will know most of this stuff already, but those who know the music but not the musicians may not. It’s a well-sourced treatment of Richards, relying on statements by the guitarist himself and by people who knew him, such as his ex-lover Anita Pallenberg and Jagger’s ex-lover Marianne Faithfull, plus various critics. (Faithfull seems to believe that Richards’ drug problems stemmed from guilt over Brian Jones’ departure from the Stones. I am skeptical of this, frankly, as Jones’ own drug problems and his frequent inability to perform shortly before his leaving the band shouldn’t leave a lot of room for other people’s guilt.)
Baddest of Rock & Roll’s “Bad Boys”
Bockris doesn’t sugar-coat this narrative. We see Richards’ heroin addiction and his violent behavior without whitewashing. At the same time, the creative and musical ability of one-half the team that made one of the most successful rock bands in history (along with Mick Jagger, the other half) also shine through. Richards comes out in this biography as a tormented genius and not just a messed-up druggie. The drugs and other pathologies are undeniable, but so is the brilliance, and let’s face it: Richards is still alive and still active. Whatever the drugs and the other self-abuse may have done to Keith Richards, they haven’t put him in the ground yet nor stoppered his creative juices. Besides his time in the Rolling Stones, Keith Richards goes into a lot of detail about his solo career afterwards, which may be of more interest to some merely because it wasn’t in as many headlines.