Keith Richards’ “Life”–Our Favorite Excerpts

Oct 8th, 2011 in Books, Music

Yeah, we’re the late show on this.  But a couple weeks ago we finally finished Keith Richards’ immensely entertaining and illuminating memoir, “Life.”

The following were amongst our favorite passages (emphasis added):

Richards on touring:

“The grind is the traveling, the hotel food, whatever.  It’s a hard drill sometimes. But once I the stage, all of that miraculously goes away. Thee grind is never the stage performance.  I can play the same song again and again, year after year.  When Jumping Jack Flash comes up again it’s never a repetition, always a variation.  Always.  I would never play a song again once I thought it was dead.  We couldn’t just churn it out.  The real release is getting on stage.  Once we’re up there doing it, it’s sheer fun and joy. Some long-distance stamina, of course, is needed. And the only way I can sustain the impetus over the long course we do is by feeding off the energy that we get back from the audience. That’s my fuel.  All I’ve got is this burning energy, especially when I’ve got a guitar in my hands.  I get an incredible raging glee when they get out of their seats. Yeah, come one, let it go.  Give me some energy and I’ll give you back double. It’s almost like some enormous dynamo or generator.  It’s indescribable.  I start to rely on it; I use their energy to keep myself going.  If the place was empty, I wouldn’t be able to do it.  Mick does about ten miles.  I do about five miles with a guitar around my neck, every show.  We couldn’t do that without their energy, we just wouldn’t even dream of it.  And they make us want to give our best. We’ll go for things that we don’t have to.  It happens every night we go on.  One minute we’re just hanging with the guys and oh, what’s the first song?…, and suddenly we’re up there. It’s not that it’s a surprise, because that’s the whole reason to be there. But my whole physical being goes up a couple of notches.  “Ladies and gentlemen, the Rolling Stones.”  I’ve heard that for forty-odd years, but the minute I’m out there and hit that first note, whatever it is, it’s like was driving a Datsun and suddenly it’s a Ferrari.  At that first chord I play, I can hear the way Charlie’s going to hit into it and the way Darryl’s going to play into that.  It’s like sitting on top of a rocket.”

Richards on the negative effects of “improved” recording technology:

“Very soon after Exile, so much technology came in that even the smartest engineer in the world didn’t know what was really going on.  How come I could get a drum sound back in Denmark Street with one microphone, and now with fifteen microphones I get a drum sound that’s like someone shitting on a tin roof? Everybody got carried away with technology and slowly they’re swimming back. In classical music, they’re rerecording everything they rerecorded digitally in the ’80s and ’90s because it just doesn’t come up to scratch.  I always felt that I was actually fighting technology, that it was no help at all.  And that’s why it would take so long to do things.  [Producer] Fraboni has been though all of that, that notion that if you didn’t have fifteen microphones on a drum kit, you didn’t know what you were doing.  Then the bass player would be battened off, so they were all in their little pigeonholes and cubicles.  And you’re playing this enormous room and not using any of it.  This idea of separation is the total antithesis of rock and roll, which is a bunch of guys in a room making a sound and just capturing it.  It’s the sound they make together, not separated.  This mythical bullshit about stereo and high tech and Dolby, it’s just totally against the whole grain of what music should be.

Nobody had the balls to dismantle it.  And I started to think, what was it that turned me on to doing this?  It was these guys that made records in one room with three microphones.  They weren’t recording every little snitch of the drums or bass.  They were recording the room.  You can’t get these indefinable things by stripping it apart.  The enthusiasm, the spirit, the soul, whatever you want to call it, where’s the microphone for that? The records could have been a lot better in the ’80s if we’d cottoned on to that earlier and not been led by the nose of technology.”

Richards on Tom Waits:

“Tom Waits was an early collaborator…He’s a one-off lovely guy and one the most original writers.”

Tom Waits on the first time he met and played with Richards:

“We were doing Rain Dogs….  He played on three songs on that record:  “Union Square,” we sang on “Blind Love” together, and on “Big Black Mariah” he played a great rhythm part.  It really lifted the record up for me. I didn’t care how it sold at all.  As far as I was concerned it had already sold.”

Tom Waits on the Wingless Angels recording (recorded in part outside live in Jamaica):

“One of my favorite things that he did is Wingless Angels.  That completely slayed me.  Because the first thing you hear is the crickets, and you realize you’re outside.  And his contribution to capturing the sounds on that record just feels a lot like Keith.  Maybe more like Keith than I had contact with when we got together.  He’s like a common laborer in a lot of ways.  He’s like a swabby.  Like a sailor.  I found some things they say about music that seemed to apply to Keith. You know, in the old days they said that the sound of the guitar could cure gout and epilepsy, sciatica and migraines. I think that nowadays there seems to be a deficit of wonder.  And Keith seems to still wonder about this stuff.  He will stop and hold his guitar up and just stare at it for a while.  Just be rather mystified by it.  Like all the great things in the world, women and religion and the sky … you wonder about it, and you don’t stop wondering about it.

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