Mick Jagger… prances inexhaustibly through a two-hour set, at his best evoking the spawn of James Brown and Gumby, at his worst coming off like someone’s liquored-up Aunt Gert, determined to trash her prettier sister’s wedding with a gruesome performance on the dance floor. — from James Remnick’s Nov. 1 New Yorker review of Keith Richards’s autobiography, Life
I won’t try to top Remnick’s description of Jagger onstage or challenge his mostly favorable assessment of the book Richards wrote with help from James Fox, especially since I can’t afford the $30 hardcover and probably won’t read it until it turns up at the library. But I will say that Remnick’s is the best-written review of Life I’ve seen — the worst is by Liz Phair, in today’s New York Times — and as much a profile as it is a book review.
Remnick notes that Life is an addict’s narrative, like the opium-eating Thomas de Quincey’s, but in the subcategory of musician-addict memoir, like Miles Davis’s autobiography. He mentions biographies of Billie Holiday and Charlie Parker and notes there is “something almost creepy” about Richards’s having dodged most of the legal, financial and health problems that brought low so many down other famous junkie musicians. Forget “almost” — the 66-year-old ex-heroin addict’s uncanny good fortune definitely is creepy. But it’s also funny. As Remnick notes, “Maybe you can’t get what you want. The rule doesn’t apply to Keith.”
I’ll probably skim over Keith the junkie — his boastful recounting of drug binges with John Lennon and so on — and zero in on Keith the guitar player and key component of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band that hasn’t recorded a memorable song in decades. And on the parts where he acknowledges his artistic debt to Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters and the other greats whose lives weren’t as charmed as his.
I’m lying. I love addiction stories, especially when the drugs are top-shelf. I’m already wondering if Keith’s “pure Merck cocaine, the fluffy pharmaceutical blow” was as potent as good meth. I’m sure it was much more expensive.
One concern: I hope Richards the writer wasn’t as tough on Jagger as Remnick was in his review. It’s true that the Rolling Stones’ famous front man turned into an uptown fashionista and first-class poof, but the great lyrics and vocals are his and always will be. In the end, it’s about the recordings. The rest is gossip.