What if: Mick Jagger responded to Keith Richard’s memoir, Life

Keith Richard's LifeThis imaginary response from Mick Jagger to Keith Richard’s memoir Life is five years old but I’ve had it bookmarked probably since before I read Life a couple of years ago and it’s no less powerful every time I go back to it. I’ve been combing through it to find any quote to pull as an endorsement of the whole piece but there is none I can settle on. It’s so amazingly thorough.

As the author of this piece points out (channeling Mick Jagger’s voice), the Stones didn’t have a template. They made it up as they went. But a template for a certain type of rock memoir was well-established by the time Keith got around to writing his and he fell right into the hackneyed “I don’t remember much but all this happened to me” trope that too many lesser artists have already over-abused.

Life is like a greatest hits record: stories you’ve heard so many times that they don’t have any impact anymore; you just hum along. It’s not just rock ‘n’ roll excess; it’s rock ‘n’ roll emptiness. This sort of escapism may appeal to fans who want to remember their rock ‘n’ roll heroes as true to the game: drunkards, junkies, and (as the Slate author describes them) “priapic jackals.” But I think there is a large contingent of the audience who want more than the “hits.” We want the tunes (and stories) to have gravitas, to self-reflect.

Keith’s Life stands among the rock cliches I’ve read recently by Alex James (Bit of a Blur), Peter Criss (Makeup to Breakup), and Slash–books that don’t give the reader any real insight on the creative process and an artist’s struggles. Now, I’d imagine those three would all contest that depiction and cite the grit of their early days but their books don’t convey that story. Alex James seems to think basslines are born from magic. Peter Criss brings up “Beth” winning one award so many times that I wanted to tell him to shut up; that real songwriters write more than one song. And Slash, well, he’s just like Keith. Things happen to him. He will accept credit for the riffs and solos but deflects responsibility for all the bad things: the overdoses, missed shows, wasted studio expenses.

I wouldn’t want to be in a band with any one of them. But I can’t say it any better than the imaginary Mick Jagger did.