It is not often that a celebrity memoir makes the leap from the front page of the New York Times Arts section to its Op-Ed page, but then what less would we expect from Keith Richards, at least when “we” is defined as those of us who have loved and followed him and his Stones for an age. Here is a book, critics tell us, not only not just for fans but perhaps specifically for women. Is it cool, or even unprecedented, that two of the Times’s most cerebral women writers have elected to think and write (glowingly) about Keith? One of them even uses the word “gentleman.”
Michiko Kakutani wrote (rhapsodically?):
Mr. Richards’s prose is like his guitar playing: intense, elemental, utterly distinctive and achingly, emotionally direct. Just as the Stones perfected a signature sound that could accommodate everything from ferocious Dionysian anthems to melancholy ballads about love and time and loss, so Mr. Richards has found a voice in these pages — a kind of rich, primal Keith-Speak — that enables him to dispense funny, streetwise observations, tender family reminiscences, casually profane yarns and wry literary allusions with both heart-felt sincerity and bad-boy charm.
And Maureen Dowd wrote:
“I’ve never been able to go to bed with a woman just for sex,” writes the author, happily married for decades to the former model Patti Hansen, whom he is supporting through bladder cancer. “I’ve no interest in that. I want to hug you and kiss you and make you feel good and protect you. And get a nice note the next day, stay in touch.”
The consummate gentleman. Who knew?
“Bad boys” writing beautifully is a trend with ample precedent, but—even for a musician gifted at lyrics—the shock of this book may be the fact that Richards (along with able author James Fox) can write so seductively about relationships: about marriage, about Mick. Dowd calls Richards a compassionate, “chivalrous” voice in a time when women on our American political stage are less than these things. Yet Richards writing a book at all forces an even simpler question: is a memoir enough to make us forgive sins of the past? The finest remind us how Hard Life Is, even for a rock star with his entourage and his never-ending supply of drugs, and flattery (Richards notes that the latter was Mick’s “drug”). Because too much is never enough—until it is. And then the only high left is axiomatically internal: introspection.
When coupled with intelligence, memoir is the literature we increasingly respond to, a literary analog to the memoirist, one whose ego is not bound up in his literary prowess. He doesn’t need a Pulitzer, which is perhaps why he might deserve one.
(The best critical analysis of Richards’ memoir is David Remnick’s piece in the New Yorker. Remnick isn’t dazzled; he can separate the Stone from his attendant iconography. Yet what he terms Richards’ “sly have-it-all-ways self-regard” may be forgiven by fans because when they think of Keith they will always think of what they wanted him to be, and what he let them project onto him, and his music. His genius was more than dance tracks; it was religion. Or, as he put it: Angels beating all their wings in time/ With smiles on their faces/ And a gleam right in their eyes/ Thought I heard one sigh for you/ Come on up, come on up, come on up, now.)