What Would Keith Richards Do?

Rock & Roll Summer Reading Lagniappe: “What Would Keith Richards Do? Daily Affirmations from a Rock & Roll Survivor”

Laugh now...
Laugh now...

Jessica Pallington West got it right. Even when her prayer book of rock & roll wisdom, What Would Keith Richards Do?, gets it wrong, she got it right. West's Keith Richards = heroin punch lines are de rigueur, but she includes the Rolling Stones guitarist pointing out that his junkiedom ended more than 30 years ago, and more importantly, she understands that even a shrugging defense of his past (and present, i.e. snorting his father’s ashes) underlines his pricelessly pirate POV like Harley exhaust off Black Mascara's “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” Yes, “Sweet Virginia,” Keith Richards’ nomination as rock & roll’s Mark Twain comes long overdue.

“Keith’s ability to survive has not just been a matter of having genes of steel,” writes West in her introduction. “Much of it comes out of his uniquely ‘Keef’ way of looking at life – an attitude and vision that he’s fine-tuned over the years like a guitar. There’s a philosopher’s aesthetic in how he expresses it, a uniquely Keith quality. It’s the no-nonsense, salt-of-the-earth, been-there-done-that wisdom of a survivor.”

Amen, sister. Rock & Roll Summer Reading wouldn’t be complete without one last entry then:

What Would Keith Richards Do?
Daily Affirmations from a Rock ’N’ Roll Survivor
By Jessica Pallington West
Bloomsbury Press, 241pp., $16

Six chapters begin with, “Keithism: The Twenty-Six Ten Commandments of Keith Richards, or: How Keith Richards Can Save Your Life,” wherein West twists rock’s original twisted mister into L Ron Hubbard. Highlights include:

1. Keith: “There’s the sun, there’s the moon, there’s the air we breathe, and there’s the Rolling Stones.”
2. “Keith is the evil twin to Mick, and Mick is the evil twin to Keith.”
3. Keith: “I’ve never had a problem with drugs. I’ve only had a problem with policemen.”
4. “The Creative Inhale – Breathe in What You Love”

Chapter two, “What Would Keith Do? Living Life the Keith Richards Way,” problem solves such as in the “Betrayal and Trust” section, where Black Bandanna addresses those issues by pulling a gun on Tony Sanchez after his former gopher wrote drug dish Up and Down With the Rolling Stones. Another tasty riff includes the revelation that in French Riviera palace Nellcote, where the Stones recorded Exile on Main Street, a recording engineer freaked out upon learning Nazis had headquartered there. Keith’s response was parental: “But it’s all right. We’re here now. Fuck those people.”

The third chapter, “Keith and Nietzsche, or: The Philosophy of Keith as Viewed in Relation to the Great Philosophers,” buckles not because the author compares her subject to St. Augustine – which may actually be brilliant if your brain could wrap itself around such a theological black hole – but because West doesn't fish out the perfect quote for the premise. Consult According to the Rolling Stones, they’re there. No matter, West’s game of quote ping-pong with Keith and Buddha, Keith and Carl Jung, Keith and Martin Luther – Abraham Lincoln, Oscar Wilde, Helen Keller, etc – kicks a Fender bender or two in inspiration alone if not always execution.

Chapter Four, “Prophetwear: Urban Guru Fashion & Style, or: When You’re Consubstantial, the Clothes Make the God and the Man,” attempts straight prose, and basically just gets out of the way of the money shot, “Chapter Five: The Wit and Wisdom of Keith Richards – Daily Affirmations.” The one-liners, in other words, 100 small pages of them – Forty Licks at least:

“When I was a junkie I used to be able to play tennis with Mick, go to the toilet for a fix, and still beat him.”

“The wife’s always asking, ‘Why are you lighting up another cigarette?’ I tell her it’s because the last one wasn’t long enough.”

“Intoxication? I’m polytoxic.”

“… and miraculously, due to abstinence and prayer, my teeth grew back.”

“People hate themselves anyway. If it wasn’t smack, they’d hate themselves for eating carrots.”

“I don’t sit in trees anymore.”

“Brian had so many hang-ups he didn’t know where to hang himself… So he drowned himself.”

“Imagine if Mozart and Beethoven had a fucking Walkman! You wouldn’t have had twenty-six overtures, you’d have fifty-bleeding-nine. Those guys would be green with envy. They would burn their wigs.”

“You can build a wall to stop people, but eventually, the music, it’ll cross that wall. There’s no defense against it. I mean, look at Joshua and fuckin’ Jericho – [he] made mincemeat of that joint. A few trumpets, you know.”

“I am quite proud that I never did go and kiss the Maharishi’s goddamn feet.”

“We’re the Rolling Stones. No one tells us what to do.”

“Ronnie… never looks on the dark side of life, and sometimes you’ll be thinking, ‘Shut up, Ronnie, we don’t want to be happy.’”

On the song “All About You,” from Emotional Rescue, one of Richards’ best knife-in-back ballads: “Nobody talked to me for six months because they all thought it was about them.”

Were, like the Man himself, that they could continue another 100 pages, 200 – volumes one, two, and three! Get on it, Westy.

“Chapter Six: Everything You Always (Maybe) Wanted to Know About Keith Richards But Were (Maybe) Afraid to Ask,” belts out the book's grand reveal, Keith’s great phobia: Cheese. “Keith has gone on record saying it’s the one thing he’ll never put in his body.” He owns 3,000 guitars.

Before a closing recipe of Shepard’s Pie – the lass knows her Man’s stomach – the “Keith Timeline: A Chronology of Trouble” bangs it all out swift and low to the ground. If Richards’ Christmas LP Run Rudolph Run was actually a single, Keith kompletists will relish knowing the names of his grandchildren, Ella Rose and Orson, both born to the wife of first son Marlon Richards. Maybe like Drew Barrymore to her grandfather John, one will one day wear the family skull ring.

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