Hanging Out With Keith Richards…the Don Draper of Rock ‘n’ Roll
While I was sick with post SXSW-crud, I spent a lot of the time in my cough-medicine haze sucking down the 547 pages of Keith Richards very readable autobiography, Life.
Nearly every publication on the planet reviewed the book when it came out last fall, so I won’t bother giving you the reviews you can read nearly anywhere, like here and here.
Yet, despite the acres of print generated by the publication of the book, I don’t know if anyone else read it the same way I did.
Personally I was amazed by reading Richards’ account of growing up in post-war England, and realizing that, if he ever sat down with my dad, the two of them could have a great time talking about what it was like growing up right after the war. (With only six years difference between them, they’re practically the same generation.) Between the rationed candy and the horse-drawn traffic that Richards remembers in post-war London, it’s clear that he’s from a bygone time. “London to me when I grew up was horse shit and coal smoke,” Richards said (p. 33).
Also, Richards was an avid Boy Scout. Who knew?
I suspect some of that hands-on Boy Scout training came in useful later, when Richards made his first amps, hacking them from radio parts (p. 89), and later re-assembling his own amps when they fell apart. (I suspect if you ever need to hot -wire a car, Richards is your man.)
Yet from his descriptions of his involvement in the Boy Scouts to talking about his current life, I was even more amazed at what a totally male world that Keith Richards seems to live in. In the entire book, the only women he describes are his manager, his family members, his lovers and one singer he worked with in Jamaica.
What you get throughout the book are the various descriptions of the women who took care of Richards. Women who cooked for him, cleaned for him, and got him off. Some of the lovely and talented women in his life included: Ronnie Spector, Anita Pallenberg, Patti Hansen–and hordes of kind women who fed him and looked after him over his life. But, frustratingly, it’s clear that Richards is from the Don Draper era of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
Reading the book, I kept waiting for Richards to talk about a female keyboard player he worked with, a brilliant songwriter he met, or, well, nearly anyone he worked who didn’t have a penis. But that just isn’t the case, except for a little work he’s done with former love Ronnie Spector. His creative world is a world of men.
Richards clearly likes women just fine, but as he represented himself in his book, he just doesn’t see them when they aren’t taking care of him and/or when he doesn’t want to sleep with them. And that makes me sad.
His longtime manager Jane Rose must be a bloody saint.
It’s easy to forget that the modern world of Rock’n’Roll was born during the Mad Men era. The time when the fictional Don Draper ruled Madison Avenue was the same era when the Beatles put out their first album, and when the Rolling Stones were born. It was a world where women were often relegated to the sidelines.
Thanks Keith for reminding me about a not-quite-vanished era. For all of the hoopla about Richards being a folk hero, he’s just an ordinary guy who is a product of the era he grew up in.
*Page citations are from the first edition, 10th printing, hardback edition of Life, by Keith Richards. (2010, Little Brown)