Life by Keith Richards

A few favourite excerpts…

Levitation is probably the closest analogy to what I feel—whether it’s “Jumpin’ Jack” or “Satisfaction” or “All Down the Line”—when I realize I’ve hit the right tempo and the band’s behind me. It’s like taking off in a Learjet. I have no sense that my feet are touching the ground. I’m elevated to this other space. People say, “Why don’t you give it up?” I can’t retire until I croak. I don’t think they quite understand what I get out of this. I’m not doing it just for the money or for you. I’m doing it for me.


The five-string took me back to the tribesmen of West Africa. They had a very similar instrument, sort of a five-string, kind of like a banjo, but they would use the same drone, a thing to set up other voices and drums over the top. Always underneath it was this underlying one note that went through it. And you listen to some of that meticulous Mozart stuff and Vivaldi and you realize that they knew that too. They knew when to leave one note just hanging up there where it illegally belongs and let it dangle in the wind and turn a dead body into a living beauty. Gus used to point it out to me: just listen to that one note hanging there. All the other stuff that’s going on underneath is crap, but that one note makes it sublime.


There’s something primordial in the way we react to pulses without even knowing it. We exist on a rhythm of seventy-two beats a minute. The train, apart from getting them from the Delta to Detroit, became very important to blues players because of the rhythm of the machine, the rhythm of the tracks, and then when you cross onto another track, the beat moves. It echoes something in the human body. So then when you have machinery involved, like trains, and drones, all of that is still built in as music inside us. The human body will feel rhythms even when there’s not one. Listen to “Mystery Train” by Elvis Presley. One of the great rock-and-roll tracks of all time, not a drum on it. It’s just a suggestion, because the body will provide the rhythm. Rhythm really only has to be suggested. Doesn’t have to be pronounced. This is where they got it wrong with “this rock” and “that rock.” It’s got nothing to do with rock. It’s to do with roll.


Of the musicians I know personally (although Otis Redding, who I didn’t know, fits this too), the two who had an attitude towards music that was the same as mine were Gram Parsons and John Lennon. And that was: whatever bag the business wants to put you in is immaterial; that’s just a selling point, a tool that makes it easier. You’re going to get chowed into this pocket or that pocket because it makes it easier for them to make charts up and figure out who’s selling. But Gram and John were really pure musicians. All they liked was music, and then they got thrown into the game.


You can get into a bubble if you just work with the Stones. Even with the Winos it can happen. I find it very important to work outside of those areas. It was inspiring to work with Norah Jones, with Jack White, with Toots Hibbert—he and I have done two or three versions of “Pressure Drop” together. If you don’t play with other people, you can get trapped in your own cage. And then, if you’re sitting still on the perch, you might get blown away.

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