Wild horse

The single greatest testament to the resiliency of the human body no matter what you put in it or do to it is Keith Richards. This guitarist and riff master for the Rolling Stones for the past near 50 years spent more than 10 years as a heroin junkie, snorted more cocaine than Charlie Sheen in a decade of ‘bad nights,’ rolled over more expensive cars than James Bond, smoked more cigarettes than Humphrey Bogart on a film loop, and been exposed to more potential STDs then, well, Charlie Sheen.

But to read it from Keith himself in his new autography, “Life,” his saving grace was that he ‘always had the pure stuff.’ His cocaine and heroin were always pharmaceutical grade; he kept track of his tolerance levels, and the jet set groupies he rolled with and often supplied him were protective angels along the road. He boasts of being Number One for more than a decade on the list of celebrity rockers ‘most likely to die.’ And yet, here he is in 2010 somehow remembering more than 550 pages of growing up a single sensitive kid in Dartford, England, rattling off early blues record influences, forming a band with his mate Mick, starving for gigs, sharing a flat and some birds, striking it big, becoming a jet-setting millionaire bohemian, escaping Britain’s taxes, and somehow avoiding getting arrested or permanently imprisoned for drugs, contraband, speeding, tripping or any other number of civil violations more numerous than a file cabinet in a New York City police precinct headquarters. The man lived, for sure, and here’s his Life as he remembers it, and as we vicariously get the pleasure (or not) of experiencing.

How do you sum it all up? His philosophy, I mean; not the copious amounts of smack or speedball ingested, or five-string guitars open tuned. Well, perhaps the incident of Keith’s reaction to hearing about the death of one of his best ‘mates’ Gram Parsons in the U.S. while he was in Europe explains best. Was his first instinct to be sad, or to mope, write a song, mourn, or possibly hop on a plane to join Gram’s other mates smuggling his body out into the Joshua Tree desert to give it a proper Viking funeral? Nope. Keith is a firm believer in the saving power of distraction. Heroin is a great distraction from actually living your life or dealing with the bumps because there is a constant parallax between what is actually happening to you and where you are experiencing it from (somewhere a bit removed), except of course when you have to go cold turkey. If you tend to be an oversensitive artist type, it’s perhaps understandable to anesthetize yourself from the nonstop barrage of a life you never expected or anticipated – especially when you can afford the ‘pharmaceutical grade’ stuff (or the birds are just giving it to you).

So what does Keith do when he hears one of his best friends has suddenly died from an overdose (he didn’t monitor his own tolerances correctly, Keith explains)? He jumps on a plane to Germany with another mate and spends the next few days trying to track down the ‘most beautiful model in Europe.’ Not to shag her, mind you, though he accomplishes that later. No, he does it just to have a mission that will sufficiently distract him from the loss he was probably never emotionally prepared to feel. And I get that.

Reading these live action adventures of the Pirate of the Parrot Cay (and every other exotic locale you or I can mostly just read about), you just might get it, too. Scoring dope can get pretty boring and repetitive, especially when that seemed to be the main goal of his life for so many years, but in between, there’s some ‘pure’ good stuff.

— A. Wayne Carter

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