The following are the thoughts I posted on the Book Club discussion:
I have to say this first and foremost: I am left with so much respect for this dude. I never really listened to much of the Stones, so all I knew about Keith was that he was a guitarist and he partied a lot and he was Johnny Depp's inspiration for Captain Jack Sparrow. If you'd asked me to judge his character based on those things alone, I'd have said he was a lavish rock and roller who did too many drugs and lived a cushy life. After reading this book, I feel really bad for thinking that.
The most striking thing to me is how much he genuinely loves music. It was never about being a famous guitarist who gets girls and money and drugs. Those things might have come with the package, but Keith literally just loves music. There are many times that he just rambles on and on about this chord and that chord and hand positions and guitar techniques, and to be perfectly honest, I have no clue what he's talking about. Even so, I know just from the way he talks about his craft that making music is the end all be all of his life, and I respect that a lot. There are probably plenty of rock stars who are in the business for several reasons, music being pretty far down on the list. Not the case with Mr. Richards. ("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.")
As a huge Beatles fan, I have to touch on the whole "Beatles vs. Stones" thing. Those two bands -- both British, both immensely popular in the 60s -- always seem to be regarded as rivals. You're "either" a Beatles fan "or" a Stones fan, not both. I'm not sure why that is, and apparently Keith isn't either. I loved these quotes -- "The thing is not to try to regurgitate the Beatles. So we're going to have to be the anti-Beatles." And they were. Unkempt, glamorous, and tough. The Beatles (at least at the beginning) were clean cut and wholesome. Keith also mentions specifically working with the Beatles to stagger their album/single releases to not step on each others' toes. I love that they never saw each other as the competition, because I never have, either.
And, ooookkkk, how awesome was it to read about the Stones recording at the Muscle Shoals Sound Studios? (Which is actually in Sheffield, but OK.) I totally enjoyed reading that. Made me feel a lot closer to the book.
As for Keith himself... I think Helen pretty much summed it up. He is who he is, regardless of how confusing it may be. He's honest to a fault, and he doesn't care who he rubs the wrong way. He'll talk about doing drugs like candy, but he's very honest about how much they messed him up at times. I also liked that he was clear that he never took drugs to get high and/or be more creative. He did drugs because that was how he lived -- just enough to survive. Just like eating. He's not overindulgent about it. Interesting.
Bottom line -- It was a pretty choppy read, since he never seems to have a clear stream of consciousness. (Would you?) There's no rhyme or reason to the order of it most of the time, but I kind of liked that. Before I read the book, I saw a lot of reviewers complain about the lack of editing, but I didn't so much mind it. Yeah, it was hard to follow sometimes. (And at the beginning, he totally did not bother to explain who certain people were. If he says "Mick" or "Brian," you best know who Mick and Brian are or else you have no reason to be reading the book.) But I think it fit the purpose. It felt like Keith sat down in a room with a tape recorder and started talking. And it was written that way, with weird punctuation and run-ons and bouncing from thought to thought. It's Keith telling you his life story, and I don't think I would've liked a cleaned up, polished version. Kudos to him for not letting someone fix it up for him.
And now to expand on that a bit:
Life is insanely long, and I thought I would never finish it by the end of the month. Honestly, though, he's got a lot to say. As I mentioned, it's choppy and hard to follow, and it lacks the whole "plot" thing that usually makes long books easier to read. That being said, this is totally worth wading through.
Keith is quite witty and charming. I laughed out loud several times while I was reading this. Examples:
(On a proposed Arizona law to regulate rock and roll music) "Love to see the wording of the statute -- 'Where there be loudly and insistently four beats to the bar...'"
(On quickly deciding on a band name to save long distance telephone charges) "First track on The Best of Muddy Waters is 'Rollin Stone.' The cover is on the floor. Desperate, Brian, Mick and I take the dive. 'The Rolling Stones!' Phew! That saved sixpence."
His wit, combined with his "tell-it-like-it-is" attitude make Life a really enjoyable experience. Reading about globe-trekking and drugs and inter-band tension could have very easily been boring and pretentious. With Keith, it's not. For example, I don't think I'd have enjoyed reading an account of the Rolling Stones' career written by Mick Jagger. I don't think he would have carried the grace that Keith does. Keith will tell you what he loves and how lucky he is, but he'll tell you what sucks, too. Since we're on the subject, Keith will also flat out tell you why he and Mick Jagger had a testy relationship for the last few decades (thanks to something he refers to as "LVS" -- Lead Vocalist Syndrome). Jagger seemed to lose himself in the fame eventually, and Keith goes so far as to say, "Do you know Mick Jagger? Yeah, which one? He's a nice bunch of guys." The point is that I don't think all rock stars have managed to stay quite as grounded as Keith Richards. Not that he hasn't has his share of "good times" and luxuries -- he certainly has, but he doesn't brag about them. He tells them for what they are -- wonderful experiences. And he'll admit when something that he looked forward to wasn't all it was cracked up to be, such as how hurt he was when one of his all-time heroes turned out to be a jerk: "Chuck Berry was a big disappointment. He was numero uno hero." He doesn't get caught up in hype, even hype for his own rock idols.
All of these things -- from fame to drugs to relationships to parenting (or lack of parenting...) -- have led Keith to be a very wise man. There is some legitimately smart stuff in here:
"Everything has something to do with something.; nothing is divorced. It becomes an experience, a feeling, or a conglomeration of experiences."
"Preaching is tax free. Very little to do with God, a lot to do with money."
To sum up, this was not the easiest book to get through, and it was not the best book I've ever read. What it is, is an honest and realistic account of the life of a rock legend, who deserves your respect for not losing himself somewhere in the last 5 decades of fame.