WOULD YOU BELIEVE that Keith Richards kept a journal? Yes, Keef—the slurring vampire-junkie rock star who supposedly once stayed up for nine days straight (true), who supposedly had all of his blood transfused (false), who cracked his skull after falling out of a tree in Fiji (so very true)—actually kept logs of shows and travels during the Stones' early rise to fame, and kept various notebooks in the years after. That lends a surprising and welcome first-hand element to his lengthy new autobiography, Life, which may not ever become a vital historical document, but absolutely succeeds as a juicy read—and a reasonably insightful one as well.
Journal or no, some of Richards' memories are understandably hazy, particularly during his 10-year addiction to heroin and his stormy relationship with the gorgeous and batshit-crazy Anita Pallenberg. And he's coy when discussing some of the more scandalous parts of Stones lore; for example, of the time Mick Jagger fucked Pallenberg on the set of Performance while Richards waited obliviously in a car outside, Richards doesn't express any sort of anger or sadness, but instead hints at having slept with Marianne Faithfull, Jagger's girlfriend at the time. Oh, you lads.
Indeed, it's necessary to have plenty of background information before diving into Richards' Life, since crucial biographical points are glossed over: You'll need to be familiar with the rise and tragic downfall of one-time Stones leader Brian Jones, for instance, or the legendary 1967 drug bust at Richards' house. Save for an extended jab at Jagger while detailing the Glimmer Twins' falling out during the 1980s, the Stones' lead singer is a surprisingly minor character in the book. But that jab is something—Richards doesn't pull any punches, and really lets Mick have it. Jagger's not the only thing in Richards' sights either; he's unflinchingly self-critical when discussing his own crippling addiction to junk.
But the most striking thing about the compulsively readable book, which was ghostwritten by Richards' longtime friend James Fox (not the actor from Performance), is that it's not focused on gossip, or sex, or drugs. It's primarily about music—as it should be. Whatever lurid, outrageous stuff Richards writes about (and he really did do sooo many drugs!), it's a winning, worthwhile read because it documents the man's lifelong love affair with music.