rolling stones keith richards constitution of concreteArticles


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The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards has the constitution of concrete...
(From the book Keith Richards: The Biography, by Victor Bockris)

keith richards biography victor bockris

“Keith has the constitution of concrete. He’s like a cliff. The sea comes and washes up against it and it stands. But so many people who were around him would just collapse. Keith is the sort of person who can stay awake for three days without substances and all of a sudden fall alseep in midsentence sitting up and not moving for a few hours. He would just be up and up and up and up and up and all of a sudden it would be like a light switch, bing! But in certain strange positions. Then you would walk around him”
RICHARD LLOYD, from an interview with Victor Bockris, 1992

In December 1978, Keith, Anita, and Marlon flew the Concorde to London to spend Christmas and the New Year there as well as to see Keith’s mother and daughter. Anita’s appearance would have shocked anyone who had not seen her in a year. Bloated, with hairy legs, blotched green-hued skin, missing or rotting teeth, and unkempt hair, she drifted through time making half-hearted efforts to fulfill such motherly functions as pulling a meal together. When Marlon asked for dinner, he was often presented a plate of ice cream. But Keith still spoke reverentially about her. “She’s everything, man,” he told an acquaintance. “It all comes from her, the Rolling Stones.”

In truth, though, instead of being the great Rolling Stones catalyst she once was, she now had an effect on Keith that was altogether negative. Keith’s focus during the holidays was on collecting tunes for the next album. The London music scene was very hot. Punk was self-destructing in a blaze of publicity over the breakup of the Sex Pistols and Sid Vicious’s alleged drug-crazed murder of his girlfriend, but there was still a lot of energy pumping up from the underground. Groups such as Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Buzzcocks, and the Clash were hotter than ever. On top of that, there was a virtual heroin epidemic sweeping the scene, as cheap Iranian heroin poured into town. When the seventies reached their apotheosis around the world, revelers found themselves in the forefront.

rolling stones keith richards 1978 face

Instead of picking up on the action, Keith holed up in an opulent suite at the Ritz Hotel in Piccadilly, overlooking Green Park. There, he and Anita kicked back behind a wall of cocaine, marijuana, booze, and the music that still played continuously on tapes and in his mind. He was immersing himself in what would become Emotional Rescue. Keith had discovered how to use the press as a line of communication to the rest of the band in a 1971 interview in Rolling Stone, and he now took the opportunity to mend some bridges and let everybody in England know he was alive and well.

“I’ve done my best over the years to sort of change the course of things here and there,” he once told Lisa Robinson. “Rock and roll and popular music won’t exist if it’s boring. The only thing that keeps it going is that it’s popular and people like it. I know nothing about the state of the industry. I think what helped make the music business so complacent in the last few years was that they knew that they could shlep out an Eagles album and it would sell so much.

Circumstances changed and suddenly they’re running around like ‘Oh, my God, they’re going to send me back to the A&P and I’m going to be the manager of a supermarket.’ I like nothing better than to watch all these record company executives shit themselves.” He opened a new campaign to keep the Stones together by summoning to his suite the rock critic Chris Welch, who had written extensively about the Stones for Melody Maker in the sixties, for a major interview. “Keith, who now kept life at bay with hearty draughts of vodka, was an extraordinarily charming man, possessing infinite patience,” wrote Welch.

“While his speech and thoughts were sometimes held in check by the flow of soporifics and stimulants holding their own press conference inside his head, his acerbic wit and hard-bitten worldly wisdom remained intact.” While talking about the flourishing London music scene, Keith fended off the standing criticism that he dismissed punk, new wave, and other rock trends. (Ref. the rolling stones keith richards)

RICHARDS: “I think punk rock was great theater, and it wasn’t all crap. The music was all incidental, like background music. You just had to see it. It’s a little too image-conscious from my point. It’s like in the 1960s, ‘We’ll put this band in these clothes, we’ll dye his hair.’ As long as the band’s good, I don’t care what color they dye their hair. But anything other than California rock, anything but complacency, yeah, sure. “I’m probably a little out of touch with the music scene here, but most of the stuff that’s happened has lost touch with itself anyway. It’s back to fads. One minute it’s the Bay City Rollers, then it’s punk rock, then it’s power pop or new wave, then it’s finished…

…People are back to sticking labels on things. Elvis Costello. I’ve ’eard his stuff. I’d sooner see him live, that’s all I care about. I don’t care about album production. I like Ian Dury, he’s down to the bone. As long as there’s something happening here, that’s all that really matters. Where they went wrong with the punk thing was they were trying to make four-track records on thirty-two-track. We were trying to do the same thing in a way. We tried to make 1964 sound like 1956, which wasn’t possible either. But we did end up with something that was our own”
Throughout the interview Anita chided him with sarcastic remarks and called him a baam claat man (a baam claat was a cloth used in Jamaica to mop up the blood of whipped slaves). Just as Linda Keith had ended up deploring Richards’s musical direction, Anita attacked his refusal to develop a solo career. To the interviewer she insisted that he had future plans to get out a solo album. Keith demurred, saying he didn’t give a shit.

rolling stones keith richards live 1978

RICHARDS: “I don’t have time to think about doing stuff on my own. I’d just be cutting myself off from the Stones in one way, and that’s not going to help anybody. I’m not interested. The basic thing about the Stones is that there is an understanding that there are five guys in the band, and there might be a few others involved in the making of a record, but what comes out of the speakers is basically one sound. It’s like a watch—there might be fifteen little jewels in there, and all kinds of things ticking around, but if it don’t make the hands go round it’s no bloody good.”

In fact, he had released a poorly received single (“Run Rudolph Run”/“The Harder They Come”) in the States in December’78, and there were persistent rumors in the press throughout 1979 that Rolling Stones Records was going to put out a Keith Richards solo album based on the Toronto tapes called Bad Luck. The question was whether Keith would work without the Stones. He would duck the issue for the next eight years. “For what I do and what the rest of the band does, I don’t think I could do it any better elsewhere, in a different setup,” he told Welch. “Sometimes I might do the odd song alone, and that’s the way we’ve always worked. Mick might say, ‘Your rough tape has got the best feel, why don’t you do that one?’ But we still work closely on songs.”

In 1979 Keith’s songwriting output was prodigious. Apart from the songs that later appeared on Emotional Rescue, particularly the outstanding “All About You,” on which he sang the lead vocal, and “Little T & A,” on which he also sang lead and which would wind up on Tattoo You, he wrote a number of exceptional unreleased songs that year, such as “Let’s Go Steady” and “We Had It All.”

Richards’s biggest headache in these choirboy days was the possibility of a reopening of the Toronto case. In November 1978 his worst fears had surfaced. The crown prosecutor had won an extension to appeal his sentence, and now Keith was back to attributing the whole brouhaha to political squabbles. RICHARDS: “It’s Canada vs. the Rolling Stones. I mean, I didn’t screw Margaret Trudeau. Ah ha! But in that case—who did? Who ripped the flimsy bathrobe aside? I end up feeling like I have to pay for the rape of Canada. But I didn’t have nothin’ to do with it.” (Ref. the rolling stones keith richards)