I’ve recently started reading Keith Richards’ autobiography Life. This book was recommended to me by my friend Ian a couple of years ago and although I bought it then it sat around for a while. I read many of my books online but this is an actual physical copy. It’s big but then he had a big life!
When I was growing up in Whitehorse I was more of a Beatles fan. In fact after I discovered the 62-66 and 67-70 anthologies I was blown away by their inventiveness and progression through styles over eight years. Seeing the centre art for the records even now brings much excitement.
I did have a few interactions with the Stones. My father was co-owner of a garage and salvage yard called Yukon Salvage. They were well known for their excellent repair work and they also bought most of the car wrecks off the insurance companies and stripped out the usable parts like engines, wheels, brake parts, transmissions etc. They sold these parts and used them in their own repair work. I worked there on weekends all through high school and a few summers as well (but that’s another story!).
What does Yukon Salvage have to do with the Rolling Stones you ask? No, the band did not travel through the Yukon and wind up crashing their car. But in many of the car wrecks people left behind their possessions like books, records and other personal effects. Most of the injured may have stayed a few days in the hospital and then flown back to wherever they came from in Canada or the USA. The insurance company would handle the costs and having a car accident usually put an end to the holiday.
Over the years I accumulated an Agfa Isolette camera, several record albums and a few books and music books. One of the albums I “salvaged” was Between The Buttons.
This is a great album. It has “Let’s Spend the Night Together”, “Ruby Tuesday” and “Miss Amanda Jones” among many other excellent songs. It also has deliberately quirky songs like “Something Happened To Me Yesterday”. So I listened to it many times perhaps around when I discovered the Beatles.
I also listened to other Stones songs but did not buy any of their albums for a few years until I purchased Exile on Main Street. I think I got that because a guitar player at the Courtenay Youth Music Camp I attended for two summer sessions told me it was a “great album”. I liked it, but not a whole lot. Much has been written on how messy the original mix was so I mainly listened to “Happy” and “Tumbling Dice”. I am re-listening to it now that a remixed version has been released and it is much better.
Over the years I heard lost of great Stones songs and bought their “best of” collection but I preferred the tighter harmonies of the Beatles (which also spurred my obsession with Harry Nilsson). And then I got into Bowie, Eno and many other artists.
So reading Life has been so informative and fascinating on a number of levels. I’ll expand below:
- For a while I called myself a bit of a “Beatles trivia expert” (though I admit to not remembering the name of the drummer who replaced Ringo for 1/3 of a world tour when he was ill). So I have read quite a bit about their rise, the clubs they played, the Ed Sullivan show and beyond. Reading Life is like reading about a parallel universe that shared the same history, had many of the same characters, but with a quite different take on it all. It is familiar and new at the same time.
- The Stones’ musical background is so much more rooted in the blues as Richards makes clear throughout the whole book. Although I knew this, it is great to listen to many of their songs with his background and stories in mind. It makes it all so much richer. The Beatles considered themselves a rhythm and blues band, but their songwriting has more of a pop foundation and even hearkens back to the English music hall. Bowie is like this as well. But the Stones started out just trying to bring American blues roots music to England and then became so successful they had to start writing their own songs!
- I released my own album, My Neighbourhood, in 2015 and have been promoting it since then. I have received many comments on how certain songs sound like Neil Young or Joe Jackson. But my friend Glenn Buhr made an unusual comment when he rattled off the history of Beatles, Dylan and Stones and said my album had a lot of Rolling Stones feel behind it. And after listening to a few tracks like “Traveling Song” and “University Town” I have to agree. So perhaps they had much more of an influence on me than I suspected after all these years.
So do yourself and favour and read Life, it is a great ride through music and cultural history!