Let’s Talk about Keith. And Teeth. And Sir Edward Heath.

2 Jan

by Roger White

My reading list of late, aside from the requisite comics and sports sections, has included Life, the autobiography of Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards, or Keef, as most of you know him. It is a fascinating read, I must say, not simply because you get to peek behind the heroin- and cocaine-caked curtain of Sir Keef’s life and gain a foothold of understanding of how this supremely talented Brit bluesman/rock icon with the biological resilience of a mutant cockroach has managed to stay alive lo these many years, but you also get a marvelously witty insight into the keen and strangely aloof mind of a songwriter — what makes him tick, the amazingly broad array of cues he picks up on as inspiration for his songs, the unbelievably rich life he’s led (from stealing and reselling used bottles to scrape enough money together to eat to jetting from Morocco to the south of France with the world’s most beautiful and exotic people), and his wonderfully unique take on life and how he’s riffed through it plucking those nasty, jangly rhythms with nary a scratch despite spending more than 50 years on the hard edge of a lifestyle that has taken down many a talented man and woman long before their time.

Some have called the Stones “the world’s most dangerous rock and roll band” in their prime, and if they were, then Sir Keef was the man wielding the blade. A dear friend of mine lent me the book, and going in I thought, yah, another ghostwritten alcohol-slopped tell-all with some deftly dropped names and a few juicy “gotcha” moments with just enough backstory on some of the Stones’ most famous numbers and people and hangers-on to keep me reading. Man, was I wrong. Richards can tell tales. And his insight into musical concepts, history, and how circumstance, events, and people being in certain places at certain times caused modern popular music to evolve as it has is quite remarkable. So, do I recommend picking up this book? Hell, yes. And there are many photos. Later on we’ll get ice cream.

Anyway, all this to say, wow, I far underestimated Sir Keef’s literary acumen; however, in retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised. I have always stood (sometimes sat, depending on the subject and my current blood pressure) in slight awe of most things British. I mean, Richards may or may not be smarter than your average rock guitarist, but a little voice inside me tells me his British upbringing brings a little to bear. Think about it. British musicians basically took American rock and stepped it up to a higher, thinking man’s level, didn’t they? Most of the best, most progressive rock outfits in history come from our tiny mother country: The Beatles, The Stones, Led Zeppelin, Yes, The Moody Blues, The Zombies, The Who, The Yardbirds, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, Procol Harum, ELP — need I go on?

The same goes for comedy. The Brit sense of humor has always struck me as two beats faster, more subtle, and exquisitely more wry than that of the comics on this side of the pond. Don’t get me wrong; I love Steve Martin, Richard Pryor, Stephen Wright, and all the others as much as the next guy, but when it comes to writing, content, delivery, and timing, no one tops the Brits in my book. Monty Python, Faulty Towers, Dudley Moore with Sir John Gielgud in “Arthur” – to me, that’s comedic nirvana. I know that some of you don’t get Monty Python. I also know that you are the people who faithfully attend NASCAR events, wear camouflage vests to restaurants, and worship at the altar of Larry the Cable Guy and Jeff Foxworthy. That’s OK. I have no problem with that. (I can just hear the crayons hitting the paper now: “If’n yew love them faggoty Brits so much then why don’t yew git on outta here and move over thar then. That’s rite, jus take the bus on over thar, ya dam trater.”)

Anyway, where were we? Ah, humor, music, insight. All that. I guess the only thing I can’t understand about our dear British comrades, being that they are so refined and intelligent and talented, is the thing with their teeth. With everything the mighty British Empire has achieved through the ages, you would think they would have caught on to the whole dental hygiene kick by now. I mean, gads. I guess the followers of Larry the Cable Guy and our Union Jack cousins do have something in common: a somewhat laissez-faire attitude on ye olde oral health.

Criminy. How I got off on teeth and NASCAR is beyond me, but if you do happen upon Keith Richards’ book, by all means…. Now, where’d I leave my floss?

 Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

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3 Responses to “Let’s Talk about Keith. And Teeth. And Sir Edward Heath.”

  1. lexy3587 January 3, 2012 at 10:22 am #

    I’ll have to try and get hold of a copy of that book – sounds fascinating. I agree with you on the british humor front… and the North American attempts at remakes of hilarious British series/movies falls a bit flat… even if it’s basically word-for-word repeats. They tried it with Coupling, they tried it with Death at a Funeral… just not as good as the british version.

  2. shrink January 9, 2012 at 11:50 am #

    Keith, teeth – not a non-sequitur at all. And that’s not a double negative, neither.

    Thanks for the review. My hubs will want to read it. He really liked Pattie Boyd’s “Wonderful Tonight” about her marriage to Eric Clapton. Several examples of Clapton’s song inspirations.

    • oldspouse January 10, 2012 at 2:45 pm #

      And don’t forget George H., too. Wasn’t “Something” about Pattie, also? Sinatra once called that one the best love song he’d ever heard. Man, Pattie must have been something in her day. I also read somewhere that “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka-dot Bikini” was inspired by Ethel Merman, but I’m a tad skepty on that.

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