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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.

Eyeing the Cracks in the System

2 Nov

by Roger White

Before we get started, life travelers, let me begin by saying I neither condone nor condemn drug and/or alcohol use by my fellow man and woman and other people, nor would I presume to impose my morals and standards for good, decent living upon any of you heathens. I mean, folks. What you do to raise your balloon is your own business, as long as it doesn’t put me or mine in the hospital. And as long as you’re not too loud. I’m getting up there, ya know. I need my beauty sleep.

Furthermore, in our class discussion today, let it be known that any and all alcohol and/or drug use by minors is absolutely illegal, forbidden, and frowned upon and will not be tolerated by this faculty. You youngsters don’t get to have any of that kind of fun until you’re old enough to know how cockeyed it all is. I mean, why do we say drugs and alcohol anyway? Hello? Booze is the most dangerous drug The Big Guy ever gave us. I know, I know, it’s all about politics and finance and the fact that somebody down the line in America had his bets on ethanol futures over hemp futures.

All I’ll say about that was better opined by the British Advisory Council on Misuse of Drugs in 2002: “Cannabis differs from alcohol … in one major respect. It does not seem to increase risk-taking behavior. This means that cannabis rarely contributes to violence either to others or to oneself, whereas alcohol use is a major factor in deliberate self-harm, domestic accidents and violence.”

Hey, before you rev up the poison pens, I didn’t say it, some upper-crust British guy with a top hat, cane, and handlebar mustache said it. And who was it, Robin Williams, who said if gangs preferred pot exclusively over booze that about the worst thing you’d get would be drive-by pillow fights? That would be nice.

Anyway, class is almost half over and I haven’t even gotten to the lesson plan. I always get sidetracked by some wise guy in the front row who asks a question he knows will get me rolling in the wrong direction. I see your hand up again, Ian, and I’m not taking the bait.

No, my point for today’s session was about the reduction of jail sentences originally imposed on crack cocaine offenders across the country. Did you hear about this? Federal judges are reviewing the prison sentences of folks jailed on crack possession charges and are retroactively reducing their sentences. And I am retroactively ticked off.

 

I’m not ticked off at the reduction of the sentences. I’m ticked at the sentences in the first place – and at the fact that most of us are just now hearing about this. You want to talk about the unfairness of the system? Brother, here is the prime example. It seems that when crack cocaine hit the streets and became the rage among drug users in the 1980s and ’90s, Congress got on its high horse (so to speak) and handed down criminal penalties for crack use as much as 100 times stiffer than penalties for use of cocaine in its powder form.

Now, I understand that this nasty stuff was ruining people’s lives and something needed to be done, but let’s break this down. What’s the diff, you may say, between crack and cocaine, anyway? The diff is, dear reader, that it was mostly poor folks who got swept up in the crack wave because crack was far less expensive and much easier to get than coke. So you had poor people – and if you want to read that as inner-city black folks, then go ahead – being slammed with 30-, 40-, and 50-year sentences for having a few rocks’ worth of escape from despair. While you had your rich people – and if you want to read that as suburban, gated-community white folks, then go ahead – getting off with sentences that were a mere fraction of those given to crack users because they could afford the powder instead of the rock.

Call me a BHL if you must (Bleeding Heart etc.), but imagine being pulled over by the cops for having one too many Bud Lights and getting tossed in the slammer, while down the road Executive Eddie gets only a warning for being tanked on his Chimay Ale. Your lawyer then explains to you if you’d blown .08 on Chimay instead of Bud you wouldn’t be in the pokey because of the new Sliding Sloshed Scale Law handed down by Congress.

Or you could liken it to paying $4.19 a gallon to fill up your Pinto instead of $3.59 if only you owned a Porsche or a Ferrari. Or a Beemer, even. I’ll give ya one more just for the threesome: It’s like being slapped with a five-year sentence for being caught red-handed (and, I guess, red other things) with an ugly hooker as opposed to getting off with a year’s probation for being in the company of an elegant, beautiful “escort.” “Oh, you’re a hooker? I just thought I was doing great with you.” Rest in peace, Sir Dudley.

 

Now, let me circle back. I know the bell rang, but stay right where you are. Again, I neither condone nor condemn. I merely cajole. And sometimes canoodle. And canuck. I’m here merely to point out life’s little inequities. Yes, this will be on the test. Yes, it will be multiple choice. All right, all right, get the hell out of here.

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.