Honestly, I never particularly cared for the Stones all that much. But I always did love me some Keith Richards.
On July 26, Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger turned 75. On September 6, Pink Floyd co-founder and bassist Roger Waters reached the same milestone.
And today, though back in the ’70s he probably wasn’t a betting favorite in Vegas to make it this long back, Stones guitarist Keith Richards is hitting the big 7-5 as well.
A somewhat incredible feat considering a respected publication like the BBC ran a piece entitled “Who, What, Why: How is Keith Richards still alive?” … more than eight years ago. (An addiction expert concluded Richards owed his longevity to having “the constitution of an ox.”)
Known for memorable riffs as well as notable quips, Richards has made it 7.5 decades on the planet, so we’ve rounded up 15 of the best quotes he’s given while on it.
He may not remember saying ’em, but maybe you will.
A whole bunch of truly, truly good stuff follows.
1 – On snorting his father’s ashes as if they were cocaine: “I snorted my father. He was cremated and I couldn’t resist grinding him up with a little bit of blow. My dad wouldn’t have cared, he didn’t give a shit. It went down pretty well, and I’m still alive … I had him in a box in England. I bought this little oak sapling, my idea being that he was gonna fertilize the tree, but when I pulled the top off of the box, wafts of Dad landed on the table. And my dad knows I’d always liked my cocaine, a snort here and there. So I just had a line of dad.”
4 – On how “Satisfaction” came to be: “I wish all the songs could come this way, you know, where you just dream them, and then the next morning, there they are, presented to you. But “Satisfaction” was that sort of miracle that took place. I had a – I had one of the first little cassette players, you know, Norelco, Philips, same thing, really. But it was a fascinating little machine to me, a cassette player that you could actually just lay ideas down and, you know, wherever you were. I set the machine up, and I put in a fresh tape. I go to bed as usual with my guitar, and I wake up the next morning, I see that the tape is run to the very end. And I think, well, I didn’t do anything, you know? I said, maybe I hit a button while I was asleep, you know? So I put it back to the beginning and pushed play and there, in some sort of ghostly version, is (singing) da, da, da, da, da – I can’t get no satisfaction. And so there was a whole verse of it. I won’t bore you with it all. But – and after that, there’s, you know, 40 minutes of me snoring.”
5 – On what America has given to him: “The greatest gift America gave, to me, was its music. Because it was a hybrid, immigrant-loaded community where everybody’s stuff came together. To me, that’s the real beauty of what America is capable of. It gave people music. The whole world listens to American music and maybe that coincided because of recording. Recording is an amazing thing. It’s all built to capture a sound here and a sound there, but what it can capture is spontaneity, emotion, tears and laughter, and everything else and can all be translated via recording. And to me that’s why I loved America! The chewing gum I never even got, but the music I got. That’s what intrigued me.”
14 – On hanging with Johnny Depp: “It took me two years before I worked out who he was…then one day he was at dinner and I’m like ‘Whoa! Scissorhands!’”
15 – On what advice he’d offer to further generations: “Don’t do anything if there’s not joy in it, a sense of exhilaration. A day is a day, and each one is going bye-bye, and you’ve only got so many more in front of you. Friendship is probably one of the most important things in life. Apart from your immediate family, it’s about friends — the ability to make friends, the ability to forgive friends. And their ability to forgive you. It’s just the ability to enjoy other people’s company, really. Then you’ve got it all, man. The rest of it’s gravy.”
I actually did see the Stones live at the Meadowlands—in ’06, I believe it was, although I could be wrong about that—at the behest of my dear mother-in-law, who saw ’em back when they first came to the States and has seen ’em plenty of times since. I wasn’t just terribly excited about it, I admit. But afterwards I was damned glad I went, because it was one HELL of a show.
Still and all, though, I like his X-Pensive Winos records better. Most especially this ‘un:
Even without the great Charlie Watts—the other Stone I admire most—this one really throbs. As for Keith himself, he’s a very intelligent, talented, and self-aware guy. His openness and candor have always been refreshing; his lack of pretense and ebullient personality make him somebody I’d love to just sit around barside shooting the shit about guitars and amps with, swapping road stories and such. Not that my own would amount to anything compared to his, of course. But still.
If you haven’t seen Hail Hail Rock And Roll, the story of his ordeal trying to get notorious damned prick Chuck Berry to actually give a shit long enough to get through a properly-rehearsed and performed show for once in his life, you should watch it sometime. Good as that flick is, though, the one you really must not miss is 2015’s Under The Influence. I’ve watched it I don’t even know how many times, and I wish I was watching it right now. I even made my mom watch it with me once; her opinion of Richards, to the extent she even has one, is about what you’d expect from an 80 year old country girl…and she LOVED it.
Richards has always been a source of wonderful quotes; there was one from the late 60s, I guess it was, regarding the music of the day, that “90 percent of everything is shit.” He later went on to say (paraphrasing from memory here) that the American music-buying public was a passel of dopes, because “you have the greatest music in the world—the blues—and the greatest musicians playing it, and you just ignore them. All bands like us do is sell you a piss-poor imitation of it.” A few more good ‘uns:
I prefer to think of myself as an antenna. There’s only one song, and Adam and Eve wrote it; the rest is a variation on a theme.
It’s great to be here. It’s great to be anywhere.
Let me be clear about this. I don’t have a drug problem. I have a police problem.
Songwriting’s a weird game. I never intended to become one – I fell into this by mistake, and I can’t get out of it. It fascinates me. I like to point out the rawer points of life.
Everyone talks about rock these days; the problem is they forget about the roll.
If you’re going to kick authority in the teeth, you might as well use both feet.
Great stuff if you ask me, and plenty more where it came from too. Sincerest wishes for a very happy birthday to you, Mr Richards, and many happy returns.
Update! I gotta get this book.
If you’re looking for less conventional methods to celebrate the birthday boy, you could take a dig at Mick Jagger, sleep next to your guitar, develop an amazing smoker’s laugh, or beat those pesky drug charges against you. Or you could just keep on living and continue being awesome. Any of these would honor the incomparable, inimitable, impossible Keith Richards.
My final suggestion is the one I want to emphasize: Read Keef’s 2010 memoir, “Life.” If you’re a fan of the Stones, rock ‘n’ roll in general, or music history, it’s a no-brainer. Everything that makes Richards such an improbably lovable figure is on display in the book— the humor, the irreverence, the “elegantly wasted” charm, the sincerity, the self-awareness.
It’s a very intimate and entertaining read, as Richards takes you deep into his fully lived (and ongoing) time on Planet Earth. It’s a book about survival, friendship, creative striving, freedom, and the hard work of staying just sane enough. I couldn’t give it a higher recommendation.
As impressed as I was with Elvis, I was even more impressed with Scotty Moore and the band. It was the same with Ricky Nelson. I never bought a Ricky Nelson record, I bought a James Burton record. It was the bands behind them that impressed me just as much as the front men. Little Richard’s band, which was basically the same as Fats Domino’s band, was actually Dave Bartholomew’s band. I knew all this. I was just impressed with ensemble playing. It was how guys interacted with one another, natural exuberance and seemingly effortless delivery. There was a beautiful flippancy, it seemed to me.
You realize, some guys you can spend a day with them and basically you’ve learned all you’re ever going to know about them. Like Mick Jagger in exact reverse.
Mick’s album was called ‘She’s the Boss,’ which said it all. I’ve never listened to the entire thing all the way through. Who has? It’s like ‘Mein Kampf.’ Everybody had a copy, but nobody listened to it.
[NME’s rock star ‘death list’] was the only chart on which I was number one for ten years in a row… I was really disappointed when I went down the charts. Finally dropping down to number nine. Oh my G-d, it’s over.
And then there’s his take on rap “music”:
“Rap — so many words, so little said,” laughs Richards, 71.
“What rap did that was impressive was to show there are so many tone-deaf people out there,” he says. “All they need is a drum beat and somebody yelling over it and they’re happy. There’s an enormous market for people who can’t tell one note from another.”
Ain’t THAT the sad, sorry truth. To sum it all up:
In the tome, Richards both reveled in his seminal bad-boy image, and gave it fairer context. Despite his image as Decadence Incarnate, he’s been married to the same woman for three decades, has five grandchildren and, last year, wrote a children’s book.
“I can drag that image around — the Keith with a bottle of bourbon in one hand and a joint in the other,” Richards says. “It’s a ball and chain. At the same time, I take it as a privilege to be taken into people’s hearts and minds. I feel like I’m doing all these things that they can’t do in a 9 to 5 job. In a way they’re saying, ‘Go ahead, Keith.’ They’re giving me license…and I’ve taken full use of it.”
He’s definitely one of a kind, bless his heart.