Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Keith Richard's so-called life

The temptation is to judge the life of Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards for its extravagant excess. But it is not the drug and alcohol addictions, the long sordid parade of nameless sexual liaisons, or the broken hotel furniture that could supply a whole city that makes Richards remarkable. It is something else. And Dan Chiasson, reviewing Keith Richards biography, Life, in The New York Times Review of Books, puts his finger on it:
The temptation for most memoirists is to beef up, at times even to make up, life; for Richards, who has lived one of the most eventful and excessive lives ever, the point is to tamp it down. His is an odd book for many reasons, among them its refusal to impute any meaning to the structure of experience, beyond its basic contingency. The book tells no “story,” presents no overwrought “themes,” proposes no shape to life beyond the amorphous ooze of passing time.
The Stones were never "about" anything other than self-indulgence. But it seems Richard's life isn't even "about" that. At least Solomon, after indulging himself, was able to derive some moral from it: namely, that life was "vanity." That, at least, constituted some kind of lesson about reality, and therefore amounted to a form of wisdom.

But Richards can't even do that.

I think there are people who view Richards as a sort of anti-heroic hero whose very refusal to impart meaning to his experience constitutes his anti-heroism. But I listened to an interview with Richards recently on public radio, which consisted of the reviewer asking questions, Richards coughing, then muttering some jaded, whiskey-induced reminiscence that make little sense, and then hacking some more.

He was clearly incapable of any kind of meaningful reflection. It isn't that Richards doesn't attribute meaning and purpose to his life: it's that he can't. That anyone could impart some sort of intentionality to Richard's ennui is a measure of the meaninglessness of the culture that reveres him.

Read the review here.

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