A drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other, Keith Richards dances around the New York office of his personal manager, Jane Rose, as Talk Is Cheap — his first solo album after a quarter century with the Rolling Stones — blasts out of the stereo. Beyond enjoying the grooves, Keith is also attending to business; he's checking out slides, trying to choose cover art for the record. "Just put it in a brown paper bag," he says jokingly at one point to Steve Jordan, with whom he wrote and produced the album. "I don't give a shit about the goddamn cover."
The emphasis on content is characteristic — and it extends to Richards's collaborators. When Jordan, a hot New York sessionman who used to be the house drummer for Late Night with David Letterman, is complimented on the album, he simply says, "It's a real record. We weren't trying to do anything hip." Along with guitarist Waddy Wachtel, keyboardist Ivan Neville and bassist Charley Drayton, Jordan is a member of the core band that plays on Talk Is Cheap and will tour with Richards after its release. "In ten days," Richards says, "if you give me the right guys, I'll give you a band that sounds as if they've been together for two or three years. I'll make them sound like a band. Mainly because I need it, and that communicates itself."
Talk Is Cheap serves up a rich sampling of Richards's musical roots — from the Cajun flavor of "Locked Away" to the funk of "Big Enough," from the Memphis soul of "Make No Mistake" to the rockabilly of "I Could Have Stood You Up." And of course, "Take It So Hard," "How I Wish" and "Whip It Up" rock with a force reminiscent of his classic work with the Stones.
Another track, however, "You Don't Move Me," evokes the Stones not only in its slashing guitar sound but in its subject: Mick Jagger. The song vents the anger and bitterness Richards felt when Jagger decided to pursue his own solo career in 1986 rather than tour with the Stones after they released Dirty Work. Accusing Jagger of greed and selfishness, the song also chides the singer for the commercial failure of his two solo records, She's the Boss and Primitive Cool: "Now you want to throw the dice/You already crapped out twice."
Later in the week, Richards turns up for his interview at Rose's office sporting red-tinted shades, gray corduroy slacks, a white jacket and the same T-shirt he wore four days earlier: it bears the legend Obergruppenfueher ("major general of the troops"). After fixing himself a Rebel Yell and ginger ale and lighting a Marlboro, he drapes his jacket on the back of one of the chrome and leather chairs in the office's conference room and goes to work.
Like everyone in New York this August, Richards complains about the wilting heat, but he seems in an upbeat mood — after the interview he will race down to Madison Square Garden to catch INXS and Ziggy Marley. Now forty four, Richards describes himself as a family man. In addition to two teenage children from his stormy relationship with Anita Pallenberg, he has two little girls from his marriage to New York model Patti Hansen. He looks weathered but fit, the leathery skin on his arms hugging his well-developed biceps.
Pleased and relieved to have completed Talk Is Cheap, Richards nonetheless remembers the frustrations that led him to make the record after years of saying that he had no desire to compete with the Rolling Stones. When he speaks about Jagger — and what he sees as Jagger's betrayal of the Stones — his hurt pride is evident. As he speaks, affection blends with resentment, and a need for reconciliation battles with an equally strong desire to be proven right about the integrity of the Stones. Richards's manner at such moments recalls nothing more than one of those exhausting conversations with friends whose lovers have left.
"It's a struggle between love and hate," Richards sings on Talk Is Cheap. Amid such ravaging emotional ambivalence, the Stones are talking about regrouping next year for an album and a tour. "Mick's and my battles are fascinating," Richards says. "When you've known somebody that long, there's so much water under the bridge that it's almost impossible to talk about."
And then, for three hours, he talks.
After twenty-five years with the Stones, how does it feel to have completed your first solo record?
It sort of goes like this [sweeps his hand across his brow]: Ph-e-e-e-w. It's kind of strange, because it was never in the cards for me. It was not something I wanted to do. Also, in the back of my mind, doing a solo record meant a slight sense of failure. The only reason I would do a solo album was because I couldn't keep the Stones together.
As far back as 1971, you said that you didn't ever want to be in a situation where you had to decide whether to keep a song for yourself or give it to the Stones.
Yeah, there's all those things. To put yourself into a split situation, to have to decide — it's hard. Fortunately or unfortunately, since the Stones have taken this break or whatever — you know, weren't working — I didn't have to worry about that particular problem.
You see, Dirty Work I built pretty much on the same idea as Some Girls, in that it was made with the absolute idea that it would go on the road. So when we finished the record and then . . . the powers that be — let's put it like that [laughs] — decided suddenly they ain't gonna go on the road behind it, the team was left in the lurch. Because if you didn't follow it up with some roadwork, you'd only done fifty percent of the job.
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