Keith Richards: A Stone Alone Comes Clean

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It seems that the Stones developed a very unsentimental attitude over the years about people who were sucked into their vortex and sometimes did great things but sometimes also damaged themselves.
It made them — and maybe even for the better — come face to face eventually with themselves. Maybe sometimes in the worst possible way. Maybe that ultimately is one of the most important things about the Stones — that, for some unknown reason, they strike at a person at a point and in a position that they don't even know exists.

There was always a sense about the Stones and about your own life, certainly, that this is nothing other than what it looks to you to be.
Well, it's certainly for real. The other thing about my life and the Stones' life is that there was nothing phony about it. If anybody was going to take knocks, we were going to take the knocks along with everybody else. It isn't that we were sitting up on some comfortable faraway paradise and putting out this stuff and saying, "Well, fuck yourselves up." We got beat up more than anybody.

I've always just tried to avoid doing anything that would make me cringe. Anything I do, I like to be able to live with. No matter how on the surface — you know, "What a bum, what a junkie" — at least it's real. And I can live with it. If I fuck up, the whole world fucks up with me! [Laughs.]

You once said that you never wanted anyone to feel that there was anything they could find out by going through your garbage can that they couldn't find out by just asking you.
There's always this thing in show business: you have an "image," and you play it to the hilt, but you're not really like that "in my private life," et cetera. In other words, it's an act. And maybe for them that's okay. But for myself, what I do, I'm too intense about it.

Obviously, there are lots of things . . . I mean, I'm a family man. I have little two-year-old and three-year-old girls that beat me up. I'm not the guys I see on MTV, who obviously think they are me. There are so many people who think that's all there is to it. It's not that easy to be Keith Richards. But it's not so hard, either. The main thing is to know yourself.

I was kind of forced into the position of honesty because they went through my garbage can and it was all over the front pages. To the point where people think that I'm far more Errol Flynn or notorious than I actually am. But I know what people think: "We'll give them that Keith Richards look" With my friends, the "Keith Richards look" is, like, a great laugh. And it's got nothing to do with the moody bit — it's just the way I look if I don't smile. And this [points to his skull ring] is to remind me that we're all the same under the skin. The skull — it has nothing to do with bravado and surface bullshit.

To me, the main thing about living on this planet is to know who the hell you are and to be real about it. That's the reason I'm still alive. The chart I was Number One on longest was the Next One to Kick the Bucket. I headed that chart longer than I ever did Records! [Laughs.] But to me, I never had any real doubt, because whatever it was I did, no matter how stupid or flamboyant or irresponsible it may have seemed from the outside — and I can understand it appearing like that — to me it's always been very important to know what I'm made of, and what I'm capable of doing. And making sure that nobody else suffered in the process. And if they did. it would only be from a misconception of themselves, not of me.

Obviously a whole mythology has built up around you. You must walk into situations all the time where people expect you to be "Keith Richards." How does that affect you?
I try and disillusion them, because I don't have an "act." It's impossible for me. It's very embarrassing.

Charlie Watts, in fact, is a far more honest man than I am. Charlie Watts to me is the most honest man in the world — to himself, to every body. He never even wanted to be a pop star. It still makes him cringe. But because he liked the music — and loved playing with me and with Mick and knew that it was a great band — he's willing to go along with it. Chicks screaming at Charlie Watts — to him it's ludicrous. He wanted to be Max Roach or Philly Joe Jones — his idea of himself is that. And to have to live with being some teenybop idol for Charlie is very difficult, because he's not like that at all.

They're such a weird collection of guys — the most unlikely collection of people to be a good rock & roll band. Hell, half of them hate the idea of being a rock & roll star in the first place. It's already embarrassing to them; they want to be serious artists. And when you're living and working with people like that, it's very difficult, if you're phony or if you go . . . That's what happened to Brian [Jones]. He really got off on the trip of being a pop star. And it killed him. Suddenly, from being very serious about what he wanted to do, he was willing to take the cheap trip. And it's a very short trip.

Has Mick heard "You Don't Move Me"?
Yeah, he's heard it. I played the whole album to him — what? — last week, two weeks ago.

Here in New York?
Yeah. He talked all the way through it [laughs]. But I went to the john and took a pee, and as I was coming out, I saw him dancing in the front room. So then I went back to the john and slammed the door loud and walked out again: he's sitting back like this [sits straight in his chair and folds his hands in his lap]. I don't know what he really thinks about it, because it's all tied up with what happened with his solo stuff.

What he put out, to me, is exactly the reason, as we were talking about before, why we didn't go on the road behind Dirty Work. He wanted to compete on a different level. The sad thing, to me, about it was that I felt it was totally unnecessary in that he had no grasp of the idea of the integrity of the Stones.

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