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Keith Richards: A Stone Alone Comes Clean

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You mentioned Bruce Springsteen earlier. What about his music?
Bruce? That's a tough one, because I like the guy. But the music . . . I don't know. I'm the toughest taskmaster of all time. I'm going to annoy a lot of people. Bruce? To me, it's pretentious.

What's pretentious about it?
I love his attitude. I love what he wants to do. I just think he's gone about it the wrong way. These are just my opinions, and okay, I'll annoy the lot of you. Bruce? Too contrived for me. Too overblown.

I know you haven't liked Prince in the past. Has your opinion of him changed?
Prince, I admire his energy, but he's riding on a wave. To me, Prince is like the Monkees. I don't see anything of any depth in there. I think he's very clever at manipulating the music business and the entertainment business. I think he's more into that than making music. I don't see much substance in anything he does. Too much appealing to . . . a Pee-wee Herman trip. And I like Pee-wee Herman better than Prince. He's appealing to the same audience. To me, it's kid stuff.

What do you think about Guns n' Roses?
Not much. I admire the fact that they've made it despite certain resistance from the radio biz. I admire their guts. But too much posing. Their look — it's like there's one out of this band, one looks like Jimmy, one looks like Ronnie. Too much copycat, too much posing for me. I haven't listened to a whole album to be able to talk about the music.

I'm a very hard taskmaster. I know that everybody's gonna say, "Oh, he's putting everybody down."

Well, tell me what you like.
I don't like much. And I don't want any of these guys to feel like "Oh, he's an old fart, blah-blah-blah. But we're up there, blah-blah-blah." I'm not interested in that. My main thing is "What are you trying to do, just be famous? Or have you got something to say?" And if you do, are you forgoing it in order just to be famous?

I've always liked AC/DC, all right? I like U2; I really do. I think Bono, especially, has something special. INXS I'm quite interested in. I like Tracy Chapman. Ziggy Marley I find very interesting because he's not just "the son of," He's avoided being, I hate to say this, Julian. He's taken from his father and built on it, but he's not just "the son of Bob Marley." He's got his own things to say, and he's serious about it.

I wanted to ask you about Chuck Berry. If you take forty-five Chuck Berry songs, fifteen of them will be among the greatest rock songs ever written and thirty will be the most clichéd formulas.
And two or three of them just trite. To me, the saddest thing about Chuck Berry is that his biggest-selling record is "My Ding-a-ling." But that's what he deserves, because of his attitude toward what he does. He hasn't sussed out his own worth. He has no idea of his impact on popular music. Chuck just wants the bread. And there's nothing wrong with that, because it's the only way a guy from his era, from where he came from, could get out.

And also getting ripped off in the past, that's what he learns. But he's carried it around for thirty years.
He's a loner. That's why I could work with Chuck Berry, because he's very much like Mick. It's a siege mentality: "Nobody's going to get into me." And "If I give a thing away, I'm a weakling." To me, the truth is the more you give, the stronger you are. The more of a man you are. Who are you scared of? What's so scary that you've got to lock yourself up?

In that scene in the movie where you turn around and give him this look, it looks like you're going to have a fight or something.
A shoot-out? Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. That's pretty true. Yeah, just about. Most of the band, the guys behind me are going, "Keith in this situation is gonna pull out the blade and just slit the motherfucker's throat." I'm biting bullets, because I'm trying to show the band that, in order to get this gig together, I am gonna take some shit that I wouldn't take from anybody. I'm not gonna let Chuck get to me that much. Whereas anybody else, it would be toilet time.

You say the Stones may be getting back together. Given all that's happened, couldn't that be seen as just a case of knowing that this is an opportunity to make forty million dollars and . . .
A hundred [laughs].

Well, what do you say to that?
What can I say about it? However much you make, the same percentage goes toward keeping it together. The overhead's tremendous. The amount of money — I find it as mind boggling as anybody out there on the street. You say, "Yeah, he's a fucking multimillionaire, and blah-blah-blah." The one thing you find out when you make a lot of money — and it always sounds trite when you say it, but it isn't — is that that's not the important thing. It doesn't add one iota to your happiness in life. It just means you have different problems to deal with. And it brings its own problems. Like "Who are you going to put on retainer?"

It's much better to be rich than poor, but not for the reasons that you would automatically think. I grew up with no bread at all. In fact, I was talking to Steve Jordan and Charley Drayton — black cats, you know, fairly well-off middle-class cats. I grew up poorer than they did. We just about made the rent. The luxuries were very, very few. I know what it's like down there. I remember it. There wasn't a lot of chances for someone, the way I grew up. My dad worked his butt off in order to just keep the rent paid and food for the family. To me, people are more important than anything else. Rock & roll, anything else, people are more important.

I know you and your father were reconciled a few years ago. Are you still on good terms?
Oh yeah. Dominoes every Friday night. In fact, I'm late for the game right now!

Does he live in New York?
He lives about forty-five minutes out of town. Oh yeah, now that we're together, we're very tight.

You described yourself earlier as a "family man." What about your marriage and your kids? Obviously your wife, Patti Hansen, has her own business to do, and you have what you do.
Patti's a mother now. She doesn't do much. She does one job, two jobs a year. I mean, this is my second time around with families. I have a son — Marlon's nineteen. Angela's sixteen, and she's just left school.

I have this new family. I live in a houseload of women, which sometimes can drive me totally round the bend, which is why I need to work and get on the road. I love 'em all, but it's weird to be living with a load of chicks — it doesn't matter what age they are. For a guy, the only guy in the house, you gotta call up another cat and say, "Hey, come over, or I'll just drop over there!"

And my old lady knows this, bless her heart. I mean, that's why I married her, because I'll only get married once. But Patti and I, we have a good thing going. And it's just kept going. I'm a lucky guy.

With you and Patti, is it the sort of arrangement where somebody is taking care of the kids all the time?
No, I hate that. I'd never have that. It's only Patti and me and the kids. There's other people who clean up the house, but it's not like there's a nanny and she brings the kids down once a day to play with for tea-time and then fuck off. No way. You live all together.

I mean, sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night, and there's both my kids in the bed. They've managed to find their way, and we're all in the same bed together [laughs]. You get more out of it like that, and so do the kids. Family is a special thing. It's almost . . . you can't really talk about it, except to say that if you get a chance at it, try it out, because it's one of the most special things that you'll ever get on the face of this earth. It gives you that final missing link of what life's about. While they're looking upon you as the most wonderful person in the world because you're "Daddy," they do more for you than you do for them.

How is your health?
You tell me.

You look good. You sound great.
I've lived my life in my own way, and I'm here today because I have taken the trouble to find out who I am.

The problem, however, is people who think they can live like Keith Richards.
That's what I mean. The biggest mistake in the world is to think that you have to emulate somebody else. That is fatal. It's got nothing to do with me. If people want to be like Keith Richards, then they better have the same physical makeup. I come from a very sturdy stock — otherwise I wouldn't be here.

At this point, to what degree is your identity tied into being a Rolling Stone?
Well, I've always been one, from the start of . . . if you want to call it my professional career. And I never wanted to be anything else. For the last couple of years I've had to deal with not being one. At first it almost broke my heart.

What I've learned from not being a Rolling Stone for two years probably will help me be, if the Stones come back together, which they will, will help me be . . . what can I say — "a better Rolling Stone"? [Laughs.] Or make the Rolling Stones better.

I have a little more confidence in myself, by myself. I found that I can, if I have to, live without the Rolling Stones. And that my only job isn't desperately trying to keep a band together that maybe needed a break.

The last question I want to ask you is about legacy. All the bluesmen you admire — there's a legacy of theirs that you've carried on. Do you have a vision of how you'd like yourself, the Stones, your music, to move forward?
Well, then we get back to the break around Dirty Work. My vision of the Rolling Stones was that this was the perfect point and opportunity, at our state and our age, to carry on and mature and prove it. I played with Muddy Waters six months before he died, and the cat was just as vital as he was in his youth. And he did it until the day he died. To me, that is the important thing. I mean, what am I gonna do now, go for job retraining and learn to be a welder? I'll do this until I drop. I'm committed to it and that's it.

I want to try and make this thing grow up. Elvis couldn't do it. A lot of them didn't do it. To me, it's important to prove that this isn't just teenage kids' shit and you should feel embarrassed when you're over forty and still doing it. That's not necessary. This is a job. It's a man's job, and it's a lifelong job. And if there's a sucker to ever prove it, I hope to be the sucker.

This story is from the October 6, 1988 issue of Rolling Stone. 

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