Will Keith Richards Bury Us All?

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Describe your life at home in Connecticut: When you get up, what do you do?
I made a determined effort after the last tour to get up with the family. Which for me is a pretty impressive goal. But I did it — I'd get up at seven in the morning. After a few months, I was allowed to drive the kids to school. Then I was allowed to take the garbage out. Before that, I didn't even know where the recycling bin was.

I read a lot. I might have a little sail around Long Island Sound if the weather is all right. I do a lot of recording in my basement — writing songs, keeping up to speed. I have no fixed routine. I wander about the house, wait for the maids to clean the kitchen, then fuck it all up again and do some frying. Patti and I go out once a week, if there's something on in town — take the old lady out for dinner with a bunch of flowers, get the rewards [smiles].

Have you listened to the new guitar bands — the Hives, the Vines, the White Stripes? The Strokes are opening for you on this tour.
I haven't really. I'm looking forward to seeing them. I don't want to listen to the records until I see them.

But is it encouraging to see new guitar music being made in your image?
That's the whole point. What Muddy Waters did for us is what we should do for others. It's the old thing, what you want written on your tombstone as a musician: "He Passed It On." I can't wait to see these guys — they're like my babies, you know?

I'm not a champion of the guitar as an instrument. The guitar is just one of the most compact and sturdy. And the reason I still play it is that the more you do, the more you learn. I found a new chord the other day. I was like, "Shit, if I had known that years ago ..." That's what's beautiful about the guitar. You think you know it all, but it keeps opening up new doors. I look at life as six strings and twelve frets. If I can't figure out everything that's in there, what chance do I have of figuring out anything else?

A lot of people who were a big part of your life with the Stones are no longer here. Who do you miss the most?
Ian Stewart was a body blow. I was waiting for him in a hotel in London. He was going to see a doctor and then come and see me. Charlie called about three in the morning: "You still waiting for Stu? He ain't coming, Keith."

Stu was the father figure. He was the stitch that pulled us together. He had a very large heart, above and beyond the call of duty. When other people would get mean and jealous, he could rise above it. He taught me a lot about taking a couple of breaths before you go off the handle. Mind you, it didn't always work. But I got the message.

Gram Parsons — I figured we'd put things together for years, because there was so much promise there. I didn't think he was walking on the broken eggshells so much. I was in the john at a gig in Innsbruck, Austria. I'm taking a leak, and Bobby Keys walks in. He says, "I got a bad one for you. Parsons is dead." We were supposed to be staying in Innsbruck that night. I said fuck it. I rented a car, and Bobby and I drove to Munich and did the clubs — tried to forget about it for a day or two.

Have you contemplated your own death?
I let other people do that. They've been doing it for years. They're experts, apparently. Hey, I've been there — the white light at the end of the tunnel — three or four times. But when it doesn't happen, and you're back in — that's a shock.

The standard joke is that in spite of every drink and drug you've ever taken, you will outlive cockroaches and nuclear holocaust. You'll be the last man standing.
It's very funny, how that position has been reserved for me. It's only because they've been wishing me to death for so many years, and it didn't happen. So I get the reverse tip of the hat. All right, if you want to believe it — I will write all of your epitaphs.

But I don't flaunt it. I never tried to stay up longer than anybody else just to announce to the media that I'm the toughest. It's just the way I am. The only thing I can say is, you gotta know yourself.

After forty years, still doing two and a half hours onstage every night — that's the biggest last laugh of all.
Maybe that's the answer. If you want to live a long life, join the Rolling Stones.

This story is from the October 17, 2002 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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