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Keith Richards Meets the Mounties and Faces the Music

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What does Keith think about the future of the Stones?

"I don't think I feel any differently about it -- as far as I know, it is just going to go on because it feels good to go on right now. . . if someone is unable to be with the others for a while, then there will just be a gap, but it will go on. I mean, Charlie was getting better and better, man, you just can't let that go, when things are improving all the time for the band. In its own perverse way, we all feel it's getting better. I mean there was a time when nobody thought an act could last more than two years, especially at that point when we started out. I mean, Muddy Waters has just put out a great new album. There is no reason that rock & roll has to be played by adolescents and juveniles. It still feels better from this end. You know, Fred McDowell, all my favorite cats, kept on playing till they dropped, 70 or 80 years old. It's like wine, man, they just get better."

So even if visa problems are massive after this bust, the Stones will keep touring?

"Yeah, cause we will keep on trying to get in and eventually we will."

I wonder aloud why entire countries regard Keith as the devil incarnate.

He smiles but shakes his head. "It's convenient. . . they don't have to look any farther. I can't answer it. I've seen simple little trials -- the prosecutors, for some reason it becomes so enormous to them, they feel they have to prove themselves. That's something to do with it, but it's not all of it, but I feel that they want to show this kid or that kid that, see that they [the prosecutors] have got some balls, that's one attitude I come across an awful lot. It's like Lenny Bruce, but -- once they start on something, they don't let up, man, they just don't. It's very easy to pick up somebody and give them a bad name. . . There's all this incredible rivalry that goes on between different branches of the legal department even on the international scale. If the English cops can't do it, then 'let's show them.' I guess also by popping me, they think that's worth popping 150 or 200 ordinary people. It shows people that your police are really on the ball."

Well, what is Keith Richard's immediate future? I know you can't talk about your legal status. Your attorney tells me it could prejudice your case. But what can you say?

Another sly grin: "Finish this live album, beat this rap, hopefully do some gigs in the States later on this year. South America -- I'd like to bust that one wide open. I look at South America and I think of the potential rock & roll audiences."

On tours, he says, "you go around like nomads on these well-beaten tracks. I mean, there's people screaming for it. It's like BP [British Petroleum] not going and tapping some huge oil field, you know, just not bothering. Can you imagine that? It's equivalent, the audiences. They'd be down there like a shot after the pipelines. Rock & roll is ignored. There are thousands and thousands of record buyers. They should be knocking on Moscow's fucking door, they should be hitchhiking down to South America. You could go to New Delhi or Calcutta, there are thousands of street kids there. Africa has got to be another place where we could get it together.

"I mean if Leningrad is going to go potty over Cliff Richard. . . In towns like Bratislav, there are these posters in the street of rock & roll stars, completely music crazy, then the tanks came in and that was it."

All these governments, though, all they can think about is drug convictions, drug arrests, drugs. Right?

"Yeah, I think they are just scared of association or whatever. I can't believe that a government would spend two seconds of its time worrying about what rock & roll band is coming to its country. But they do. . . The idea is: 'Let's grab him.' So it just becomes political outlaws -- there really isn't any way for anybody in our position or my position to get a fair trial, because of the image, or the prejudice, anything, anyway. It's already against me just because of the image. . . illegal, they are really out to make rock & roll illegal.

"Really, it would be illegal to play the goddamn music, that's the basic drive behind that whole thing. They are just scared of that rhythm. Certainly every sound has an effect on the body and the effects of a good backbeat make these people shiver in their boots, so you are fighting some primeval fear that you can't even rationalize, because it's to do with the chromosomes and the exploding genes."

But you, Keith Richards, have had a lot to do with it, with songs like "Satisfaction" and "Street Fighting Man," which don't lose their impact on an audience.

"Songs -- yeah. People think you're a songwriter, they think you wrote it, it's all yours, you are totally responsible for it. Really, you are just a medium, you just develop a facility for recognizing and picking up things and you just have to be ready to be there -- like being at a seance; they just plop out of the air. Whole songs just come to you, you don't write it. Songs come to me en masse. I didn't do anything except to happen to have been awake when it arrived."

When I finally got back to New York a letter from the manager of the Harbour Castle Hilton was waiting for me. It was not a form letter. The manager effusively thanked me for staying there and spending so much money and behaving so well. I wondered if he sent one to Keith. I called the Harbour Castle and found that Keith was still there, trying to decide where to go next. I heard that Bill Carter and his briefcase were on their way back to Toronto. And I also heard that Margaret Trudeau was sporting a black eye.

And then came the final, depressing call from the Stones camp: "You better cover your ass, Flippo, and mention somewhere there is one hell of a chance that this will be the last Stones album ever. All work on the studio album has stopped and there is talk of breaking up the band."

This story is from the May 5th, 1977 issue of Rolling Stone.


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Song Stories

“Bird on a Wire”

Leonard Cohen | 1969

While living on the Greek island of Hydra, Cohen was battling a lingering depression when his girlfriend handed him a guitar and suggested he play something. After spotting a bird on a telephone wire, Cohen wrote this prayer-like song of guilt. First recorded by Judy Collins, it would be performed numerous times by artists incuding Johnny Cash, Joe Cocker and Rita Coolidge. "I'm always knocked out when I hear my songs covered or used in some situation," Cohen told Rolling Stone. "I've never gotten over the fact that people out there like my music."

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