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The Rolling Stone 20th Anniversary Interview: Keith Richards

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Have you ever considered writing your autobiography?
No, I haven't, really. Because, I mean, I've only got to, like, chapter 3, you know? I wouldn't know how to tie it all up. I gotta know the ending first - or at least be pretty close to it - before I can get a handle on what's gone down. Right now, I'm more interested in knowin' what the next half of the book is gonna be. Or the last third, or whatever.

Have you arrived at any spiritual conclusions after forty-four years?
No. I'm just more and more convinced that I'll find out when I'm supposed to find out. I mean, I've been closer to death a few more times than a lot of people. And what I've found out is that whatever it is, it's worth waiting for, you know?

Do you think you've mellowed over the years?
I guess everybody does, in a way, yeah. I mean, I enjoy doing things now that I would never have had the patience for twenty years ago. Like kids – I actually enjoy bouncing babies on my knee and shit, you know? And I enjoy goin' to see, like, me dad. We got together again in 1982, after twenty years of trepidation. 'Cause when the Stones started, it had been, like, him or me: "I'm leavin'! I gotta go!" And I moved to London. So after twenty years, we finally got it back together: me dad's comin' down to see me, and I'm sort of waitin' to get "Hi, son" – bop! But then this little guy came out, real sweet and . . . aw, shit, you know? Now we sit around and play dominoes. And he can still drink more 'n me.

Back in the Seventies, the Stones seemed in danger of splitting along the lines of your down-to-earth rock & roll instincts and Mick's jet-set lifestyle. What was really going on there?
Well, I would say that there you've got the seeds of why we're not together right now. I mean, Mick and I have different attitudes, and throughout most of the Seventies, I was living in another world from him. I didn't blame him – he'd earned the right to do what he wanted. It was just that I couldn't relate to that. And even if I could've related to it, I was too busy bein' busted – which, I mean, is equally as dumb, you know? Mick and I are incredibly diverse people. We've known each other forty years – ever since we were three or four years old. But while a certain part of our personalities is incredibly close, there's an awful lot which is very, very different. And so, yeah, it kind of got up my nose a bit, that jet-set shit and, like, the flaunting of it. But he's a lonely guy, too. He's got his own problems, you know?

If you weren't so different in some ways, the musical chemistry probably wouldn't be the same.
No, precisely. So it doesn't rankle me. I'm his friend, and he knows it. It's just, like, "I love you, darling, but I can't live with you."

What is the Stones' future, then?
Everybody likes things cut and dried, and with the Stones, it never will be. Whether it's all over or not is really up to how everybody in the band feels. This particular period is basically, I think, a reaction to twenty-five years of being forced to work together whether we liked it or not. Luckily, we liked it. But, I mean, eventually, it's gotta get to a point where you say, "Hey, it's always been fun to work together, but now it's gettin' a little bitter here and there, and lines are bein' drawn." And you don't really know how to get out of it, or who's drawin' the lines, and there's a lot of interference from people who think they've gotta put themselves in one camp or another. So, better off, let's just give it a breather, and then we'll see how ridiculous it all is and work it out. I mean, I love working with those boys, and I don't see us not pullin' it back together. Just give us a break, and we'll come back for part two, you know? "We'll be right with you after these messages." [Laughs.] More to come, you know?

Whatever the group's future, the Stones have succeeded in removing age as an issue from the making of rock & roll.
Maybe that's because of what I was saying – that rock became a global thing just at that point where we started, and that enlarged all of the possibilities. That's really what rock & roll did, bless its old heart. It was – and still is, in a way – at the forefront of turning this little planet of ours on to the idea that it is a planet. It's managed to cross right through opposing countries and ideologies. I mean, you'll never get rid of nationalism and so-called patriotism and all that. But the important thing is to spread the idea that there's really this one planet – that's really what we've got to worry about. And all these little lines that were drawn by guys hundreds of years ago are really obsolete. And if we don't realize that, there won't be anything much in the world, you know? There's 5 billion of us now, man – in the Fifties there was only 2 1/2 billion. We managed to double it in thirty-some years. So in the long term, maybe that's the most important thing that rock & roll's done – it's opened up people's minds about these things.

Even if it hasn't taught us all how to love one another.
Yeah. Like "Now we're gonna give all 5 billion of you your daily drop of acid, and the maharishi's gonna come down and tell you how to deal with it." [Laughs.]

Maybe the true essence of rock & roll is simply that it was always great fun.
Oh, it still is great fun. You can take everything else, but don't take the fun out of it, man. I mean, if they take the fun out of this life – I'll leave.

This story is from the November 5, 1987 issue of Rolling Stone.

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

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Song Stories

“Nightshift”

The Commodores | 1984

The year after soul legends Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson died, songwriter Dennis Lambert asked members of the Commodores to give him a tape of ideas. "And the one from Walter Orange has this wonderful bass line," said co-writer Franne Golde. "Plus the lyric, 'Marvin, he was a friend of mine' ... Within 10 minutes, we had decided it should be something like a modern R&B version of 'Rock 'n' Roll Heaven,' and I just said, 'Nightshift.'" This tribute to the recently deceased musicians was the band's only hit without Lionel Richie, who had left for a solo career.

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