Keith Richards vs. the Kindle

Keith Richards

He’s the lead guitarist for the Rolling Stones, and just for today Amazon’s slashed the price on his best-selling autobiography for U.S. customers to just $3.99. (“You Save: $26.00,” Amazon’s web page reminds helpfully, calculating the total savings at 87%.) The 576-page memoir was already on my wish list — and apparently a lot of other people wanted it too, since it’s skyrocketed to the #3 spot on Amazon’s list of the best-selling ebooks!

The U.K. edition is £4.99, and in America it’s already spent 89 days on Amazon’s list of the top 100 best-selling ebooks, as curious readers snatched up the truth behind the legendary life of the 67-year-old rock star. (“For many years I slept, on average, twice a week,” Richards writes in the book. “This means that I have been conscious for at least three lifetimes…”) GQ magazine declared him their writer of the year just last week at the Royal Opera House in London. And at a ceremony for the magazine’s “Men of the Year” awards, Richards revealed that his biography is already being adapted into a movie. (Though Richards also joked that he’s dreading the casting call. “The idea of a succession of Keith Richards coming down is horrifying!”)

But here’s one of the most interesting surprises about his life: Keith Richards loves books! “When you are growing up there are two institutional places that affect you most powerfully,” Richards once said. There’s the church, “which belongs to God and the public library, which belongs to you. The public library is a great equaliser.” A British newspaper remembered the quote when reporting that later in life, Richards even considered professional training in librarian skills, just so he could arrange his vast collection of books using the Dewey decimal system! “He is in fact an avid bookworm who has taken great pride in developing libraries inside his homes in Sussex and Connecticut… The 66-year-old is said to have started painstakingly arranging copies of rare books about the history of early American rock and the Second World War…”

It’s ironic that his biography is the only book by Richards that’s available in Amazon’s Kindle store. (Although there’s also a book called “What Would Keith Richards Do?: Daily Affirmations from a Rock and Roll Survivor,” as well as “Stone Me: The Wit and Wisdom of Keith Richards.”) But it’s only in his recent biography that you get the whole, sprawling life story — and I like how he adopted a mock Charles Dickens style for each chapter’s headings. (“Chapter One: In which I am pulled over by police officers in Arkansas during our 1975 US tour and a standoff ensues…”)

Amazon declared it one of the best books of the month when Richards released it last October, saying Life “captures the rhythm of his voice so effortlessly that reading his tale is like sharing a pint with an old friend — one who happens to be one of the most iconic guitarists of all time.” There’s also some fun pictures of the wild rock star as a young boy, since his book even covers his formative years growing up in Dartford, England. (“Chapter Two… I discover Elvis via Radio Luxemboug… I morph from choirboy to school rebel and get expelled.”) “Why does Keith want to undercut his legend?” asked one reviewer on Amazon.com. “Because he has much better stories to tell. And in the 547-page memoir he wrote with James Fox, he serves them up like his guitar riffs — in your face, nasty, confrontational, rich, smart, and, in the end, unforgettable.”

I like how Amazon’s page for the biography shows you its most-highlighted passages. (“Friendship is a diminishing of distance between people…and to me it’s one of the most important things in the world.”) 177 different people wanted to highlight that observation in their ebook version of Richards’ biography — and 93 more people highlighted a passage about the joy of playing music. “You’re elevated because you’re with a bunch of guys that want to do the same thing as you. And when it works, baby, you’ve got wings…you always want to go back there. It’s flying without a license.”

A reviewer at The Wall Street Journal enjoyed the candor, writing “it’s quite likely that no rock musician has ever written so keenly about the joys of making music.” And in the audiobook version you can actually listen for that passion in Richards own voice, since it’s read by Richards himself, along with Johnny Depp and musician Joe Hurley. (It was voted Amazon’s best audiobook of 2010, according to Wikipedia.) Another reviewer (cited by Wikipedia) even felt that the book belonged in that rare “canon of genuinely great rock literature.” But mostly I’m just delighted that I’ll finally get a chance to purchase this book at a very attractive price.

“There’s something beautifully friendly and elevating about a bunch of guys playing music together,” Richards writes at one point. “This wonderful little world that is unassailable. It’s really teamwork, one guy supporting the others, and it’s all for one purpose, and there’s no flies in the ointment, for a while…

“It’s really jazz – that’s the big secret. Rock and roll ain’t nothing but jazz with a hard backbeat.”

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