Saturday, January 29, 2011

LIFE by Keith Richards


I've been a Stones fan since i saw them perform "Not Fade Away" on the Mike Douglas Show one summer morning centuries ago while my family vacationed in Maine. Must have been 14 or 15.

Anyway, Douglas apologetically introduced the band, and when Jagger began to sing, that was it. Mesmerized is the only word. Those guys were cool, and they knew it. The studio audience looked as if someone had let a pack of Dobermans loose. They didn't quite know how to take what they'd just witnessed. I loved it.

My mother bought me my first Rolling Stones record the following spring, Rolling Stones Now, which remains in the top 5 of their releases. "Mona," for instance, a Bo Diddley song is sublime.

The summer of "Satisfaction" (1965) for me was that I came close with a waitress from Small Point. Sad to say, though, that I was still a virgin when I enrolled at UNC two years later.

Then came the flood of four straight incredible albums: Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, and Exile On Main Street, back to back to back to back.

So, when LIFE came out, I wondered if Keith would discuss process. And, of course, he did and not just about songwriting or recording, but drug use, girl chasing, marriage, parenting, cars, government, travel: in essence, life itself.

I have less than hundred pages to go, and i now know that most of the focus of the book targets the Stones when they were at their best and Keith's struggle to leave heroin behind.

After the album, "Some Girls," it's very difficult to find another Stones album that doesn't seem forced. The Stones continued to make wonderful songs, but the magic of the 70s had passed.

 I just learned that their most recent tour for their most recent studio album, A Bigger Bang, grossed 565 million bucks. That's stunning, considering (in my opinion) that the tour for the record had little to do with the record, but rather the legend. I didn't care for Bang at all. "Rough Justice" was the one song that came close to a Rolling Stones song. The Stones released a single last summer that was even worse than the worst Bang stuff. But I've learned to never think they are finished.

LIFE has helped me understand that when Jagger and Richards started going their separate ways, the blend of their personalities and talents which forged monumental moments in rock had been in every sense had been shattered. The magic of Lennon/McCartney, as well as the entire band, disappeared all too soon for us, but not for them. Stones fans are lucky that the band stayed tightly together as long as it did, because among the many observations one can make about the Rolling Stones, one should include that they were (and are) serious musicians. 

I've been listening to Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street the past month. Fantastic records.  Perhaps it's true that old farts like myself are stuck in the 70s. Well, when you consider the music of that time, it's easy to see why.

Thursday, January 6, 2011



Ruth (my wife) and i are fortunate to start the new year in Florida.  Flew to Ft. Lauderdale Monday and stayed one day in Key Largo. And then we ventured to the end of the road, so to speak. Staying at Orchid Key Inn, just off Duval Street near The Hemingway House, and I highly recommend this hotel.

So, on the western tip of Key West as you probably know, you'll find Mallory Square, which has a Sunset Celebration every day.

We walked about a mile (a struggle for me, but it was my idea) from our hotel to the square, where we watched the Catman, a street performer who has trained normal house cats to jump through hoops and perform other tricks.

The Catman has been a regular Mallory Square performer since the early 1980s. He works with strays and abandoned cats, and despite his over the top on stage persona, it's clear how much he loves his associates.

The Catman performs on the walkway in front of the water, and his act is a serious battle with attention span. First, imagine trying to coach a cat into doing anything in private. Add the uncertainty of a public place and a crowd, and it's almost impossible to achieve focus.

But the real test is not with the cats, but with the crowd, many of whom are drinking alcohol and have a definitive show me attitude. A cruise ship, for instance, was in Key West yesterday, and it unleashed a throng of tourists wearing green shirts, smoking cigars and bellowing to the Catman, "You better be good."

Real classy folks.

The Catman sets up his stage in front of the water on the southern most tip of Mallory Square (which faces northwest), the ideal spot to see the sun sink into the ocean. The first show is about an hour before sunset, and a second happens just about the time the sun disappears. There are street lights, and the Catman has his own stage light ... but there is still light for a while during dusk's afterglow – a wonderful time just to sit and take it all in.

I sat on a wall that faced the stage and took pictures of The Ruther watching the show, the Catman when i could get a good shot, the crowd, boats churning in the water, planes flying overhead.

I'm telling you: it's a battle to stay in the moment. The sunset cruise boats do what they can to grab attention, and even planes hauling signs try to horn in and steal attention.

It's amazing how the Catman survives all of this. A large crowd, however, surrounds him, swooning and clapping at his antics and for the tricks his cats perform.

Later, I looked online and discovered the Catman is Dominique Lefort. Here is a link to his website:

Watching the Catman work the crowd in spite of the constant distractions gave me enormous pleasure. And it caused me to mull how uncaring and devious luck really is. The Catman is unique, an artist and environmentalist – and he performs in front of a crowd that only offers him tips. Nothing at all corporate about this tiny show; it's as real as it could be, and thus, it's fascinating.

In his early years, Jimmy Buffett's music had this same quality. Sincere, unassuming, poignant. But "luck" smiled on Jimmy Buffett, and with that cosmic grin, there came a huge price. Instead, of real and fascinating, Buffett's work after his first 6 albums is inconsistent – yes, there are still flashes of Early Buffett, but those gems are surrounded by corporate musical crap.

Ruth suggested that what happened to Key West is the same thing that happened to Buffett. At one time, both were innocent, pure – to be treasured. But then Big Money came along – and Buffett figured out how to create an empire based on one hit song. So now, he has a restaurant on Duval Street, and his contribution to Key West culture can be measured in hamburger grease, rather than insight.

People stand in line to get into Margaritaville (the restaurant) to eat the alleged Cheeseburger In Paradise. Buffett can be applauded for his business acumen in that he's built this same restaurant in many locations, and has even started building hotels. He keeps making music, and every now and then, he creates a song that reminds us – and perhaps himself – of a simpler, far more interesting person.

Meanwhile, the Catman performs two shows daily at Mallory Square, weather permitting. And i wonder about luck. Maybe the Catman doesn't have a fortune, but I'd wager he's more than contented to be living and dying in three quarter time.