Song Of The Day 12/3/2013: Keith Richards - "You Don't Move Me"


A couple of weeks ago I finished reading two rock autobiographies: Keith Richards' Life and Pete Townshend's Who I Am. I'd had the Richards book for awhile on Kindle, and got a hard copy of the Townshend book with some Amazon points I had left. I'd made some headway in the Richards book, but stopped off about a third of the way in. When I got Pete's book I thought it would be nifty if I read it to about the same point I'd reached in the Keith book, then proceed by reading the two concurrently. My reasoning for this was that, even though Keith's and Pete's circles intersected a whole lot during a certain era, they were almost diametric opposites in terms of how they crafted and approached rock songwriting.

Which was this: Pete wrote from an extremely personal point of view most of the time and cast a lot of his songs as part of larger, more thematic long works. Like Tommy, Quadrophenia, and the long-evolving but never fully completed Lifehouse project. Whereas Keith really couldn't give two squats about unifying themes; he just wrote songs as they came to him. I thought the disparity between the two stratagems would cause them to bristle against each other in near real time.

I was reminded throughout this reading adventure of an exchange between Keith and interviewer Bill Flanagan, as caught in the latter's essential book Written In My Soul (the Kindle edition's four bucks -- get it now) on the topic of whether songs come about as the result of inspiration or considered, scheduled work and craftsmanship:
Richards: With some songs you say, “I didn’t want to do it but it just had to go like that.” There’s nothing you can do about it. You just sort of follow it and put it down and you feel that you’ve done your job. This song came to me and demanded to be written, and, for better or worse, there it is.
Flanagan: Pete Townshend resists that. He said he dislikes the idea of inspiration, that the song comes through you. 
Richards: Well, that sounds like Peter, cantankerous son of a bitch.*
The dueling bios felt like they employed roughly the same techniques their writers used in composing. Pete's work on his book started, from what he says, in the 1990's. Richards' co-author said the process took around five years, from interviews to fact-checking to publication. But Townshend probably typed his own. I would figure Keith used a transcriptionist. I have no real reason for that.

Both also discuss substance abuse, and even though both issue caveats that "you really shouldn't try what I did at home kids," I got the impression that only one of the two was truly out of control with his use of intoxicants... and it was Townshend. Liquor was the primary source of much of his shitfaced demeanor, although there's a brief sojourn into cocaine as well. But it felt like he was using alcohol not just as a means to self-medicate -- he then allowed it to completely obscure his emotions and his brain's self-jurisdiction.

Richards, on the other hand, knew exactly how much he had to take to achieve the desired effect, then he'd lay off or use some other medication to bounce off. Richards was organized about his pharmaceuticals. That's why he's still, amazingly, very much alive: No matter how fucked up he might have seemed, he could still count.

Anyway. I don't do drugs and it's a bit late for me to try 'em now. Call me back when I'm 70 when the best years of my life are behind me and I'm looking for a quick and seamless way to confuse and aggravate my nurse. In the meantime, if you can only read one of these books I recommend Keith's, and it's not really close. There's a surprising lucidity, musicality and genuine affection to Life. Pete's book is fine and reads quickly, but you could just listen to all The Who's albums from The Who Sell Out onward and superimpose Pete's face on Roger's in your mind. You'd get the same information as you get in Who I Am.

This solo song from Keith's Talk Is Cheap album was written about his '80s disaffection for Mick Jagger, who'd become such a prima donna that Keith referred to him as "Brenda." I love that, like, so much.



*Also, in the book's foreword, Flanagan describes a moment when Keith addresses Townshend through the interviewer's running tape recorder: “I believe, Peter, that songs arrive at your doorstep and all you do is give them an airing, make it possible for them to exist. And I think that’s a very noble point of view. Rather then saying, ‘Look! I made this all myself with my little tool kit!'”
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