Keith Richards Biography
Q & A with Author Victor Bockris
This is the second part of my review of Keith Richard’s biography by Victor Bockris that was published in 1992 and the first to recognize Richards’s pivotal role in the Stones’ legend. It has been translated in at least 10 langages and published all around the world. That seminal book about rock’s most indestructable survivor has been updated and expanded various time. This particular biography, like many others, has both the merit of having been written back in the days when the hype was on as well as being updated so that it’s hasn’t become obsolete. I would strongly suggest you keep an eye on Victor Bockris for he may have a few more jokers up his sleeves. I think I’m entitled now to say that Victor has a surprise ”not in store yet”… (If you don’t get the hint you’re either stone or stoopid!) But for now, let’s hear Punk writer/author Victor Bockris once again answering my questions about Keith’s bio:
Loud Alien Noize: Who’s idea was it to do a book on Keith Richards and how was it set in motion?
Victor Bockris: My agent Andrew Wylie and I both wrote the name of my next book and put it in our pockets. When we met both said Keith Richards. My timing had always been sublime. This was another example. The week my editor at Simon & Schuster/Poseidon Books Ann Patty said yes. The New York Times magazine ran a profile of Keith. I had been lifelong fan of Stones since 1963 listening to their first Ep in my dormitory at Rugby 13-14. Started a band with my best friend Drew Russell. I was the singer. My favorite were Stones were Bill Wyman Keith. Richards was a dream subject.
LAN: Did you have an agenda or a specific angle for this project?
Victor Bockris: My first thought was to interview Keith’s main girlfriends. Girls and women are far better interview subjects than men. Common law wife Anita Pallenberg was the angel of that book. Beyond that the purpose of a biography is to celebrate the achievements of your subject. I had a wonderful time doing that book and came to admire and like him more after finishing it. Litmus test.
LAN: How would you describe Keith Richards’ state of mind when you first started working on this?
Victor Bockris: I first met Keith in August 1977 after Toronto bust interviewed him for High Times. He and Anita at Frog Hollow South Salem NY forced to live with meatballs bodyguards. Sinatra’s guards. Psychotic scene but K was mixing ”Love You Live” with Mick and producing a John Phillips solo album which never happened because JP in poor shape though lovely music. Big thing turned me on about Stones hard-working ethics inspired by music. Keith Richards’ in particular was very impressive. He looked good, was generous and fun to hang with and talk to 24 hours on the trot. Fell in love with Anita. Long term friend colleague poet photographer Gerard Malanga was the connection and he was with me on my first visit. By the time I began the book in 1989 Keith was about put out first X-Pensive Winos album. He was in great shape. Always has been.
LAN: What are the main differences between various editions? How come the bio went from authorised to unauthorised? Didn’t he like what you’ve done?? I sure as hell liked him a whole lot more after reading your bio than after reading the autobiography!
Victor Bockris: It was never authorized. I think Omnibus slapped that unauthorized on tile of third update for drama. KR: The Biography been published in multiple editions. First US UK 1992. Hutchinson/random House in London Paul Sidey editor he did superior UK edition Warhol bio. Then it was published in about ten or eleven foreign editions. I updated it in 1993 for Penguin UK. Then in 2002 DaCapo and Omnibus and again Omnibus 2012. They are only publisher did 2012 update. Although book has been in print since 1992 never out of print in English language. In print over twenty years in France. Spain, Holland, Germany, Croatia, Italy others cannot recall. LOVE THE BOOK. Maybe best seller. Although Uptight got published in 13 languages in print English since 1983. Keith had read my book ”With William Burroughs: A Report From the Bunker”and although he had not read his bio when it came out he said I was a good writer. Although in 2009 he said to Penny Arcade in Australia “Fuck Victor Bockris!” .
*Source Notes page 405, 2013 Revised Omnibus Press Edition*
PREFACE TO 2012 UPDATE
The Royal Years: 2002-2012
Before the Stones took off on their Fortieth Anniversary tour, while the British critics were sill lambasting them for being over the hill, in early 2002 I gave an interview to a British journalist which summed up what I thought about The Rolling Stones. It went like this:
”I want to say one last thing about The Rolling Stones, which is this: that we suffer enormously from rejecting our artists when they are alive. We kill our greatest artists. Jack Kerouac released the United States from the paranoid cold war mindset of the Fifties and they killed him negative bile and criminal ignorance. They could have said, ‘Hey, man, thank you! Come and speak to us! Come to our honorary societies, Come and be honored. Let us dig you, let us…’ They said, ‘No! You’re an asshole! Fuck you!’ And now they say, he’s one of the greatest writer of the 20th century. FUCK YOU! For fucking destroying and killing someone who gave his life to try and give you life. And you say to him, ‘Oh fuck you, you’re a dirty person’ And that’s what they’re still trying to do to The Rolling Stones. Oh, you idiots, you fossils, you’re finished!
”The Rolling Stone are religious. They are priests. They are the only priests we have. And I kneel down and I pray that I can be with them. I don’t want to hear anybody say anything other than that. To me that is a disgusting and sick phenomenon, to try and say Yeeech! to their music and its presence in our lives. I mean GODDAMN! What kind of world do we live in? When the Stones arrived we had just lived through a situation in the Second World War when 100 million people got killed in like six years because of insane greed. And The Rolling Stones came along and they wiped that out. They wiped out that hate and that horror and that fear that came upon us like a tidal wave after the Second World War. And they put something positive on that plate. They said: ‘Hey bum de bum bom bang, let’s have sex! Let’s make love. Let’s move!’ And people are saying, ‘Fuck you? Screw you? Get off the planet?’ Well, you know, you’re the devil if you’re going to try and put that down.”
I think Keith wrote his autobiography or his agent Jane Rose told him to write it after they saw how well my book was doing, that it never went out of print and kept being published in more countries. Although nobody would ever say that. The thing that really pisses me off is that somebody as intelligent and loyal as Keith’s manager Jane Rose didn’t realize how positive a good biography can be to an artist of Keith’s calibre. Particularly one that came out a month before he embarked on his solo career. It’s not as if he needed the publicity, but the fact that the book has been selling steadily for twenty give years in the English language and continues to be published and republished in numerous countries tells you that it lives. Rock fans buy the CD, the ticket then the book, but they keep the book forever.
Keith’s Life (edited by sound) is perhaps the best now it’s up there with Chuck’s autobiography. It’s a big warm book. Reading it is like having a drink with Keef.
My book is better than his because his contain little introspection but my publisher is so lame that they never considered piggy backing on Keith’s mega seller. We could have sold another 50,000 copies easily.
Anyway, Keith: “Victor’s a good writer.” Anita told me that down in Jamaica she, Marlon and Keith fought over their single copy of ”With William Burroughs: A Report From the Bunker”
Keith: “Fuck Victor Bockris!”
I think Keith or Keith and his co-writer the excellent James Fox, or the architect of the book James Fox must have been influenced by my book. I wish I could say that I know James Fox. He once visited me at 106 Perry Street in the early 90s. We were having a lovely conversation and I was just thinking this guy is really great! when my roommate blundered into the apartment and joined us. I should have asked him to leave but I was a nice guy. Steve started to cut into what James was telling us about a certain singer in Africa, as if he knew anything about a subject on which Fox was a known authority. It rapidly became extremely obnoxious and embarrassing. I should have put my foot down or moved the conversation to another venue. I froze and James left frowning. Ten minutes later Steve left too. And I was left alone bereft of company because I was too spaced to kick Steve out of my space. It still makes my blood boil.
LAN: Did you see some similarities between how the Stones and/or Keith Richards were evolving versus what was going down in New York around the same time?
Victor Bockris: The fact that Mick and Keith both ended up living in New York City during the late seventies, 1977 onwards, was great and it produced the great Manhattan at Night album ”Some Girls”. I saw them around the Factory when Andy did that great interview with Ronnie, Mick and Keith I transcribed for him. They blessed the city and the city blessed them. The best years were 1977-1982. The arch of songs from the Toronto club side of Love You Live to Shattered on Some Girls to Waiting on a Friend and Start Me Up say it all boys. My favorite stuff and the biggest surprise was The Wingless Angels drum record. So spiritual. Keith grew as song writer etc in the 90s Bridges to Babylon. Alright! Enough! The answer is YES.
LAN: In your opinion what is Keith Richards main contribution not to music but to the big revolution that was set in motion during the 60’s?
Victor Bockris: In the 1960s Keith was shy and stayed out of the spotlight. Not a lot of interviews. The 1971 Robert Greenfield Interview in Rolling Stone brought him into the open. What I remember about Keith most in the Sixties is, “We are not old men. We aren’t interested in your petty morals.” This said from the dock wearing a finely cut military jacket from the Crimean war maybe before being sentenced for having some friends at his house. Standing on stage at Altamont vulnerable as hell to the tripped out murdering eyes of the Angels pointing at a murdering poolstick wielding Angel and saying, “If that guy doesn’t stop beating on her we ain’t gonna play no more music man.” He was always elegant. I loved his Bentley touring continental The Blue Lena and his medieval mansion with a moat. Where he reinvented the Stone’s sound between 1968-1972. He was one of the new world people who were living lives that encouraged other people to live well.
LAN: In your opinion, what were the main differences in the way Punk evolved in the US versus the UK?
Victor Bockris: I saw New York Punk Rock emerge like smoke from the basement and clubs of downtown New York’s Lower East Side Bowery Canal Street underground scene between 1972-1974. Took off in 75.
It was a classic New York art movement that found its sound wording and style from combining the best aspects of the Beats Warhol Surrealism Dada and the creme de la creme of the Elvis Beatles Stones Velvet Underground Warhol Factory Goddard Burroughs Thompson images and the passion of a new movement, Rock Writing. I saw the London punks squeeze themselves a new flavor out of slashing around with the Faces, the Stones, Dylan, Lonnie Donegan, etc. driven by sulfate beer and boredom to cough up The Sex Pistols. It really seems as if everybody saw the Pistols and got new haircuts dumbed down their sound. etc. Lot of gay influences, lot of cool women. Both scenes were equally rich if different. London Punk was a musical development not unlike what the Stones had done ten years earlier. What made it special was the unrelentingly English biting voices of angry youth spitting and cursing their way to the surface.
At their best, both movements made religiously beautiful music. They had different advertising but while it was pure shared in common that everybody loved everybody and had a wonderful time. It was superb magic. Like living in movie every day.
LAN: I know that this alone could be the subject of a book in itself but how do you feel about Brian Jones?
Victor Bockris: There was a time in 1962-1964 when Brian Jones was the Rolling Stones. Actually it was the triangular collaboration between Jones Jagger and Richards that gave them their power, but it had been Brian’s vision and you just wished he had been strong enough to last the course. The guitar partnership between Jones and Richards was sublime. Recommended: ”Brian Jones Presents the Pipes of Pan at Jajouka” The album was a recording of the Moroccan group the Master Musicians of Jajouka in performance on 29 July 1968 in the village of Jajouka in Morocco. It was William Burroughs favorite record. Play it at the beginning of each day.
LAN:In retrospect do you think Keith would have been a better guest at the table for The Captain’s Cocktail Party: Dinner with William Burroughs, Mick Jagger and Andy Warhol in New York City that you organised in 1980?
Victor Bockris: The funny thing is I had been talking to Keith’s manager, Jane Rose, about Keith coming over to the Bunker to talk with Bill for my book. In fact there is a funny page in ”With William Burroughs: A Report From the Bunker” where we were talking about seeing Keith. Jane told me Keith really wanted to do it, but pining him down became impossible. The meeting never happened. I invited Mick Jagger because my lovely friend Liz Derringer said she might be able to set up a meeting. The purpose was to give Bill the opportunity to interview Mick as his contribution to David Dalton’s book celebrating the 20th anniversary of The Rolling Stones. In retrospect I believe Jagger wanted to block Bill’s contribution because Keith was not completely finished with heroin and Mick did not want any connections with heroin, which Burroughs name would have brought. Thus Mick turned the evening into a nightmare of misunderstanding. In fact Bill had some thought provoking questions which might have led to a good interview under different circumstances. I’ve loved Mick Jagger since 1963 and know him to be a lot of fun to chat with. But this March 1 1980 dinner at the Bunker was a disaster which negatively effected me in several ways. I wish Keith Richards could have visited William Burroughs at the Bunker because at that time they could have connected on the most interesting thing they shared in common – living in New York during the climax of the Beat Punk Generation, which each of them had in their parallel coordinates inspired.
LAN: What do you think are the most important things people should know about Keith Richards?
Victor Bockris: That he lives a long and full life because he took the trouble to find out who he is. Stones always reminded people to follow their own intuition and find in it a way of living their own lives. First thing, you cannot do much for too long if you don’t know who you are. Take the time to work it. Design your day your way.
AND ALWAYS REMEMBER TO LAUGH!!