by Joshua B. Hoe I have always loved Keith Richards.
I love his unique strumming style with the end of riffs almost cut off...I love his passive aggressive hating on his lead singer...I love his deference and love towards the musicians he really worships (watch the documentary “Hail Hail Rock and Roll” sometime if you don’t know what I mean).
I love that he seems to have done everything good and bad and survived it all.
I love that you can imagine him in almost any circumstance...He is like the music version of Chuck Norris.
It would not surprise me one bit to find out that he once beat up some people he caught red handed stealing from him after chasing them down on a unicycle while he was wearing nothing but a diaper while brandishing a period blunderbuss.
Plus, there is his day job, I mean he wrote the music for like 100 classic songs...and that is probably underselling his contribution to rock and roll.
I love that he is the only person who seems just as cool in his 70s as he did in his 20s...Maybe cooler….but well, not always (see below).
I loved that he was punk before punk...that he looked the part before there was a part to play.
And that’s where the confusion starts.
Being Both Cool and Antiquated
I never in a million, billion, trillion years thought I would say this...When it comes to music appreciation, Mick Jagger might be more cool than Keith Richards.
This is hard for me, Jagger was the dilettante and Keith was the real blues lover.
Don’t get me wrong, Jagger was, aside from the ability to arrange, in many ways, the white James Brown and he clearly appreciated the music…He has credibility, but he is not really doing the hard core writing for the Stones.
Keith was the player and the heart of the music (co-credits aside), you knew he listened to very old blues records, Muddy Waters played with Keith etc. It sure as hell wasn’t Mick who led Chuck Berry’s backing band on “Hail Hail Rock and Roll.”
This doesn’t mean that Mick sucks...It just means that Mick has always seemed bitter about the perception that despite the co-writing credits, he is seen as the lyricist not the architect of the sound.
To deal with this perception, for a long period, before he came to his senses, Mick kept trying to appropriate every new trend and jump start his solo career...disco, funk, pop whatever. He wanted so badly to be appreciated away from Keith it was insane...despite all the attempts to get out from under Keith’s cloud...he always came back to Keith’s sweet sound.
In fairness to Mick, Keith’s solo work has not exactly set the world on fire either...Keith has always been better under the umbrella of Mick’s flying circus (and with the backing of one of the best drummers in the world in the Stones as well).
Despite all this, I have always believed that Mick cared about music...and that he paid attention to music. And, most importantly, he appreciated new music, even when it was a departure from the kind of music that he played and sung.
Unfortunately, Keith has not been the same, Keith has always been a hater...and often has seemed pretty insecure as a result (insane given how influential he has been).
Keith has a great appreciation for the blues artists he idolized and the godfathers of Rock and Roll...But he has a long history of downgrading artists that don’t fit his somewhat rigid view of what music “should be.”.
In his excellent autobiography "Life", he hates on punk….shocking since in many ways he is literally the spiritual godfather of punk. He came up from poverty, he had to hustle for a long time to get attention, he did not have a ton of official training etc. Plus, nobody has ever lived a punk lifestyle like KR...But still, he hated punk..
And now, he hates rap...In an interview with the New York Daily News in early September he said that rap was for “tone-deaf people” and that “All they need is a drum beat and somebody yelling over it and they're happy. There’s an enormous market for people who can't tell one note from another."
And, of course, this follows a 2007 Rolling Stone interview where he said “Hip-hop leaves me cold. But there are some people out there who think it's the meaning of life... I don't wanna be yelled at; I wanna be sung to. I never really understood why somebody would want to have some gangster from L.A. poking his fingers in your face. As I say, it don't grab me. I mean, the rhythms are boring; they're all done on computers."
Why Uncle Keith Hates The Kids
If your read “Life,” you know that Keith is a purest.
To him there is a straight line between jazz, blues, and rock to what he does...He looks at songwriting and playing guitar as a craft and (for a legendary partier) he takes that craft very seriously (many of the best parts of his book are him talking about how he developed his unique playing and tuning style)
I suspect he sees most of the people using pro tools or poorly playing a guitar with no training or discipline as a philistine. He thinks computers are making a mockery of musicianship and that nobody can play live any more (a sentiment I often agree with even on this blog).
I suspect he hates Sgt. Peppers for the exact same reason, he thinks what you can play live matters much more than what you can concoct in a studio (Keith had a long feud with the Beatles, eventually he made up with Paul).
I imagine that he cannot imagine a digital drum beat every sounding as good as what he gets to hear every time he practices, goes into the studio, or goes on tour with the Stones (he does have the privilege of being backed by Charlie Watts - a legitimately great drummer).
He certainly doesn’t understand that most jazz players would consider him sloppy, or that his style speaks to exactly what sparked punk (the desire to return to roots rock from the garage instead of the studio). That most rap and punk players and producers were just using the tools available to them to make music the best way they could.
I mean I can understand him feeling like he spent decades honing your craft and wanting other people to earn their successes in the same way.
I can understand.
I just guess I never expected him to be the rock and roll version of the parents who can’t stand the music the kids listen to today.
I am certainly not much better, I H A T E that people don’t play live anymore...I hate that programming is replacing musicianship (in many cases). But, I tend to use that as a critique of particular artists, not so much of genres...and rarely with any personal angst (I understand people are hustling to make things work for them...I don’t hate football players for contract disputes and I don’t hate musicians for trying to get paid).
I suspect what irks Keith the most about it, is that he feels like the current generation of artists and styles of music is erasing him and all the people he idolized….he probably resents feeling like he might literally become a forgotten ghost in a vast machine.
The big problem is that he doesn’t do his homework...He doesn’t take the time to know the subject before leveling his critique.
Keith is essentializing rap down to the elements that he doesn’t like to suit his argument. In doing so, he is ignoring literally thousands of people who care about the music every bit as much as he does.
You can say many things about Kanye, for instance, but you probably can’t accuse him of not caring about his music….He certainly cares about craft, maybe not learning to play guitar, but craft - making music that moves people...and making it better.
Dr. Dre might have poked his fingers in people’s face for a few years, but he did it for a reason and it would be hard to say he doesn’t spend his time honing his craft...and what he does is a craft.
Not to mention, this is what all the music snobs said about his heroes at the birth of Rock and Roll...Did the music intelligentsia or jazz artists embrace Chuck Berry? Or was it the kids? Can’t he see the irony?
I don’t want to spend too much time refuting his argument. It is a bad argument, and if it came from anyone but Keith I would not want to give it much credibility...It is a bad argument.
But what really sucks is that Keith is a spiritual godfather of rap...he's a pirate, he is a rebel, he is a hustler and someone who has always done what it took to make it work.
He could be influential within today’s music...He was incorporating (and appropriating) urban black music way before most anyone else.
Beethoven probably did not anticipate electric guitars and Hendrix probably could not have foreseen Pro Tools. How we make music changes, but what matters is being committed to saying something special or making people feel something with just the right notes.
Keith could be an ambassador for what matters in music, instead of a diabolical hater.
I love Keith Richards, but I am sad that he is turning into a grumpy grandfather.
Oh well, Hail Hail Rock and Roll!
What do you think about Keith? Do you agree with his critique of Rap music? Let me know what you think, leave a comment