The Vancouver Sun responds to the arrival of Keith Richards: Under the Influence, a Netflix documentary by asking: How did Keith Richards become everybody’s favorite Rolling Stone?
Watching the old buccaneer in action, you have to wonder how he became so universally loved. He has been hailed as the Human Riff and anointed the worldâ€™s most elegantly wasted human being, the bad-boy pin-up for junkie chic with the heavily wrinkled face. Surely Richards should be nobodyâ€™s idea of a role model: self-indulgent, irresponsible, a star squandering his gifts on drugs and alcohol? Mick Jaggerâ€™s former partner, Jerry Hall, warned their children of the dangers of drugs by asking them if they wanted to grow up to look like Uncle Keith.
So how did such a reprobate survive five decades on the edge to become everybodyâ€™s favourite Rolling Stone?
Back when it all began, it was Jagger who was the epitome of sexy, rebellious cool. Richards was his scruffy sideman with a swaggering line in guitar riffs. Aficionados loved him but the dreamy Brian Jones was hailed as the bandâ€™s genius (not least by Jones himself). As the 60s ended, though, there was a shift in the Stones hierarchy. Richards was getting his look together: cigarette permanently attached to lower lip, jagged hair cascading around his head like an electrified mop, ragged gypsy clothing accessorized by skulls, rings and bandanas.
Dark-eyed and lean, Richards, even with his piratical flamboyance, took on a very masculine presence next to Jaggerâ€™s camp theatricality. It corresponded with his growing maturity as a musician. Richards took the reins for the Stonesâ€™ greatest run of work, from Beggars Banquet in 1968 to Goats Head Soup in 1973, reshaping blues for the modern age. But at the same time, he was developing habits that have made him the personification of all the most extravagant myths of sex, drugs and rockâ€™nâ€™roll.
I, and lots of other “bespectacled guys in knit shirts and khakis” have a thing for Zevon.
[M]ost of it seems brutally honest, underlining Zevonâ€™s years of alcoholism, resulting in strained familial relations, spousal abuse, a blown marriage, dozens of affairs, etc. The usual rock-star stuff, only this time itâ€™s presented in a â€œthis is simply how the guy wasâ€ light as opposed to either glorifying or condemning his behavior. Even after he got sober, he could be assholic: self-centered, argumentative, problematic, etc. It was made clear that his goodness, which is also noted many times over in terms of his humor, intelligence and flashes of generosity, was counter-balanced with a very dark side.
What I felt reading the book was virtually no different from the vibe I get around many musicians, whether or not theyâ€™re anywhere near the level of success Zevon had. Danny Fields had a great quote in the Legs McNeill oral history of the punk scene, which boiled down to: â€œAll musicians are assholes.â€…
It seems to me Warren Zevonâ€™s life was what happened to a stereotypical musician who hit â€œthe big timeâ€ in some respect and spent the rest of his days leading a relatively pampered rock-star life. Good work if you can get it, but I suspect your average person with zero contact with musicians doesnâ€™t understand what that implies, which is never as alluring as the image.
From what little Iâ€™ve seen, a successful recording artist or band functions in its own little snow-globe world, especially on the road. Since the artist tends to be the center of attention much of the time, he doesnâ€™t fully develop an adult sense of the world. In Zevonâ€™s case, he just took money out of the bank whenever he felt like it, had very little understanding of his finances, and assumed money would always be there for him. Luckily, it was, although it got tight from time to time as his success boiled down to a few 70s hits he either recorded on his own or wrote for others (like Linda Rondstadt, who was hugely successful back in the 70s). After 1978â€™s Excitable Boy, his albums were much more critical than commercial successes, and aside from â€œWerewolves of London,â€ he never had any huge hit singles. He often toured solo in theaters and small clubs, most likely to reduce costs and make as much money as possible.
The artist also tends to populate his world with people who either support or depend on his ongoing success. Imagine a large family where a father is encouraged to be both infantile and patriarchal, and you have your average rock star. Reading the book, thatâ€™s how Zevon came off to me. I suspect thatâ€™s how many famous entertainers conduct their private lives, save theyâ€™ll be lucky not to receive the same sober scrutiny Zevonâ€™s life receives in this book. (And not to worry if you donâ€™t like the concept of rock stars being ambiguous and hard to accept beneath the image: there wonâ€™t be too many more rock stars. And just about everyone I know comes with strings attached, sooner or later.)
Thatâ€™s also how a lot of his songs come off to me. With this renewed interest in Zevon, I doubled back and listened to his songs (of which I have just about all thanks to a returned MP3 favor from a friend). The first few albums, I was struck by how rigid his work was â€“ either a slow ballad or stomping rocker, with little in between. And most of the rock songs I can live without. For years Iâ€™ve noted how â€œRoland, the Headless Thompson Gunnerâ€ has got to be the most retarded song Iâ€™ve ever heard, from the clunky martial beat to the silly mercenary story line. (I recall cringing the first time I heard it on my brotherâ€™s basement stereo in 1978.) Iâ€™ve always favored his ballads, and those early ones, like â€œMohammedâ€™s Radioâ€ and â€œCarmelita,â€ still sound great.
Even when he lost his way a bit production-wise in the 80s, he had roughly the same formula that worked for him. What struck me most was how much his later work loosened up, to the extent I found myself more drawn to that material. He experimented with different styles (even incorporated a few celtic numbers), and there was a sense of artistic freedom I picked up on that wasnâ€™t in his earlier, more popular work. The harder-rocking songs, like â€œThings to Do in Denver When Youâ€™re Deadâ€ and â€œFactory,â€ swung more than they stomped. In his case, Iâ€™d say the lack of pressure to write and record a Top 40 hit did him a world of good. I should also note sobriety agreed with him creatively, which is sometimes not the case for recording artists.
His lyrics? Always excellent, even on musically awful songs. Another reason I never warmed up to Zevon over the years was this odd effect his songs have on writers, and not just the famous ones he knew. I canâ€™t tell you how many times Iâ€™ve been around newspaper or magazine types in bars in New York, whom I know personally to have very little taste in music, but the one thing they can all agree on is a deep, abiding Warren Zevon appreciation. And while these guys are often great writers, theyâ€™re dicks when it comes to music, jam-band types who own about five CDs. Thus, I pictured Zevon concerts being a bunch of bespectacled guys in knit shirts and khakis, rocking out to that awful headless gunner song, and recalling their crazy nights copy editing while stoned after midnight at the campus newspaper.
Procol Harum, who came to fame with their 1967 single A White Shader of Pale, have been blamed for the horrific kidnapping after people confused them with radical militant group Boko Haram.
Many across the internet have asked why the British progressive rock band would do such a thing and wondered how the hippie groovers had become “terrorists”.
One Twitter user said: “It’s shocking that Procol Harum’s records are still being played on the radio after what they did in Nigeria.”
Another wrote: “Wow! What happened to Procol Harum? Whiter Shade of Pale was a great song, but it doesn’t excuse terrorism.”
Yet despite the controversy, it seems most of the comments are tongue-in-cheek.
But it was reported that an expert with “knowledge of Nigeria” did also make the blunder too, calling Boko Haram “Procol Harum” throughout a radio interview.
This isn’t the first time that the band have been confused with the terrorist organisation.
Last July, vocalist and keyboard player Gary Brooker was forced to clear up the mess between the two groups whena US senator confused them live on Fox News.
Members of Boko Haram burned down churches and attacked a local community.
And Mr Brooker said: “We have had nothing to do with the church burning and bombing of district police headquarters in Northern Nigerian states, or any Nigerian states for that matter.
“You have us mixed up with the Nigerian terrorist organisation, Boko Haram.
“We are Procal Harum, completely different, just the name sounds a bit the same.”
The confusion led to the head of the Nigerian secret service calling for the band’s extradition.
He reportedly said on air: “As part of my investigation I have been listening to the back catalogue of Procal Harum and have to admit I am positively confused. Can somebody please tell me what on earth a â€˜fandangoâ€™ is?
“We would be interested to start extradition proceedings ASAP.”
Brooker responded to the accusations, saying: “I donâ€™t think Boko Haram have released any progressive rock albums, at least not to my knowledge, so that should prove our innocence.
Keith Richards tells the Wall Street Journal that the opening chords of Street Fighting Man were intended to imitate the sound of French police sirens.
Around this time, I became fascinated by one of the early cassette tape recorders made by Philips. The machine was compact, so it was portable, and it had this little stick microphone, which would allow me to capture song ideas on the fly. So I bought one, but as I watched the small tape-cartridge reels turn, I began to think of the machine not as a dictation device but as a mini recording studio. The problem is I couldn’t use an electric guitar to record on it. The sound just overwhelmed the mike and speaker. I tried an acoustic guitar instead and got this dry, crisp guitar sound on the tapeâ€”the exact sound I had been looking for on the song.
At the time, I was experimenting with open tunings on the guitarâ€”you know, tuning the strings to form specific chords so I could bang out the broadest possible sound. That’s how I came up with “Street Fighting Man’s” opening riffâ€”even before I bought the Philips. I based the rest of the song’s melody on the tone pattern of those odd sirens French police cars use [sings the siren and lyrics to illustrate].
Sometime in early ’68, I took the Philips recorder into London’s Olympic Sound Studios and had Charlie [Watts] meet me there. Charlie had this snap drum kit that was made in the 1930s. Jazz drummers used to carry around the small kit to practice when they were on the bus or train. It had this little spring-up hi-hat and a tambourine for a snare. It was perfect because, like the acoustic guitar, it wouldn’t overpower the recorder’s mike. I had Charlie sit right next to the mike with his little kit and I kneeled on the floor next to him with my acoustic Gibson Hummingbird. There we were in front of this little box hammering away [laughs]. After we listened to the playback, the sound was perfect.
On that opening riff, I used enormous force on the strings. I always did that and still do. I’m looking at my hands now and they look like Mike Tyson’s. They’re pretty beat up. I’m not a hard hitter on the stringsâ€”more of a striker. It’s not the force as much as it is a whip action. I’m almost releasing the power before my fingers actually meet the strings. I’m a big string-breaker, since I like to whip them pretty hard.