Life - the Autobiography of Keith Richards
I will own up right at the start. I have been a fan of the Rolling Stones
since the early 60’s. I have been to a Stones live concert. “Jumping Jack
Flash” has been one of my favorite numbers since the mid-60’s. As regards a
book written by Stones guitarist Keith Richards, you could expect that I
would be biased. Let me assure you, I did not need to be kind in this
review. Life is one of the best books outlining the era of rock
music (ISBN 987-0-316-03441-8, Back Bay Books, 2010).
As both Richards and Mick Jagger have
grown older (now in their late 60’s) they look just as you would imagine
what sex, drugs and rock and roll does to a human body. And you are quite
correct. They have lived that sex, drugs and rock and roll style, but that
is just a facile skim of the surface. Keith Richards turns out to be quite
the philosopher as he recalls the events in his life, from schoolboy to
The book describes his life and
attitude to life with a refreshing candour. As a schoolboy he reminisces
that “One half are losers, the other half bullies.” He then extrapolates
that to the Dartford tunnel toll booths. “It’s legal to take the money and
the bullies have uniforms. You pay, one way or another.”
Keith Richards takes you through the
musicians and musical times which began to influence him. Buddy Holly,
Eddie Cochrane, Little Richard, Fats and of course, Radio Luxembourg.
He describes the feeling on playing
their first real gig, “That feeling is worth more than anything. There’s a
certain moment when you realize that you’ve actually left the planet for a
little bit and that nobody can touch you.”
The tie-up between himself and Jagger
is interesting. Richards came from the ‘wrong’ side of town, whilst Jagger
actually came from reasonably well-to-do parents who could afford to send
him to grammar school and then the London School of Economics. Despite the
disparate backgrounds they immediately hit it off.
Richards shares an affinity with black
music which extends to black musicians and even to black women, who he finds
are much more accepting than the British women.
To garner their ‘bad boy’ image, the
Stones management used the media to the band’s advantage, setting up the
band to be thrown out of a hotel at a particular time, so the press could be
in place waiting. Richards remembers this with all the cynicism that it
deserves - but it got the Rolling Stones the publicity that was needed at
Groupies get their mention,
Rastafarians, a son dying aged two months, the bust-up with Jagger, broken
strings on stage and a recipe for bangers and mash. It is a frank, warts
and all book.
B. 545 for about the same number of
pages. This book is for anyone who has lived through the post-war era, and
especially post-war Britain which gave birth to the Rolling Stones. In
reading this book, you will even find how a gardener ended up as “Jumping
One of the most eye catching covers, Deadly Animals by Gordon Grice
(ISBN 978-0-241-95129-3, Penguin, 2012) just had to be taken home to read
all about “savage encounters between man and beast”.
Author Grice has collected an enormous
data bank and comes up with some very interesting statistics. For example,
the most dangerous large animal in the US turns out to be the dog, with 4.7
million dog bites inflicted on humans in one year. In the UK 5,000 posties
are nipped each year.
Grice explains that the domestic dog is
merely part of the wolf family and belong in a dominance hierarchy. Seeing
themselves as fairly lowly members of the human clan, a dog will try to
dominate weaker humans, especially children, and goes on to describe the
deaths and injuries inflicted upon children by the family pet.
The narrative tends to be somewhat
ghoulish, with for example the tale of a young girl kept in after school in
Belarus who then had to go home alone. When she was late, the father went
looking for her. “On a stretch of snow darkened by blood and marked by the
prints of wolves, he discovered her severed head. He later killed the
Bears are dealt with in detail and the
most dangerous to us humans is the sloth bear, racking up 735 attacks on
humans with 48 fatalities over a five year period in Central India.
The big cats, lions, tigers, leopards,
pumas all have a record of killing humans (tigers having killed 12,599 in
the last century), and the job of a lion tamer is definitely hazardous.
Wild animals are never domesticated, but will seize the upper hand one day.
Aquatic creatures get their mention,
with sharks certainly near the top of the bill, but other swimmers such as
the orca (killer whale) are much more dangerous. And do not forget the box
jellyfish and its fatal stings. Interestingly, one of Thailand’s prominent
business people was attacked by a dolphin, requiring operation for a
Many other chapters follow, with
reptiles and birds, arthropods and worms, other mammals (including
elephants, which anyone living in Thailand knows are dangerous) right down
to rodents and bats.
At B. 430 it is not an expensive book,
but I felt the encounters were more between beast and man, than between man
and beast. I felt that Grice goes into gratuitous detailing of the deaths
of some unfortunates and how the muscle was ripped from the bone, or skulls
crushed and the eyes popping out. Really, all I needed to know was that the
person was killed.
Once again, I also wish to complain
about the paper stock used by Penguin. After a couple of reads, the letters
will have worn off the pages, and the reproduction of the photographs is
dreadful, with smudgy grey on grey. The interest provided by the text then
gets diluted by the poor reproduction. Penguin has been publishing since
1935, and I expect better after 77 years of being in the game. I realize
that times are tough, but please do not lower your standards, Penguin!
The Complete Encyclopedia of Flight (1848-1939)
Many years ago I had a Maiden Aunt who had been a member of the WAF (Women’s
Air Force), who gave me a wonderful book on aviation, and she inscribed it
with the words, “Hoping you enjoy planes as much as I have done.”
I did find planes interesting, but they
never caught my imagination as much as some other boyhood interests.
However, when I saw The Complete Encyclopedia of Flight (1848-1939)
(ISBN 13: 978-90-366-1600-3, Rebo International, 2006) on the Bookazine
shelves it rekindled my interest.
The Complete Encyclopedia of Flight
(1848-1939) was illustrated by John Batchelor and the text from Malcolm V
Lowe. When the Wright brothers were the first to make a powered flight with
a pilot, I was somewhat taken aback that this encyclopedia should start in
1848. Only by reading the introduction you are introduced to people such as
John Stringfellow, who made steam engine powered gliders (but no pilot) and
Sir George Cayley who made some very advanced gliders in the mid-1800’s,
which carried a boy, and later another one which carried his terrified
coachman, the first recorded flight of a man in 1853. So, the book reveals
many people who pre-dated the Wright brothers, but did not manage powered
flight, under the control of a pilot, as did the Wrights in 1903.
After the introduction, the individual
planes are examined and there are notes covering the builder, any war
experience with the plane and other items of interest including
specifications. This covers details such as Charles Lindbergh’s flight from
New York to Paris in 1927, 4,210 nautical miles covered in thirty three and
a half hours, solo.
Many of the planes and their
manufacturers I had never heard of, which made the encyclopedia even more
interesting. For example, Breguet, Cierva Autogyros, Caudron, Santos-Dumont,
Friedrichshafen, Hansa Brandenburg and even an Albatross. Of course there
are makes which most of us have heard of, including the German Junkers,
Caproni, Dornier, Fokker, De Havilland, Hawker, and of course the Spitfire
gets its rightful place, as does Von Richthofen, the Red Baron, with his
famous ‘dreidecker’ Fokker triplane.
Fascinating history such as Boeing,
which began making planes in 1916, and how when the rudimentary planes went
to war in 1914, the machine gunner could saw off his own propeller until
natty machines were invented to time the bullets to go between the blades.
There was even one idea which deflected the bullets at 45 degrees, to miss
the prop, and probably missed all the enemy planes as well.
The book looks at sea planes as well as
the more usual undercarriage, and I did not know that Amundsen tried to
reach the North Pole in a Dornier Wal seaplane.
At B. 630 this is an excellent
reference source. Gloss pages, beautifully printed, hard cover - everything
an aviation enthusiast would want. It is as promised on the front cover, a
comprehensive guide to aviation between 1848 and 1939. My Maiden Aunt, long
since departed to the airfields in the sky would have been most impressed,
by both the book, and my enjoyment of it.
A Night to Remember
We have been going through a nostalgic wave of Titanic proportions with the
100 year anniversary this month of the sinking of the “unsinkable” ship.
That being the case, I felt the Book Review column may as well follow on,
and Walter Lord’s A Night to Remember (ISBN 978-0-141-39969-0, 1956
but reprinted 2012, Penguin Books) the classic best selling account of the
sinking of the Titanic beckoned from the local Bookazine shelves.
It is a very easy book to read. Walter
Lord’s prose in not one full of flowery adjectival phrases, no judgments, no
hyperbole, but just well written from his interviews with survivors. The
events leading up to and the eventual sinking itself do not need dramatic
staccato phraseology to convey what happened. The real-life stories tell it
all without embellishment. The irony of the second class passengers having
a choir practice on the sinking Sunday night, which ended with the hymn “For
those in peril on the sea,” could not have been made up. Leonard DiCaprio
and Kate Winslet were not needed.
There are two sets of photographic
plates, with even one photograph of the iceberg which holed the Titanic,
leading to its sinking. The others show the opulence of that class of
At the back of the book is the complete
passenger list, with those who survived in italics. Those were very
different days. Amongst those who perished were Colonel J.J. Astor and
Manservant, but Lady J.J. Astor and Maid were saved. Very few people today
would be traveling with a manservant and a maid!
The rescue of the survivors and the
handling of the (mis)information by the media of the day ranged from banner
headlines to say everyone saved and the Titanic being towed to port to total
loss and then the survivors began embellishing their experiences, as well
One observation that one cannot help
making is the stoicism of the passengers aboard the ill-fated Titanic.
Those that were left without lifeboats were not storming the davits or
abusing the crew. Walter Lord wrote, “Down in the engine room no one even
thought of getting away. Men struggled desperately to keep the steam up,
the light lit, the pumps going.” Compare that with today and the
pandemonium that can ensue even at a football match. The “Me” generation
seems to have forgotten how to keep emotions under control. Or perhaps
modern culture thinks self-control unnecessary and works on the “Pull the
ladder in Jack, I’m aboard.” Mention is made of the Costa Concordia which
foundered on January 13 of this year. Comparisons between the Costa
Concordia’s captain and Captain Smith of the Titanic are odious.
At B. 385 this is a bargain. It was
meticulously researched by the original author Walter Lord, who
unfortunately died in 2002, and we have now a foreword by Julian Fellowes
and an introduction by Brian Lavery. If you have more than just a passing
interest in the events of that fateful night, you will enjoy this book. The
New York Times reported this book as “Stunning, incomparably the best
on its subject.” I concur.