10 Things We Learned From ‘Keith Richards: Under the Influence’

18 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘And It Bloody Well Happened’: The Improbable Life Of Keith Richards.

When it comes to rock and roll fantasies, most of us would surely put “hanging with Keith Richards’ near the top of our list. Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards has revealed he is evolving and it is “so far, so good”, as he unveiled a documentary about recording his first solo album in 23 years.When he visited NPR’s New York bureau to speak with Morning Edition, Keith Richards wore his reputation on his sleeve as he lit up cigarettes between questions, just inches from our very expensive microphones.Keith Richards’ new solo LP “Crosseyed Heart” doesn’t need to compete with the Rolling Stones’ recent output — nobody’s ever fretted about topping “Bridges to Babylon.” Keef needed to come up with something that can stand next to “Talk Is Cheap.” Released in 1988 when the Rolling Stones seemed finished (how naive of us), “Talk Is Cheap” oozed out of speakers with the raw mojo and ridiculous moxie of the best ’70s Stones stuff. The musician sported a snakeskin jacket and brightly coloured headband as he arrived at the world premiere of Keith Richards: Under The Influence at the Toronto International Film Festival, accompanied by his wife Patti Hansen.

At 71, Richards grooves like he did in ’88 (or ’77) on “Crosseyed Heart.” A few of the lyrics would seem simple or silly delivered by another voice. The film follows Keith, 71, on the road from New York to Chicago to Nashville as he records his new album Crosseyed Heart, but he said the film happened unexpectedly. When those cross-cutting guitar lines combine with characteristic low-slung swagger, as on the rocking “Trouble” and “Nothing on Me”, the results are as magical as ever. Keef croons barstool ballads and shouts out boozy rockers with the wounded tenderness and carnal grunt he perfected between “You Got the Silver” and “Little T&A.” Teamed again with backing band X-Pensive Winos, including producer, drummer and co-writer Steve Jordan, the group doesn’t force anything.

Speaking on the red carpet, he said: “I just thought I would make a record and halfway through they said they would make a video and then it grew into a documentary, it was organic.” He added: “If we stood here all night I could reel off a list, Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Ray Charles. The latter is one of a few tracks on which Keith plays the outlaw, evading censure while seeking revenge; while at the other extreme, he comes across surprisingly sweet and vulnerable on the reggae groove “Love Overdue” and “Illusion”, where a duetting Norah Jones oozes calm warmth over his anxiety.

In a 2010 New Yorker profile, writer David Remnick even marveled that “through it all, the Grim Reaper was denied a backstage pass.” Five years later, Richards says the rumors of his immortality are greatly exaggerated. “Of course I’m not, but I love the idea of it,” he tells Morning Edition host David Greene. “I mean, I wouldn’t mind being. Tom Waits, Buddy Guy, Steve Jordan (who produced and drummed on Crosseyed Heart), X-Pensive Winos guitarist Waddy Wachtel and Richards’ long-serving guitar tech Pierre de Beauport all provide snippets of insightful commentary. But it’s really the Uncle Keef Show all the way, with Richards punctuating nearly every anecdote and guitar strum with a knowing grin, a phlegmy chuckle and/or the rakish twirl of a gnarled finger. He is actually a living, breathing, smart, funny human being. “I discovered that he paints and I didn’t know that, they are beautiful watercolours. But I’ve defied other people’s version of mortality, I suppose.” Richards has been busy the last decade or so — touring the world, writing a best-selling autobiography and a children’s book, and even popping up opposite Johnny Depp in a Pirates Of The Caribbean sequel.

More of a snapshot of the man in his current, exceedingly positive headspace than a chronological trawl through the ups and downs of Richards’ back pages, the documetary assiduously avoids the darker side of the Keith/Stones legend — there’s no talk of Altamont, heroin, the death of Brian Jones or Richards’ tumultuous relationship with Anita Pallenberg, for example. The “influence” of the title refers to music rather than bourbon or opiates, and Neville does a beautiful job of getting to the heart of how blues, country and reggae sounds deeply impacted Richards and the Stones, as well as the immense joy that the guitarist still clearly derives from making music. Crosseyed Heart, on which Richards is backed by his band The X-Pensive Winos, arrives Friday, alongside a new Netflix documentary about his life. “I was at sort of a loose end, and I realized there is one thing missing out of my life, the most important thing: recording,” he says. “I made the first two [solo albums] because the Stones were in one of their hibernations — and basically, I probably made this one because the Stones were in hibernation at the time.” Richards has spent a lot of time over the years waiting on his friend Mick Jagger. Apart from Lennon and McCartney, it’s hard to think of another songwriting team whose relationship has been so closely followed — and when Richards released his 2010 memoir, Life, fans learned it hasn’t always been the most stable alliance. “I think the relationship is actually still in flux, or still growing — it isn’t fixed. Mick and I don’t quite know how we stand with each other, and we never have.” One place where he and Jagger have always found common ground, however, is in their love for the blues.

Not only did he lay down the bass tracks on such classic Stones jams as “Jumping Jack Flash,” “Street Fighting Man,” “Sympathy for the Devil” and “Happy,” but he also handles all the bass duties on Crosseyed Heart. “I love this shit!” he exults, after finishing a bass take for the new record. In a recent interview with NPR, Buddy Guy named the Stones among the artists who, in the 1960s, helped push blues music into the mainstream while still acknowledging its pioneers. That aggressive guitar sound you hear on the 1968 track is actually Keith slamming an acoustic guitar at close range into the microphone of a portable tape recorder; the volume and proximity of the guitar caused the recorded signal to overload, producing a distorted, ringing sound. Richards and his bandmates have even gotten to jam with their idols — like the night in 1981 when they joined Muddy Waters onstage at Chicago’s Checkerboard Lounge. “I was dressed for business in a white shirt and vest. While paying a visit with Neville to Muddy’s decrepit old digs on the south side of Chicago, Keith recalls Willie Dixon taking him to a house party there many years ago. “It was rocking when I got here, I remember that,” he says. “It’s leaving I don’t remember.

When Keith finally arranged a meeting with Bert during the 1980s, he was so nervous about the prospect of seeing his dad again that he “took Ronnie Wood with me for protection — that’s how scared I was!” Woody’s intimidating presence ultimately proved unnecessary, however, as the reunion turned out to be a happy one. “We sorted it all out,” Keith says, “and for the next 20 years, he became my best mate.” The Internet may be crammed with jokey memes about Keith’s immortality, but the man himself appears to have semi-seriously considered the prospect of calling it a day, at least career-wise. “Keith said something that was kind of shocking, and I asked him never to say that again,” recounts Steve Jordan. “He was like, ‘You know, maybe I should retire.’ At which I completely freaked out!” Keith tries to play it off by growling, “I was talking in my sleep!” — but hey, it’s somehow comforting to learn that a seventy-something rock star occasionally thinks about the same things that normal seventysomethings do. errence Howard is standing in front of a mirror inside his extra-deluxe, penthouse-level Chicago apartment, looking at himself looking back. You could say he sees himself as he is today, dressed in a silky long-sleeve loungewear top with a scarf circling his neck, like right out of the Hollywood handbook for dapper flamboyants.

Or as what he has most recently become, a television-land megastar, for how convincingly he plays super-badass hip-hop-record mogul Lucious Lyon on Fox’s Empire, this year’s most unexpected hit show. Or even as certain others see him, including some ex-wives, as a man given to outbursts of stunning violence and domestic abuse, allegations of which are, in part, what led him to take the Empire role in the first place. “Since they see me as a bad guy,” he says his thinking went, “I’m gonna play a bad guy.” “Today, for me, has been about searching out who I am,” he says. “We’ve got all these different faces that want to come out — there’s at least four just in this moment, with a possible expansion to 432 — but which one do you let out? You love him, because the only person that’s gonna be there no matter what happens in your life is that little motherfucker.” Howard has never forgotten those words, and they’ve helped him through some pretty desperate moments. He soon found himself reduced to $40,000 a movie. “When all that stuff went down about me, you’re not in any bargaining position,” he says. “You’re shunned.

He wrote forward and backward, with both his right and left hands, sometimes using symbols he made up that look foreign, if not alien, to keep his ideas secret until they could be patented. They bear a similarity to building blocks but the shapes are infinitely more complex, in two dimensions and three, tied together by copper wire or held in place by magnets. Some of the objects are as small as mice, others as big as fire hydrants; some are hanging, some free-standing, a few larger ones lit from the inside with LED twinkle stars.

He loves them just as much as he loves himself and his infant son, Qirin, who is sleeping nearby and will one day inherit U.S. patent 20150079872 A1 (“Systems and methods for enhanced building-block applications”), among others. Taking a seat not far from Qirin, he says, “Anything you do against yourself is an attack against the people you care about.” (Later on, he will admit to “sneaking a cigarette here and there.”) Pak is here, too, tending to the child. There’s nothing worse than being a broke movie star.” “The suburbs,” Howard says, “as soon as they free up my money.” He goes on, “It’s always been a hard road for me. A few weeks later, it comes out that he and Pak had separated in mid-2014, with her filing for divorce earlier this year, citing “irreconcilable differences,” and a month from now, their divorce will be final.

All of this, in varying degrees, from the moment he first got noticed in 1999’s The Best Man, after having already spent nearly a dec-ade breaking into Hollywood. Then the movie comes out, I get all these accolades, and now the producers are like, ‘Oh, you made the movie.’ But now they’ve set it up that Terrence is difficult, and so that has followed me.” When show creator Lee Daniels first started casting Empire, he had Wesley Snipes in mind for Lucious. Because Lucious has a very base understanding of life — kill or be killed — I keep him down at a very low frequency.” It’s all about money, sex, power and, of course, family.

It was one of network television’s top-five scripted shows last season, starting off its 12-episode run with 10 million viewers and finishing up with 21 million. As for Howard’s success as Lucious, he’s playing it cool. “I’m just trying to pay my bills,” he says. “I’m looking forward to this show running its course. If I make a decent amount of money from it, I’ll retire.” He seems to be wanting a simpler life, the kind you find in Winnetka, one free of the temptations of Hollywood. “The problem with this business,” he says, “you lose yourself.” Another problem Howard has is his temper.

He’s said to have knocked at least two of his women around, most recently ex-wife Michelle Ghent, who after a 2013 trip to Costa Rica with Howard was photographed with a black eye. That time in 2001 when he was arrested for slugging his first wife (who he married in 1989, divorced in 2003 remarried in 2005, and divorced again in 2007), which led to a guilty plea for disorderly conduct? When Howard and a couple were waiting in line to be seated, they got into an argument that didn’t end until Howard knocked the man to the ground and hit the woman. One of the oddest things is how the 2005 restaurant incident echoes what happened with his father, Tyrone, then a 21-year-old unemployed laborer, at that Cleveland department store in 1971. The crime made national news and became known as the “Santa Line Slaying.” “I was standing next to my father, watching,” Howard says. “Then stuff happened so quickly — blood was on the coats, on our jackets — and then my dad’s on a table and then my dad is gone to prison.” Leaning into the softness of the sofa, he continues, “My daddy taught me, ‘Never take the vertebrae out of your back or the bass out of your throat.

Everything is just frequencies.” He picks up one of his intricate plastic what-is-its and holds it to his eyes. “Like with these things,” he says. “In those four years where I was shunned and walked away from everything, look at what I’ve created. Tesla!” He shakes his head at the miracle of it all, his eyes opening wide, a smile beginning to trace itself, like he’s expecting applause or an award. And that he is about to change the world. “This is the last century that our children will ever have been taught that one times one is one,” he says. “They won’t have to grow up in ignorance. He marched up to the table and said to the man, “I don’t know if she’s your wife or girlfriend, but she’s absolutely stunning.” She said, “That’s very bold of you.” He said, “Well, only a tiger can approach a tiger.” Three weeks later, they were married. “Isn’t that crazy?” she says today. “And we have an amazing connection.

Never, never. “And then every minute that he has free, it’s to do this.” She gestures at some of Howard’s thingamajigs, tilting her head questioningly. “I help him, cutting, drawing and putting things together. In their ghetto Cleveland neighborhood, Tyrone Howard was known as No Nation, for his mixed-race look, and Terrence was called High Yellow, for the color of his skin.

Raised to turn the other cheek, he would not fight back, until an uncle saw him get a severe beat-down at the age of 13 and taught him how to box, Rocky-style. After that, he was good to go. “I was the pretty boy, so people didn’t think I could defend myself, but it didn’t end up being a good day for them.” He first took an interest in sex in grade school. “In the ghetto, things happen a lot quicker,” he says. But by the time he was 16, he’d sworn it off, and when he fell in love with this one girl, he refused to give her what she wanted. “And then she ended up having a gangbang and called me laughing with her friends on speakerphone, and I was crying because of what had happened to my girl, not knowing that this was something she wanted.

He says he cut the wires off his dad’s electric razor, attached one end to the fuse box in the basement and pressed the other to his skin. “I did that every day for five months and then I felt the slightest little twitch inside,” he says. He had a job at Pan Am as a reservation agent, which allowed him to fly to L.A. for auditions on the cheap, where he could hand out a résumé that was full of sham acting distinctions. By and large, it’s been a trip out of poverty that seems pretty outlandish, but whether it’s apocryphal or just the way he explains himself to himself or all true, it’s exactly how he says it happened, for better or for worse.

But Howard says he told them he’d take a $1 million pay cut if they auditioned Downey and hired him. (Marvel Studios disputes Howard’s version of Downey’s hiring and the alleged salary cut, saying Howard played no part in getting Downey the job.) “Robert was so thankful and dadadadada,” says Howard. Come time to make Iron Man 2, however, the producers went to Howard’s agent, told him they were cutting Howard’s part down and wanted a salary reduction. It’s just my nature.” Then again, it’s also in his nature to say things like, “I don’t talk about my ex-wife because I don’t talk about negative things,” and later on to call out to Pak, “Hey, honey, where’s the blackmail CD?” Pak rummages around and comes up with it. It starts off with her calling him “a fucking twat.” She then goes on a rampage, threatening to sell tabloids some “fucking shitty tapes” of him having phone sex and dancing naked if he doesn’t give her the money she says she is due and barking, “You’re a fucking sociopath.

I’m so sick of the shit that you’ve put me through.” It goes on for almost 13 endless, weird, brain-frying minutes, with Howard keeping his cool throughout, both on the recording and in the present moment. It’s what has allowed Howard to go to court and ask that their 2012 divorce settlement — it gives Ghent a big part of his Empire salary — be dismissed, which in mid-August a judge will do, finding that Howard was “coerced” into the settlement.

Shut the fuck up!” (Ghent’s lawyers declined comment; however, a press release following the decision called the court’s process “skewed” and said their client “is currently evaluating her legal options.”) Afterward, Howard sets himself down on the sofa and looks like he’s gulping for air. He once said about himself, “The sooner people declare me insane, the sooner I’ll be free.” So has he ever been to a shrink? “Back in the Nineties or something.

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