Rolling with a man called Keef

“YOU don’t stop growing until they start shovelling the dirt in…” How’s that for a quotation? Those words should be put on a T-shirt. Or even on a gravestone for those who fancy a bit of parting irony.

The speaker is an ageing rock star so splendidly gnarled that he has almost become a bad-boy cartoon version of himself, even at the age of 71. A man who says that he lives on a diet of meat and potatoes, vodka and orange and cigarettes.

And a man who was once given a Hollywood role playing himself.

Yes, of course, it’s Keith Richards, whose new solo album Crosseyed Heart is the reason for an entertaining interview in The Guardian today (

The interviewer, Alex Petridis, does a good job. But then everyone who interviews The Rolling Stones’ guitar-man does a good job. He’s an interviewer’s dream, a man wrapped in so much myth and magic that the interview writes itself. Richards has just lived so much life, filled in the grey lines with so much colour as he has sketched out that character called Keef.

Johnny Depp modelled Jack Sparrow, his Pirates of the Caribbean character, on Richards – and then cast him as Sparrow’s father in two subsequent films.

But the one thing you shouldn’t forget is that guitar playing. All the scrapes and scraps, all the bad-boy romance of bother with the police – all of that is overshadowed by the way he handles a guitar. Richards is one of the greats and he’s always done it his own way. His well-rattled skeleton must have an extra bone somewhere, a riff-rhythm bone attached to one of those other old bones. And the flesh and blood upholstering those bones is what rock and roll looks like when it gets dressed rather late in the morning. That’s why Keef endures. It’s all about the riffs. And what great riffs they are too, some of the best ever: Start Me Up, Brown Sugar, (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, Jumpin’ Jack Flash – and more, it’s a long and riffsome list.

As guitar-heads will know, Richards produces those riffs his own way, using an open-G tuning on five strings of his guitar, having long-ago disposed of the other string.

In years of watching music and going to gigs, I have only seen the Stones once. Thanks to Google for reminding me that it must have been in June 1982 at Wembley Stadium. It’s all lost in the mists a bit now, but I do recall that we were way back and watched the Stones projected onto a big screen.

Without being a mainline fan, I’ve always liked the Stones. How can you like music and not like the Stones? The purists will turn up their noses, but a good best-of is great for jogging, I find. Rolling oil for creaking knees.

As for Keef, he seems to keep on going, as if someone had put something strange in one of the Duracell bunny’s batteries. And do you know, I have something in common with the Splendid Stone. It’s not very rock and roll, but here goes. What does Richards do when he’s not being Keef, asks Alex in today’s interview.

“I watch the wife garden. She loves to prune things sometimes, and I sort of sit there and go: ‘Oh, you missed a bit’.”

I’d like to have shared something a little more rumpled ageing bad boy with Keef, something a bit more outlaw, but there you have it. We both let our wives get on with the gardening.

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