dimanche, septembre 05, 2004

Keith Richards - octobre 2002

October 6, 2002
Keith Richards: Interview with Stones guitarist

Keith Richards bolts out of the dark and into the light, grips the neck of his guitar like a rifle barrel and fires the opening call to joy of the Rolling Stones' 2002-03 world tour: the fierce chords of "Street Fighting Man," a blazing rush that for Richards is the sound of life itself.
"My biggest addiction, more than heroin, is the stage and the audience," he says with gravelly cheer the next day, after that first show in Boston. "That buzz -- it calls you every time." Richards, Mick Jagger, Charlie Watts and Ron Wood will spend the next year on the road answering that call, celebrating forty years as a working band and the release of a two-CD retrospective, Forty Licks. "You're fighting upstream against this preconception that you can't do this at this age," snaps Richards, who turns fifty-nine on December 18th. He has been through worse: a long dance with heroin in the 1970s; close calls with the law and death; his volatile lifelong relationship with Jagger. And Richards talks about all of it -- as well as his ultimate jones, playing with the Stones -- in this interview, conducted over vodka and cigarettes during two long nights in Boston and Chicago.
"People should say, 'Isn't it amazing these guys can move like that? Here's hope for you all,'" he says with a grin. "Just don't use my diet."
How do you deal with criticism about the Stones being too old to rock & roll? Do you get pissed off? Does it hurt?
People want to pull the rug out from under you, because they're bald and fat and can't move for shit. It's pure physical envy -- that we shouldn't be here. "How dare they defy logic?" If I didn't think it would work, I would be the first to say, "Forget it." But we're fighting people's misconceptions about what rock & roll is supposed to be. You're supposed to do it when you're twenty, twenty-five -- as if you're a tennis player and you have three hip surgeries and you're done. We play rock & roll because it's what turned us on. Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf -- the idea of retiring was ludicrous to them. You keep going -- and why not? You went right from being a teenager to being a Stone -- no regular job, a little bit of art school. What would you be doing if the Stones had not lasted this long? I went to art school and learned how to advertise, because you don't learn much art there. I schlepped my portfolio to one agency, and they said -- they love to put you down -- "Can you make a good cup of tea?" I said, "Yeah, I can, but not for you." I left my crap there and walked out. After I left school, I never said, "Yes, sir" to anybody. If nothing had happened with the Stones and I was a plumber now, I'd still be playing guitar at home at night, or get the lads around the pub. I loved music; it didn't occur to me that it would be my life. When I knew I could play something, it was an added bright thing to my life: "I've got that, if nothing else."
Do you have nightmares that someday you'll hit the stage and the place will be empty -- nobody bothered to come?
That's not a nightmare. I've been there: Omaha '64, in a 15,000-seat auditorium where there were 600 people. The city of Omaha, hearing these things about the Beatles -- they thought they should treat us in the same way, with motorcycle outriders and everything. Nobody in town knew who we were. They didn't give a shit. But it was a very good show. You give as much to a handful of people as you do to the others.
Do you have a pre-gig ritual -- a particular drink or smoke?
I have them anyway [laughs]. I don't go in for superstition. Ronnie and I might have a game of snooker. But it would be superfluous for the Stones to discuss strategy or have a hug. With the Winos [his late-Eighties solo band], it was important. They were different guys; we only did a couple of tours. I didn't mind. But with the Stones, it's like, "Oh, do me a favor! I'm not going to fucking hug you!"
At the height of your heroin addiction, would you indulge before a show?
No. I always cleaned up for tours. I didn't want to put myself in the position of going cold turkey in some little Midwestern town. By the end of the tour, I'm perfectly clean and should have stayed sober. But you go, "I'll just give myself a treat." Boom, there you are again. Could you tell that you played better when you were clean? I wonder about the songs I've written: I really like the ones I did when I was on the stuff. I wouldn't have written "Coming Down Again" [on 1973's Goat's Head Soup] without that. I'm this millionaire rock star, but I'm in the gutter with these other sniveling people. It kept me in touch with the street, at the lowest level.
On this tour, you're doing a lot of songs from "Exile on Main Street" -- for most people, the band's greatest album. Would you agree?
It's a funny thing. We had tremendous trouble convincing Atlantic to put out a double album. And initially, sales were fairly low. For a year or two, it was considered a bomb. This was an era where the music industry was full of these pristine sounds. We were going the other way. That was the first grunge record. Yes, it is one of the best. Beggars Banquet was also very important. That body of work, between those two albums: That was the most important time for the band. It was the first change the Stones had to make after the teeny-bopper phase. Until then, you went onstage fighting a losing battle. You want to play music? Don't go up there. What's important is hoping no one gets hurt and how are we getting out. I remember a riot in Holland. I turned to look at Stu [Ian Stewart] at the piano. All I saw was a pool of blood and a broken chair. He'd been taken off by stagehands and sent to the hospital. A chair landed on his head. To compensate for that, Mick and I developed the songwriting and records. We poured our music into that. Beggars Banquet was like coming out of puberty.
The Stones are reviving a lot of rare, older material on this tour, such as "Heart of Stone" and "Can't You Hear Me Knocking." Why did you stop playing those songs?
Maybe they were songs that we tried once or twice and went, "That didn't work at all." I think we tried "Knocking" once the whole way through. When the actual song finished and we were into the jam, it collapsed totally. The wheels fell off. We tried it one other time -- "We'll just do the front bit" -- and neither satisfied us. Nobody wants to go near something that has a jinx on it. But you have to take the jinx off, take the voodoo away and have another look.
Are there Stones hits that you're sick of playing?
No, they usually disappear of their own accord. That's the thing about songs -- you don't have to be scared of them dying. They keep poking you in the face. The Stones have always believed in the present. But "Jumpin' Jack Flash," "Brown Sugar" and "Start Me Up" are always fun to play. You gotta be a real sourpuss, mate, not to get up there and play "Jumpin' Jack Flash" without feeling like, "C'mon, everybody, let's go!" It's like riding a wild horse.
The general assumption about the Stones' classic songs is that Mick wrote the words and you wrote the music. Do you deserve more credit for the lyrics -- and Mick for the music?
It's been a progression from Mick and I sitting face to face with a guitar and a tape recorder, to after Exile, when everybody chose a different place to live and another way of working. Let me put it this way: I'd say, "Mick, it goes like this: 'Wild horses couldn't drag me away.'" Then it would be a division of labor, Mick filling in the verses. There's instances like "Undercover of the Night" or "Rock and a Hard Place" where it's totally Mick's song. And there are times when I come in with "Happy" or "Before They Make Me Run." I say, "It goes like this. In fact, Mick, you don't even have to know about it, because you're not singing" [laughs]. But I always thought songs written by two people are better than those written by one. You get another angle on it: "I didn't know you thought like that." The interesting thing is what you say to someone else, even to Mick, who knows me real well. And he takes it away. You get his take. On Stones albums, you tend to sing ballads -- "You Got the Silver," "Slipping Away," "The Worst" -- rather than rockers. I like ballads. Also, you learn about songwriting from slow songs. You get a better rock & roll song by writing it slow to start with, and seeing where it can go. Sometimes it's obvious that it can't go fast, whereas "Sympathy for the Devil" started out as a Bob Dylan song and ended up as a samba. I just throw songs out to the band.
Did "Happy" start out as a ballad?
No. That happened in one grand bash in France for Exile. I had the riff. The rest of the Stones were late for one reason or another. It was only Bobby Keys there and Jimmy Miller, who was producing. I said, "I've got this idea; let's put it down for when the guys arrive." I put down some guitar and vocal, Bobby was on baritone sax and Jimmy was on drums. We listened to it, and I said, "I can put another guitar there and a bass." By the time the Stones arrived, we'd cut it. I love it when they drip off the end of the fingers. And I was pretty happy about it, which is why it ended up being called "Happy."
How do you and Mick write now?
Take "Don't Stop," for example, one of the four new songs on "Forty Licks." It's basically all Mick. He had the song when we got to Paris to record. It was a matter of me finding the guitar licks to go behind the song, rather than it just chugging along. We don't see a lot of each other -- I live in America, he lives in England. So when we get together, we see what ideas each has got: "I'm stuck on the bridge." "Well, I have this bit that might work." A lot of what Mick and I do is fixing and touching up, writing the song in bits, assembling it on the spot. In "Don't Stop," my job was the fairy dust.
What would it take for the Stones to have hit singles now, the way you churned them out in the 1960s and 1970s?
I haven't thought like that for years. "Start Me Up" surprised me, honestly -- it was a five-year-old rhythm track. Even then, in '81, I wasn't aiming for Number One. I was into making albums. It was important, when we started, to have hits. And it taught you a lot of things quickly: what makes a good record, how to say things in two minutes thirty seconds. If it was four seconds longer, they chopped it off. It was good school, but it's been so long since I've made records with the idea of having a hit single. I'm out of that game.