Saturday, October 16, 2010

Stars in the Firmament (Oopsy-Daisy Comments Division)

   We here at First of All adore the Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards. He has been a hero and spirit guide to us for nigh on forty years. 
   His autobiography, Life, due Oct. 26, is bound to be a good read, if excerpts in the current Rolling Stone are any indication. Keith's always been a great interview: lucid, funny, smart, knowledgeable. Even at his most drug-addled he was always elegantly spoken and possessed of a sharp wit and a penchant for analogy. 
   The book is an as-told-to (the writer is James Fox), so it'll be like reading a fifty-hour interview with the musician, a lifelong drinker who says he's not taken cocaine since incurring a head injury in 2006. He gave up heroin in the late seventies after ten years' use. 
   That opiates had a less than salutary effect on him is suggested by these two photographs, the first from 1973 and the second taken on the band's 1975 American tour:  
   The fact that he's good in an interview (and a book), however, does not mean Keith doesn't occasionally put his foot in it. Today's New York Post ran a story retailing some of the book's highlights (as has every other media outlet in the known galaxy), including, alas, this "advice" for singer George Michael, recently incarcerated on drugs charges: 
   "I say stay in jail, George. There's probably some dope and some gays. He probably won't leave." 
   Even allowing for the fact that Keith is old school (he'll turn sixty-seven on Dec. 18), sharp-tongued and provocative, the comment is disgraceful. It trucks in the tired cliche that violent rape between men is "gay" sex. Prison sex isn't "gay"; it's homosexual - that is, same-gendered sexual activity. And in this case it's about power, not intimacy. 
   This is not the first time Keith has heartlessly referenced gay men. In the late seventies, complaining about Studio 54, the au courant beautiful-people New York disco, he said, "They took a perfectly good theater and ruined it with a bunch of faggots running around in boxer shorts waving champagne bottles in your face." 
   It's true that these comments are of a piece with Keith's conversational style; he also refers to women, whom he professes to love, as "bitches." He's a seventies man. 
   Still, it is dispiriting that he needed to make the George Michael joke, because it's dumb and unfunny. It diminishes him. And it's odd, too. His wife, Patti Hansen, was a model; some gay men and lesbians are no doubt part of the Richards/Hansen inner circle. 
   Plus, the Rolling Stones, in their way, had an enormously liberating effect on postwar England and America. They were more than "rebels," though that they were. They were more like aliens, especially in the late nineteen-sixties. 
   Though possessed of a ferocious appetite for women, Mick Jagger back then appeared limp-wristed and lispy; his body, even in his twenties, was that of a thirteen-year-old boy, and he favored eye shadow and outrageously androgynous clothes:
   Keith, too, challenged male norms, although he always had about him the air of a decidedly heterosexual man. Still, dressed in satin shirts and blue jeans, wearing kohl eyeliner and blue eyeshadow, with a scarf wrapped around his neck and a high, frazzled pile of randomly chopped hair topping his head--itself precariously balanced on a heroin-and-cocaine-thinned frame--he cut a dashing if decayed figure, aged twenty-eight, when the Stones toured America in 1972 to promote Exile on Main Street, their masterpiece.

  It is, therefore, a disappointment that, so many years later, Keith would stoop to making a joke as low as the George Michael one. As a friend responded when I emailed him the Post link, "This from one of the main people who helped culture free itself from the old world's conservative shackles? Ouch." 
   A side note: you may have noticed we refer to the guitarist as "Keith" rather than, as we are wont to do, "Mr. Richards." This is because Keith is so casual and familiar that he feels like a pal. He is indeed, even when blitzed beyond belief, a friend to all, except perhaps George Michael and incarcerated men the world over. 

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