Some people say they have no regrets in their lives. Alas. Not so for me. I have many. One of them is taking to heart my childhood ballet teacher’s message: “You’re too tall for ballet.” Standing en pointe, she said, I’d dwarf the budding Nureyevs and Barishnikovs of my day. Find something else.
I can say now, so many years later, it was her loss. She never got to see my choreography for Morning Suite from Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt, or Odile’s dying scene in Swan Lake, conceived and performed alone in the privacy of the living room of my childhood home.
Fortunately, I moved on. By my early teens, the Motown beat of my hometown Detroit had me in its iron grips. I had soon mastered the Stroll, Madison, and Continental along with other dance crazes of the time, including twist, watusi, funky chicken and frug (do I see a PhD thesis in the making here, on the geneology of these dance names?). And lest I forget, I was queen of the mashed potatoes, immortalized by Dee Dee Sharp in her hit of the same name.
I react to a beat. Strongly. I have good rhythm. The right beat vibrates through my body and I have to move with it. Can’t stand still. Don’t stand still, in fact. The rhythm can be Latin, Afro-Caribbean, disco, reggae or rock ‘n’ roll, but when it’s right, the force is with me. You’ll see me jump and jive, and I’ll have the right moves.
The word rhythm is believed to come from the Greek word ‘Rhein’ meaning to flow or stream. For me, the rhythm river runs through.
So what does all this seeming self-aggrandizement have to do with Keith Richards? Only this.
Reading his autobiography Life, it’s becoming all too clear that I may have the good fortune of a few much-appreciated dancing and rhythm genes, but I didn’t luck out the same way when it comes to ‘knowing’ music the same way. Keith does. For him, the river of music runs through, deeply. It’s in his soul, and he’s got the power of rock’n’roll language to tell us about it.
This tall, lanky, white bad boy from the British Isles has the blues and rock and roll oozing out of every pore and page of his book. When he’s talking music, he’s talking pure gut.
While I love reading dish in the book about Anita Pallenberg’s abusive relationship with Brian Jones, Mick shagging Marianne Faithful, and great heroin of the ‘60s, what really knocks me out is hearing Keith talk about making music with his guitar.
Unfortunately, I don’t really understand a word of it. It’s not that he’s talking intellectually or using high hifalutin words. Just the opposite.
The guy goes in detail about stuff I can’t experience: reaching Nirvana when hitting a certain note at the right moment; tuning his guitar a certain way; turning his guitar into a five-string from a six. It’s beyond me. But for some reason, I don’t skim. I like reading it, anyway.
His love for his music is contagious and makes Keith appealing in a new way for me. R-e-s-p-e-c-t is no longer reserved for Aretha. So much so, I’d like to share a passage from the book that comes midway through. I particularly like what he says here because it's not about sound, but movement, something I can better understand:
To quote Keith:
There’s something primordial in the way we react to pulses without even knowing it. We exist on a rhythm of seventy-two beats a minute. The train, apart from getting them from the Delta to Detroit, became very important to blues players because of the rhythm of the machine, the rhythm of the tracks, and then when you cross onto another track, the beat moves.
It echoes something in the human body. So then when you have machinery involved, like trains, and drones, all of that is built in as music inside us. The human body will feel rhythms even when there’s not one.
Listen to “mystery Train” by Elvis Presley. One of the great rock-and-roll tracks of all times, not a drum on it. It’s just a suggestion, because the body will provide the rhythm. Rhythm really only has to be suggested. Doesn’t have to be pronounced.
This is where they got it wrong with “this rock” and “that rock” It’s got nothing to do with rock. It’s to do with roll.”
I love that line. Wish I could have said it half as well, Keith.
For all of you who can understand music better than I, and certainly those of you who play the guitar, you have a real treat in store for you in Life. Not into music or the guitar? The gossip’s pretty fab, too.
Who knew Keith was more than just a pretty face?