They were careless people, Mick and Keef….

They were careless people, Mick and Keef. They smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money of their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess….

I am listening to Keith Richards’ at-once fascinating and repellent memoir, masterfully read by Johnny Depp and Joe Hurley. (For terrific essay-reviews, see this one in Slate, and this one, ironically enough, in Rolling Stone.)

My own reaction, as someone who knows very little about the Stones or their music, is two-fold.

First, the relentless drive for excellence is palpable. The drive and hard work required to reach the top in this profession is really something. Richards’ musical genius and sheer craftsmanship shine through.

Second, he is a rather repellent person. Like some others with great talent and wealth, he has largely escaped accountability for the worst consequences of his own behavior. George Steiner noted that the bright light of Albert Einstein’s genius cast dark shadows over nearby surrounding lives. The shadows were much darker, more numerous, and less excusable in Richards’ case.

This memoir gets attention because of Richards’ dissing of Mick Jagger, another unattractive character. At least Jagger deserves some sympathy for his co-dependence on Richards as a brilliant but unstable collaborator and business partner over the decades.

Pondering all the trashed hotel rooms, the overdoses and drug arrests, the romantic and human casualties of many other kinds, I am taken back to a high school English class thirty years ago.

They were careless people, Mick and Keef. They smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money of their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess….

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect, tnr.com, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

7 thoughts on “They were careless people, Mick and Keef….”

  1. This is vicious.

    Fitzgerald's orginal judgment on Tom and Daisy Buchanan seems fair: they really were "careless". Daisy killed Myrtle hit and run; and Tom malevolently instigated George to murder Jay Gatsby.

    What comparable behavior can you blame on Messrs. Richards and Jagger? No doubt they lived fast and hard, but "careless" suggests that they somehow injured innocent third parties. The Stones' behavior seems confined to themselves and their willing collaborators …

    "Trashed hotel rooms"–Hoteliers who rented to the Stones knew what they were getting, and kept on renting to them because the band paid for their damages

    "Overdoses and drug arrests"–Who did the drugging injure, other than (possibly) the Stones themselves?

    "Romantic casualties" … Seems likely that the groupies got exactly what they came for–bad-boy rock stars, and perhaps plaster casts. Do you really think they were looking for good suburban husbands and fathers, but mistook the Stones for a church choral group?

  2. Harold, "as someone who knows very little about the Stones or their music", could you shed some light on why you're listening to this book? I'm genuinely perplexed — I have no interest in reading it myself (though I like the music of the Stones of the '60s pretty well), but it keeps turning up in the sorts of highbrow bien-pensant organs I read, like the New Yorker, the Times, and now a liberal policy blog. I could understand if your interest were prurient (as it seemed to be for Janet Maslin and David Remnick), but that's not what you're emphasizing.

  3. Vance, I read the other reviews and heard the NPR interview. Plus I've worked in substance abuse, and Richards' story had a familiar ring.

  4. i've not read the book but i heard terry gross interview keith richards on fresh air, before i read harold's post. i think the "careless" tag is apt in light of richards' comment that he wouldn't change a thing about altamont. not even "not rely on the hell's angels to provide security". on a lighter note, he repeatedly called terry gross "honey" and at the end when she offered her typically gracious thanks, he said "nice try"!

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