I will indeed admit it when I am wrong. I watched the new Keith Richards documentary “Under The Influence” on Netflix streaming a few weeks ago. I went in with very low expectations, and I expected it to be crap. WOW, WAS I EVER WRONG!!!
I LOVED it. I was a Rolling Stones fan in the 1970s like all my friends were, but I was never super crazy about them. I was more of a Zeppelin/Who fan. Although I was a 70s rocker, I don’t get into it anymore … now that I have turned my life over to the Idols. So, I thought I was going to have a laugh-fest making fun of an out-of-touch, burned out, rich, arrogant old wanker.
Now I am feeling guilty about that. Mr. Richards showed himself to be a great artist worthy of my (and your) respect. He has aged, but that has only added to his deep, historic perspectives on rock-and-roll music. The documentary is a treat for an amateur music historian (that’s me). Mr. Richards is a MASTER of music history. The documentary shows his love and respect for the roots-music of American Rock-and-Roll, Blues, Country, Rockabilly and Folk.
He plays several examples, and as he does it, he does so with loving affection to the genres. He is warm, charming, smart, very genuine and funny. I loved all the stories of the early Rolling Stones tours in the US during the 1960s. He got to meet and play with many of his blues heroes such as Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry Bo Diddley and many others. Mr. Richards describes the great influence these musicians had on him. There was a time in the 1960s when the Stones described themselves as “Rhythm and Blues” band. There are many great moments when he pays his respects to the landscapes of American culture. I also liked what he had to say about topics like English folk music being an influence on early American Blues and Rock-and-Roll — as well as Country.
Thus “Under The Influence” is surprisingly … less about DRUG influence and more about MUSICAL influences.
When Keith Richards plays or talks about American jazz, blues and folk, he does so with great LOVE. I respected that.
Other musicians such as Tom Waits and Paul Williams also are interviewed, and they discuss their admiration for Mr. Richard’s accomplishments. He still plays with a band. He can still play that guitar. There is a reason why he is a rock god. His voice is a little aged, but he can still do it. He can still play, he can still write, and he can still experiment.
I mean musically. Of course the subject of his drug and alcohol use come up when other musicians recount a number of stories. Basically, Keith drank and smoked everyone (and everything) under the table.
He even discusses that at one point. He admits that many fans and non-fans have the image of him as drug addled. Of course that subject needs to be discussed: Mr. Richards has proven that he is a SURVIVOR. True he pretty much merged his body with drugs and alcohol. He also chain-smokes during the entire documentary.
You see, drugs did not KILL Keith Richards. He made it through the 60s, 70s, etc. without dying, and that is an accomplishment in itself. I did notice that they did not mention his hard needle-drugs period. I guess that is understandable. It is one thing to portray the rock legend as a party animal – that is cool. But to show his heroin and needle-sharing period would have been in bad taste.
No, drugs did not kill him, drugs MUMMIFIED him. Mr. Richards is VERY WELL PRESERVED, THANK YOU. To that end I have made a little slide show which shows Mr. Richards as well as several real mummies:
Can you spot the ones which are mummies, and those that are Keith?
I am left with this music history question however: Could he have even been a better musician/composer had he not done drugs? What could he have done with his musical life if he had not been stoned much of the time?
Mr. Keith Richards, I SALUTE YOU SIR! Denny highly recommends this gem of a music documentary.
Starlight: I am old enough to remember Rolling Stones singles on my AM transistor radio.