LIFE…A Review of Keith Richards’ autobiography

Harris Smart reviews Keith Richards autobiography, Life, and thinks there may be some lessons in it for us all…

There may be some people who think that the name of a reprobate like Keith Richards, guitarist with the Rolling Stones, should not even besmirch our pure pages. But I think that everyone and everything in the world has something to teach us. After all, the example that Bapak often held up as the way to do business was the ruthless and hard-headed Chinese, not the spiritual Indonesians.

The point of this brief essay about Keith Richards’ autobiography is not to say that we should emulate aspects of the life of Keith. It is not to say that we should drink alcohol excessively, use drugs, carry guns and knives or do any of the other outrageous things that have made Keith the ultimate Rock‘n’Roll outlaw survivor.

No, but it is to say that there may be lessons to be learned about enterprise by contemplating the story of the Rolling Stones. Because curiously in that story we find precisely much of the advice that Bapak oft repeated about enterprise.

I found that this book greatly illuminated my incessant endeavour to try and understand the mystery of life. I believe that it raises interesting challenges and questions for anyone endeavouring to follow a spiritual path.

I was once in a seminar in a Pentecostal church when the subject of the Rolling Stones came up. The preacher said that the Rolling Stones were satanic, by which he meant literally that they were worshippers of Satan. They had made a Faustian pact with the devil, who had guaranteed that, in exchange for their souls, they would be given every good thing on earth. Fame, wealth, more women than you could shake a stick at etc.

I do believe that the preacher’s only evidence for this assertion was that the Rolling Stones once released an album called “Their Satanic Majesties” and they also had a song called “Sympathy for the Devil”. I do not believe that these represent evidence for a pact with Satan. No doubt the Rolling Stones like to play with these ideas in their effort to confirm their image as “very bad boys”, which image of course they cultivated to differentiate themselves from “those very nice boys”, the Beatles.

The Devil has no Sense of Humour

One thing I think the devil lacks is a sense of humour, whereas the Rolling Stones have a lot of self-irony and good humour. For this reason, I refuse to believe they are of the Devil’s party. They have played around with the idea of being very wicked, but I do not think they really are.

The paradox of the Rolling Stones is best exemplified by the lead singer, Sir Michael Jagger. He is destroyed by nothing. While all around him are consumed in the flames, he walks away unscathed. He is a model of control and physical fitness. (His father was a teacher of physical fitness, and Sir Michael seems to have inherited these good genes.) He has cultivated the reputation of being a rascal and a rebel and a libertine, and at the same time he is a knight of the realm, the epitome of respectability. He loves cricket and is always to be found at Lords when there is a game on.

He embraces all contradictions. He has made a fortune out of being a broken-down, Mississippi blues-man, channeling the music made from want, suffering and despair, while amassing a fortune of more than ₤380 million. He has slept with every supermodel from Buenos Aires to Budapest. These days they are usually younger than his daughters and yet his daughters, whom these days he often takes on dates to movie premieres and suchlike, adore him. I saw a documentary about him in which it was plain that his daughters think he is great. Probably most of us would be quite happy to make a pact with the devil, if it was guaranteed that our teenage daughters would think we are terrific.

He must be in league with the devil. How could any one person have so much worldly success of every possible kind? Art, wealth, fame, women, the love and admiration of his children. He has everything.

And Keith Richards has done almost as well.  Probably, he has not been as canny with his money as Sir Mick, but no doubt he does not lack two pennies to rub together. The money, the fame, the women, the artistic success, and not only all that, he too is now happily married with lovely daughters.

It is unfair! It is outrageous! It is not just! It is not supposed to happen! How can anyone be so bad and do so well?

Talent and Enterprise

More than anything, the Stones illustrate many of the principles of enterprise as described by Bapak. (1) The aim of enterprise is to make money. Subud enterprises do not always succeed in this area but the Rolling Stones have. The group has made billions quite apart from the personal fortunes accumulated as mentioned above. (2) Talent. Bapak suggested we should try to find our talent, the thing we love, the thing we are good at, and of course the Stones have done that. (3) Prihatin. At the early stage of their career the Rolling Stones really “did it tough” living in poverty and squalor for the music they believed in. (4) Harmony. Perhaps most important of all they illustrate the principle of harmony.

This does not mean, of course, they have always got along well, nor has everything in the garden always been rosy. On the contrary, there were periods of intense feuding, private and public sniping, years when the “Glimmer Twins” (Mick and Keith) did not speak to each other, but through their many trials, tribulations and ups and downs, they somehow hung in there together, reconciled their differences and forgave each other. Keith speaks of Mick as his “brother”. And so the most enduring and successful rock‘n’roll band of all time has stuck together, a model of enterprise.

Wild horses, it appears, could not drag them apart.