Please Allow Me To Correct a Few Things
Imagine if Mick Jagger responded to Keith Richards about his new autobiography.
Editor's note: On a recent morning, the journalist Bill Wyman received a UPS package containing a typed manuscript. On reading it, he saw that it seemed to be the thoughts, at some length, of singer Mick Jagger on the recently published autobiography of his longtime songwriting partner in the Rolling Stones, Keith Richards. A handwritten note on an old piece of Munro Sounds stationery read: "Bill: For the vault. M."
From this, Wyman surmised that the package was intended for Jagger and Richards' former bandmate, the bassist Bill Wyman, who has assiduously overseen the band's archives over the past five decades and with whom Wyman the journalist coincidentally shares the same name. Wyman the journalist, a longtime rock critic, was once threatened with a cease-and-desist letter from Wyman the bassist's Park Avenue attorneys and felt no compunction about perusing the contents of the package. The manuscript he received is reprinted below.
I am, I see here, marginally endowed, if I read Keith's sniggering aright. I do not sing well, either. I am not polite to employees; indeed, I have even been known to say, "Oh, shut up, Keith," in band meetings. I do not appreciate the authenticity of the music or the importance of what we do. I want to "lord it over" the band, like James Brown. I am "insufferable." I slept with Anita.
Most of that is in just the first quarter of this overlong book, but a tattoo of my failings sounds all through it and culminates in almost 20 full pages of rambling invective near the end.
I don't mind this, really, for reasons I hope are understandable and will get into later. This is all from a guy pushing 70 for whom gays are still "poofters" and women "bitches." I think so many things about Keith. We were close, the two of us, for many years. We had known each other in grade school, if you can believe it, in the same undistinguished eastern suburb. Then we bumped into each other in a train station at 18 or so and started talking about the blues. We were different; I'd already been on TV with my father, who was a fairly notable expert on physical education at the time. Keith was … rougher, let's say. For the next nearly 10 years, we were rarely apart. Even after we were famous, we lived at each others' flats or houses. We were still very young, and, like puppies, we'd cluster together.
We were barely a band before our lives changed, but I think still of the time we spent, squalidly, before we were a group, in a very cold and small flat, more filthy than you can imagine. Our flatmate Jimmy Phelge was a veritable comic virtuoso with a pair of soiled underwear. Certainly we—I—wanted to be famous, but can I point out our road to it was not absurd, exactly, but unthinkable, in the sense that we couldn't even imagine a way to do it? The London music scene was entirely insignificant, and we didn't even play the trad jazz (Charlie's métier), which dominated.
Still, we practiced day and night out of some unspoken impetus, innocent suburban boys abruptly living quite near the edge of a dark milieu. This brings me to Brian, who played guitar very well and was a brittle devil. We knew that because of many things, not least that he spent an inappropriate amount of time beating up his girls in the next room. I'm not proud of that. Keith gives himself (too much, I think) credit for rescuing Anita, eventually, from Brian; but that of course was years later. Earlier, we both listened to or watched his cruelty, in the bedroom and elsewhere; we paid no attention to the half-dozen kids he'd fathered and ignored the savagery he accomplished on tour. We didn't know better; we were priapic jackals ourselves, fucking even one another's girlfriends if they got left, as it were, unattended. But it was wrong to have let Brian do that, and Keith should have owned up to this in the book.
I supposed it is a karmic justice for Brian that we continued to watch as he descended from there to hell, harried by the police and increasingly incapacitated artistically, which further estranged him from us. Oh, that's not true; we didn't just watch. We ushered him along, ridiculing him, you might say, to death as he began to lose his ability to contribute. Again, we were young. What were you doing at 25? We didn't know about depression, insanity, addiction, or what acid might have done to him. It's unclear to me whether the drugs diminished his ability to contribute or whether the drugs were in effect a way to cover up something that wasn't there. The first song Keith and I wrote was a hit single; Brian couldn't write a song to save his life, literally. And let's remember that he was a total asshole.
I'm digressing but I'm trying to explain where we came from. We didn't have a template. Nothing against Steven Tyler, but there's a difference. We felt around in the dark; we were famous within weeks; and, in the end, we left a body or two behind us. We did these things, good and bad, together; we were friends.
The second important thing is Keith's talent. We took it for granted, in a way, as he says. We felt it was our duty to get together and write a song, one good song each day we worked. He is kind to say I could take what he gave me and run with it. But he is the one who gave me the actual song to write the lyrics to. He wrote a dozen Top 10 hits in five years, and, after the band added Mick Taylor and essentially grew up, he wrote most of Beggars Banquet and Let It Bleed. Again: What were you doing at 25? It's interesting to me how no previous song we'd recorded would have a respectable place on those albums; and any song on them would have seem out of place even on Aftermath or Between the Buttons. Keith's lurch forward was amazing. As a pure rock (not folk or pop) songwriter, I think he is not just without peer. I think he is unrivaled in depth and growth, from "As Tears Go By" to "Satisfaction" to "Jumping Jack Flash" to, I don't know, "Gimme Shelter. " "Monkey Man." "Street Fighting Man." The primal feel of the chording. The musicality of the intros and breaks. The innovation of the recording—cruder, no doubt, but I will argue far more emotionally powerful than the Beatles'. The winding, intermixed guitars he almost desperately loved. Without him, what would I have been? Peter Noone? It is hard to use a word like integrity about a band as compromised, as self-bloodied, as we were. But for some years, unlike any other group, the Beatles included, we declared war on that silly, hypocritical, repressive, and arbitrary society in which we lived. The only ammunition we had were Keith's songs. The lyrics, I confess now, may have been in their defiance just épater la bourgeoisie and in their poesy derivatively Zimmerman-esque. Even when they weren't, no one would have paid attention if the chords weren't arresting, irrefutable. The songs spoke primarily through their music, not their words. Keith's doting fans nattering on about the ultimate avatar of rock 'n' roll authenticity irritate me, it's true; but he may to this day be underappreciated.
So those two things I think, are important. Our bond; his talent. We blink at that point, and go 40 years forward, and he has written a book that says, essentially, that I have a small dick. That I am a bad friend. That I am unknowable.
The reviewers, who idolize Keith, don't ask why this is all in here. We have rarely spoken of such things publicly, and tangentially even then. We don't talk about it in private, either, and, no, he hasn't been in my dressing room in 20 years. I thought we both learned that there is no point in sharing anything at all with the press, save a few tidbits for the upbeat The Stones are back in top rocking form! article that accompanies each of our tours. I think Keith never appreciated the tedious hours I had to spend with Jann Wenner to accomplish that.
But I know why it is all here.
In the book we get the stories.
Oh, the stories. The rock, the girls. The car wrecks, the arrests. You read them on the printed page, delivered in what, I must admit, is a pretty fair written representation of Keith's slightly tangential, drawling, effeminate delivery, resting charmingly just this side of the incomprehensible.