MB: I’ve taken several quotes from his autobiography ‘Life’, published by Orion Books, 2010. I used to attend Stones gigs as teenager, along with many other R&B and rock groups in pubs, clubs and halls around South London during the Sixties. The Stones were definitely the best however, and Keith really the linchpin of the group as his excellent book makes clear. I agree with Marianne Faithful who observed recently that the best bits of his autobiography are when he’s talking about music – where his almost child-like enthusiasm shines through.
Here are just a couple of quotes used:
‘You might be having a swim or screwing the old lady, but somewhere in the back of your mind, you’re thinking about this chord sequence or something related to a song. No matter what the hell’s going on. You might be getting shot at, and you’ll still be “Oh! That’s the bridge!” And there’s nothing you can do; you don’t realise its happening. It’s totally subconscious, unconscious, or whatever. The radar is on whether you knew it or not. You cannot switch it off. You hear this piece of conversation from across the room, “I just can’t stand you anymore”…That’s a song. It just flows in. And also the other thing about being a songwriter, when you realise you are one, is that to provide ammo, you start to become an observer, you start to distance yourself. You’re constantly on the alert. That faculty gets trained in you over the years, observing people, how they react to one another. Which, in a way, makes you weirdly distant. You shouldn’t really be doing it. It’s a little of Peeping Tom to be a songwriter. You start looking round, and everything’s a subject for a song. The banal phrase, which is the one that makes it. And you say, I can’t believe nobody hooked up on that one before! Luckily there are more phrases than songwriters – just about.’
‘Great songs write themselves. You’re just being led by the nose, or the ears. The skill is not to interfere too much. Ignore intelligence, ignore everything; just follow it where it takes you. Not to say I haven’t laboured. Some of them had us on our knees. Some are about thirty-five years old and I’ve still not quite finished them yet.’
He also says that once, rather in desperation, they used the William Burroughs trick of cutting up newspaper headlines and scattering them on the floor – they wrote ‘Casino Boogie’ like that when recording ‘Exile On Main Street’ at Richards’ house in the South of France in 1971 – but it wasn’t a technique the Stones repeated, though I believe David Bowie has at times.