Almanac Music: Keef’s obit (just on the odd chance he might predecease me) – Anson Cameron



Photo: Colin Abbott



Sometimes, rarely, an agitator lives to see the revolution he helped stage become mere history, diminished, a classroom tale. This prince of sedition might appear as grey-haired braggadocio in a downtown bar, his funny accent and bygone patois making the young people snigger. All but a few, who don’t laugh because they know the corrugated geezer on the barstool did, in fact, command the comrades, was mystically cool, and followed by anyone who even gently, surreptitiously, aspired to coolness.



Keith Richards lived on into an age and a time when guitar licks had become the soundtrack to nostalgia evenings in rural halls. But long before that he helped The Blues escape the American South via England. The white youth of the USA were forbidden to imbibe the black man’s voodoo. Pallid, wonky-toothed poms gave it speed and volume and scarlet and gold. They took its beat, the regular hillocks of its vertebrae, and dressed it in new fun. Rock went gold via an alchemy of sex and politics. And more than any other music, it came off like an awakening. Its devotees became a tribe apart, a tribe in which post-war hankerings were going to be sated. One of the great musical adventures had begun… all pulled off by cats under twenty-five who didn’t know where the hell they were headed but were high on the momentum.



Keith’s death has been with us always. As much part of his personal aesthetic as his skull ring. It hung about his cadaverous self like a dare. His life expectancy was a primary topic, sneeringly compared to that of lizards and Lou Reed. Odds were laid, not on the how, we knew the how, but on the when. And everyone agreed the when was nigh. Certainly he would die before any Beatle. Before The Soviet Union. He couldn’t outlast Nixon, that wouldn’t be right. He had taken the sacred oath of the Kamikaze for his art, and he owed it, and us, to splash down on society’s blazing deck. Go now, Keith. Out of the blues and into the black.



When Lennon was shot, didn’t we feel the bullets were wasted and should rightly have been used on our man, to embalm him in the youthful relevance possessed of James Dean, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and, come to think of it, Christ himself?



The sequined Svengalis of that grooviest epoch fell quickly, one-by-one, bottle and swimming pool, skinny kids given too much world, headline after headline, as we rearranged the odds on Keith. But Keith was immortally moribund. Death’s door for decades without dying. No one else has ever pulled that off. And survival isn’t even the most miraculous part of his story. Believing is.



Because somewhere around the time Mick accepted a knighthood, and despite U2’s special pleading that they had not arrived too late, rock n roll ran out of mojo, and was sold as a cameo act to Carols by Candlelight. ‘I wouldn’t let those people near me with a sharp stick, let alone a sword,’ Keith said to Mick. No knighthoods after Redlands. As Rich Cohen wrote, “Richards is the friend who won’t let you forget the promise you made under the bridge.” Keith never didn’t believe.



And who can even testify now that there was a revolt, a tribe that broke out and lived off-reservation for a while, renaming itself, calling itself new and presuming itself free? All that freedom talk was nonsense, of course, doomed to failure. Monday morning we clocked on at the warehouse. But it wasn’t Utopia we were into. We were educated kids, nowhere near stupid enough to swallow that hokum. It was riding the arc of cannon-shot before splashdown, the doomed fun of it all. And Keith astride the cannonball, Dr. Strangelove in a pirate’s shirt unbuttoned to the waist. Only a coward, after seeing Keith on black and white TV, didn’t unbutton two or three more buttons, untuck the shirt, ditch the comb and get clear-sighted enough to see exactly who was trespassing on his or her cloud.



In his last years Keith drank rum in a bar on Long Island while listening to reggae. Unmolested, unrecognized, the last member and highest priest of that louche lemminghood… the British Invasion. Could he look back and still see it, know his place in it, feel the opening bars of Can’t You Hear Me Knockin rumble across America? He never claimed a mantle. He laughed if anyone tried to explain to him his place in the pantheon. He told them he was just a guitarist in a blues band.



But every punk hefting an op-shop axe to pick a lick that might give his day meaning these last sixty years felt Keith’s breath on his neck. Man, I better make this good. Keef’s still out there. Still believing.



Keith lived his last decades as Chingachook, knowing his nation was gone to dust under new forms and old forces. In the end rock ‘n’ roll made no difference. Shocking. Even though deep down we knew it wouldn’t. But it was, at least, a hiatus of hope, a basement Renaissance we could all buy into for its sticky duration. And Keith was the el primo salesman of that delusional buy-in. Freedom, a break with the past, a better future… they’re all dodgy products. But belief in them isn’t. And Keith Richards helped us believe.




Smokie Dawson penned a list of the top 50 The Rolling Stones songs, which you can read HERE.



The photo used was taken by Colin Abbott, during The Rolling Stones’ 1973 tour. You can read more HERE.




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  1. Colin Ritchie says

    Yes, he’s a special man our Keef, immortal who knows, but he will live on forever through the music! Keith and I have a special affinity both sharing a birthday, 18 December, though KR is seven years older than me. Long may he roll!

  2. Great stuff. I loved the first half of Keith’s autobiography. Vivid picture of drab post-war Britain illuminated by quirky family. All women save for the quirky uncle with the ukulele. John Lennon & American R&B suggest absent male role models are a predictor of rock success.
    The second half drifts off into a sad boring parade of confreres unable to match Keef’s conspicuous consumption. Mick as “Her Majesty” looking with disdain at the rest of the family, but knowing that Stones and Princes are not easily dismissed or replaced.
    I’m forming an old geezer revival band – Weddings, Parties, Obituaries. We’re looking for a rakish lead singer. Know anyone?

  3. Keith died in 1977. Its a well known fact. He went the way of Jimmy and all those other celebrated figures who took life on – head on.

    Love your take on this. Out of the blue and into the black.

  4. A piece of Noosa folk legend: The story goes that, some time back, a local couple decided to go out one night to eat at a small, well regarded but inexpensive BYO pasta place. It was a quiet night with only one other couple sitting in the corner, their body language suggesting that they preferred to be left to themselves. The locals gave them a friendly nod and proceeded to sit well away. The local chap thought to himself, ‘I should know that bloke but I just can’t place him.’ Spiky unkempt hair, a much lived in face, both of them a bit boho-chic. But, hey, leave them alone. The quiet couple were just that, chatting almost in whispers, unpretentiously eating their meal and, in time, paid their bill, gave a nod and headed off. The local chap kept thinking, ‘I should know that bloke’. Eventually the locals finished their meal and went to the servery to pay their bill. ‘All done, sir. Your bill’s been paid,’ said the owner. ‘What do you mean?’ asked the local. ‘That other bloke who was here paid it for you. Your lucky day.’ The locals were very happy, of course. Then the owner said, ‘Didn’t you recognise him? Keith Richards from the Rolling Stones. He appreciated that you didn’t bother them.’

    Apocryphal perhaps but not unbelievable; if true, score one to Keef!

  5. He is going to out-live us all, Anson.

  6. Brilliant writing, Anson.
    Whole paragraphs – the whole thing – has the swagger, rhythm, confidence and imagination of the man himself.
    Love it.

  7. Malby Dangles says

    Great piece. I’m glad Keith is alive, but I’m sure this obit won’t not be out of place when he moves on in 2096.

  8. “When Lennon was shot, didn’t we feel the bullets were wasted ..” Nah, he would’ve taken swig of Jack Daniels and walked em off. Would’ve needed a scud missile to just maim him. Enjoyed the read, but not crazy about the Lennon line. Feels like a put down.

  9. When the Stones played Footy Park in ’95 a mate and I went because we thought it might be our last chance to see Skeletor (our nickname for Keef). I really like “skinny kids given too much world.” Thanks AJC.

  10. Thanks everyone.
    Ian, we Lorne folk are always up for a Noosa challenge.
    A couple of years ago, on the tour they eventually abandoned because of Mick’s bad throat (And girlfriend tragedy?) Mick was staying in Neil Perry’s beach house at Big Hill. One day this little old geezer in a porkpie hat comes into the Lorne pharmacy and asks Randall for some medicine for his sore throat. (Randal plays a pretty good lead guitar in a summer band down here.) Randall goes all bandy-legged and tongue tied and mixes the brew.
    When the geezer has left he says to the shopgirl, “Do you know who that was?”
    “No. Who?”
    “Only Mick Jagger.” “Who’s Only Mick Jagger?” she asks. She was retrenched with no severance pay.
    Or so the story goes.

  11. AJC, great comeback! Also brings to mind the story of the Wolf Blass/George Harrison encounter at the Adelaide Grand Prix many moons ago.

  12. Luke Reynolds says

    Magnificent pre-obituary AJC.

    I’ve always liked that when talk comes up around climate change/nuclear war etc. there is always someone who will comment “we need to think about what kind of planet we are leaving behind for Keith Richards”.

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