This may be a bold and bizarre statement, but Keith Richards, for all the praise he has received throughout his illustrious career with The Rolling Stones, has been misunderstood. Underneath the leather skin, the heavy bags underneath his eyes, his bulging veins that were once searing with heroin, and his thick whisky-soaked ramblings is a gentle soul who has a penchant for art and literature. In his free time, he reads a lot and listens to Mozart. His rough pirate exterior is not fake, but it is a shield that he has developed from years of being in the music industry.
With his fame and influence, he also acts as an occasional patron of the arts. In his wild way, Richards is a man of culture who has lived all over the world and has a curiosity that often gets him into trouble but also in the weirdest situations.
For example, while waiting in Australia in 1973 in between flights, he holed up with a single mother who happened to have a direct connection to grade-A cocaine; she lived alone with her child. According to Rolling Stone, he stayed with them for a week, sometimes taking care of the child while the mother was away.
Richards has also spent a lot of time in Kingston, Jamaica, among the locals in a neighbourhood where most would be in trouble. Richards, being who he is and having the kind of connections he does, was able to mingle and adapt and become a member of the society. He has a ubiquitous nature, and if he happens to like you, he will do his damndest to help you.
The New York City poet and singer, Jim Carroll, most well-known for his autobiography, The Basketball Diaries, had a few books published by the late 1970s. Fellow punk poet and roommate at the time, Patti Smith convinced Carroll that he ought to try and get into playing rock music.
“I met him in 1970, and already he was pretty much universally recognized as the best poet of his generation,” Patti Smith told The New York Times. Keith Richards once attended a show at New York’s Public Theater where Jim Carroll and his newly formed band were performing. Richards rolled in after celebrating the release of The Stones’ 1980 album, Emotional Rescue.
As the writer John Milward remembers it, Carroll was reading from his famous memoir The Basketball Diaries prior to launching into a band set. “Slipping into his sidewalk prose, Carroll slowly peels 18 years off his gaunt, burnt-angel frame like a carving knife skinning an onion. But there are no tears,” Milward wrote.
“Back in 1964, Jim, the high-shooting 13-year-old star at the Madison Square Boys Club on East Twenty-ninth Street is about to take his first shot of heroin.”
One of the main things Richards and Carroll had in common, was that they both loved the evil drug, heroin. Both struggled to kick it on and off throughout their respective lives. Perhaps it was this connection that the intuitive Richards caught onto when watching Carroll perform.
Milward continued about that night, “eyes flicker to the most famous ex-junkie in the room, Keith Richards, whose bone-thin body is strung with worn leather.”
Shortly after that, Richards was able to convince Atlantic Records to sign Jim Carroll for a three-album record deal. This resulted in one of the greatest literary punk albums of the ’80s: Catholic Boy. The album was going to be released via Rolling Stones Records before it got the bigger deal with the help of Richards.
Among the musicians to contribute to this album, was Bobby Keys, a brilliant saxophone player who toured and played with The Rolling Stones.
Listen to ‘People Who Died’ from Carroll’s Catholic Boy: