When I hear the term “eccentric” the first thing that pops up in my mind are the rock musicians from the 1960s and ’70s era. Though the flower power and the counterculture movement popularised the hippie (also called flower children) way of life with vibrant dressing, flower bands and psychedelic drugs, they can hardly be held responsible for the lifelong anomalous behaviour that some of these musicians exhibited. If there was to be a contest among these artists, Keith Richards would undoubtedly win the title of ‘The Most Eccentric Musician’.
We often hear about the destruction of musical instruments by many pop, rock and other musicians at the end of live performances, but seldom do we hear about incidents where an instrument is used as a weapon, that too against a fan. However, as previously mentioned, Richards isn’t just any old rock star, he’s at the top of the pile and sometimes, when you’re at the top, you have to defend yourself by any means necessary.
On December 18th, 1981, during a live performance of the Rolling Stones in Hampton, Virginia, Keith Richards rained repeated blows on a stage invader with his black Fender. The Stones were closing out the concert with ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ when the incident happened and Richards, just after wiping off the fan from the stage, returned nonchalantly to his performance as if nothing had happened.
Surprisingly enough, his guitar wasn’t affected in the least by this unusual usage and remained perfectly tuned. Mick Jagger’s reaction, however, gives comic relief to this shocking incident — Jagger was so unperturbed that it almost seemed as if the act was rehearsed. Perhaps working and performing with Richards for so many years immunised him from the former’s crazy outbursts.
In an interview post-incident, Richards explained his actions by saying, “The only reason I did it was because the security was not there — They were two steps behind. I am watching Mick’s back. I don’t know where this guy is gonna go… You know it’s a kind of automatic, instinctive thing… I just watched my man’s back.” I don’t think that anyone except Richards and probably his band members are supposed to “know” how this exaggerated reaction was “instinctive”. It definitely makes one wonder what potential threat could a fan, stage-crasher bring to make him react so violently. However, if someone chooses to see this as an example of how protective and concerned he was as a friend, then may God give all the Micks of the world their own Keith Richards.
Richards later said that his only concern at the time was: “Did I push him too far off to Charlie’s drums, so I would screw up the drumming. But I didn’t and the guitar was still in tune.” When people tell us to dedicate ourselves to the things we love, this is not what they mean. He continued to speak, laughing, “I bailed him out afterwards. He didn’t spend the night in jail…He still owes me 200 bucks.” In truth, Richards is lucky that this happened back in the ’80s because, if it were 2020, he’d be facing a troublesome lawsuit.
Given his reputation as a drug abuser, this incident probably makes everyone question “Was he high?”. However, such behaviour was and still is to be expected from Richards. He is so ill-famed that when going through his life this incident somewhat pales in comparison. He has endured several outlandish moments including the time he snorted up his father’s ashes, the moment he tried to fight Truman Capote and a brief stint he spent as a nanny while on tour in Australia. Combined, these instances will make one realise that the Hampton incident was probably a novice stunt compared to the others.
See the clip and judge for yourselves.