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- November 21, 1977
- Vol. 8
- No. 21
No Longer Rolling Stoned
After His Fifth Drug Bust Guitarist Keith Richards Finally Kicks the Heroin Habit
When the Rolling Stones jammed in the rare intimacy of Toronto's El Mocambo last February in preparation for their latest LP, Love You Live, it was Margaret Trudeau's attendance that set the press and paparazzi abuzz. But Stones fans the world over pondered the weekend's hard news: guitarist/composer Keith Richards, 33, was busted and charged with possessing heroin—$4,000 worth, allegedly—with intent to traffic. It was Keith's fifth and most serious drug bust in 10 years, carrying a maximum sentence, if convicted, of life imprisonment. The question was undeniable: Was this the end of the road after 15 years for those firebrands of the '60s cultural revolution?
With Mick Jagger, Richards co-writes most of the band's material and provides the instantly identifiable and matchlessly raw, rhythmic funk on acoustic and electric guitars. Without him there would be no Stones. But as he approaches a crucial December 2 pretrial hearing (which could drop the charges altogether), Keith is a rejuvenated man. Just after the bust he underwent a newly developed three-day detoxification program in Pennsylvania. The procedure is called neuroelectric acupuncture but does not involve needles. He chose it, says Keith, because there is no painful withdrawal and the method worked for virtuoso friend Eric Clapton several years ago. Speaking of his court appearance next month, Richards feels "the hearing is about whether they're happy to go along with the fact that I'm rehabilitated—it's a matter of making as positive a case as we can." Certainly, Keith has not looked healthier, more alert or confident in years.
Out on $25,000 bail, he has lived much of this year in a pastoral retreat 45 miles north of Manhattan. With him are his common-law wife of 10 years, Anita Pallenberg, 34, a German-born sometime actress (Barbarella, Performance), and 8-year-old son Marlon. Their daughter, Dandy, 5, is back in school in London with Grandma Richards. Keith's domiciles include, in addition to the rented 1790 manse in New York State, a flat in Paris, elegant homes ("paid in cash, man, no mortgages") in London and Jamaica, plus a 17th-century castle cliff-hanging over the English Channel in Chichester.
This is not to suggest that the newly domesticated Richards never leaves the hearth (actually, it has five) of his New York fortress. The other week he and Jagger got together for a midnight ramble in Manhattan. There was the usual in-group banter over whether guitarists or drummers were the "craziest," followed by Mick's half-facetious put-down of other lead vocalists like Elton John and Rod Stewart. Rod's legal hassle with Britt Ekland was the latest hoot. "She could go with Keith and me. She's so pretty we would give her $12 million anytime."
Another evening, without Keith, Mick spoke, in his calculatedly absurdist style, about problems closer to home. On his voice at 34: "Been helluva lot better. But not bad for a white person." Settling down: "I can't spend more than a month any one place. Every time I change countries my daughter has to change schools, but she has plenty to eat and loving parents. Got to take the rough with the smooth, baby." The latest gossip about his marriage: "Bianca and I are thinkin' of makin' it into a soap opera at 11:30 in the morning. It's difficult to stay together through all the sh** that's written about me sleeping with girls I've never even met. Seven years with one girl is my record. Quite an achievement." Bianca: "Everybody think's she's a bitch. She's really a nice girl. I'm quite happy. I love Bianca."
But Jagger makes no pretense about his priorities and no guarantees that his house record will go beyond seven. "For me, music is most important." As for the Stones' continued hegemony in rock music, he dismisses the tidal hype behind punk—"We're the best punk band of all." Mick concedes that Keith's legal problems are "worry-able," but notes, "There's no problem, in my mind. I'm livin' for a new act, new songs and doin' whatever we wanna do. I'm never gonna get bored." Last week, in fact, the Stones, including Keith, had regrouped in Paris, toiling eight hours a day, or rather night, cutting their first studio LP in two years. So much, insists Mick, for his jet-set press image. "I'm not really a socialite person. Keith and me are really just like people in the street."
Richards certainly came from a street-fighting start. The only child of working-class parents ("My father had the same job as foreman of a GE plant for as far back as I can remember"), Keith grew up in a home with no phone and, until his teens, no TV. On the radio he first heard black blues and white rock in the mid-'50s by Berry, Robert Johnson, Little Richard, Muddy Waters and Presley—music that would forge his blues-oriented guitar style. It is curious how many rock heavies have emerged from art school, including Clapton, Page, Bowie, Lennon and fellow Stone Charlie Watts. Keith dropped out at 16 for rock 'n' roll and within three years was a charter Rolling Stone. It was the other original guitarist, Brian Jones, now dead (he drowned in his own swimming pool in 1969), who first introduced Richards to Anita Pallenberg.
Though his domestic relationship has been the most stable of any Stone, it didn't help him at first and possibly even exacerbated his heroin problem. The addiction came about, he now analyzes, not from the merciless demands of the road and recording but rather to "take the edge off" the profound disorientation and decompression he felt when tours and extended sessions ended. Or, as he puts it, coming off "what I do best and what I really like to do and suddenly having to adjust, relaxing back in the family with nothing to do. I'm somebody who's always got to have something to do, who needs continuity rather than these constantly shifting extremes." As for drugs' impact on his creativity, Keith says, "It's dangerous when you start to attribute everything you do to what you're hung up on—instead of realizing that even if you took a ton of acid you couldn't write the greatest song if you weren't capable of it in the first place." Still, he claims, "Drink has never been a problem. I've written some of my best things pissed out of my mind."
Though Richards "won't discuss the mechanics" of his drug habit, he says he "was always clean before a tour started—I didn't want to worry about having to score." But while traveling around off-tour, he found the narcotic "a very seductive substance. You can dream up every excuse or rationalization to carry on with it." One such rationalization, it would appear, is Richards' essentially correct economic assessment that "I never considered myself a junkie because my particular situation was so different and removed from 90 percent of the people hung up on the stuff." (With enough money to keep high and avoid messing with street "garbage," it was, ironically, "a fortune in legal fees," not the high cost of heroin, that troubled Richards.) "Nothing on earth will make you go through coming off it," he says, short of a lightning bolt of logic. For Richards, the Canadian bust provided the shock; it was the signal to quit: "I had reached the point of no return. I had this realization that I was endangering everything I wanted to do and what people around me wanted to do."
The one thing never endangered was his art. Though he jokes "I'd rather have a woman anytime," Richards still plays his guitars three or four hours a day. For him, the ultimate high is rock 'n' roll.
"It's a very immediate, instinctive music," he says. "It has this incredible ability—for as long as it takes to play a particular passage—to grab you and change your whole life." But summing up 15 years with the world's greatest rock band, Keith Richards says, "It's been a long hard slog for me, mate."
November 25, 2015
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