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Keith Richards, le rocker indestructible des Rolling Stones

It is part of the furniture, sometimes moth-eaten, of rock mythology.

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Keith Richards, le rocker indestructible des Rolling Stones

It is part of the furniture, sometimes moth-eaten, of rock mythology. And one of the most scrutinized. Ultimate male icon of the electric guitar, whom the years do not seem to bring down, despite the many and varied mishaps along the way. Keith Richards is the last of the old grugs who, in other times, would have been a stagecoach robber, a ship plunderer, an infantryman of His Gracious Majesty, always ready to surinate the adversary on the battlefield, without dismounting. A famous video, during a Stones concert, shows him using his Fender Telecaster like a rifle butt to knock out a threatening fan, before resuming his song, as imperturbable as if he had just swatted a mosquito.

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In England, there's an old pub joke that only cockroaches and Keith Richards would survive a nuclear attack. This is undoubtedly true, as Teflon Keith is indestructible, recalling Gainsbourg who liked to raise a toast to the memory of his successive cardiologists, buried long before him. The daily jogging and vegan meals of his friend-enemy sidekick Jagger don't really fit into his mental software. A walking manifesto against cosmetic surgery, “healthy living” and the exhausting recommendations of fitness gurus, yoga and other lemon juices with ginger and turmeric, Keith Richards ideally symbolizes a bygone era when men were content to be men. What the guitarist sums up in his own way: “Lifting a bottle of vodka and playing the guitar are the only sports I tolerate.”

One day, in New York, I came across Theodora Richards, one of the two daughters the rocker had with American model Patti Hansen. Collapsed on a sofa, we recalled the rich fatherly hours. I was in the front row. Schuyler had taught me that “dad” loved to play the old cowboy when he came home after months of touring. His guilty pleasure: having his boots removed, sitting in a rocking chair, by one of his offspring, like a hairy John Wayne. The ritual of the bounty hunter returning home exhausted, with a Stetson as dusty as his gaiters: a tradition of the tenth degree that his female tribe would not miss for anything in the world.

Another story, confirming Keith Richards' sense of humor (and his good musical taste): “One evening, Schuyler confided to me, I had put a Britney Spears CD in the living room. Dad came running up like crazy and said to me: “Listen, honey, I survived as a child a Nazi V2 that blew up my crib while I wasn't in the house, an electrocution on stage, an accident while driving my Rolls, with knives from the Hell's Angels in Altamont, with the burning of one of my houses, with quintals of drugs and hectoliters of bourbon, more recently, as you know, with an accident with a coconut tree. But this is too much! If you don’t cut this shit out immediately, I’m really going to go through with it!”

Also read: When Keith Richards crossed swords with Mick Jagger

It is possible that neo-feminists, whose main quality is not humor, and worshipers of both sexes of Britney Spears will moderately enjoy these two true stories; others will appreciate it, because they depict a character, in the sense that we can appreciate a rough landscape that resists prettiness. His wrinkled face, as if furrowed with replicas of the Grand Canyon, his frankness, without filter or contrition, sign his man, whole and not a fan of this kind of dull molasses which today contaminates television sets and media everywhere.

But before, well before, at the very beginning, there was the child who was part of the choir of Westminster Abbey, during the coronation of Elizabeth II (a sort of royal debut in music), later the shy guitarist, with cauliflower-shaped ears, a skinny figure, a withdrawn and stuck-up character, lurking in the shadow of the sensual Mick Jagger and Brian Jones, the vicious little blond pixie that the girls loved. Keith Richards was biding his time, like the wolf at the sheep's door. He strongly supported the ouster of Brian Jones, too much of a drug addict to continue the group's adventure, and removed Anita Pallenberg, a sixties muse as attractive as he was disturbing. Tired of being whipped by Brian Jones dressed as an SS officer, Anita found a listening ear and a welcoming shoulder in Keith Richards who gave her three children (a little boy named Tara died after a few weeks) while she introduced him to the heroine. A woman, for better or for worse. A man, for better or for worse. Of high aristocratic and artistic extraction, Anita had grown up in Rome and made the Rolling Stones smoke their first joints in Munich. She will change Keith Richards' wardrobe, transforming it into an ambiguous bohemian, drawing from his wardrobes pieces that fit his (then) sharp body like a glove. Anita also made him read the classics of literature, to the point that the guitarist today has an impressive library of full-skin bound works.

Also read: Performer, businessman, the seducer... Mick Jagger, a star in all his forms

When a 17-year-old kid was found with his skull exploded in the couple's bed following a game of Russian roulette, Keith Richards - then absent - thought the joke had gone on long enough.

Exit Diabolo Anita. Hello Patti Hansen. Who gave him the deal: catch me if you can, but without cocaine or heroin. The blood changed in an Austrian clinic, the addictive bad manners gone, the peaceful family life he had always secretly dreamed of could finally take flight, between the New York apartment on Broadway, the Connecticut home and Jamaica, his other country of adoption. Without ever departing from a persistent thumbing his nose at sartorial conventions: Alexandra, his other daughter, attests that her father has the rare ability to wear anything. Even venturing out during the day to wear his wife's pajama pants, which gives him a curious look with an elegance that is as intriguing as it is neglected.

Keith Richards is about to embark with his friends on a new American tour to promote the album Hackney Diamonds. His insurer surely hesitated before making him sign, as we suspect, a contract with multiple restrictive clauses. At the group's last Parisian concert, we were able to observe with sadness his fingers hesitating on the neck, his playing sometimes off-beat, sometimes out of tune, to the point that we could wonder if his famous riffs are not now doubled . Plausible hypothesis. Will the octogenarian's dream, to die on stage like a Molière connected to the mains, come true? That’s all the best we wish him. Not until he's 100, if possible. See more. After all, stones never die.

Chris Kimsey, producer: “A bohemian gentleman with a gypsy soul”

“I met the Stones at Olympic Studios in London while mixing Get Your Yas Yas out! I found them again by participating in the recordings of Sticky Fingers, Some Girls and Emotional Rescue. Later, I co-produced Undercover and Steel Wheels. So I frequented them quite a bit at a certain time in my life! If I had to define Keith in a few words, I would say that he is a bohemian gentleman with a gypsy soul. I am sometimes asked what I feel about the fact that Keith is ultimately considered a much more cult figure than Mick. I would say that the lead singer of a band like the Rolling Stones has to be a different animal from the rest, part artist, part businessman - which is the case with Mick. Keith has the spirit of rock and blues intact within him. He doesn't care about the business part at all.

He is an exceptional one-man band, much more interested in his musical roots (Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, etc.) than in meetings with bankers. In the studio, he is entirely focused on composing and recording. He is obsessed with finding the right groove and the best arrangements possible. He hates dilettantism. He has to constantly refine the pieces, even if it means repeating them a lot of times. He is an absolute perfectionist. We don't see each other much anymore, life dictates that, but I only have good memories of him: he is a great man, both gentle, funny and kind, who has always been very complicit, never in mood swings or conflict. What I love above all about Keith is that he has managed to maintain, beyond fame and fortune, the same unconditional love for the popular music of the origins, a respect for the inherited values of the past and infinite gratitude for the chance he had to experience such a destiny. He’s not jaded at all.”

Thomas Baignères, singer: “A jam session in our hotel lobby in Saint Petersburg”

“My love of the Stones comes from my father, who was very close to Prince Rupert zu Loewenstein, the British aristocrat and banker of German origin, who died in 2014, who put their finances in order by making them very rich . My father has always been an absolute fan of the group, to the point of not missing any of their concerts and often watching their best shows on the big screen on the weekend. My brother, my sister and I were raised in the cult of the Stones.

It was actually Chris Kimsey who produced the EP for my English band Flare Voyant. I remember we all stayed in the same palace in St. Petersburg during the Stones' concert in Russia in June 2006. Each member had their suite on a different floor. I was 15 and I had attached a Mick Jagger brooch to my very Swinging London jacket that Patti Hansen had complimented me on. Backstage, we were invited to the large buffet set up in a room. Present, among others, were Anita Pallenberg, Keith's ex, and Hedi Slimane. We then all met in the large hall of the hotel, near the piano where a musician was playing jazz standards. Keith Richards came up to him and started humming blues classics that he loves. It was extraordinary to see this rock star, adored an hour earlier by tens of thousands of Russian fans, leaning on the piano like any other guest at the palace and caring about nothing other than having a good time. …

Keith is a very warm person who always liked to continue the festivities after the concerts. I imagine that at 80 years old, he slows down a bit when he leaves the stage… Well, with him, you never know!”

Dominique Tarlé, photographer: “I spent the most amazing six months of my life at his house”

“At the beginning of 1971, the Stones asked me to be their official photographer on their English tour, provided it was not too expensive... I obviously accepted. The tour went very well. But backstage, in London, during the last concert, Bianca, future Mrs. Jagger, was very distressed: “The Stones are going abroad, they discovered that their manager Allen Klein was stealing practically all their money, and the little what they have left is 83% taxed by the English government. Their only salvation is to settle in France.”

This is how they landed on the Côte d’Azur. Having become close to them, I decided to go down to greet them. Direction Nellcote, the sumptuous villa of Keith and Anita (Pallenberg) in Villefranche-sur-Mer, in which the group was going to record the album Exile on Main St. They had added a place setting for me. After taking photos of the group, I thought about slipping away, but Keith stopped me: What are you doing? Your room is ready. You stay there! I stayed six months. The most amazing six months of my life. The house was always open. Keith and Anita had become addicted to heroin from the French Connection from Marseillais who concocted the purest and most powerful powder in the world. I sometimes saw French “special envoys” pass by with not very reassuring faces. But Keith didn't give in: Dominique, his thing is photography, he told them, that's how he has fun. You leave him alone or I'll throw you out! Understood? One day, he asked me to accompany him to collect a package from customs. I wasn't thinking very well. What if it was dope? But no, it was a gift from Eric Clapton, a Telecaster that belonged to Muddy Waters, one of his masters. The guitar is his other drug. Fortunately, he never picked up from it.”

*The Rolling Stones will tour 16 U.S. cities from April 28 to July 17.

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