Hollow if high-revved portrait of the Rolling Stones guitarist and songwriter from rock-music biographer Sandford (Mick Jagger, 1994, etc.). The only thing missing, tellingly, is his subject’s voice.
The Stones may now be “the officially tolerated moral slobs of the middle class,” as Sandford writes, but it wasn’t always so; their early dazzle was a scandalous counterpoint to Britain’s dismal Edward Heath years, and Richards in particular has been arrested and harassed for his drug use from Japan to California. Since the author did not have immediate access to the musician or his friends for this unauthorized biography, the material comes from published work, remote interviews, fanzines, and Sandford’s relatively brief entrée with the group as a reporter. While he tells much about Richards as a virtuoso and economical guitarist, a rhythmical innovator, a musician of sentimentality, emotion, and passion, and a man versed in his traditions, all this might be surmised by acute listeners from exposure to an album or a concert. And any reader of the rock-’n’-roll music press will be familiar with his influences in the world of music, with such delicious moments as Chuck Berry telling him to “fuck off” when Richards went to meet him backstage, with his many tiffs with fellow band members, especially Brian Jones, and with the women in his life, including the mother of his children, with whom he didn't mind exchanging fisticuffs. This all renders dubious Sandford's claim that Richards has a “deep need for roots and domesticity,” not to mention the author’s timeworn rationale for the guitarist’s abundant drinking and drug use (“not so much vices as the working out of a complementary dark side without which the juices couldn't flow”). Ultimately, the author fails to convey any deep sense of what inspired either Richards’s self-destructive behavior or the songwriting and guitar work that got him dubbed the “Human Riff.”
Less than a glance at what drove “the man death forgot.”