Greetings this day go out to Keith Richards, the third – and easily most improbable – of the Rolling Stones to reach 70.
It is a milestone that many once thought inconceivable. Here was Richards, once the poster child for rock ‘n’ roll’s darkest and most self-destructive extremes, now serving as one of its most distinguished elder statesmen.
Like so many rock pioneers, the mythology of Richards’ public persona has often overshadowed his artistic accomplishments. And his accomplishments have been huge. As a songwriter, he remains half of a team responsible for a British pop catalog that is second only to the Lennon-McCartney works of the Beatles, while as a musician he is perhaps the most imitated of any rock guitarist outside of Bo Diddley.
The latter isn’t due to any thrillseeking abilities as a soloist, even though he possesses plenty of them (seek out his white hot burst in the middle of Sad, Sad, Sad from the 1989 Stones album Steel Wheels as one especially neglected example). Richards’ legacy primarily stems from his gifts as a rhythm player. He has created an entire vocabulary out of the simple but intoxicating riffs that ignited Satisfaction, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Brown Sugar, Start Me Up and any number of Stones classics.
Of course, the myth is also worn like a badge of honor, especially onstage. There, Richards continues to pilot an ageless battalion of hits. I remember thinking after the Stones last played Rupp Arena (32 years ago this month) that I was witnessing the last go-round for Richards, who resembled a wiry zombie at the time.
Today, looking more like a weathered pirate, he may wear every bit of his 70 years within the tufts of grey hair and crisscrossing lines that detail his face. Lucky for us, though, this devilish rock ‘n’ roll survivor still taps into some limitless wellspring of youth whenever he plays/
“The grind is never the stage performance,” Richard wrote in his 2010 autobiography, Life.. “I can play the same song again and again, year after year… The real release is getting on stage. Once we’re up there doing it, it’s sheer fun and joy.”