The Tao of Keith

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A collection of wisdom, witticisms, hypothetical scenarios, and recipes (really!) lays out the principles of “Keithism”

We really love our rock stars, don’t we? They’re on our t-shirts, they’re on reality TV, and their music is available at every possible outlet, providing the soundtrack for commercials, video games, sporting events, even political campaigns. Yes, pop culture and its figureheads are everywhere, and Jessica Pallington West must’ve known this when she was collecting quotes for What Would Keith Richards Do? Daily Affirmations from a Rock ‘n’ Roll Survivor, because who better to teach us how to deal with life than Keith Richards?

West’s book serves as a kind of Bible for “Keithism,” a philosophy of life based on the author’s collected Richards quotes. Starting with its first chapter, “Keithism: The Twenty-Six Ten Commandments of Keith Richards, or: How Keith Richards Can Save Your Life,” we’re told to “Accept the Rolling Stones as Your Metaphorical Overlord,” “Accept (or at Least Tolerate) Your Inner and Outer Mick,” “Nurture Your Inner Charlie [Watts],” and “Shit Happens,” among other things. Where one might expect mumbled, tantalizingly cryptic remarks from Richards, the advice here is pretty basic stuff: believe in something, there are two sides to everyone, follow your own drummer, and shit happens (just deal with it).

Some quotes from the Stones’ guitar god are woven in, but some of these appear again later the book—e.g., Commandment 17: “Be Tough, Be Brave, and Don’t Give in to the Dictates of Authority” opens with a quote: “Ever since I left school, nobody has ever heard a ‘Yes sir’ from me. Apart from a few exceptions: in court and in jail.” It appears again in the section entitled “Aphorisms for Living Life the Keith Richards Way,” under “Authority.” It seems in such places that West is trying to maximize a surprisingly thin collection of materials, and the repetition almost convinced me to close the book and put on Sticky Fingers instead.

Chapter Two, “What Would Keith Do? Living Life the Keith Richards Way,” was a missed opportunity for West to really show how Keithism may have affected her own life, or the life of someone she knows. Instead we’re given general hypothetical scenarios and Richards’ hypothetical reactions to them. In “Why Not Me? or: Being Passed over for Honors that Go to Others,” West compares the experience of a typical cubicle-dwelling office worker to that of Keith Richards’ not being nominated for knighthood when Mick Jagger was. Indeed, the office worker must have agonized: What to do?

So what would Keith do? What did Keith do? First: Talk to as many people as you can. Speak specifically to those who will be able to transmit the most bad words regarding your adversary to the largest number of listeners. Let it out. Let it bleed. You’re pissed. Say it. Eventually all the negative attention will focus onto the unworthy one, and the focus will bring up another question to those watching from the sidelines. Specifically: Was he worthy? Why him?

But is this really useful advice? For one thing, Keith Richards wouldn’t be caught dead in a “job” as you and I know it, because he wouldn’t be allowed to dress like a rock ‘n’ roll pirate—even on Casual Friday. For another, creating suspicion among your bosses and coworkers about the newly promoted will only make you look jealous and bitter, and no one will sit by you in the break room. If anyone brings in donuts, no one will stop by your cubicle to tell you about them.

This is a coffee table book, and a decent one, but it goes on too long for what it is. Instead of the shining homage West probably intended it to be, readers get a ridiculous section that pairs Richards quotes with those of some of the great philosophers. They get a Keith Richards timeline that highlights the triumphs of the Rolling Stones and Richards’ own important dates: the birth of his children and grandchildren, the death of his parents, etc.. But much of this feels like filler—especially Richards’ mother’s recipe for Shepherd’s Pie.

West is obviously a dedicated Stones fan who thinks that Richards’ views on life, creativity, and music are interesting and insightful. For that reason, What Would Keith Richards Do? is fun to pick up, thumb through, chuckle a little bit here and there, and then forget. But if you really want to know what Keith Richards will do, I say just wait and watch.


Kenny Squires lives and writes fiction in St. Louis, where he earned an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Missouri. More from this author →