And Finally Artist News Beef Of The Week

CMU Beef Of The Week #299: Keith Richards v Artists Today

By | Published on Friday 1 April 2016

The Rolling Stones

Kids today, eh? Swanning around, singing songs they didn’t even write themselves. Only in the public eye because they won some competition. They don’t know they’re born. So is the opinion of Keith Richards, or at least that is what I have inferred from some vague responses he gave to a couple of rubbish questions in a recent interview. And so it came to pass that this column was filled for the 299th time.

Both Richards and Mick Jagger chatted to Time Out about their upcoming career retrospective exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery in London, which opens on 5 Apr. “The Stones are prolific songwriters”, posited the interviewer. “So do you think it’s crazy that huge artists today like Adele and Rihanna use so many songwriters?”

The premise that the use of songwriters is a ruse thought up by “huge artists today” is a shaky one to start with. Though I suppose you could possibly argue that the fact artists like Rihanna use such a large number of songwriters to craft their songs is a newer phenomenon. Though her success would suggest that this is not a “crazy” strategy.

“Well, they can’t rely on themselves, can they?” came a particularly Richardian reply.

And that’s a fair assessment, I guess. Rihanna is not a songwriter, she is a performer. Therefore, she requires songwriters to create songs for her to perform. These songwriters, in the main, are not performers. So why not ask, “do you think it’s crazy that huge songwriters today don’t perform their own songs?” It wouldn’t be any less daft.

Adele also muddies this question and Richards’ answer too. Adele and Rihanna’s processes aren’t really comparable. Adele, for one thing, is a songwriter. And she tends to write with a single writing partner each time, finding the collaborative process useful. Keith Richards and Mick Jagger also write together, so should we assume that they are inferior artists too?

After all, I’m going to guess that you’d rather listen to a Rolling Stones album than one of their solo works. And anyway, the early part of The Rolling Stones’ career was largely built on covers and songs written by other people, so I’m not sure how much stone throwing should be going on here.

“Fair enough”, replied the interviewer, incorrectly. “What do you make of music nowadays?”

“Music nowadays” is a very unspecific term, isn’t it? But whatever, vagueness allows the interviewee to decide what the question means. So what, in the opinion of Keith Richards, constitutes “music nowadays”?

“It goes round in cycles”, he began. “We’re in the midst of a heavy-duty showbiz period, even stronger than when we killed it last time. ‘The X-Factor’ and all this competition shit. It’s just for people who want to be famous. Well, if it’s fame you want, good luck. You’d better learn to live with it”.

Did The Rolling Stones “kill” the previous “heavy-duty showbiz” period? I’m not sure how history views that war. Still, maybe he’s right that we now have a young generation of artists who are simply waiting around for their turn at fame, expecting that to just happen, while being unwilling to respect the hard graft behind true artistry – or even the compromised artistry of co-songwriters Keith Richards and Mick Jagger.

Though, it’s possible one reason so few ‘X-Factor’ finalists actually sustain long-term careers is the post-show realisation of how much work goes into it such a thing. “You’d better learn to live with it”, is probably sound advice. “Be careful what you wish for”, might also fit.

Of course, for those that want to put the work in, it’s a lot harder to set yourself up in London today while you perfect your act, as The Stones did in the early 60s. “I know that Brian [Jones] and Keith were [at home] all day, while I was going to the LSE”, said Jagger of their early days. “And it was definitely a time when we were working hard, learning the blues, endlessly, all night… imbibing it. It was a major part of the band coming together”.

Of course, pointed out the interviewer, that kind of existence isn’t possible now, so is Jagger aware of how lucky they were?

“We were just living a student lifestyle”, shrugged Jagger. “There were lots of other people living that kind of lifestyle back then. We didn’t think we were particularly lucky. During those days we hardly had any money at all. Our parents used to give us some, like if we’d spent too much money in the pub and didn’t have enough for food, know what I mean?”

I think we can take that as a “no”. An existence where you just needed the occasional loan for a sandwich sounds delightful. But with those days gone, perhaps it’s easier to see why some try to sidestep the hard part of making it in music, and why the few who succeed in doing so employ others to ensure their work is as good as it can be when they get there.