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Sympathy for the devil

So it’s Saint Patrick’s day and my daughter Cate has been invited to an early afternoon party at her friend Isis’s house and even though she’s missed school that day I’ve decided to let her go for an hour or so just to say hello. At the last minute I threw on a bright green afro wig, just to be a spiv, and we drove over. The first person I see when I walk into the house, in the kitchen, large as life, surrounded by a bunch of beautiful women (where’d they come from?) was Keith Richards. I don’t have to tell you his face is one of the most recognized in the world, but it was weird to see it right there in real suburban mom birthday party life.

I gave Grainne a bottle of Thunderbird in a paper bag (ah, memories) to thank her for hosting, and then grabbed a beer and made my way to the outdoor terrace. I lit up a cigar and opened the beer. It started snowing, gently, right on cue. I figured Keith’d want to pop out for a “fag,” and after a few minutes he came out with a couple of voluptuous lovelies in tow, and lit up a cigarette. They talked for a while, while I enjoyed my cigar, the beer, and the snow. Some chain-smoking French mec and I ended up chatting about the Edict of Nantes and Charles Martel’s victory over the Muslims in 770 or so right outside Poitiers, which is the town he was from. Did I forget to mention that I’m a student of history?

Keith slowly made his way over and joined in on the conversation. I was surprised at how articulate, smart, and funny he was. Self deprecating, real. He asked questions and actually listened to what you had to say. Amazing! Grainne (who’s Irish) then came out onto the terrace holding the bottle of Thunderbird and asked who brought it. I said I did. She asked what it was. I said it was… Keith grabs the bottle and his eyes light up. “I used to drink this stuff down in Alabama in 1969 when it was a buck a bottle.” I said that’s exactly right: the famous jingle was: “What’s the word? Thunderbird. What’s the price? Fifty twice.” Where’d you get this, Keith asked, “I haven’t seen it in forever.”

I said: I was visiting my brother in North Carolina recently, and I was heading home with the 3 kids Sunday at 7 am with a 13 hour drive ahead of me. We literally crossed over to the other side of the tracks and there was a divey store/gas station/bus depot called “Fast Stop Number 2.” I pulled in, went inside, and saw there were 6 bottles of Thunderbird left on the shelf. I took all six, and was standing in line with 3 cradled under each arm when the old black wino behind me says, deadpan: “That’s what I’m talking about!” Keith said he loved that story and was going to use it. I said go ahead. We then popped it open and took turns taking swigs. Yikes! It’s nasty stuff, for sure, but I never enjoyed a bottle of wine more.

Actually, that’s not true. Only the first couple of gulps are awful – after that you get used to it. Like anything else. Y’up. The conversation ranged all over the map, literally, with Keith telling about shacking up with some single Australian woman who lived outside of Melbourne during their Pacific Tour in 1973, and changing her baby’s nappies for the week or so the affair lasted. So there’s an Aussie out there who had Keith wipe his ass! I told him about getting arrested in1985 after the Melbourne Cup for peeing in Albert Park. Our horse had won I told the officer, so I was happy to spend the night in jail. Keith laughed. We all did. I ended up getting home way after midnight.

“For 10 years I was the first name on the ‘rock star most likely to die’ list. I’m sorry to see I’m no longer on it.”

In my dreams I never thought I’d be able to hang with Keith Richards. Are you kidding me? And it gave me a huge ego boost to think he enjoyed it just as much. What’s the point of this ramble you’re probably wondering, having read this far. Thank you for that, by the way. Er, there isn’t one – I just wanted you to be envious because I’m now mates with Keith Richards. Just kidding; it’s the same, boring stuff you always hear – people are people, so be yourself, and hopefully upfront and honest. Treat everyone like human beings, because no matter how high or low, that’s what they are. And fame is fickle and fleeting. Don’t be an idiot. If you already are an idiot, try not to act like one.

Kindness matters. Empathy’s key. An open mind goes a long way. Take your medicine like a man, so-to-say. You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime... as the song goes. We’re all going to die. Epilogue – Where our hero gets his comeuppance. I finally slosh home around 2 am, wigless somehow, singing away, and my wife’s livid: Where the hell is Cate? she asks when I walk in by myself. I look at her, affronted: You think I’m gonna drive home drunk with my daughter in the car? So she gets dressed and goes back and picks Cate and the mess I made up.


Photo: Voodoo Lounge Tour, Rio de Janiero, 1995.

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