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6 storytelling lessons I learned from Keith Richards 5

Posted on December 28, 2010 by Rob Petersen

I hope this holiday season finds you reading a good book.  In my case, that book is Life by Keith Richards, who surprises not only because he writes well (with the help of James Fox) but, even more surprising, remembers everything lucidly.

Keith is a great storyteller.  Here are 6 lessons in storytelling I learned from Life:

  1. BEGIN WITH AN EVENT:  This book begins with Keith and Ronnie Wood on tour in the US in 1976.  They stop at an Arkansas diner and are soon looking down the gun barrels of a half dozen redneck cops.  In the parking lot is their car with secret compartments filled with every imaginable drug.  If one of your fascinations with Keith Richards is his 9 lives, what happens next fulfills every one of them.
  2. SET THE STAGE:  Working class England in Post World War II begins his writings about childhood.  Craters from bombs line the middle of streets and food is rationed.  But the establishment of time and place is important for perspective.  We develop an appreciation for the storyteller, his affection for his parents and his lifelong attachment to his mom.
  3. DEFINE WHAT HAS TO BE ACHIEVED:  Once the original nucleus of the Rolling Stones forms, Keith states their mission a number of times.  He and the band are “a bunch of white guys intent on bringing black blues to the world.”  Throughout the book, even though some players change, the band find new life every time they realize these roots and lose their way whenever this focus is clouded.
  4. DEMONSTRATE DRIVE:   There are no shortage of homage to heroes that inspire.  He is driven to: 1)  Play guitar like Jimmy Reed, Bo Diddley, John Lee Hooker and Chuck Berry; 2) Capture the showmanship of Little Richard and James Brown; 3) discover the wonders of “open tunings” on guitar; particularly open G tuning with 5-strings and 4) realize his musical story, after 40+ years, is still unfolding.
  5. PLACE OPPONENTS IN THE WAY:  There are opponents of every kind:  The law (in the US and England), judges, police, managers who turn greedy, the press, guys who don’t like that their girlfriends like them, girls who mob them to the point of suffocation; even band members with split personalities.
  6. SHOW HOW, ONCE YOU GET TO THE END, THE STORY CAN BE REPLICATED BY OTHERS:  The messages of love what you do, learn from what you encounter (both good and bad) and be grounded by a strong sense of family are the consistent themes behind his journey.  Although none of us will have a life like Keith’s, it’s clear these values can be practiced by anyone and guide him until he goes.

Now, if I could learn some of his lessons on song writing and guitar.

Are you reading any good stories this holiday season?  What lessons are you learning?

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