Dan Chiasson / Kent Johnson / Richards's [Fox's] LIFE
In which after a comment on this blog yesterday I go looking for Kent Johnson, and find him alive and well, reading a review of the new memoir of Keith Richards.
The review in question:
A relevant snippet: Dan Chiasson on Keith Richards’s Life:
“He is, however, also a marvelous sentence-maker, though every sentence seems cut short by the eruption (to the reader, inaudible) of phlegm from his lungs and the consequent coughing fit. This kind of spasm punctuates all of Richards’s spoken statements; you can hear it in any interview, and, in a book that feels entirely dictated, it also happens on the page.”
Well, it should feel dictated, because it was, and it seems exceptionally odd that Chiasson isn’t mentioning that. Over the span of five years, writer James Fox interviewed Richards, and then wrote the book from those interviews. It’s no big deal, of course. No shocking revelation there. Fox’s name’s on the cover and all . . . but still, Dan Chiasson, to all appearances, seems not to have noticed, as Kent Johnson says in a comment over at 3 Quarks Daily:
[From Kent Johnson]:
There is something really strange about this review.
Chiasson praises Richards's "writing" in distinctly effusive terms. He marvels at Richards's "sharpness" of phrasing, structure, and pace in wake of decades of heroin and whatnot. A few examples of Chiasson's esteem for KR's prose:
"You expect that his memoir would be written in the language-equivalent of those facial expressions, but Richards is and always has been a writer, one of the greatest songwriters in rock history."
"He is, however, also a marvelous sentence-maker [...]"
and concluding the review:
"[...] this splendid autobiography: sharpness, snarl, antisocial affability, immersion in music first, myth-making second, and above all (in prose, as on the guitar) a kind of virtuosity—a talent for life—that makes style beside the point."
Chiasson, even, fairly swoons over Richards's gifts for sculpting an overall tonal atmosphere appropriate to persona and "moral position," comparing him to none other than Thoreau:
"Richards elevates expertise, street smarts, tactical rather than strategic intelligence, industry, and adaptability over all forms of metaphysical cant... These are the Thoreauvian virtues, and Life is at times a kind of peregrine Walden."
Yet nowhere, so far as I can see, save in the heading beneath the title of the piece, is James Fox, the ghostwriter of Life, ever even mentioned. In context of a review that makes so much of the stylistic gifts of Keith Richards the prose writer, I'm not quite sure how on earth that could've happened.
Johnson's observation reveals an interesting moment of reviewer glaze, where the facts of a book’s production don’t fit the theme of the review and are overlooked.
Just in case you want to look further, here’s an interview with Fox that talks about how the book was written:
[Here’s a snippet]
Getting Keith Richards to sit still was the first problem.
“I’d have to catch him like a salmon,” says James Fox, the British journalist who spent five years wrangling the legendary Rolling Stones guitarist in service of Life, Richards’ new memoir, which debuted this week to rave reviews.
The effort spanned two continents and included countless hours lost to procrastination, says Fox, who pieced together the memoir from free-form interviews with the famously clever, witty, and drug-addled rocker. But after this initial “approach resistance”—after Fox managed to trap Richards in front of a microphone—he settled into a candid, colorful, and surprisingly lucid recounting of his years on the road with the Rolling Stones.