The show that saved Keith Richards’ life

For many artists, music stands as a steadfast companion through life’s peaks and valleys. It not only facilitates a livelihood doing what they love but also serves as a solace during the bleakest moments when hope seems elusive. Amidst the myriad celebrations that artists call their concerts, Keith Richards, the iconic guitarist of The Rolling Stones, identifies one particular performance as a genuine lifesaver.

The Rolling Stones‘ concert stage, however, isn’t renowned for its safety. Despite Richards’ perpetual endeavor to exude the epitome of cool with his guitar slung casually across his back, he hasn’t shied away from using it as a weapon when the need arose, brandishing it like a battle axe to clear his path on more than a few occasions.

Emerging from the psychedelic haze of the 1960s, Richards ushered the band into some of its darkest periods. Amidst battling a heroin addiction, he infused their next albums, such as Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main St, with a more sinister musical edge, immersing them in the throes of rock and roll hedonism.

As Richards embarked on the journey of sobriety, personal tribulations awaited him at home. Off the touring circuit, he devoted time to his young son, Tara, alongside his girlfriend, Anita Pallenberg. Tragedy struck when the infant passed away at a mere ten weeks old. Juggling the demands of a rock star’s life—months spent on the road—with the responsibilities of parenthood, Richards received a devastating phone call just before the band was set to perform in Paris.

While many musicians might have halted the tour to grieve, Richards pressed on, asserting a preference for the stage over the solitude of his hotel room. Reflecting on that pivotal show, Richards confessed that if he hadn’t taken the stage that night, he might have succumbed to the same fate as Tara.

Recalling the tragedy later, Richards acknowledged the emotional fortifications he erected during the performance, stating, “Maybe it was a sense of self-preservation. It was a rough, rough thing. And I had a feeling. I must go on stage now, and I’ll worry and grieve and think about all this after the show. Because if it didn’t go on the stage, I’d have probably shot myself.”

Richards’ decision echoes a common thread among rock stars who utilize their craft as a coping mechanism. Just a few years later, Paul McCartney similarly sought refuge in the studio following the death of John Lennon, choosing creation over the contemplative solitude of home.

Post-tour, after mourning in private, Richards channeled his pain into the music, contributing to songs for The Stones’ next blockbuster album, Some Girls. Unyielding in his love for the stage, Richards continues to guide the band into the 2020s, adapting with Steve Jordan following the passing of Charlie Watts. Concerts, nerve-wracking for any performer, became a therapeutic balm for Richards, a means to heal internal wounds when life dealt its harshest blows.

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