When Mayor of London met Keith Richards was a crowning moment for him.
At the afterparty following the British GQ Men Of The Year at The Royal Opera House in London, Boris Johnson describes how his hero worship of Keith Richards began, and reveals what he said to the wrinkled rock god. [www.telegraph.co.uk]
This is an extract from Johnson’s Life of London: the People Who Made the City That Made the World, by Boris Johnson on which he describes how his hero worship of Keith Richards began, and reveals what he said to the wrinkled rock god.
“Some time in my late teens I found myself in a student house when someone put on Start Me Up by the Rolling Stones. I am fully aware of what sophisticated people are supposed to think about those first three siren-jangling chords. But the noise that came out of the bashed-up old tape deck seemed to vibrate in my rib cage.
Something in my endocrine system gave a squirt and pow, I could feel myself being transformed from this shy, spotty, swotty nerd who had spent the past hour trying to maintain a conversation with the poor young woman who was sitting next to me…It was pure Jekyll and Hyde. It was Clark Kent in the phone kiosk. I won’t say that I leapt to my feet and beat my chest and took the girl by the hand.
But I can’t rule it out, because frankly I can’t remember the details, except that it involved us all dancing on some chests of drawers and smashing some chairs.To this day I have only to hear that opening riff by Keith Richards, and that feeling comes back. That is how it is for billions of human beings. It is these hundreds of snatches of rock/pop music that remain on our mental iPods to intensify our experience and provide the soundtracks of our lives.
I would assert without fear of contradiction that rock/pop was the most important popular art form of the 20th century and continues to occupy that rank today. It has no serious challenger from the visual, plastic, poetic or literary arts, and is far more culturally pervasive than film.It is therefore one of the greatest triumphs of British culture that rock/pop had its most beautiful and psychedelic flowering in London in the Sixties.
There were at least two flashes, two supernova explosions that were seen around the world.
There were the Beatles, the most musically influential group of the past hundred years (OK, OK, they were from Liverpool, but almost all of their songs were recorded in London, and London was where they made their name). And then there were the Beatles’ fractionally more energetic rivals,the Rolling Stones – the biggest and most successful touring act in history.Middle-aged Stones fans tend to be either votaries of Mick Jagger (like Tony Blair), or else they think Keef is the really cool one. Since quite a young age I have believed fiercely that Keef was the man.
Many times I have cycled up and down Edith Grove in Chelsea, and looked out for number 102, when fate dealt me the most incredible slice of luck.
I was due to attend a ceremony in Covent Garden, where the objective was to make a short speech in honour of the noble and learned Lord Coe and to give him a prize. When I reached the Royal Opera House, the road was jammed with huge limos, glossy black Bentleys and Maybachs. Within was taking place the most important and mystic rite of the national cult of celebrity. It was the GQ Man of the Year Award.“I am sorry I am so late,” I apologized to an impossibly tall, thin, and yet somehow curvaceous, hostess who appeared at my side. “When am I on?”
“Not long now,” she said. “You’re speaking after Keith Richards.”
At last, Keith came back from having his photo taken and there took place a vicious contest for the honor of sitting next to him.
After decades of hoping, I found myself sitting inches from the kohl-eyed demigod, and I noticed that though his face was as lined as Auden’s, his teeth were American in their whiteness. We began with some small talk about how much I had enjoyed his book Life, and about his grandparents, and what it was like growing up in wartime Dartford, where a doodlebug explosion had lobbed a brick on to his cot.
But the crowd around us was jostling and jabbering ever more insistently, assorted supplicants descended like harpies, begging him to sign their napkins, their £20 notes, their left breasts, etc and I knew that I must blurt it out.
“Er, Keith,” I stumbled.
“Mr Ma-yor”, he said, in his courtly way.
“I’ve got this theory that, er…” and I gasped out the story, as told by Joe Walsh, the god-gifted guitarist of the Eagles: Walsh revealed that he had never even heard Muddy Waters until he went to hear a Stones concert, right?
“That’s right,” said Keith, nodding.
And so, I went on, you could argue that the Stones were critical in the history of rock’n’roll – by now I was half-shouting – because they gave back the blues to America!
“I’ll go with that,” said Keith with infinite affability. And I’ll go with it, too, Keith.
As 19th-century London took in sugar and oranges and sold them back to the world as marmalade, so 20th-century London imported the American blues and re-exported them as rock/pop. It was a great trade.
London has more live music venues – about 400 – than any other city in the world, and there is more happening in London every night than there is anywhere else.”
This is an edited extract from Johnson’s Life of London: the People Who Made the City That Made the World, by Boris Johnson, published by Harper Press or go to books.telegraph.co.uk
Keith and Mayor of London,Boris Johnson greeting. Photos by: Desmond O’Neill Features Ltd
Mayor of London,Boris Johnson and Keith sitting together having a chat at the after-party following the GQ Men Of The Year Awards 2011 at The Royal Opera House on September 6, 2011 in London, England. Photos by Dave M. Benet
Keith and Mayor of London, Boris Johnson meet MAJOR Peter Norton at the GQ Men of the Year 2011 Awards dinner held at The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London on 6th September 2011. Photos by: Desmond O’Neill Features Ltd