I like Keith Richards. I’ve already mentioned that here on Popthomology but it’s worth saying again because the Rolling Stones backbone has written his autobiography, "Life," which will be published on October 26, 2010, and Amazon assures me I shall receive it on my doorstep that very day. I’m not generally keen on celebrity memoirs because the authors often have little to offer outside of name-dropping gossip and not-particularly novel insight into…well, anything. Richards’ book promises plenty of salacious stories, including taking a snarky cut at bandmate Mick Jagger’s “pants pal.” Oh, boys, boys.

Why I think will make it a good read is that Richards is actually a pretty smart guy; honest to a fault and filled with good humor and a surprising amount of introspection. I don’t think the average person and maybe even the average rock fan knows this. To most, Richards remains the wild rock god, the hopeless drug addict, the take-no-prisoners pirate, the improbably-alive pre-aged monument to degeneracy, both loved and mocked for it. True, he is all of those things, but to me that is not the core of who he is. When Keith Richards first came into my young consciousness, he looked like this:

Kinda dorky in retrospect, huh? In that clip, you could still see in Richards some of the uncool misfit, the kid who threw himself into all those early rock n’ roll and R&B records and never had a chance with the girls, the regular guy, the common-sense bloke, someone you wouldn’t know was cool until you got to know him. That guy wasn’t sporting a skull ring…although he did get busted for the decidedly-dorky crime of public urination. For whatever fame and money and the times did to his head – and it surely did a great deal – I feel like Richards has fought hard to keep that kid with him. It may be the most important thing that kept him alive, in fact; something that grounded him just enough so that he never completely stepped over the edge. Look at the video again, and focus on Brian Jones. There is a difference.

However, pretty smart and fairly grounded didn't prevent Richards from going full-on rock star. Along the way, he made many deeply selfish and destructive decisions that were painful for his family, friends, and bandmates. The long chill between Richards and Jagger cannot have been only caused by Jagger’s total suck-up to the jet-set and shallow pursuits; for Jagger to trust a man whose best friend is always going to be some kind of mind-altering substance is a depressing and ill-advised pursuit. I like Keith Richards, and I like Mick Jagger, but I doubt I’d like either of them if I had to deal with them past a few beers and some bar stories. There is little chance of that, so instead I will enjoy Richards’ considerable wit and wisdom in his book, and appreciate that he lived long enough to write it. I’ll skim over some of the debauchery because, really, I’ve heard it before. But Richards’ has a real skill in coming up with some insights that are damn interesting and worthwhile, and those are what I am looking forward to mining in the pages.

The cover photograph that was chosen for the book is both contrived to feed his legend and perhaps reveal something of his character as well: that skull ring, illuminated by the fire of the lighter held like a revolver, the defiant cigarette…black-and-white, out-of-focus, hand hiding half his face, yet he's staring you right in the eye.