Friday, January 3, 2020

Ronnie by Ronnie Wood

Multifaceted Stone
Before joining the Rolling Stones, Ronnie Wood had already enjoyed quite a career in rock and roll, having previously played with The Birds, The Creation, The Jeff Beck Group, The Faces, and Rod Stewart, in addition to recording his own very good solo albums. As the junior member of the Stones, Wood is often seen as right-hand man to Keith Richards. The latter could learn a thing or two from his underrated compadre, however. Richards’s 2009 autobiography Life may have been a literary smash, but Wood’s 2007 autobiography Ronnie is really a much more entertaining and satisfying read.

In Ronnie, Wood charts his trajectory from blue-collar upbringing to multimillionaire superstar in charming, articulate, and humorous prose. Unlike Richards, whose biography makes him seem like a rather difficult man with an enormous ego and a dangerous temper, Wood comes across as a truly likable and humble guy that one would really enjoy hanging out with, a good-time bloke who gets along with just about everyone. He has formed friendships and played music with almost all the biggest names in rock history, as well as many younger up-and-coming artists. He also reveals several surprising farther-afield friendships with celebrities like Tony Curtis, Muhammad Ali, and John Belushi. Wood is also an accomplished visual artist, and his forays into the art world add an extra dimension of interest to his narrative. In fact, he has often had to make a living from his art after having blown his Stones money on bad investments. The book is illustrated with Wood’s drawings, as well as many color photographs.

The best thing about this book, however, is that Wood possesses the unique perspective of having been both a fan and a member of the Rolling Stones. He provides the vivid behind-the-scenes look at the band that Keith seems to have purposely avoided in Life. While covering the infamous conflicts in Stones history, Wood doesn’t dwell on them, but rather chooses to focus on the sense of brotherhood between the members and how they have been there for each other over the years. The reader gets a personal inside look at what goes on when the Stones get together backstage, in their hotel suites, or at family weddings. He also provides valuable insight into the sheer insane scale of the Rolling Stones enterprise, and what it is like to be at the center of the publicity and marketing madness that has engulfed the band since the 1980s.

While this is one of the most fun rock-and-roll memoirs I’ve ever read, it may not be the most candid. Wood does discuss his alcohol and drug use, but doesn’t delve too deeply into its negative effects. On the one hand, he doesn’t brag about his substance abuse (as Richards does in Life). On the other hand, he doesn’t try to absolve his transgressions with a shower of mea culpas (see Eric Clapton’s autobiography Clapton). Wood doesn’t whine about his problems or agonize over his sins, but he does appear to have grown up and learned valuable lessons over time. By the end of the book, he appears to be a contented man who puts family first.

That brings us to the book’s main fault, which is prematurity. In 2007, when Ronnie was published, Wood still considered his wife Jo the love of his life. Since then, he has left her for a much younger woman, married another, has been back in rehab at least once, and was treated for lung cancer. It would be interesting to hear what Wood has to say about his later years. As far as things stood in 2007, however, Ronnie offers a very satisfying account of his crazy life up to that point. Any fan of the Stones should not overlook this engaging memoir.
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