March 13, 2014
Keith Richards to write a children’s book with his daughter
by Julia Fleischaker
Rush Limbaugh does it. Kim Jong-il did it. And now Keith Richards wants to do it, too. I’m talking about writing children’s books, of course. According to the New York Times, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers will publish Gus & Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar, on September 9, as a hardcover (with bonus CD) and ebook.
As an adult, Richards famously snorted his own father’s ashes, and raised his children, particularly his son Marlon, in a haze of hotels, drugs, and rock star excess, but it doesn’t seem to have damaged his relationship with his children. In fact, his daughter Theodora is illustrating the new book. But he’ll draw on his own childhood for the book. As the LA Times notes, “Mr. Richards, 70, will revisit some of the childhood memories he tapped while writing “Life” – specifically, those of his relationship with Theodore Augustus Dupree, his maternal grandfather, a jazz musician who encouraged Mr. Richards to take up the guitar.”
Richards has spoken in recent years about fatherhood – and grandfatherhood – and what it means to him. In a 2013 interview with Stephen Rodrick at Men’s Journal, Richards discussed not regretting his earlier choices, and how his childrearing has changed as he’s gotten older.
I’ve got to imagine your approach to child rearing was much different with your younger kids.
Well, yes, of course – a different wife, for starters!
Patti seems to be more of a rock than Anita was.
Marlon and Angela, you know, the kids from Anita – we were basically on the run. They had to grow up on the lam. Luckily, though . . . at the same time, you’ve got to say, “Hey, you’ve got your mom and your dad around” – all kinds of shit can happen, but as long as you know they’re there, there’s been no damage. Marlon’s a great lad, he’s given me three grandkids, and Angela’s given me one. My present brood – thank God for Mrs. Patti Hansen, who has finally got her way and put me on the straight and narrow. I mean the proof is in the pudding: great kids.
What were you able to give Marlon? You were basically taking a 10-year-old on the road.
I gave him excitement! Knowledge of geography, a kind of street-wiseness that nobody else could get. He’s basically on the road with me and a bunch of musicians, I mean Stevie Wonder – he used to hang with Stevie. So he grew up in a very unique way.
Even at the height of that kind of craziness, would you try to carve out 15 or 20 minutes of father-son time a day?
Oh, man, every day! I used to do that by giving him a task that involved us both: “Today, you’re my roadie, grab my guitar” – make it a “we” thing; we’ve got to do this together. I did it that way. Like I said, a very unique upbringing, but at the same time, I don’t know a straighter guy than Marlon!
So he’s never come back at you: “Why did you make me? I could’ve been playing cricket, and you had me at the Riot House trying to shake you awake.”
It was a unique upbringing, unique circumstances. There’s no guidebook on how to bring up a kid when you’re a junkie rock & roll star. You have to rely, as they say, on eventually saying, “You’re my son, you know, we’re family.”
Were you ever worried about him?
I would’ve been if he’d given me cause to be, but he didn’t. He was going to prep school on Long Island, and he turned around to me and said, “This is no good, Dad. I want to go to England and get some education.” He made his own decision and off he went with his mom, and got himself an education. And I’m glad he made that decision, and I think he is, too, because, you know, he was hanging out with a lot of bums.
With your kids growing up with Patti in Connecticut, it’s hard to imagine you at soccer games.
Oh, I’ve been to a few end-of-year concerts and school plays. I’ve done my daddy bit, big time. It’s kind of new for me – graduations and stuff.
Do you enjoy it?
Yes, of course I enjoyed it. It was important to me because it was important to them.
You don’t feel shackled by the chains of domesticity?
No! I’m the one that cooks breakfast. When I’m at home, I’m Daddy to the max.
His transformation from grizzled, hard living rock icon to sentimental and doting elder is complete, and he seems happy with that. “I have just become a grandfather for the fifth time, so I know what I’m talking about,” he said in a statement. “The bond, the special bond, between kids and grandparents is unique and should be treasured. This is a story of one of those magical moments. May I be as great a grandfather as Gus was to me.”
Julia Fleischaker is a former director of marketing and publicity at Melville House.