The word ‘legend’, in reference to a musician’s contribution to the industry, is thrown around too often in the current twerking and texting generation. A few consecutive hit singles, causes the media to label any up and coming musician with that status. With the rise of reality Television, it’s also very easy to talented young musicians to rise to fame quicker. Artists come and go in terms of popularity, and the over all music industry seems to have become a revolving door of successes. And that success is so fleeting, that hit singles become outdated faster than the industry can churn out newer hits. Given this short attention span that the music industry, and overall show business seems to have, true success needs to be measured based on longevity and consistency; not a short run of good times, never to be heard from again. Musicians that have been in the industry for decades, reinventing themselves, and providing music that spans generations. Those are the artists that can truly be labelled ‘legends’.
Keith Richards is that calibre of a legend. A true living legend, Richards has been in the spotlight consistently for decades, spanning multiple trends, and ups and downs of the industry and his own personal demons. Richards’ greatness is captured in the recent Netflix Original Documentary, ‘Keith Richards: Under The Influence’. The documentary showcases Richards’ past and present, his influences in music and over all celebrates the man he is, and how he’s come to be the music icon that he is now known to be.
The documentary, ‘Keith Richards: Under The Influence’, was released in conjunction with Richards first solo album in 20 years, ‘Crosseyed Heart’. The music icon was one of the original forces behind the creation of one of history’s all time greatest bands, The Rolling Stones. A singer, and songwriter, Richards is also known as one of the worlds best ever guitarists, with a personal collection of over 3,000 guitars; so many that he has his own guitar technician who keeps it all straight, as he discusses in the documentary. The musician has inspired many other musicians, guitarist, and is considered a role model and hero for many other famous musicians.
‘Keith Richards: Under The Influence’ is a unique documentary, as it forgoes the typical format used by documentary filmmakers. Director Morgan Neville employs a more optimistic narrative, that showcases the musical life of Richards. Most documentaries tell a story that acts as a rise and fall of sorts; featuring in depth looks at the good times and bad of the subject of its film. Richards has similarly had many downward spirals in his personal and professional life. The musician has repeatedly had run ins with the law due to his drug use, including jail time and many countless scandals. There was, most notably, the falling out with partner and front man of The Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger, which was quite possibly the biggest falling out of a legendary band in music history.
Despite all this material that would have proved to be great gossip fodder, Neville decides to stay away from all the controversy, and focuses on Richards, as a musician, documenting his inspirations and motivations in life. Even the title, implying an acknowledgement to Richards drug abuse, is more literally meant to be as the social and relationship influences in his life that led to Richards being the man he is. ‘Under The Influence’ provides a more casual and relaxed look into the superstar’s life, focusing on his inspirations, ambitions and the past and future of his career. The documentary tracks his style of music and sound, based on his experiences at different parts of his life. Citing his mother and grandfather as the reason for his interest in music, and guitars, Richards attributes his beginnings to music legends like Chuck Berry & Muddy Waters and their jazz & blues styles, speaking extensively about those two as being his heroes. Richards also reveals how a lot of his rock influences came from reggae influences from his time spent in Jamaica. The documentary very adeptly showcases how these various styles influenced the man’s famous tracks during his time with The Rolling Stones, and without.
Most documentaries feature a voice over narration framing the story and flow of events, contextualizing them into an organized story for the audience. It’s very difficult to do a documentary without that style of narration. ‘Keith Richards: Under The Influence’ however, does away with all that, as the director chooses Richards himself, to tell his story. This works wonderfully as Richard’s obvious exuberance and passion for his own past comes through in his retelling of stories that shaped and moulded his personal and professional life. Hearing the words from the man himself, also adds a depth of personal meaning that a typical narrator would never be able to capture, quite as emotionally. ‘Keith Richards: Under The Influence’ is one of Netflix’ first Original Documentaries. The manner in which it was produced, with he access provided by Richards and the other musicians and producers in the documentary, featured a different introspective into the life of a musician who, over the course of multiple decades, has truly earned the right to be known as a living legend.