Keith Richards And Stephen Sondheim Share A Moment

Categories: Stage

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Keef: What he shares with Sondheim
Reading the memoirs, back to back, of Keith Richards and Stephen Sondheim produces the cultural bends you might expect.

Sondheim's Finishing the Hat is a meticulous study of lyric writing -- and it's not intended to be full-fledged memoir -- while Richards' Life is a freewheeling stew of anecdotes meant to be read in the guitarist's wheezy, tobacco'd-chuckling semi-coherent voice.

Both are terrific. Neither has anything to do with each other.

Except for one key passage.

Both writers talk about creating songs. Sondheim's book is full of reprints of his notebooks, where seemingly dozens of attempted rhymes are tried out as he writes a verse. Richards' book is eloquent when it comes to the chords and riffs of writing a rock song, but lyrics are left to the wayside.

Richards writes rock songs -- taking lyrical ideas from a snippet of conversation, from a feeling of longing in his heart, from trying to express general feelings of love or hate or ecstasy or blues.

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He only gets his rocks off while he's sleeping
Sondheim, famously, has never written a lyric that expresses his own feelings -- he is always writing what a specific character in a specific situation, set up by the playwright, would express in song.

Neither one is "better" or more culturally important or valuable than the other -- they are writing two utterly different types of art.

But in one passage in Keef's book, he hooks up completely with Sondheim.

Sondheim's book is called Finishing the Hat from a song in Sunday in the Park with George, where the painter Georges Seurat sings of the creative joy of, well, creating.

Richards says the exact same thing, in his own way.

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