Monday, March 16, 2009

Book Review: Ronnie by Ronnie Wood

This rock n' roll autobiography deserves more treatment, but is enough to placate.

By Clarence Yu
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The Glimmer Twins' (Mick Jagger and Keith Richards) life stories have been so highly publicized that one feels that they need not publish their own autobiographies, thereby adding more stories to the mix. Bill Wyman has published his own revealing memoir (Stone Alone) which seems surprisingly bitter in tone and provides for a detailed inside look from the Stone who moved the least on stage but had the most groupies amongst all.

Now with Ronnie Wood's autobiography, simply titled Ronnie, what is being attempted here? For starters, Ronnie Wood is the third lead guitarist to fill the position, after the death of original Stone Brian Jones and the questionable departure of Mick Taylor, begging the question: what does it take to be a Stone besides being a good guitar player?

Ronnie provides the answers in spades. In a sense, this incomplete autobiography is much like his guitar playing — without the rhythm of Keith Richards' playing, the sound is only half-complete, shades of the complete painting that can only be revealed in a group autobiography.

Nonetheless, the writing is surprisingly candid. He gets along with all the Stones, taking a bit of a stab at each but never being bitter and remaining true to everyone, especially his mate Keith. This feat in itself is testament to the qualities that have allowed him to endure as a Stone and endeared him to his fellow Stones: be nice, don't overshadow, be amiable, and most of all, don't diss anyone.

For Stones fans, there is really nothing new, with the exception of how broke Woody (as he is endearingly called) really was all the time while playing with the World's Greatest Rock and Roll Band, some personal tidbits about his family life, and his detailed account of his frightening imprisonment along with wife Jo on the island of St. Maarten in 1980.

Much expected but not present were more of Ronnie's artistic frustrations, which are only written about in passing. Colorful characters ranging from Anthony Perkins and Muhammad Ali to John Belushi all pop in for visits but all deserve chapters in their own right. Chapters are written in mostly non-chronological format, which gives the book an improvised feel. One has the feeling that Woody wrote this on the fly. In the end, he claims sobriety after years of excessive substance abuse and professes undying love to his wife Josephine, but today's headlines are rife with speculation about his affair with a much younger woman and his rumored relapse into alcohol abuse. Then again, the Stones have always been masters of media manipulation.

Like a work of art, this has to be taken in slowly. Ronnie's Ronnie manages to pull everything off without a feeling of discontent. We love you even more, Woody! Now, if only you could get Charlie Watts to write his memoirs. That would really be something of an achievement.

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