This is Keith. Keith is standing behind the theatre in Coventry, smack dab in England’s West Midlands. He and his bandmates have just arrived from a very late night in Manchester and now have two shows to perform, one of them a matinee.
Keith is a guitar player, a songwriter, and a sometime vocalist in a scrappy up-and-coming R&B and Pop combo called The Rolling Stones. You may have heard of them!
And this is Keith’s King Charles Spaniel, Boogie. Boogie is named for the impossibly seductive blues beat that captured the hearts of Keith and his mates in the Stones when they were just skinny English schoolboys. They’ve taken their spin on the music back to America and out to the world. Keith doesn’t play the gig unless Boogie’s along. It just doesn’t happen any other way.
By the Coventry afternoon of March 6th, 1971, the Rolling Stones had stormed through sports arenas in Europe and North America on tours that set new standards for size, intensity, and sound in the presentation of popular music. Amid the hysteria and money and acclaim (“The World’s Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Band”), they’d narrowly escaped with their lives when, in the wilds of California, a festival crowd of 300,000 threatened to collapse in on them as anarchy, then murder, swirled around the stage.
So, after Madison Square Garden and the L.A. Forum; after Vienna and Milan and Paris and the Altamont Speedway… Coventry?
The Stones had a problem. Mick Jagger and his banker Prince Rupert Lowenstein had opened the band’s books in late 1970 to find that the Stones’ song publishing had been stolen from under them and their taxes had not been paid for four years. Not good—especially when sitting firmly in what was then a 90% UK income tax bracket.
The only solution was to flee the country into tax exile and then to earn enough money abroad to strike a settlement with Inland Revenue. Which brings us back to the alley behind the Coventry Theatre during a hastily arranged barnstorming tour of small British cities. It’s a desperate gesture of connection with the home fans and a wounded farewell to the United Kingdom. By the end of that March of 1971, the Stones would board a flight to the French Riviera and a kind of exquisite prison far away from home.
So the Keith Richards of the alleyway at Coventry is a bit of a mixed bag, really. On top of the world and utterly on the run. The devastating Anita Pallenberg is out of the frame but along on the road, and has lately borne him a beloved first child, Marlon. And though the habit won’t start smothering the music for another few years, Keith’s by now well into his slide from heroin dabbler to functioning addict to outright junkie. Richards is a twenty-seven-year-old man of the world, an established prince of the counterculture, and he’s colliding with adulthood.
He doesn’t go anywhere that March without Boogie. With Keith’s world both shimmering and collapsing, and like the old song says, with “blues fallin’ down like rain,” the sweet little spaniel is holding things together. Can you imagine the laughter if anyone in the entourage had uttered the phrase “emotional support dog?” But there he is, right at the heart of the circus. He’s keeping the rock ‘n’ roll on the road.
The Rolling Stones are out on tour this fall, a half-century later. They’re selling out North American stadiums and saluting the memory of the beloved Charlie Watts, gone since August.
Raise a glass to Boogie, and to “Creole” and “Syphilis” who came along later in the 1970s. And to the French Bulldogs who these days share Keith and Patti Hansen’s Connecticut estate. Would the show still be going on without them?