The Stones rolled into the U.K. at the end of August, just around the same time I did. In my case, it was to renew my passport; in theirs to play three sold-out nights at the 02 arena—that giant marquee in South East London that used to be called the Millennium Dome and looks like a female contraceptive device from Mars. 


And what a show it was. The band was smoking. Literally. Trouble is, as of July this year, smoking in an enclosed public place in England is against the law. But Keith Richards lit a cigarette anyway, and then Ronnie Wood lit up too. The crowd, for the most part, cheered loudly. Some patted their pockets, planning to light up in solidarity, until it was made clear that they'd be thrown out if they did. 

And anyway, isn't this why we have rock stars? So they can do all the illegal and addictive things that we can't do without losing our sanity, health, or concert seats, letting us live vicariously through them. 

Keith has always been good at providing this service. I recall him once describing a time when he and close friend Gram Parsons—the late, great cosmic country rocker—locked themselves in the same room in order to quit drugs cold turkey together. There was one big bed in the room and they would lie on it, side-by-side, groaning, shivering, and trembling from heroin withdrawal, until one of them shook so hard he'd fall off the bed and have to crawl back up. The memory of this made Richards laugh so hard, you thought he would choke. 

Oddly enough, these August London gigs coincided with the 40th anniversary of the summer of '67 London court case, in which Keith and Mick were sentenced to jail for drug charges. The case stemmed from the famous bust at Richards' country estate, Redlands, where police found the Stones partying with friends, including Marianne Faithfull, who was dressed only in a fur rug. Mick and Keith might have spent a lot longer behind bars than they did, it if hadn't been for an editorial written by the editor of the London Times—the apex of respectability—in which he quoted Alexander Pope’s famous line about breaking a butterfly on a wheel, arguing that they had been penalized for their celebrity. This time the U.K. newspapers did not come to Keith’s defense. In fact most were too busy printing Technicolor stories about singer Amy Winehouse's alleged drug problems and rock musician Pete Doherty of Babyshambles' latest arrest. How Times change.

According to one U.K. newspaper, after the arena was threatened with a $5,000 fine for breaking the smoking ban, Richards apologized. But this doesn't sound likely, since the next night he appeared to light up again. And on the last night in London, he ate a cigarette. Well, put it in his mouth and chewed it. Nobody could say for certain that he swallowed it. (On the other hand, nobody would be surprised after Keith’s recent interview for MOJO, where he confirmed that he snorted some of his late father's cremated ashes. He said that they "went down a treat.")

Talk about my de-generation. But though of course I don't condone smoking, or snorting, even if it’s your parents, somehow it does feel, well, gratifying, that at the age of 63, Keith is still Keith. Here’s to hoping that sneaking a cigarette is the most health-endangering thing that the U.K.'s greatest rock and roll guitarist gets up to. Including palm trees.