Mark, My Words: Keith Richards has stopped drinking and I don’t know what’s real anymore

Keef's teetotal, up is down and columnist Mark Beaumont has nothing solid in his life to hold onto. We blame the Rioja.

The Teletubbies are a decades-old subliminal plot to brainwash our children into totalitarian subservience. Bear with me. Being a new father, I’ve only recently been exposed to this sickening experiment in 1984-style mind control, and suddenly everything – Brexit, Tommy Robinson, the tide pod challenge, Bastille – makes sense. Where my daughter sees a bright, cheery wonderland of TV-bellied toy creatures, I see a primary coloured North Korea peopled by brainless, pliable subjects programmed to obey a dictatorial voice-over without question.

The Voice, remember, never describes what the Teletubbies are actually doing. It says “the Teletubbies get in the Tubby car” and the Teletubbies look at each other, look at the Tubby car, look back at each other, and then dutifully wobble their furry backsides into the car. The Voice says “the Teletubbies love each other very much” and the Teletubbies look at each other, look dazed for a second, shrug and group hug. We’ve never seen what happens if the Teletubbies disobey The Voice. I can only assume metal poles emerge from the propaganda-idyllic meadows of Teletubbyland and anally electrocute them, barking “time for Tubby Arse Fire!”

Generations have been raised by a programme that trains them to do whatever some unseen authority tells them to – media agendas, advertising, xenophobic websites, lying buses, Russian Twitter bots – and hence we now live in a servile Tubbybritain, Tinky-hoodwinked into accepting austerity, food banks, offshore tax hoarding, life-ruining housing and travel costs, fascists on LBC and Mrs Brown’s Boys.

Boom. If you’re currently picking the scorched remains of your mind off the walls, you’ll know how I felt when, earlier this week, the rug was pulled from under my own fragile sense of reality. Keith Richards, formerly reliable news sources attest, has given up drinking. “It was time to quit,” he told Rolling Stone, “I got fed up with it… I’ve done it, I didn’t want that anymore.” Even as I type the words, I have to pause to check there isn’t a Biblical apocalypse going on outside. Is up still up? Is water still wet? Is Dara O’Briain still presenting everything? Is the bloke from Interpol still singing like a goth goat?

 

I’m not sure I like living in a world where a teetotal Keith Richards exists. Nothing is constant here, nothing reliable. Everyday chores take on fresh danger and unpredictability. If Keef can stop drinking, who’s to say that my laundry won’t dissolve into flesh-eating acid, or my Henry Hoover won’t grow spider’s legs and bite off my arms, like The Thing? I’ve become something of a terrified recluse since the news broke – I can’t go to the supermarket because I don’t trust the street not to pull some kind of Doctor Strange shit on me, and I can’t book an Ocado delivery in case they do drive-bys now.

Now I’ve emptied far too many tube carriages to go glorifying alcohol abuse, but there was always something deeply reassuring and life-affirming in the certainty that, no matter how turbulent world events got or how chaotic one’s personal life became, somewhere Keith Richards was, in some form or other, absolutely wankered. Keith’s intoxication has been part of the fundamental bedrock of existence for the past sixty years or so, like gravity, photosynthesis and the DFS sale. It’s not only acted as the epitome of the entire rock ‘n’ roll aesthetic – and how flimsy and frail the whole genre looks now it’s revealed that Keith can’t actually pickle himself well into his 300s – but a touchstone of post-war popular culture. A wasted Keith Richards is as iconic a symbol of Britain’s artistic achievement as Bond’s raised eyebrow or John Cleese’s silly walk; that he was an immortal drug hoover was an alluring myth that generations of sclerosis-mocking hedonists (guilty) flocked to with a quasi-religious fervour. Now we feel cut adrift, rootless, like a cult whose leader turned out to be Michael Macintyre in a Jesus beard, or a Morrissey fan.

Okay, so Keith had put enough liver-battering hours in to earn his place on an honorary Jack Daniels label, rumour has it that every drug taken in the UK has already been through Keith five times, and no-one wants to see the guy go full Leaving Las Vegas. But nothing in pop culture seems certain anymore. For all I know Paul McCartney might become the new face of Aberdeen Steakhouse, Woody Allen could make an age-appropriate romantic comedy and next summer might see a series of Nick Cave And Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway.

The question now becomes, who could possibly replace Keef as the totemic godhead of fatalistic narco nutjobs everywhere? All of the rest of our major league hedonists are showing far too much of the actual real-life physical damage of superhuman over-indulgence. No-one could describe Shaun Ryder, Shane McGowan or Ozzy Osbourne as having ever been ‘elegantly wasted’. Contemporary caners like Fat White Family, Pete Doherty and Matty Healy look more like public health warnings than counterculture heroes. A couple of Motley Crue are bearing up well, but that lingering air of creepiness works against them. And Cannibal Corpse guitarist Pat O’Brien made a formidable grasp at the crown when his house recently exploded while he was busy getting tasered by the police, but the whole aggravated assault and knife attack thing kinda nixed his application.

Which leaves just one option. The National’s Matt Berninger, swigging his way suavely through middle-age without having yet shat a single suit. I hereby anoint him Cultured Keith, and the music world instantly takes on a comforting haze of unreality again. And what’s that? Keith says he’ll have a glass of wine every now and again? Thank god, insanity is restored…