“Take a look around you, tell me, what do you see ?
People with little bits tryin’ to smile
Most of what you’ve gotten is free”
~Keith Richards (Take It So Hard)
To my knowledge, Keith has never explained what he was trying to say with the lyrics to ‘Take It So Hard.’ That hasn’t stopped me from thinking about what he might have meant, though…
On January 19, 1993 I got to see Keith and the X-Pensive Winos perform at the Orpheum in Vancouver BC. I’m a huge fan of the Stones, and an even bigger fan of Keith, so this was a big deal for me. My buddy Tyler and I had stood outside in line all night to get tickets in the middle of November. There was no way either of us was going to miss this show!
We just about lost our minds when the band hit the stage as Keith’s signature 5-string guitar played the opening riff to ‘How I Wish.’
While we had suffered in the freezing cold all night to get tickets, the seats we got for our effort were nothing special. Still, we were seeing our hero play live, so we rocked our butts off anyway. Somewhere near the end of the set-list, the band was playing ‘Happy’ which is one of my favourite songs. As soon as Tyler heard the song start, he looked at me and said “this is our chance!”
Before I knew what was happening, Tyler was making a break for the stage. Without taking any time to think, I ran after him. If we were going to get thrown out, we were going to get within a few feet of Keith freaking Richards first!
As luck had it, we didn’t get thrown out. ‘Happy’ was the final song before the encore, so security was content to let us (along with a bunch of other people) rock out at Keith’s feet. Every single one of us was cheering, singing, and screaming at the top of our lungs. This was one of the greatest nights of my life!
‘Happy’ ended, and the band left the stage. Obviously they were coming back for the encore, so we weren’t about to leave the stage area. We didn’t have to wait long. The stage lights came on, and again Keith’s mighty guitar sang out! This time it was the unmistakable riff of ‘Take It So Hard.’
Tyler and I were near to tears with excitement. This song was another of our favourites. As Keith moved across the stage, everyone was again screaming his name — desperate to get the man’s attention. We were lucky enough to be standing close to centre stage, where Keith’s microphone was. As he sang, and everyone screamed his name, I decided to switch tactics to get his attention.
I held up both middle fingers and stared at him until he looked down and saw me. He stumbled the lyric slightly because he was trying not to laugh, and he flipped the middle finger of his right hand as he strummed the guitar. While this was happening, he was singing “Most of what you’ve gotten is free”
I felt like I had a bit of a moment with Keith but I also felt like he was trying to teach me something. While I had frozen all night to get tickets, and abandoned my truck on the way to the concert because of a breakdown, and fought my way to stand at his feet, it shouldn’t have really mattered so much.
When I was at the concert, it was the greatest night of my life. I’ve had a lot of greatest nights since then, and most of those required no hassle or inconvenience, and most of them were free.
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