A FAN’S NOTES
Charlie Watts 1941 - 2021
The always dapper Charlie Watts was a droll man. A quarter century into his career as a Rolling Stone, he described his experience as, “Five years of work and 20 years of hanging around.” The drummer characterized himself as a cross between “an athlete and a nervous wreck.”
Charlie was the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle that is the Stones, the last permanent member to join. He was seduced by the other members to leave a graphic design job in a London ad agency. His fingerprints are all over the band’s visual identity, from sleeve art, merchandise, and stage design to tour logos. Legend has it he sketched every single hotel room he ever stayed in – God, what a particular chain’s brand manager wouldn’t give for their portion of that cache of potential marketing materials?
“Charlie’s good tonight, ain’t he?” He was the first Stone to appear solo on the front of one of their album covers. A few years later he nearly drowned in soap bubbles while filming a promotional reel, but he never lost his sailor’s cap. Usually in Stones videos he just smirked at the antics of three of his more flamboyant bandmates; he was no poseur. When social media became an avenue for fan connection (and sales), the Stones announced that Charlie was “too cool” to be involved, have his own feed. This was a man who collected antique cars but never learned how to drive; he just sat in them. The last time the Stones performed together, a remote covid broadcast, he drummed along on the scrolled arm of his chesterfield.
When I consider the Rolling Stones on the eve of their diamond anniversary, I cannot help but compare them to the Montreal Canadiens. I’ve been a fan forever; they’re not as good as they once were; the superstars are getting on and there’ve been a few roster changes: Brian Jones, fired; Mick Taylor, quit; Bill Wyman, retired; Charlie Watts, deceased. That last one, gee, never before have my eyes grown misty over the inevitable fate of a distant and eccentric stranger, a drummer at that.
Some 70 years ago my parents married in Montreal. Theirs was considered a mixed marriage in those times as Dad was raised as an Anglican. Their parents agreed that any children they might have would be raised in the Catholic faith. My catechism eventually clashed with “Honky Tonk Women.” Puberty, combined with the Stones, packed a cataclysmic wallop: “Forgive me, Father, I’m damned if I’m confessing to that. I’d recite six or nine Hail Marys a day for all the wrong reasons. As far as crèche figurines go, whoa! The mother of God was hot.”
I suppose it’s a natural inclination wanting or needing to preserve my heroes in amber. If I do that, maybe I can remain in stasis too. Sometimes I wish I could be 16 again, but equipped with my 61-year-old brain. I knew everything then and I know even more now. However, should acne and braces be part of the price, no deal. The Rolling Stones and rock music in general expressed for me, maybe incoherently, what I was unable to even articulate, and dry cleaned the mantle of self-loathing which enshrouded my growing pains.
The Enoch Reserve abuts the western boundary of Edmonton. When the Whitemud freeway peters into a gravel warning track before stopping abruptly at a concrete barrier, you’ve pretty much arrived at the River Cree hotel and casino, a fabulous concert venue. Some nine or so years ago I was headed underground into a downtown subway station. A vaguely familiar rock ‘n’ roll word mark on a bill plastered to some hoarding caught my eye. The Yardbirds were playing River Cree, one night only. Hello? I didn’t hesitate to pause to read the poster; the trains run frequently.
The Yardbirds were a guitar factory in their heyday; the singer died (insert electrocution/elocution joke here) when I was 16, long after Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page had moved on to other projects. This gig struck me as meaningless as bassist Jim Kale touring as the Guess Who, slightly more contemptible than Mike Love playing American summer state fairs and calling himself the Beach Boys. I mean, you can still see The Drifters even though the vocal group has rotated through 60 members since you bought their 1968 Atlantic Golden Hits. It took 59 years, but the Rolling Stones are now sitting on the fence in that murky netherworld of outright fraud or carrying on.
The Stones are scheduled to tour the United States this fall. These are covid-postponed makeup dates. Charlie bowed out for health reasons and gave his blessing to his substitute. Things have changed. And the pandemic virus keeps mutating. No other Stone has aged so gracefully and elegantly as Charlie. Whither the band without him, his jazzy backbeat? They’re done. And maybe, just maybe, it’s time for me to grow up and get on with less teenybopperish things. My entire life has almost passed. Then again, Charlie was good on every album and I’ve got all of them and some time left to play them.
meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of regressive teenage introspection since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is out now. Visit www.megeoff.com to find your preferred format and retailer.