Sunday, December 5

Charlie Watts showed us what a man can be: cool, modest and always stylish | Barbara ellen


I I was lucky enough to meet Charlie Watts, the drummer for the Rolling Stones who died on Tuesday, and interviewed him in 2000 for one of his beloved jazz projects. In the interview, I managed to call George Harrison “the bassist for the Beatles.” Still, I did a few things right, writing, “Charlie is the stone that is so universally loved that it inspires instant respect without trying.”

It soon became clear when his death was announced that the answer was to honor a great musician, the rock’n’roll legend, the lifelong jazz fan, but also so much more. There was the standard emotional outpouring, the shock and dismay, that sense of grief-property that hits you: “Oh no, not Charlie!” Irrational as those feelings are (Watts was 80, not 20), it nevertheless hurts when one of “your own” artists takes his final bow. But something else was noteworthy: the reaction, immense and heartfelt, was also courteous, genuine, adult.

There may have been some fetid corners of the online world mired in denigration, but I was surprised that this was one of the most uniformly respectful and kind mass reactions to the death of a celebrity; it seemed as if the entire internet was making an effort to behave. Which made a funny sense: this, after all, was Charlie Watts, not just a gentleman, but also the consummate adult in rock’n’roll kindergarten. Watts’ superb musicianship can be interpreted as it reads: the pristine timing, self-control, swing, the spark that expensive gear can’t buy. You have the feeling that not only other musicians admired him, he was study, as an unofficial degree course. Fellow drummers have not been paying homage to him in platitudes, they have been delving into the details, the fine print of professional respect.

Still, Charlie’s appeal went beyond music. Here was an oddity: someone who was 100% his own man. Someone who knew exactly who he was when he first joined the Stones and continued to know until the very end. He is no small thing after a lifetime in the rock business, well known for being a raging blaze of towering egos, lost souls, and not a little fragile masculinity. And you could probably at least triple that craziness and pressure for the Rolling Stones.

Against this backdrop, Watts was always going to stand out, in his stylish tailored suits (aside from the weird and unreliable oversized lapel, it was a harsh no to the hippy tattoo the other Stones often adorned themselves with), those lingering passions for jazz and, barring a junkie interlude in the 1980s, that personal creed of secrecy, politeness and abhorrence of excess and the cliché of rock’n’roll. This included staying happily and faithfully married to his wife, sculptor Shirley, for nearly 60 years.

Charlie Watts: Rolling Stones drummer dies at 80 - video obituary
Charlie Watts: Rolling Stones drummer dies at 80 – video obituary

This was a singular type of man, increasingly rare, not just in music, but in life, exuding a kind of old-fashioned decency, marinated in charisma. Dated would be the wrong word: timeless.

The key to Watts keeps coming back to his strength of character, a stubborn refusal to be anything other than himself. Rebelling against society along with your tribe is one thing; a refusenik rebelling against his tribe (with costumes, jazz projects, and so on) is more interesting and complicated. At times, there seemed to be an element of cultural social distancing in the way Watts treated the Stones, the impression that he was in and out of a “day job” in the most celebrated rock band on Earth, which was a Stone. with a lowercase “s”, the interior of which is found elsewhere.

On the other hand, perhaps this was exaggerated. God knows Watts kept the Stones craze going for all those decades, so to borrow the language of the sixties, he must have “dug” it. (It was, of course, a well-paid concert too.) He told me and many others that he was proud to be in the band. It could be that Watts just didn’t want to get caught, to the point where he couldn’t get out again. That individualism again, whatever the pressures or the cost. As the infamous story goes, Mick Jagger once called Watts drunk and asked him, “Where’s my drummer?” and Watts put on the suit, went to Jagger, punched him and said, “You’re my singer.”

Watts, the trained graphic designer, knew when to draw a line, how to stand in a world of mega-ego and misbehavior and say, “I don’t need this gig. that much.”

What are these weird men all about? There is always the danger that when someone dies, secrets start to slip away, like insects on a picnic, but I hope not in this case. It’s not just about the music business; We live in a world that increasingly adapts to access to all areas, swipe left or right in the style of self-gratification. Women, especially, may feel that they live in a world where there is not enough decency, and not enough Charlies.

Can the Stones go on without him? The short answer is: they already have. They have brought in a replacement drummer, Steve Jordan, for the last tour, with the blessing of Watts before he died, and now they say they will continue to tour in his honor. Can the Rolling Stones really be without Charles Robert Watts? Over the years, all the Stones brought something to the party, but Watts contributed one of the most difficult and precious things of all: class. RIP, Mr. Watts. It’s no wonder the internet was good.

Barbara Ellen is a columnist for Observer


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