I am heartbroken. Charlie Watts has died. My plans to write about how moving and the lack of available LP Shelving has changed my listening habits have been shot, as I just cannot think about anything but Charlie Watts, making finishing that piece an impossibility. I’m not going to eulogize Mr. Watts. There are plenty of people that can do that better than I ever could. However, the death of Charlie Watts has gotten me thinking about the relationships and attachments we form to musicians and their music. They mark the times of our lives. They become old friends. They become almost family.
Over the years there have been a number of musicians whose loss, for me, was like a punch to the gut. The first, for me, was John Lennon. I was ten years old when John Lennon was murdered. I had discovered the music of The Beatles only a couple of years earlier. I was entranced and enthralled by there music. My dad had a suede leather jacket like the one John wore on the cover of ‘Rubber Soul’ and I wore it everywhere even though it was several sizes too large. I wanted to be John Lennon. I can play my US pressing of Rubber Soul (different songs than UK) and mentally I’m back in fifth grade experiencing the greatest Christmas ever, when I received the album as a gift and we visited my grandmother, who didn’t understand The Beatles thing. I can still remember when Howard Cosell interrupted Monday Night Football with the news of Lennon’s assassination. Only Howard Cosell could make Lennon’s assassination sound like a failed third and long. When I heard the news, I ran to my room and cried and cried. It was the first, of unfortunately many, catastrophic musician losses to affect my life.
Probably, the worst loss for me was the death of Jerry Garcia. I had just graduated University followed by an automobile accident that left me stranded at my mom’s place in Los Angeles. It was my mom that called me in tears and gave me the news of Jerry’s death. I had taken my mom to see the Jerry Garcia Band play at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion a couple of years earlier. I remember worrying that my mom wasn’t having a good time at the show when she sat down during the performance. As we were walking out of the show, my mom turned to me and said, “that’s what church is supposed to be like.” My mom had to pull over from the side of the road to call me with the news. She was in tears and she had seen him once. For my part, I felt physically ill. I wept openly for days.
Lastly, we come to the recent passing of Charlie Watts. I was completely prepared for Keith Richards’ passing (though part of me also believe the only things that would survive a nuclear holocaust would be cockroaches and Keith Richards). By all accounts of his exploits, Keith’s existence doesn’t make sense. But Charlie Watts? Fuck! Not him! I am writing this a week after Watts’ passing and I am still numb. Hearing of his passing was like a punch to the gut. Like The Beatles, everyone has a favorite Stone, or at least Rolling Stones fans do. Mine was always Charlie Watts. He was the epitome of cool. He didn’t have the bombastic nature of Keith Richards or the narcissism of Mick Jagger. He was always the most tasteful of the Rolling Stones, both in his playing and lifestyle. Most modern drummers use a kit of up to 30 pieces. Charlie Watts used a kit of about seven. His disdain for fame was always something I appreciated. His loyalty to his wife of nearly 60 years through all the excess of the 1970’s is laudable. His part in the Rolling Stones has always been understated. When someone says they’re dancing to Mick Jagger, what they are really doing is dancing to Charlie. Charlie made it happen and there will never be anyone like him again.
“Went out walkin’ through the wood the other day
Can’t you see the furrows in my forehead?
What tender days, we had no secrets hid away
Now it seems about a hundred years ago”
– Years Ago 100 (Jagger/Richards)