August 24, 2021 – One of my earliest memories of music was when my parents played, Get Off Of My Cloud, by The Rolling Stones. I was probably five years old and I just started dancing and running around the room and yelling the chorus (I’m pretty sure my older brother was doing the same thing). Thinking back, I heard the chorus perhaps once and that was all the invitation I needed to yell it out as I jumped around. The feelings their song unleashed in me were so strong and exciting. It was pure exhiliration! It was the opposite of sadness. It was definitely not sadness.
I was scrolling through Instagram and noticed the photo of Charlie Watts on Rolling Stone Magazine’s feed. Even though the famous magazine isn’t named for Charlie Watts’ band I don’t think I would want to hear the news of Charlie’s passing from anywhere else. But, it still hit me hard. There was real sadness and I was not the least bit surprised, even though Charlie had made it to the grand old age of 80.
Their headline used the right word to describe him — the ‘inimitable’ Charlie Watts.
The last time The Stones played together on tour was right here in South Florida during their August 30, 2019 concert at Hard Rock Stadium where they managed to sell 40,768 tickets and pull in almost ten million dollars for a good night’s work. The concert was supposed to be the following evening but the impending hurricane caused the last-minute date change. Charlie was 78 years old at the time.
There’s no denying The Rolling Stones’ place in musical history and Charlie created the time for their band – always the epitome of cool and a good beat. As my opening story notes, I loved the Stones from the first time I heard them. The Stones for me at that time were part of my American experience and so were already deeply embedded in my earliest childhood memories. After moving to Australia in 1976 I got the version of The Stones where they were part of the home team. Home team as in, they were an English band playing in a place colonized by the English and highly populated by immigrants from the U.K. Immigrants that had come up in the same place and time as The Stones. It wasn’t that Stones fandom was more intense, but it was understood from an additional perspective, one that added another layer to the band. Tattoo You dropped in 1981 when I lived in Perth and it was a full scale sensation. There was Charlie behind the drums making time with his fantastic style and his trademark expression – a straight-face, occasionally bordering on an impishly demure smile (his first appearance in the Start me up video and that smile comes in around 1:12). I can remember both of my parents smiling at Charlie’s appearance in the Start me up video. Sure, Mick was everywhere as usual, and even more so, but Charlie was still Charlie and somehow getting noticed without ever trying or getting much screen time. Charlie was there doing his own thing, at once separate but still holding everything down at the same time. I could tell me parents liked Charlie and I bloody liked Charlie too. We all noticed him. I think everyone else did too.
People remember MTV as among the first places they saw music videos but for me it was the weekly music TV show Countdown helmed by Molly Meldrum during the 70’s and 80’s. Molly was always hosting what seemed to be the biggest party in town when he interviewed guest bands or introduced their latest music video. Countdown and all of the shows like it around the world, along with every radio station, and indeed every stereo, played Start me up like we’d never get another Stones song again. It was fair thinking at the time. When interviewers asked the Stones in those days if they thought they’d still be making music in the 1980’s the band often expressed their genuine surprise to still be playing. It turned out that Charlie and his bandmates had more music in them than anyone could possibly imagine.
What Charlie and his boys did was truly unbelievable. They basically said, we’re gonna play now, you can’t stop us, turn it up, join the fun, or fuck off. That’s rock ‘n’ roll man — and Charlie Watts provided the beat to it.
RIP Charie Watts, you absolute bloody legend! Thank you for the music.