R.I.P. Charlie Watts

Charlie Watts (right) and friend, circa February 1970.

The first obituary I ever wrote for The New York Times was back in 2017: the subject was Charlie Watts, the quietly indispensable drummer for the Rolling Stones. (To the best of my knowledge, he never missed a gig in over 50 years, although there are [bizarrely] a few Stones tracks he doesn’t drum on, most notably “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”)

Long-lead obituary writing puts you in a strange place, mentally. I find that I am often proud of my work—but I hope that people don’t read it for a long time, because every day that an obituary sits on the shelf is a day that the worthy person I wrote about stays on this planet with us. For Charlie Watts, that day came on August 24th, so four years after I wrote it, I hope that now you will read my effort to sum up his life and his music.

Another advantage of long-lead obituaries: having the time to consider and research the subject without massive deadline pressure. In the case of this obituary, that meant tracking down a copy of Max Weinberg’s fascinating but out-of-print book The Big Beat, where he interviews various drummers. The ever-modest Charlie didn’t say anything hugely quotable in his conversation–but that book is where I found a great line by Bruce Springsteen.

In his introduction, the Boss wrote: “As much as Mick’s voice and Keith’s guitar, Charlie Watts’s snare sound is the Rolling Stones. When Mick sings, ‘It’s only rock ’n’ roll but I like it,’ Charlie’s in back showing you why!”

Goodbye Charlie Watts and thanks for everything (but especially “Let’s Spend the Night Together”).

posted 13 September 2021 in Articles and tagged , , , . no comments yet

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