Stones drummer Charlie Watts deserved a better biography ★★☆☆☆

Paul SextonImage RV

Charlie Watts liked to keep it small and clear. As the Rolling Stones’ shows got bigger and more spectacular, he continued to do his thing quietly on stage behind a rudimentary drum kit. He also had a bit to do with drum solos. He hated trips and had to be persuaded to start a new one again and again. It was also typical of Watts that after performances he avoided the party his bandmates indulged in. He preferred to stay in his hotel room, where he drew, and from which he escaped early in the morning to take a leisurely stroll through the duty town. The reclusive Stone liked a drink, but drugs weren’t his thing, except for a brief period in the 1980s.

Musically, there was also a gap between the drummer and the rock band where he beat the beat for almost sixty years. Watts’ roots were not in rock ‘n’ roll and blues, he was a jazzman at heart and remained so until his death in 2021. He rarely if ever listened to the Stones’ music, but he played jazz music in smaller venues when it was possible. And with the money he earned as a rock drummer, he built a large collection of drum kits that had featured legendary jazz percussionists like Gene Krupa, Max Roach and Tony Williams.

It wasn’t Watt’s only expensive hobby. He collected items from the American Civil War, first editions, thoroughbred horses and beautiful cars. He never went on the road with that, because he didn’t have a driver’s license. He couldn’t even ride a horse. He managed to get away with tailored suits. He spent a fortune on it. But he was also generous, emphasizes Paul Sexton in the authorized biography Charlie is fine tonight, which he made in collaboration with Watts and in which the other members of the Stones also collaborated.

Urgent job

Sexton started work on the book in 2020, which must have suddenly become a rush job due to the drummer’s death more than a year ago. Charlie is fine tonight is full of repetition and teeming with quotations that are too long or that are irrelevant. In addition, the biographer constantly jumps from one subject to the next, which means that he is not always easy to follow or simply incomprehensible. The frequency of meaningless passages is also striking. In this way, Watts’s wife, who takes care of the horses, gets plenty of space to explain her ‘philosophy’ about dealing with these animals (‘It’s not complicated, you just have to pay attention to the needs of each individual horse’; it works ).

And Sexton lets so many people speak who never tire of saying that Charlie was such a sweet, humble, considerate man that you almost long for another sound. It can be heard for a moment when Watts’ daughter Seraphina compares the family she grew up in to the Osbournes, the dysfunctional family from the series of the same name. A comment like that leaves you wanting more, but Sexton lets the subject go. For example, you’ll also want to know more about Watts’ short but intense period of medication. But again, the cinema does not give home.

clumsy translation

What also doesn’t help is the clumsy translation that appeared almost at the same time as the original and must have been rushed. ‘He [Charlie Watts] was Catholic in his taste’, it says immediately in the second sentence of Mick Jagger’s foreword. what? Why Catholic? In the original it says ‘catholic’, but here it means something like ‘versatile’. And then you keep coming across such constructs as ‘the native of Los Angeles’, ‘We’re selling back our influence’ and ‘He lived the dream’.

Poor Charlie! He deserved not only a better cinema, but also a better translator.

Paul Sexton: Charlie’s Good Tonight. Translated from English by Karin de Haas. HarperCollins; 336 pages; €22.99.

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