Inspired to dig deeper into the world of Charlie Watts after learning about his fabulous book collection – see last post about Christie’s sale of Charlie’s library – I bought a book called Charlie’s Good Tonight: The Authorised Biography of Charlie Watts by Paul Sexton. It was a mistake. It is bland, riddled with repetition and insufferably dull, unlike its subject, and I strongly suspect that its subject would agree with me, not that Charlie Watts would have wanted an authorised biography to have been written about him in the first place.
No one in their right mind would deny that Charlie Watts was a fine fellow, a great drummer, a delightful companion and man of exceptionally modest virtue. Such qualities, however, do not make for a page-turner. Paul Sexton, I fear, was faced with an insoluble problem when he took on this commission, presumably at the behest of Charlie’s wife Shirley, who died in December, 2022, 16 months after her husband (the book was published in September 2022), insofar as Charlie didn’t say very much, at least to interviewers. When he did talk, he was vague, often evasive and occasionally taciturn. So, the most obvious research tool (and page filler), music press interviews, was scant to say the least. The next port of call would have been fellow Stones past and present, among thems useful archivist Bill Wyman, all of whom loved him dearly, as did his daughter Seraphina and granddaughter Charlotte. Old friends and fellow musicians too weigh in with their memories but all anyone can say is what a great, laid back, lovely bloke Charlie was, which is no doubt correct.
Mick and Keith write forewords and it must have been something of a relief for them to read a book about a Rolling Stone that draws a polite veil over the stuff that makes most people buy them in the first place. It’s no secret that the Stones’ story is littered with decadence on an industrial scale, as detailed in countless other books, but apart from a brief lapse in the mid-1980s when he overindulged in drugs and booze Charlie seems to have been looking the other way when all that was going on. It comes as no surprise that the brief lapse is dealt with briefly.
The distance that Charlie placed between himself and the rest of the group, certainly Mick, Keith and Brian, though perhaps not Bill, was established early on. “It’s just a job that pays well,” was his default position, and it remained that way until the end. It seems he threatened to leave a few times but was dragged back, perhaps because he enjoyed playing the drums, perhaps because Rolling Stones tours were so lucrative, most especially from the 1990s onwards. He was never happier than when the tour was over and he could return to his small family, whom he loved as deeply as they loved him. Charlotte thinks he was born a granddad, which is rather sweet, but doesn’t set the pulse racing.
There isn’t even much about the Stones’ music, which is discussed only in the most insipid of terms, and never with a critical eye. Nevertheless, if you want to know about Charlie’s love of jazz, the jazz albums he made and jazz bands he led, his drumming technique, what others felt about his drumming and lifestyle, the camaraderie within the Rolling Stones, the cool and often extremely expensive cloths he liked to wear, his love of cricket and antique firearms, and Shirley’s love of horses, this is the book for you. Considering it’s about a man who lived to the grand age of 80, it won’t take you long to read either. File under ‘Affectionate Memoir’.