Although I was never a diehard fan of the Rolling Stones, it was hard to hear last week about the death of drummer Charlie Watts. Watts, 80, died only a few weeks after it was announced that he would miss the band’s upcoming tour “as he recovers from an unspecified medical procedure.” I appreciated Charlie’s class and sense of humor, his ability to maintain a low profile in a band that describes itself as “The World’s Greatest Rock & Roll Band.” Whether the Stones actually are what they proclaim, I don’t know. I’m a Beatles guy.
But Charlie’s death nonetheless affected me. That’s because I’m 72, and the death of anyone even remotely near my age throws my own mortality in my face. It is happening more frequently with each passing day. I expected this; I was ready for it. But still ...
I’ve related before that my mom, who passed away in 1993 at the age of 82, said to me many times when I was a kid and wished, for example, that Christmas would come faster, “Don’t wish your life away. The days go faster as you get older.” Parents sometimes do know everything.
Eighteen months ago, I recall thinking that the COVID-imposed lockdown would drag on interminably. Yet now I find myself, 18 months later, thinking that it all passed in the blink of an eye. In that stretch of time I lost my sister – the only other surviving member of a family that had once numbered six. I lost two old bandmates to COVID and a couple of former high school classmates to causes unknown. In January of this year, a cherished friend died unexpectedly at the relatively young age of 64. Those deaths were hard, but somehow they didn’t jar me quite as much as Charlie’s.
Maybe that’s because his was the latest in a series that made August 2021 memorable for all the wrong reasons. In August alone, ZZ Top bassist Dusty Hill passed on at age 72. Don Everly, who along with his brother Phil melded their voices in harmony as perhaps no other two siblings ever did or ever will, died at 80 a scant few days before Watts. Country legend Tom T. Hall died one day before Everly, at 85.
Thousands of other men and women, famous, infamous and unknown except to those they interacted with daily, passed on during this period. Should not their passing have affected me equally? “No man is an island,” the British poet John Donne penned in 1624. “Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.”
Donne was right, but it’s easy – almost necessary, in fact – to become inured to death as we age. So far I haven’t developed into the type of person who checks the obituaries each day to see who among my friends may have passed away. I hope I never will.
But I am a musician and, even more, a child of the Sixties. I listened to music long before then, but nothing whipped my head around and put me on a course that would change my life as much as the British bands that started arriving in the U.S. in 1964, among them the Rolling Stones.
In my eyes, the “British Invasion” remains a thing of beauty. It changed me musically, sartorially, stylistically and philosophically, and it continues to shape me even today. And that timelessness extends to its participants, who remain, at least in my eyes, eternally youthful. So it was with Charlie.
People say that you can’t take it with you. That might apply to physical things like money, houses, cars.
But I’m hoping that the mellifluousness of a lover’s voice and the sound of Charlie’s cowbell kicking off “Honk Tonk Women” can somehow transcend the Great Divide.