Sunday, March 23, 2014

Rolling Stones -- "Monkey Man" (1969)

I'm a fleabit peanut monkey
All my friends are junkies

The previous several 2 or 3 lines posts discussed the "American Cool" exhibit at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC, which I visited a few weeks ago.  I've pretty much milked this topic dry, I think, so this will be the last 2 or 3 lines on the subject of coolness.  

Most of the 100 Americans featured in that exhibition are not really cool.  Too many junkies, for one thing.

Kurt Cobain, for one -- he wrote and recorded some great songs, but he used a shotgun to end his screwed-up life at age 27, leaving behind an infant daughter.  How does make him cool?

The musicians of the last 50 years who made the "American Cool" list include Afrika Bambaata, James Brown, David Byrne, Kurt Cobain, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Marvin Gaye, Deborah Harry, Jimi Hendrix, Chrissie Hynde, Jay-Z, Madonna, Willie Nelson, Prince, Bonnie Raitt, Lou Reed, Carlos Santana, Tupac Shakur, Patti Smith, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits, Neil Young, and Frank Zappa.

There are a lot of great musicians on the list, but a lot of them aren't really cool if you ask me.  Maybe I'm just a tough grader.

Johnny Cash
Take Johnny Cash, for example.  "The Man in Black" was a great performer, and he had a very distinctive look and an amazing physical presence, but he struggled with drug and alcohol his whole life.  Drunks and addicts just aren't cool.  

I like Willie Nelson's music, but potheads aren't cool either.  All that weed probably explains why Willie supported the presidential campaign of Dennis Kucinich -- who was highly uncool -- in 2004.

Nelson and Kucinich
Bob Dylan is one of the greatest songwriters of all time, but the guy was much too big a weirdo to be cool.  (Did you ever see him in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid?  Dylan's performance in that movie is all mumbles and twitches -- what in the world was Sam Peckinpah thinking when he cast him?)

Tom Waits?  Really?  (He's unlistenable.)

Neil Young?  He was born in Toronto and spent the first 21 years of his life in Canada.  So why is he on a list of the 100 coolest Americans?

Jimi Hendrix is probably the coolest guy on that list.  He was the greatest rock guitarist of all time, and setting his guitar on fire at the Monterey Pop Festival was without a doubt the coolest rock-concert move of all time.  But dying from aspirating your own vomit is a highly uncool way to go. 

One rock musician who is exceedingly cool is Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts.  He's not American, so he's not eligible for the "American Cool" list.  But the musicians on that list could learn a lot about being cool from ol' Charlie.

Charlie Watts -- then and now
Charlie Watts was a jazz fan as a teenager.  He started out playing with local jazz bands when he was an art student, and then joined an early-day R&B supergroup, Blues Incorporated.  He continued to play with jazz and R&B bands after joining the Stones -- including a great boogie-woogie band called Rocket 88.  He's also an accomplished graphic artist.

Watts got married in 1964, not long after the Stones were formed.  (You want to feel really, really old?  Charlie Watts joined the Rolling Stones OVER FIFTY-ONE YEARS AGO!)  He's still married to the same woman, and apparently consistently rejected the overtures of groupies during the band's many tours.  

Contrast Watts to long-time Stones bassist Bill Wyman, who wrote that he had slept with over 1000 women while with the group.  In 1989, Wyman -- who was 52 -- married his 18-year-old girlfriend, Mandy Smith.  They had been dating for five years! 

Mr. and Mrs. Wyman
Wyman's son from a previous marriage later married Mandy's mother -- meaning Wyman's son was also Wyman's father-in-law.  That's not very cool -- it's just weird.

Watts did use drugs and abuse alcohol in the 1980s.  "[My drug and alcohol problems were] my way of dealing with [family problems]," he once said.  "Looking back on it, I think it was a mid-life crisis. All I know is that I became totally another person around 1983 and came out of it about 1986. I nearly lost my wife and everything over my behavior."

Here's the coolest Charlie Watts story I know.  One night, an intoxicated Mick Jagger phoned Watts' hotel room in the middle of the night and asked, "Where's my drummer?"  Watts reportedly got out of bed, shaved, dressed in a suit and tie, went to Jagger's room, and punched Mick right in the kisser, saying: "Don't ever call me your drummer again!  You're my f*cking singer!"

Watts is a very natty dresser.  The British newspaper, the Telegraph, has named him one of the world's best dressed men.  In 2006, Vanity Fair elected Watts into the International Best-Dressed Hall of Fame.  (Other honorees include Fred Astaire, George Clooney, Prince Philip, Cary Grant, Peter Jennings, Calvin Klein, David Niven, and Yves Saint Laurent.)

Today, Watts and his wife of 49 years live in rural Devon, where they raise Arabian horses.

Mr. and Mrs. Watts
Charlie Watts is usually a very understated drummer -- not a big showoff like Keith Moon was.  (Don't get me wrong.  I loved dear old Keith, but he was a bit of a diva.)  

Here's a video of Watts drumming during a performance of "Monkey Man" that nicely demonstrates his style:  

So let's review the bidding, shall we?  (That's an pretentious catchphrase I use now and then so you're aware that I know how to play bridge, which about a billion other people know how to do better than I do.)

Watts is one of the best in the world at what he does -- but he is content to remain in the background when he performs and let others get all the attention.  He has generally resisted the siren songs of drugs, alcohol, and promiscuity.  He's good-looking and very well-dressed.  All that sounds very cool to me, n'est-ce pas?

Here's "Monkey Man," from the Stones' 1969 masterpiece, Let It Bleed.  Some people think the lyrics are about a bad drug trip.  If so, Charlie Watts wasn't along for the ride -- he's much too cool for that sort of thing.

Click below to order the song from Amazon:

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