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The Rolling Stones Grow Old Angrily

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It was late at night and Ron Wood was uncertainly mixing up some vodka and tonics at Rolling Stones Records. The newest Stone is still the most exuberant. He was bouncing around the office and bubbling over about the new album. He talked about how the guitar solo on "Where the Boys Go" is part him mimicking Keith and part Keith. He thinks it's funny that Keith claims it's all Keith. Wood is still everybody's crazy little brother, especially Richards.' Jagger popped his head in the door. Said Wood: "Mick! Before I gave him guitar lessons, we wouldn't have had songs like 'Summer Romance,' because of all that rhythm guitar."

Jagger: "Well, that's all I can play." They laughed.

"Ron, what do you think would have happened if you had stayed with Rod Stewart?" I asked.

"Oooh," he said, "incredibly intriguing vibes. Rod misses me a lot and I miss him. If only he didn't make the whole thing a bloody competition."

"Well," said Jagger, "Rod is really a lead singer the way people think I am."

"Yeah," Wood said. "And the difference between Mick and Rod is, Rod would never let you play piano. He'd say, 'Well, you're the guitarist, I'm the vocalist, don't tell me what to do!"'

Said Jagger: !"Which is the reason why you never became like two musicians playing and writing together.

"I'll tell you what amazed me," Jagger continued, "was when I saw the Faces at Roosevelt Stadium and they had this caravan — what do you call it, a trailer, right? The band had one little bit of it and Rod had the whole other bit, and it was completely divided. I couldn't believe it."

"Yeah!" Wood said. "He loves it. He let me change my trousers in his area."

"Well," said Jagger, "treating the band like shit and they didn't even see it."

We got back to the vodka and tonics. Wood said he's working up another solo album, and he'll get either the Beatles' former drummer or the Stones' present drummer to play on it. He added that Ringo had asked him to produce two cuts on his next album, and that Ringo didn't seem to be too sure of what to do.

"Well," Jagger smirked, "that's L.A. for you."

"What's L.A. about that?" I asked.

"I can't think," Jagger said. "Terrible about Carl Radle."

Wood became emotional: "Oh, Carl. Eric, fucking Eric, he was proud, proud of sacking that lad, he was.

Eric, you have no idea how sad you feel. He obviously regrets that, even if he didn't know what was going to happen."

"Careful," said Mick, eyeing my tape recorder.

"I couldn't believe it," Wood went on. "Carl was a lovely guy. He had nothing left in life after the Eric thing."

We all brooded for a while. "Well" Jagger finally broke the silence, "the whole thing is that if you want to not be a musician, even if you give up being a musician, it's not the end of the world. It wouldn't be for me."

Wood cheered up: "That's right!"

Things degenerated after that. Wood said that he couldn't believe that people worshiped him as a Rolling Stone when he himself was still a fan of the band. Mick said he was tired.

Charlie Watts does not give interviews. He does not give a farthing for the press. What he does is play drums for the Rolling Stones and, when he's not doing that, he likes to stay home and raise sheep dogs (he was once president of the North Wales Sheepdog Society) or listen to jazz or sit in with Rocket 88, the band formed by Stones associate and sometime keyboardist Ian Stewart. Rock & roll is something that should be done and not talked about, he told me in 1978 in what he insisted was not an interview. Conversing is like jazz, he explained, and he likes that.

Right before he left England to come to New York for the unveiling of Emotional Rescue, Watts conversed with a reporter or two in London, to his everlasting chagrin. The New York Post picked up his garbled transmissions and screamed, in large headlines, that Charlie Watts Hates Rock and Roll.

"Fucking rubbish," Watts fumed in an office at Rolling Stones Records. He sent out for bottles of Heineken. "I don't hate rock & roll. I never said that. That's why I don't give interviews, you see. Haven't given one in eight years, except for that business in London."

Watts has grown his hair out and, with his strikingly gaunt face and quasi-zoot, double-breasted Witty suit, looked quite the Forties dandy.

We talked for a while, sipping Heineken and having a lovely time. Watts, who doesn't give interviews, yammered away a mile a minute about this and that and a few things that were really surprising.

Suddenly, Charlie ground out his Marlboro, shook his head to clear out the cobwebs, then zeroed in on my tape recorder.

"I don't do interviews, you know," he said in a regretful tone.

"But, Charlie, we had an appointment and . . ."

"I don't. Just don't. Please turn back the tape."

"Well, then, just why am I here?"

"Oh!" He smiled. "I like to talk to you about music."

"Well, fuck me, Charlie. Thank you. I mean, who cares?"

"That's right. Have a beer?"

Charlie Watts does not give interviews. Well, I do not play drums. Each to his own. I remembered something Keith Richards had said to me: "Everybody thinks Mick and Keith are the Rolling Stones. If Charlie wasn't doing what he's doing on drums, that wouldn't be true at all. You'd find out that Charlie Watts is the Stones." Then Keith seemed to be embarrassed about his sentimentality: "Bullshit. Nobody, individually, is the Stones. But, right on, Charlie." He raised his glass.

Charlie shook my hand again and again at the end of our visit and apologized for his strict noninterview policy. Very diplomatic, a rebel gone genteel. The Stones are, after all, the world's most exclusive boys' club. Many have tried to join, moths beating hopelessly against the flame, never realizing that the membership list is eternally frozen — and the club's strict traditions must be upheld.

A few cracks appear now and then in the facade: one of the outtakes from Emotional Rescue is a Keith Richards vocal of "We Had It All," and he turns it from a male-female song to a boys' club anthem. After all the years of partnership, there can be little doubt about whom he was singing it to: "You and me, we had it all."

This is a story from the August 21, 1980 issue of Rolling Stone.


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