“I don’t like drum solos,” Charlie Watts once said. “I admire some people that do them, but generally I prefer drummers playing with the band.”
The expressions of affection and admiration which followed the news of the Rolling Stones drummer’s death this week, at the age of 80, were heartfelt and impressive. True Stones fans appreciated what Watts had achieved and what he meant for the group as a whole.
And yet to this less expert observer there was something quite striking about the eulogies and outpourings. To some extent it was the usual piquancy of hearing so much praise for someone who was sadly never going to hear it. This is the unavoidable paradox of obituaries, which I experienced at first hand earlier this year.
But there was more to it than that. Gather an archetypal focus group of ordinary people and ask them about the Rolling Stones. What would their unprompted thoughts about the group consist of? References to Mick Jagger, presumably, raunchy tales of excess, Keith Richards’ miraculous longevity, massive stadium extravaganzas, and so on. Would any non-expert fan have mentioned the drummer, before this week? I rather doubt it.
Watts, it seems to me, had many of the qualities of the classic introvert. Such people can get overlooked. They do not make a lot of fuss. They are happy to get on with their own work. They often make a vital yet unnoticed contribution. They can be the unsung heroes of highly effective teams or groups.
Almost a decade ago Susan Cain, an American lawyer turned author, published Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. The book became a massive bestseller and, not before time, shifted many people’s focus on to those less demonstrative but no less able team members who have not always won the credit they deserve. Subsequently there was, inevitably, a TED talk, which was watched by half a million people during its first day online (and has now had almost 30 million views).
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Cain, as it were, banged the drum (bad metaphor) for the necessary involvement of introverts to complement and perhaps counteract the equally necessary but sometimes too noisy extroverts. “Culturally we need a better balance,” Cain said in her talk. “When psychologists look at the lives of the most creative people, what they find are people who are very good at exchanging ideas and advancing ideas, but who also have a serious streak of introversion in them.”
While Mick and Keef and the rest of them cavorted out front, Charlie kept them right from behind his modestly sized drum kit. Not everyone noticed at the time, which was possibly how he liked it. The extroverts were free to put on a show. That was crucial. But while Jagger became renowned for how he strutted his stuff no-one, as far as I know, ever recorded a pop song called “Moves like Charlie”.
In an interview with the writer Elizabeth Day for The Observer ten years ago, marking almost 50 years of the Stones, Watts said this:
“I’ve never been enamoured of rock’n’roll…I mean, I love going on stage and people clapping but I never believed anything outside that. It felt a bit minor to me, the whole thing. It’s never impressed me that much.”
And would they go on to do another big tour to commemorate their (then) 50 years in showbusiness? “I would like to think we’d do a tour. Um, if we don’t, we don’t. I mean, I’ve felt like that for the last 50 years. It’s never bothered me if the Rolling Stones stopped tomorrow.”
“Drumming for the Stones was not his dream job, so he could detach himself,” wrote the music journalist Bob Stanley in a piece for the New Statesman this week. “He could do things to amuse himself.” That is one of the key differences between introverts and extroverts: the former do not need an audience from which to draw their energy and inspiration.
In a noisy world we should always remember the capable, quiet people who just get on with it without making a fuss and on whom we rely more than we will ever know.