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‘Shine a Light’ on memories of the late Charlie Watts

Dan Webster

Above: The Rolling Stones perform with Buddy Guy in their 2006 New York Concert. That's Charlie Watts on the drums. (Photo/Warner Home Video)

Movie review: "Shine a Light," a documentary directed by Martin Scorsese, featuring The Rolling Stones, Buddy Guy, Jack White, Christina Aguilera. Streaming on various services.

When I was a teenager, my late friend Ed McIlroy and I shared an obsession with the Rolling Stones. This was, of course, a long time ago – in the mid-1960s, actually. At that time, like most of our mutual friends, we liked The Beatles, who were burning up the charts.

But we loved, we adored, The Stones.

I remember gathering in Ed’s garage one summer afternoon with a few other guys, all excited to hear the latest Stones release. Ed had just bought the 45 single (45s, for anyone who doesn’t know, being small discs that fit on a record player). The new tune was something called “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.”

From Keith Richards’ opening guitar licks, to Mick Jagger’s wailing vocals, the song certainly satisfied our group of smiling teen boys, sweating our cares away on that hot Virginia Beach afternoon.

Those memories came flooding back at me last week when I read about the death of Charlie Watts. One of the original Stones, Watts – who lived to the advanced age of 80 – was the group’s longtime drummer. His work, which was seldomly flashy but always solid, is especially noticeable on such songs as “Paint It Black” and “Sympathy for the Devil,” among so many others.

Watts’ death also pushed me to re-watch the 2008 concert film “Shine a Light,” which was director Martin Scorsese’s documentation of a special 2006 concert that The Stones had put on at New York City’s Beacon Theatre.  (The concert was a benefit for the Clinton Foundation, and the former president and his family show up briefly in the film.)

To be fair, “Shine a Light” – which is available for streaming – doesn’t rank among the greatest concert documentaries ever made. It doesn’t, for example, begin to match the quality of Scorsese’s 1978 film “The Last Waltz,” which captured The Band’s final 1976 concert.

Of course, there are a number of reasons for this. For one thing, The Band was still in its prime in 1976. In 2006, The Stones had been playing together for 40-plus years. Sure, to this day Jagger has the energy of a half-dozen Energizer bunnies, but The Stones overall – at least on this night – just didn’t have the pop of years past. And how could they? Age catches up with all of us in the end.

And other than a stirring performance by special guest Buddy Guy, the other invited artists to the Stones’ show – Jack White and Christina Aguilera – aren’t nearly as impressive as those who showed up to play with The Band: I mean, seriously, Neil Young? Joni Mitchell? Van Morrison? Eric Clapton? Bob Dylan?

That said, “Shine a Light” – especially in the second half – does capture at least a glimpse of what made The Stones so great in the first place: Jagger’s showmanship, Richards’ guitar work and Watts’ pounding drumbeats. I was nostalgic for Bill Wyman’s bass playing, Brian Jones’ tousled blond mop-top and Mick Taylor’s guitar skills. But some things just can’t be re-created.

Scorsese adds his touches, from a “This is Spinal Tap”-type concert prologue that dramatizes the struggle between the director and Jagger over what songs will be played, to a finale that works similarly to the long nightclub single-take in his 1990 film “Goodfellas.” And his camerawork throughout is typically professional.

But in whatever direction the camera was pointed, my attention kept going back to the guy sitting behind the drum kit – the guy, hardly ever showing any emotion but always keeping perfect time for the drama queens at center stage.

Charlie Watts is gone now. As is my good friend Ed. I miss them both.

What I have left, though, are my memories. And a library’s worth of great music to accompany them.

An edited version of this review was broadcast previously on Spokane Public Radio.

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