“Style is the answer to everything,” Charles Bukowski, of all people, once said in a lecture that’s still afloat in the ether of YouTube. Swigging Schlitz from a bottle, the pockmarked laureate of the underground discoursed on one of the few traits that, as is well known, one may possess though never acquire.
Bullfighters have style and so do boxers, Bukowski said. He had seen more men with style inside of prison than outside its walls, he also somewhat questionably asserted. “To do a dull thing with style is preferable to doing a dangerous thing without it,” he then added — and that much, at least, seems indisputable.
Nobody ever accused the Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts, who died Aug. 24 at 80, of dullness. Yet so granitic and unshowy was he relative to his preening bandmates — in their face paint, frippery and feathers — that it was easy to be distracted from the ineffable Watts cool that anchored the Stones sound and that drew on a lineage far older than rock.
Well before joining what is generally called the world’s greatest rock ’n’ roll group, Mr. Watts, a trained graphic artist who learned to play after giving up banjo and turning the body of one into a drum, was a seasoned sessions player. He considered himself at heart a jazzman; his heroes were musicians like Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Lester Young and phenomenal pop crooners like the unfairly forgotten Billy Eckstine.
He studied famously natty dressers like Fred Astaire, men who found a style and seldom deviated from it throughout their lives. A famous story about the
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