Close Encounters of the Rock Star Kind
Most everybody would agree that it would be the thrill of a lifetime to meet the Rolling Stones. It as for me, but sadly, my ego wasn’t left unscathed.
In 1972, I was living in St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. That summer, the Stones paid a visit to the island for a quick overnight respite from their chaotic American tour.
My first encounter was strictly by chance. It was a Saturday morning and my dad and I were driving down Main Street in the capitol city of Charlotte Amalie when I glanced out the window and noticed a longhaired individual who looked strangely familiar. I couldn’t quite place him, but as he ducked into a shop, it suddenly occurred to me that I had just spied Charlie Watts, the stone faced drummer of the Stones. I jumped out of the car and walked to where I had seen him.I waited for him to reappear and then introduced myself and welcomed him to the island.
Charlie was nice enough and took a few minutes for a chat. Bobby Keys, the late saxophone player who accompanied them on their tours, wasn’t as patient and hurried Charlie on his way.
That’s when I made it my mission to track him down. After all, when you’re in proximity to a Rolling Stone, you can’t let the opportunity to schmooze go to waste. Consequently, as soon as I got home, I began calling every hotel on the island hoping to discover the his whereabouts. Surprisingly, the first one I contacted confirmed they had a Charlie Watts in their registry.
Today’s security certainly isn’t what it used to be.
Once I found out, I rushed to the beachside hotel. I walk out to the beach and spotted Watts, guitarists Keith Richards and Mick Taylor and other members of the Stones entourage encamped down the beach to my right. Apparently the entire band was here, sans Bill Wyman as I’d later find out. I then planted myself on a lounge chair as I plotted my next move.
That’s when I glanced to my left and saw Mick Jagger walking out of the beachside bar and in the direction of his pals. Not thinking and without hesitation, I jumped up and walked towards him him. He looked at me warily. Judging from the expression on his face, he was clearly suspicious of this kid who was about to intercept him so obtrusively.
“Hey Mick,” I said. “What about that near-riot during the first concert of the tour?”
Mick brushed off the question. A riot at a Stones concert was not an unusual occurrence. Happily, he didn’t brush me off. In fact, he didn’t seem to mind when I opted to accompany him back to his enclave.
Unfortunately, once we arrived at the Stones’ encampment, I found myself tongue-tied, and not knowing what to do with myself, I perched myself against a palm tree trying to appear as inconspicuous as possible. That’s when Keith Richards took notice and took it upon himself to question the intruder. inconspicuous. With his bleached locks, dangling earring and leopard skin bathing briefs he looked every bit as intimidating as his reputation had hinted.
“What’s this, a Pinkerton guard?” he asked caustically.
“Yeah right,” I shrugged, struggling for a response and failing to find one.
“YEAH RIGHT!” Richards replied mockingly.
I was humiliated. And ostracized as well.
“He’s alright,” Watts assured him, coming to my defense. Bless him, he was not only an iconic drummer, but also a kindhearted guy. I maintained my position against the palm tree and acted like a fly on the wall, eavesdropping as the band reminisced, with Watts offering anecdotes and acting as master of ceremonies. Being that he was slightly older than the others, he obviously commanded respect.
Eventually, Mick’s new wife Bianca sauntered over and joined Mick on his lounge chair where the pair immediately engaged in a torrid make-out session. It was all about celebrity smooching, though no one else seemed to notice. Maybe the Jaggers suspected me of being a voyeur, or perhaps they simply needed to pursue their passion. A few minutes later they headed for their hotel room.
“So what’s it like living here?” Mick Taylor asked me a little while later, after Keith had departed to flop around in the waves. He was surprisingly young looking, and like the rest of the Stones — sans Keith of course — very clean cut.
“Kind of boring,” I replied. “I kind of want to escape.”
“So why not leave?” He asked. Good question, but what could I say? I was a hapless teenager living with my folks, with no income whatsoever. Suffice it to say, I wasn’t in any position to venture out on my own.
Trying to appear cool, I asked if they were in any need of local refreshment while they were in town. “We’re fine,” Taylor assured me. Good thing, since I really wasn’t really prepared to be the Stones’ supplier.
Eventually, everyone drifted off, except for Charlie, who was now sound asleep on his lounge chair. Such an innocent time, when even a hapless teen like myself could keep company with the biggest rock stars in the world, and unshielded, unguarded, their drummer could nap on a public beach without any worries whatsoever.
Who would have ever thought that innocence and the Rolling Stones would ever go hand in hand?