The "Satisfaction" Of Charlie Watts Hitting Me In The Face

Most weeknights, my wife watches Diane Sawyer's World News. About 3 months ago, Diane ended her broadcast with the announcement that that day, May 6th, was the 45th anniversary of Keith Richards waking up in the middle of the night, groggily taping the main dada dadadaa riff of "Satisfaction" and muttering, "I can't get no satisfaction..." into the mini-recorder that he always kept by his bed, and then, falling back asleep. One month to the day later, "Satisfaction" was released in the USA on June 6, 1965. By July 10, it was the Number One Song in America.

While it was only number one on Billboard's Top 100 chart for four weeks, on New York's 77 WABC AM, a clear channel station that could be heard for hundreds of miles in every direction, it was the number one record for the entire Summer of 1965. Back then, WABC had a policy of running their 5 minute news breaks at 25 past the hour and again at 55 past the hour. A clever strategy for teenage button-pushers. "77" also had a strict programming feature of playing the number one song on their chart at the top of every hour while every other New York station ran their news. That meant for all of July and August 1965, "Satisfaction" played every hour on the hour on WABC.

I was at the legendary "red diaper" Camp Thoreau in Wallkill, New York for eight weeks the Summer of '65. How red diaper was it? Well, my first summer there, 1964, my bunk's counselor was Robbie, son of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, a sweet and intense guy, who I liked immensely. Anyway, during my second stay at Thoreau in 1965, I vividly recall a phenomenon I had never experienced before or since.

That summer, there were dozens of campers who'd brought transistor radios with them. WABC was the only station any of us could get. And every hour on the hour, every transistor radio in camp would suddenly go on, roaring out "Satisfaction" with full blast distortion. It didn't matter whether you were in the art barn, playing pool or ping-pong in the rec hall, swimming in the lake, trying to catch frogs down near the creek, hanging around in the main house, in your bunk, out on the ball field, in the infirmary, the pine forest... You heard "Satisfaction" all day, every day. And you loved it. Kids would keep tabs of the time... "Hey, only five more minutes 'til 'Satisfaction'..." It never let up. It never got old.

With by far the longest hair on any boy, I was acknowledged throughout the whole camp as The Rolling Stones Fanatic. I'd come to camp the year before in '64 crazed about them after their late June appearance on Hollywood Palace when they were famously insulted by Dean Martin.

And I was significantly worse by 1965. I actually recently got a message on Facebook from another old Thoreau camper telling me that I changed his life 45 years ago with my zealous preaching about The Rolling Stones. On August 31, about a week after camp was over, I even saw them live with Brian Jones. But, that's another story.

That summer of '65, I had two counselors, Chuck and Woody, two very cool guys. Woody was a soft-spoken and cerebral black guy with wire rim glasses. Chuck was a genuinely tough biker/hippie prototype. Both of them thought my Stones obsession was endearing. 

One afternoon, against all the rules, they took me into the counselors' lounge (literally a converted chicken coop) and sat me down and played me Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Howlin' Wolf, Chuck Berry, Jimmy Reed. They wanted me to hear my idols' roots. Much as I'd like to claim that I sat there mesmerized, my 12 year old ears couldn't acclimate to the real thing at all. That didn't begin to happen until I was about 15 or 16. God bless Chuck and Woody for that first taste. But, the truth is, as they kept playing me the real deal, I started to worry that I might miss the 3 pm spin of "Satisfaction".

I'm very proud of the fact that the following vignette was included in the book that comes with the Deluxe 40th Anniversary Edition of the Rolling Stones' legendary live album from 1969, Get Your Ya-Ya's Out!, recently released on ABKCO Records:

Having first seen The Rolling Stones at the Academy of Music on Manhattan's 14th St. on August 31, 1965, the Summer of "Satisfaction," I went to see the Stones again on the afternoon of Thanksgiving Thursday, November 28th, 1969 at Madison Square Garden. Yes, the legendary Get Your Ya-Ya's Out! and Altamont tour.

Back then, the Garden's concert promoters and security people had no idea what they were doing. There was actually a gap about 30 feet deep between the stage and the front row. The kind of vacuum nature abhors. So, naturally, as the lights finally went down for the Stones, a 16 year old boy like me with nosebleed seats would be tear-assing it up to the front of the stage, dodging ushers and other crazed Down Fronters on their way there. And... that's just what I did.

I even wound up in the Maysles Bros.' "Gimme Shelter" film for three seconds at the very beginning of the movie... left hand side of the screen during  "Jumping Jack Flash," exactly 10 seconds after the "... spike right through my head..." line, in profile, with my John Lennon glasses, long hair parted on the side, chicken-neck boppin' my little teenage head. Check out 2:50 - 2:54 in this video.

Anyway, it was without a doubt the scariest audience I've ever been in. Where you stood, left/right and/or backward/forward in that area in front of the stage was completely and utterly beyond your control. I'd be standing in front of Keef for the beginning of "Live With Me" and suddenly the entire crowd would shift with frightening speed that just swept me along like riptide and now I'd be 30 feet to the left, in front of Mick Taylor... and 90 seconds later, back to Keef... like seaweed near the shore.

This happened through the whole show but then, by the time the Stones got to the last 3 or 4 songs of the set, it had gotten so jam-packed-crowded down front that the shifting stopped, and to my amazing luck, I got stuck smackdab in front of Charlie's drum kit, dead center.

But at that point, it was so insanely crowded I literally couldn't even lift my arms.  If your nose itched, you were outta luck. I absolutely could not raise them from my sides. That was scary. Totally crushed together and totally trapped. Of course, I was loving every second of it.

So now, the final encore was over, and Mick and Mick and Keef and Bill were bowing center-stage. But, for some reason, at that moment, I decided to look behind them at Mr. Watts up on his drum-riser.  Charlie was standing up, looking at the drumstick in his right hand, and suddenly burst out laughing as he realized he's been playing with a stick that was missing it's top two inches. He shrugged and threw the broken stick into the audience - let me stop here and say that, while I've always been terrible at math, I've got a gift for 3D geometry - and so, as Charlie hurled the stick, I instantly knew that the damn thing was heading straight for my face!

As I've said, I couldn't lift my arms at all, so I just had to let that drumstick twirl end over end right into my nose. It hit me hard enough to knock my glasses off my face. In what had to be a nano-second, I looked down and saw my glasses and the stick sliding down the front of my pea-jacket (yes, I was wearing a heavy wool coat in this mob). Then, I glanced back up and saw about 90 people diving towards me to get the stick. With all my effort, I desperately dove straight down and blindly somehow came up with both the drumstick and my glasses with one frantic grab. I immediately stuffed it inside my coat so no one in the crowd knew who'd caught it.

I thought I'd lost it over the ensuing decades, but one morning last year, I found Charlie's drumstick in the bottom of my t-shirt drawer. God knows how long it had been laying under my collection of rock 'n roll promo t's. I have no recollection of putting it there. And the best thing about it, and something I had never realized when I was young, the stick is really dinged up, just dozens and dozens of small dents. Hell, Charlie Watts must've hit his snare with that stick for half the show.

Coda: About a year ago, I told this story to my old friend, Bob Merlis. He got in touch with the folks at ABKCO and, as I've said, lo and behold, this tale of Charlie's drumstick and my face wound up in the book that's included with the 40th Anniversary Deluxe Box-set reissue of the live album. And I recently discovered that on page 39, in the photo of Mick Jagger on his knees during "Midnight Rambler," not only can you see me in the photo (the top half of my face looking to my left about an inch above Jagger's raised fist) but, about four faces behind me is none other than Johnny Genzale, three years before he became Johnny Thunders of the New York Dolls. Mick, Johnny, and me in the same shot. So very cool!