When I was in my teens, my best friend and I went to see Gimme Shelter, the documentary about the 1969 Rolling Stones tour that culminated in a disastrous concert at Altamont Speedway, where an 18-year-old was stabbed to death by a Hells Angel in front of the stage.
In one scene, Charlie Watts, who passed away today at the age of 80, listens to a radio call-in show as then Oakland chapter head Sonny Barger justifies the Angels' actions.
"When they started messing over our bikes, they started it," Barger says. "Ain't nobody gonna kick my motorcycle. When you're standing there, looking at something that's your life ... and you love that thing better than you love anything in the world ... you know who that guy is. You're gonna get him. [And] when they jumped on an Angel, they got hurt."
Watts nods, lets out a breath, smiles ruefully, and with gentle sarcasm, says, "Well done, Sonny."
And like that, "Well done, Sonny," became our catchphrase for any particularly foolish word or deed.
Standing on the mound after an argument with a coach I was never going to win, I heard my friend chuckle a soft "Well done, Sonny" from his position at shortstop. He got one from me when he tried to convince his mother he hit the mailbox with their car because he had to swerve to avoid a deer running across the driveway. "Well done, Sonny."
To us, "Well done, Sonny" spoke to wisdom. Judgment. Not just knowing right from wrong, but being willing to take responsibility for wrong.
Later, I realized Charlie Watts had a lot more to teach us.
For example, every job has a core function. The bedrock function for every drummer is to set and maintain the tempo for his or her band.
Except for Watts. As ex-bassist Bill Wyman once said, "Our band follows the rhythm guitarist, Keith Richards. It's probably a matter of personality. Keith is a very confident and stubborn player. On stage you have to follow Keith. That's why people find it hard to copy us."
The average drummer would bristle at such blatant encroachment in their turf -- not to mention a world-class drummer, one with such impeccable touch and feel.
But not Watts, who was willing to lead by following. He shaped and served the music, and in a broader sense, the band. As Richards once said, "Charlie gives me the freedom to fly on stage."
Watts did what we all should aspire to: make the people around us better.
Before I wrote this, I reached out to my old friend for the first time in over 30 years. He remembered our "Well done, Sonny."
And he suggested that from now on, whenever we see someone who is willing to follow instead of lead, and who is willing to put the needs of others ahead of their own, we should say a silent "Well done, Charlie."
Here's my first.
Charlie Watts. Consummate professional. Backbone of one of the greatest bands of all time. A drummer who, as Joan Jett said, "played exactly what was needed -- no more -- no less."
Not self-serving. A servant.
"Well done, Charlie."