Details: The Rolling Stones' 1972 epic Exile on Main St. is getting the special-reissue treatment this spring. Do you think the album would sound the way it does if it hadn't been recorded during an infamous blur of debauched days on the French Riviera?
Charlie Watts: They weren't very debauched for me. I mean, I was just there. I don't know, man—that's like saying would Charlie Parker be as great as he was without heroin or drink? I don't know. Would he be a better player if he'd never gone to nightclubs in Kansas City as a boy and wanted that life? I don't know.
Details: I've always felt as though Exile represents the actual sound of the rock-and-roll lifestyle being taken to the extreme.
Charlie Watts: You're talking to the wrong person for that. It was around me all the time, but I was not really that involved in that side of it, you know? I mean, I lived with Keith, but I used to sit and play and then I'd go to bed.
Details: Do you mind if I ask what you're listening to there at home? It sounds like Bach . . .
Charlie Watts: It is. At my age, I put the radio on most of the time, and it's on a station called Radio 3, which is terribly boring. They have opera from the Met on Saturday, which I make sure I miss, because I can't stand opera. But generally I have this station on. I didn't know you could hear it. Sorry.
Details: Oh, I don't mind. It's a lovely backdrop for our conversation . . .
Charlie Watts: Yeah. About debauchery.
Details: Speaking of which, I came across a mention of your going to catch a London performance by the great jazz singer and trumpet player Chet Baker in the 1980s. Obviously Baker was alive at that point, but probably only barely so.
Charlie Watts: He died soon after that. I saw him at Ronnie Scott's two nights running. He was bloody awful the first night, and fantastic the second. With live music, it can be like that. Sometimes it can be fascinating to see people in their awful state. There is a thing about musicians who are, shall we say, not very well. You know, it's seeing people who are really on the edge of it. And if it works, it's quite fascinating, really.
Details: How did you keep that deterioration from happening in your life? You've been married to the same woman for 45 years, and you've been a model of dignified restraint for decades.
Charlie Watts: I had a pretty bad midlife crisis I went through. But I have a phobia of needles, so I could not exactly be a junkie. Even now, I am awful if I have to have injections. So I could not sit and do it to myself, like I've seen other people do. I mean, I have taken drugs that were a waste of money, because I didn't do it properly and I wasn't interested, either. But you know, that's growing up, isn't it?
Details: What brought about your midlife crisis?
Charlie Watts: I don't know. Who knows—I think that's why they call it that, don't they? I suddenly went—I had a panic that I was missing everything, which was unlike me. And the more unlike me I got, the more unlike me I got, if you follow what I mean. And drugs can do that very quickly to you. Drinking can. And when you do both, particularly drugs, you become somebody else. Ask any husband or wife of a drug addict. If you're a dabbler, like I was, you become another person very quickly.