Wednesday, December 12, 2012


I've always said that you can tell a lot about a person by the books they read and the music to which they listen.  Same goes for a generation, but not so much.  I mean, the generation that gave us Get Together and All you need is Love also gave us George W. Bush and Mitt Romney.  And they aren't outliers.

My generation came of age in the 1980s.  The Decade of Greed.  So for us it's no wonder we got a Paul Ryan.  After all, we're the generation of Material Girl and Money Changes Everything.

That said, we're kind of lucky as many great groups from the 50s and 60s were still producing new work. 

Three of my all time favorites were from the 60s.  The Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead, and the Who.

I'm going to focus on the Who.  Their music spoke to me like none before or since.

The Who circa 1970s: Pete, Roger, Keith, John

The principal songwriter for the Who is their guitar player, Pete Townshend.  His lyrics spoke to the insecure teen inside of me, and still do.

I feel I'm being followed, 
My head is empty,
Yet every word I say turns out a sentence.
"Is it in My head?" Quadrophenia

I've always maintained that there are two great meditations in Rock music on adolescence.  The first is Pink Floyd's the Wall, but even more so is the Who's Quadrophenia

Funny how they're both about insanity.

In any case, Quadrophenia is my favorite Who record, and one of my top 3 records of all time.  (Don't ask about the other two as they tend to change.)  Why?  It may as well have been written about me instead of a pill-popping Mod in 1962.  The themes of isolation and disillusionment are universal, and still connect with people today.

I knew about the Who growing up.  I remember I was in 5th grade when the rumor went around that Peter Criss of Kiss had died, but it wasn't him- it was Keith Moon of the Who.  Drug overdose.  But my first REAL exposure to the Who came while riding in a friend's car when I was 15 and "My Generation" came on WMMR.  I was blown away by the power and the self righteous anger.  After a bit I figured out that Pete wasn't writing about age as a number, but as an attitude (which he was nice enough to confirm for me in his recent book.)

Not long after that, I discovered Tommy and Who's Next.  It wasn't until college that I discovered Quadrophenia.  It was the perfect time.  I was questioning so many things about my life, and feeling extremely isolated.  Then there was that whole "trying to submerge my feminine side" thing.  The first time I listened to it end to end was the first time I drove to Penn State. 

I was hooked!

Every year is the same
And I feel it again,
I'm a loser - no chance to win.
Leaves start falling,
Come down is calling,
Loneliness starts sinking in.

"I'm the One"

Ever since then, whenever I drive up to Penn State, I always listen to Quadrophenia.  It's tradition.  And if no one is in the car with me, I listen to it very loud.  ;)

I remember when a high school friend of mine, who is also a HUGE Who fan, figured out how to play "I'm the One" on her guitar.  She played it for me beautifully.  It's not an easy song!  It's one of my favorite memories from way back when.

And so the album has been part of life since almost thirty years. 

In that time, I've seen the Who twice (1989, 2000), Roger Daltrey solo twice (1985, 1994) and Pete solo once (1993).  Both times the Who played 5:15 and Love Reign O'er me.  Roger did those songs on his solo tours as well.  Pete didn't.  He played "Drowned."

 Then I heard that the Who were coming around one last time, and this time they were going to play Quadrophenia in it's entirety.  They did this before, back in 1996/7 with a full orchestra.  I wasn't able to see that tour for various reasons, the biggest being money.

I mentioned to my Wife that they were coming and she bought us both tickets as a combination birthday/Christmas gift to me.  Yay!

The concert was Saturday, December 8 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philly. 

I worked that morning, which was a cold and rainy day.  After my wife picked me up from work (I'm still on my driver license suspension) I had a few hours to kill, so i did some work around the house and took a nap.  I went to the concert in drab (sigh) , wearing a Who shirt sent to me by a cousin in Scotland.

And when a man is trying to change
But only causes further pain
You realize that all along
Something in us going wrong

You stop dancing.
"Helpless Dancer"

We left at 6 to go to the show, which was to start at 8.  Philly is normally a 45 minute drive with traffic. 

Well, at the same sports complex on the same day was the Army Navy game.    That, combined with the rain, meant massive traffic tie ups.  We eventually arrived and headed in at pretty much 8 on the dot.  We heard music.  As I hadn't heard of any warm up band, I was a little worried.  On our way in, we passed WMMR DJ Pierre Robert interviewing people, which meant there was a huge knot of people standing around.

Both Wife and I had to use the bathroom, so that wasn't a welcome sight.

Eventually we got through and found restrooms.  We then had to circle the arena to find our section.  That's when we learned that the music we heard WAS an opening act:  Vintage Trouble.

They were a blues/soul fusion, and they were Great!  Lots of fun to watch as well as hear.

There was a little time between acts, and the lights came on.  I looked around at the crowd.

I won't say the crowd was old, but instead of passing around joints, they were passing around Geritol.  *rimshot*

I've seen less bald heads in a cancer ward. *rimshot*  *groans from audience*

Thank you!  I'm here all week!  Tip your waitresses!

Look at all the rich folks!

The stage was set up with a screen behind it, and five video screens above.  The middle three were round, and either end was rectangular.  The rectangular ones always showed closeups of the band.  The others didn't. 

At about 9, the lights dimmed, all five screens lit up, and the opening strains of "The Real Me" fought the cheers of the crowd.  On the three middle and one back screen were scenes of the mod era, vintage photos of the band, and other symbols from the music.  During the two instrumental parts the video showed a history of the world from the end of World war II until the present day from the lens of the band.

Pete and Roger wore white.  The rest of the band wore black (except the drummer, Zack Starkey, wore blue.)  I'm guessing there was a symbolism there, as those two were the survivng original members of the group.

Everyone sang along to all of the songs.  I did as well.   I knew all the words, as I'd lived them all.

Halfway through that part of the show came the song 5:15.  At the other end of my row was an older guy, in his 60s I think, and his much younger date.  I have no idea how old she was, as her body said "twenty" and her face showed LOTS of mileage.  Her body was amazing!  Meow.  Anyway, she stood and started dancing in such a way that no one could mistake her profession.  She was an "exotic dancer" and she had the moves!  She made it quite clear whom she was with by the way she waved her butt at his face.  When the song ended, she sat, and all the guys in the section behind her cheered.

After Quadrophenia, the band stopped for a few minutes to soak in the standing ovation and introduce the players.  Both Pete and Roger made a few comments, the started in on some of the greatest hits.  Roger's voice sounded strained the entire concert and instead of going for many of the high notes, he "flattened" them blues style.  Some of the songs were also played in different keys to accommodate him.  During the second part, Roger sometimes held the microphone to the audience and let them sing.

I'll admit, it was an odd moment watching a bunch of rich 50-60 years olds singing "TEENAGE WASTELAND" at the top of their lungs.  But I was as well.  After all, we'd all survived our teens and understood the message.

The main set concluded with the traditional "Won't Get Fooled Again."  At the end of the song, Roger is supposed to let loose a soul curdling scream.  I think that this night, it was pre-recorded.  No shame in that- his voice is in tatters.

After that, the band left the stage, leaving Roger and Pete.  Pete grabbed an acoustic guitar, and he and Roger played the song that closed their final album Endless Wire.  It was the only song in which few sang along:  Tea and Theater.   It was quiet and intimate and a wonderful farewell.

At the end of the show, I was absolutely thrilled.  I'd seen the Who again, this time with my wife, and it was a great show.

I guess the image that I'll always remember from this show was one during the song "Is it in My head?"  I looked to my right, and a in the aisle a couple rows ahead of me was a man in his late 50s/ early 60s.  He was balding and way overweight.  There he was, back arched, eyes closed, bellowing the words to the song as if he were alone in the shower.  Lost in the music that means so much to him.

As was I.


1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this great post. I only saw The Who once a very long time ago. whenever I want to feel really good, I play Happy Jack and listen to the pure joy that is Keith Moon beating the crap out of his drum kit with glorious, and reckless abandon. now that puts a smile on my face.