Thursday, October 11, 2007

Thoughts on The Who

I adore the Who. What are your thoughts on that extraordinary band? asks a Camille fan.
I too obsessed on "My Generation" and "Who's Next" with its "Won't Get Fooled Again" playing in 1972 as I oversaw the birth of kittens in our Wisconsin basement.

I saw "Tommy" at Georgetown's old "McDonough" arena & the temp was 110 in the rafters and we were all high on 800 mikes of windowpane. A woman who later became editor of the Washington Post Op-Ed page told me she saw the devil behind a door where we fetched up hours later. My VW Microbus was once again a "Magic Bus." Here's Camille:
Pete Townshend, the Who's virtuoso lead guitarist and composer, is obviously one of the preeminent geniuses of modern popular music. While I always preferred the Rolling Stones, with their sinuous covers of African-American blues, the Who had a galvanizing impact on me in college and graduate school. I loved their raw power -- Townshend's crashing chords, Roger Daltrey's soaring vocals, John Entwistle's deft singing bass, and Keith Moon's crazed, even chaotic drumming.

My favorite Who songs were the defiant manifesto "My Generation" (here it is from the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967), and the darkly magical "I Can See for Miles" (lip-synced on this vintage clip from a "Smothers Brothers Show"). Two years ago, the ingenious Petra Haden did a phenomenal a cappella version of the latter song.

The Who's rock opera "Tommy" (1969) seemed to prefigure a renaissance of rock, where this once despised teenage genre would rise to the level of classical music. Alas, that never happened, and some of us '60s relics are still in the dumps about it. There are many marvelous songs on "Tommy," but my all-time favorite is "I'm Free" (here's the Who performing it at Woodstock in 1969).

From the Who's later repertoire, there's a major standout for me: "Eminence Front" (1982), which I think is a masterpiece. In the original video, I've always loved the contrast between Townshend's punk intensity and Entwistle's cordial, magisterial reserve. Don't miss the look of ecstatic abstraction in drummer Kenney Jones' eyes. Daltrey looks tasty, but why is he clutching that guitar? Here's the grizzled band performing it (somewhat unsteadily) this year.

I could go on and on about the poetic implications about identity (the persona as mask) and power politics in the lyrics of this song: "Eminence front -- it's a put-on!"; "Come on, join our party/ Dressed to kill." It's all coming from Townshend's own passionate spiritual quest for meaning, which has taken him from the violent mean streets through stratospheric fame to his present status as a near-deaf bard and sage.

I saw the Who five times live, including twice in France in Lyon and at a Fete de L'Humanite. I saw the Stones up front in DC and still have a tee shirt with the tongue, but they were nothing compared to the Who.

I saw Springsteen straight and he DID approach the Who.

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