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Who Are You?

September 23, 2020 Leave a comment Go to comments

I’m sitting here with a break in the day, listening to The Who’s “Who Are You” album at an astounding volume, and trying to comprehend that the record is over 40 years old. I flip-flop on this one, firmly convinced that it’s one of their worst one day, and criminally underrated the next. “Music Must Change” sounds like pretentious tripe one minute, and wildly inventive and ahead of its time the next. The production, with its faux strings played on a synthesizer, can sound a bit cheesy. But it was 1979, and Townshend was willing to sound cheesy in an effort to not remain bored. Daltrey sings his ass off, even on the slighter songs, and Moon fights like hell to keep up. The poor bugger would be dead soon, after all. But he refused to go quietly.

I was 12 when this music came out. The title track was just overwhelming to a kid. Now we’ve heard it so many times it’s like background noise, but it’s just a fearsomely good piece of music, as good as anything the band had done previously, and better than anything that came after it. Nobody was pushing the envelope like Townshend, and when he swung and connected with the fat part of the bat, the results could change lives.

Plus it was the first time I heard somebody say “fuck” on the radio, which was pretty cool beans.

Life-changing. That’s the kind of band they always were to me. And that sounds so stupid these days, because music just doesn’t matter as much anymore. It may co-exist with you, but it doesn’t change you. We have our favorite bands and songs and Spotify playlists, but we’re just as likely to hear the same stuff in the background hawking a credit card company. No more album covers or liner notes or the lyrics printed on the sleeve. Listening to music these days is like guerilla warfare. You hit, and then you move on. I cannot imagine myself listening to today’s music 40 years from now. That seems incomprehensible….and not just because I’ll probably be dead. I simply can’t see my 94 year old self digging through my portable devices trying to find “Wet Ass Pussy”.

But here I am….right this second as a type….listening to Townshends’s acoustic flamenco flourish in the break down of the title track…and feeling like a 12 year old again.

Ain’t it grand?

They were touring this album when 11 fans were killed at their show in Cincinnati…crushed to death in a wild melee to get in when only a single set of doors were opened to deal with 10,000 fans holding first come first serve general admission tickets. Two of the dead were only 15 years old. A week later the band were booked to play the Philadelphia Spectrum….and my brother and sisters had tickets. Not for me, as I was deemed too young. It was a bizarre time. I was just starting to realize the power of this music, and starting to feel like rock and roll was a matter of life and death, but nobody was speaking literally. I remember my Mother thinking her children were about to die, and my brother somehow talking her into letting them go. I still don’t know how he did it. They had reserved seats, (“upper deck on Entwistle’s side”, my brother noted. “I was deaf for a week”), so that helped ease her mind some I suppose. She would have been mortified to hear his story of Philly meatheads laughing and yelling “push push” every time a line formed, though. But thankfully, other than the aforementioned hearing loss, my siblings lived to tell the tale. They survived where others perished. And it still feels crazy to say that.

Forty years. As Sandy Denny said, “who knows where the time goes?”

It’s time to get back to work. I have to turn this music down a bit. It’s not like I’m sitting on Entwistle’s side of the stage, but damn close. The amazon echo I’m pumping this through is no larger than a hockey puck, but the thing has enormous balls. “Music Must Change” is on. Moon could not handle the tracks’s 6/8 time signature so his drums were scraped in favor of Townshend’s shoes walking across the studio floor. Moon was mortified at his performance….”I know this is shit, but I’m still the best Keith Moon-type drummer in the world!” Indeed.

Townshend’s whispered bridge says perhaps what I’ve been fumbling to say here…

But is this song so different?
Am I doing it all again?
It may have been done before
But then music’s an open door

Isn’t it though?

In a bit..


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