Josna Rege

80. Who Are You?

In 1960s, 1970s, Britain, Music, Stories, United States on October 19, 2010 at 2:28 pm

The Who were the first big rock-‘n-roll band I ever saw in concert, in November, 1973 at the Lyceum in London. Of all the concerts I’ve attended since, they’re still the band who are the most successful at making the audience feel part of the event, not merely spectators. There comes the moment in just about every Who concert when they perform “See Me, Feel Me (Touch Me, Heal Me)” from Tommy; they turn the lights on the crowd, and band and fans sing to each other, a cappella:

Listening to you, I get the music/ Gazing at you, I get the heat
Following you, I climb the mountain/ I get excitement at your feet

Right behind you, I see the millions/ On you, I see the glory
From you, I get opinions/ From you, I get the story

I’ve seen the Who twice more, maybe three times, since then, but every time this moment is magical. We, the fans, feel that the band belongs to us and that the inspiration they give us is truly reciprocal. It is because they are a part of us that they can give voice to our experience so well. At the same time, anyone who has listened to Tommy, the first rock opera, knows that the song is an exploration and a critique of the phenomenon of fan-dom, of giving up one’s own glory to someone else, whether it is a rock idol or a guru.

thewho.info

The double-album Tommy was my favorite Christmas present in 1970, our first Christmas in the United States. (The year before, while we were still in London, a girl had given a very avant-garde solo dance performance choreographed to Tommy’s “It’s a Boy” at Parliament Hill School’s holiday talent show. I had attended Parliament Hill, my mother’s secondary school in the late 1930s-mid-40s and my cousin Sue’s in the late 1950s-early 60s, for just five months in 1969-70 before our immigration visas came through). I remember spending the school holidays playing the whole thing over and over again with my Brookline High friends, trying to work out the meaning of it all and discussing our interpretations at length. Does anybody know what on earth happens at the end?

Sometime in the 1970s I remember standing up and singing along at a huge Who concert in Boston. I must have been in my twenties by then, and no longer thought of myself as young. There were two teenage boys standing next to us and I remember looking over at one of them at one point and noticing that he too was singing his heart out, and that both of us were grinning from ear to ear. Young as he was, that boy knew every single word of the song, as if he had written it himself.

Inside outside/ Leave me alone.
Inside outside/ Nowhere is home.
(“5:15”, Quadrophenia, 1973)

The dates of Who concerts and album releases, and the lyrics of Who songs punctuate my youth.

thewho.info

In March of 1976, Michael and Dan were due to drive out West—Michael back to Albuquerque, Dan to San Francisco—immediately  after attending a Who concert at the Boston Garden, but when drummer Keith Moon collapsed just a few minutes into the show, Roger Daltrey told everyone to hold on to their ticket stubs and promised that they would return for a repeat performance. On April 1st they amply fulfilled their promise, and Dan and Michael, who had postponed their departure, went mobile immediately after the show.

I’m going home
And when I want to go home, I’m going mobile
Well I’m gonna find a home on wheels, see how it feels,
Goin’ mobile
Keep me movin’
(“Going Mobile”, Who’s Next, 1971)

Hypertext Who at thewho.net

Back from New Mexico in the Summer of 1979, living in a barn at Sky Meadow, Concord, we sang, as we hoed the rows of tomatoes and eggplants in Andrew’s large garden:

Now I’m a farmer/And I’m diggin’ diggin’ diggin’ diggin’ diggin’
(“Now I’m a Farmer”, Odds and Sods, 1974)

In the late 1970s, living the simple life at White Pond in Concord, heating with wood and sure that the end of the world was nigh, we played Pete Townshend:

River’s getting higher/ No wood for the fire
They saw the messiah/ But I guess I missed him again
That brings my score to a hundred and ten

Keep me turning (I’m hanging on)
Stop me yearning (I’ve had enough)
Keep me turning
While I hand in my backstage pass
(“Keep Me Turning”, Rough Mix, 1977)

Still active in the environmental movement in the early 1980s, we cut-and-pasted issues of No Nuclear News as Pete sang:

Don’t care if they say we are a dying race/ I’d rather be here than any other place
Keep on working, keep on working
(“Keep on Working”, Empty Glass, 1980)

As The Who’s front men, Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend made a perfect pair. With his pretty face and rippling muscles (not to mention his strong singing voice), Roger was the perfect vehicle for Pete’s songs. But as the songwriter, Pete Townshend has always been my favorite. Into the 1980s I also followed Pete’s musical explorations outside of The Who, in albums like Rough Mix (with Ronnie Lane) and Empty Glass. If I had a top ten list for the most important cultural figures of the twentieth century, Pete Townshend would most certainly be on it. As writer, musician, and spokesman for our generation, he will always be one of my heroes.

They call me The Seeker/I’ve been searching low and high
I won’t get to get what I’m after/ Until the day I die.
(“The Seeker”, Who’s Next, 1971)

Not everyone idolizes The Who. My cousin Sue, who is a few years older than me, met them once, before they were famous, in a dance club in Camden Town; it can’t have been later than 1964 or 1965, since it was still the era of the Mods and the Rockers. Sue, who has always had a weakness for motorcycles and leather jackets, had a biker boyfriend at the time, so she was a Rocker, while The Who were turned out as Mods—mostly, as Roger Daltrey tells it now, because their manager had told them to cultivate that clean-cut, Ivy League look. “We were just four yobs from Shepherd’s Bush” (The Mod Generation). In those days and venues, there wasn’t much of a separation between the fans and the bands, and the performers used to mingle with the crowd between sets. Apparently Roger called out to her, “Hey, Ginger (Sue was a redhead)—wanna dance?”

Would you believe it—she turned him down.

Tell Me Another

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  1. As you know, I am similarly entwined with the Who, especially with Pete, whom I continue to respect and marvel at as a thinker, a writer and an always-fresh musician. This is such a nice remembrance and tribute. Way to go, Jo.

    • Dear Ann, Of course you would understand, thank you. I wanted to capture just how we felt then, but of course that is elusive. Whatever we were doing, it seemed, Pete Townshend commented on it, told us how we felt, almost; that’s what it means, I think, to have one’s finger on the pulse of the times. That’s how he became a spokesperson for us. That’s why both I and the teenage boy next to me were linked, why each of us sang the songs as our very own. x J

  2. I was living on the Spanish island, Formentera, when I first heard the Who. “See Me, Feel Me (Touch Me, Heal Me)” filled my heart and I was connected in a very personal way without actually being in a concert hall with the performers. This music is truly magic.

    Josna, another wonderful blog entry that connects us all to common ground!

    • Dear Anna, I can see you on Formentera listening to this song, and love the discovery of all the invisible threads that link us across space, thanks to your comments. It’s one of the things I like best about this blog.

  3. Now here is one I knew nothing about! I was too much taken up with my classical piano music and with folk singing and my guitar. My sister, Cynthia was much more in touch with popular music and it meant much more to her and her friends.
    I have always felt out of touch with it and it is one area about which I also feel a certain loneliness.
    So, thank you for enlightening me at this late date!

    • Marianne, you were actually playing music rather than simply listening to it! While we were in India we followed British and American popular music on the radio and through our Thai schoolmates and our relatives abroad–but belatedly, always at least six months late. In England, I followed the Top 20 through watching the BBC’s Top of the Pops every week. Fortunately it was 1968-1969, one of the best times to listen to pop music (in my opinion). But nevertheless, some pretty awful songs from that era are lodged permanently in my brain! In the 70s and early 80s in the US I followed rock, reggae, punk, and folk music at a time when much of the prevailing popular music was schmaltz or disco. I also started following Indian classical and light classical music whenever I could, whenever an artist came through the Boston area on tour. From the 80s on, I’ve completely lost touch with popular music, except for the odd Indian or British Asian musicians here and there. I’ve become much more interested in folk and country. (Country—”real” country, that is—was always a secret love of mine, but now I’ve come out of the closet!) So I’m quite out of touch with the contemporary music scene, and have been for at least 25 years.

  4. I know next to nothing about The Who, so this was really informative and interesting. Can’t think of any musical group that came close to being this important during my 80s childhood. You continue to teach me (us) much!

    (My first concert was a Monkees reunion tour, which came to Philadelphia’s Veterans’ Stadium in 1986 or so. My grandmother entered my two brothers, my cousin, and I in separate drawings for free tickets to the show. And would you believe? We ALL won.)

    • I wonder whether the fact that you all won free tickets was an unbelievable stroke of luck, or whether it was a strong indication that there were lots of spare tickets for that Monkees comeback show?! Just being wicked. I confess that our band in high school in India had in our repertoire not one, but two of their songs—”I’m a Believer” and “(I-I-I-I-I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone.” And this was years before I’d even heard of The Who.

  5. I think the fact of our improbable winnings definitely said something about the popularity of that comeback show. My cousin and brothers and I did have a blast, however, so it must have been an appealing show for (musically) sheltered kids ages 13, 8 and 6.

  6. I saw them in 2006 in Toronto minus Entwhistle and Moon. Daltrey had a sore throat. But that did not stop us from having the time of our life.

    I first saw The Who on film – Woodstock. The split freeze screens and opening chords have stayed in my head all these years. Last year I actually visited Bethel for the first time on the 43 anniversary.

    Tommy on stage in Stratford, ON, earlier this month was simply fantastic.

    • Thank you for your comments, Fellow Fan of The Who. Sore-throat-shmore throat—seeing them live is a transcendental experience. Though it’s sad to think that two of them have passed away now. May the other two live long and prosper! I must go back and watch Woodstock again. No doubt I overlooked the subtleties of such things as split screens. I enjoyed your post on Tommy in Stratford, and thanks for including the videos. What a terrific production! Cheers, J

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