The Who (Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle, Pete Townshend, Keith Moon) were and are the finest group of musicians to come out of 1960s England. Arguably the finest group the Rock movement ever produced.
You may not agree. That’s your prerogative. And your problem, not mine. (Smile baby, it’s OK. You’ll learn!)
Blame it on the MTV. We had it on pretty much from day one. “You Better You Bet,” from The Who’s Face Dances album, was the fourth video played, the first video repeated, and the first Who video I’d seen. I was more into TV than radio at that point.
The Who was novel, and MTV was on almost as often as sports in the living room.
Hearing and seeing the sono-kinetic enigma that is bassist John Entwistle pulled me into their whole sound. It also lit a fascination and an inchoate yet obsessive need to play bass and to write within me which continues to this very second. That very one too.
It’s nuanced, like something old and well considered and personal would be, the place this music has within me.
Of course, if you’ve known me for more than five minutes, odds are you knew all this already about me. Star Trek and The Who. Everything else is negotiable.
Anyway anyhow, my favorite Who albums, as a sonic unit, are the ones from A Quick One to Live At Leeds, with The Who Sell Out being my favorite Who album of this handful. it’s also the last Who studio album I got on cassette, so it has that bit of spirit to it with me too.
Cassettes, and the relatively inexpensive battery-operated portable cassette players with jack for stereo headphones (headphone set not always included), were my go-to source for music in those early years. The tech has improved, the gear is upgraded and the medium is much better than three decades ago, but it’s still me with a small player and headphones.
The bass sound John produced in this period was through a rare Fender slab-body P-bass he had. That bass was wrecked during an American tour. But, John salvaged the neck and electronics from that bass when he assembled his “Frankenstein” bass, the bass whose sound is the epitome of how the Precision, and by extension every bass, should sound. I love that tone.
Anyway, the high-resolution version of The Who Sell Out is on my Pono, and I am hearing it through Oppo planar-magnetic headphones with Surf Cables connected in balanced mode, loving it. Listening to the hi-res version of “Early Morning Cold Taxi,” I can make out Entwistle’s trebly bass line clearly in the deluge.
Communion, then as now, with the music in the innermost chambers within me. Here is my testimony.
Yearning for the god that was always there to begin with, the boy stands small before the blonde colossus, agape in agape love, oblivious to the cold.
Colossus, for his part, loved the attention. But, was still peeved about the boy’s crack about his small stature that night in Worcester. “Little Singer” indeed! And all to impress yer bird innit?
The bass player was a big dour bloke, near-motionless save for those hands! His fingers fly across the ebony and steel neck of his Attention-Getter like rolling thunder in the key of life.
The Ox. Thunderfingers. Big Black Bad Johnny Twinkle and His Fleet Fingers.
THAT SOUND! Gods above! Such force pounding the chest and ears of the boy-at-the-cusp-of-manhood. Such seductive, aggressive power! It caused the boy’s heart to reach critical mass and burst into the early morning sunrise of manhood.
This man–this band–was his now. His kin, his clan, as he begins the unwitting process of becoming a man.
They will be his. And, unbeknownst to the boy-man until the day the Ox fell, he was theirs…
He was theirs now. It was the tax levied upon his original rebirth in 1981–or was it ’74? When he’d first heard THAT SOUND.
Sound awakened the other within. Once awake, though, she finds herself alone in the dark and cold as outside, year upon year, the pillars of the boy’s very existence battle and humiliate themselves and their children by torturing and hurting each other.
Abuse–attacker and attacked. The damage done to and by the boy. And those around him. Trusts violated left and right in inchoate weird awakening…
Growing within that pain though, a seed left from sacred Baba through the Birdman’s guitar teaches the boy to speak with the other within…
“Be patient,” said Baba. “Listen! Do your best, then leave the rest to me. And don’t worry; be happy. Remember me and I will help you.”
And so I was, and so I did. Slowly, during long nights, I began to tease her out of hiding. I would show her mind pictures, in trade for which she gave me words. Simple ones at first, but intriguing in their fit and finish.
She was hard to coax, hesitant at first. But in the end, she was my muse. The other half within, which resonates in the presence of cosmic beauty and human frailty. She is me, and I am her.
The trickle of words became a torrent, a stream, a great river. A means to travel. Together they explored worlds of things seen and unseen, and words written or sung within. Moments stolen and bequeathed, passions played out heedless of consequence. Great loves fraught, sought and wrought and in the end squandered all the same.
The soundtrack that brought the boy back was always the same. Whether thirteen or thirty-one, it was always them. Always The Who. They were always there. Until they weren’t.
Oh, had he known. Had he considered it before.
Moonie was the ethereal wraith as eternal waif. The boundless madman that drove the music, until it consumed him too. Moon was history to the boy, stories of legendary nights and days of excess, finished by thirty-two. The one who embodied the lyric “hope I die before I get old.”
Rock is a young man’s game. Such freedom is incompatible with mortgages and bills and corporate ideologies, unless sold as opiate to the yearning masses. The ring just out of reach. The youth you never had at the click of a button. The new religion, fitting any shape it’s poured into.
The boy built himself into adulthood. Moving through days of work and nights of passionate play. Through it all, THAT SOUND was the looped way back, life in twelve bars, always back to the One.
Oh, had he known. Had he considered it before.
Life voiced its course, took its toll. The Ox, the boy’s way into the world out of the darkness, passed so poetically. Death by sex-drugs-rock’n’roll, committed by a poor, bitter man with a bad heart in Vegas one summer night.
The boy-as-man sat in his car, numb yet vibrating with the impact. The through-line of his life unmasked as mere mortality behind the facade. He’d had no idea exactly how much he’d given over to them–or how much of this artifice he’d crafted was the self he thought he was–until John Entwistle died.
Bereft, adrift in the river, pushed and tugged by the current. He floated along through days and nights, giving himself to the excesses he’d read about that killed Ox and Moonie. A brief humiliation by and with an ex-wife/ex-friend led to his unmooring. A first look at his real life of hypocrisy.
He sought death now, by cocaine and alcohol and more meaningless sex. He wished for death–Ah, but only passively! He lacked the courage to wield the blade and make the cut himself. If the chemicals killed him, que sera sera! Suicide’s a sin, but an accident is just that, right?
Such was the lesson of Ox and Moonie. The emptiness of the bed you must sleep in made by your own hopeful hand. Only you can craft your way out of the painted corner, but you must burn the whole mess down to do it.
And so he did.
Daltrey (Roger redux)…
Just a man upon a stage. Sweating and shouting truths for a share of the gate. Two old men up there who play the past for a greying crowd. Closer now to belonging to the ages than to…whatever they thought they’d be.
Two men who avoided a lifetime of work to make music. Who made a vocation out of their teenage avocation. And good on them.
The boy-now-man found truths of his own, as much unpleasant as gratifying. Elusive, illusive, interesting only to him, and worth writing down because he told himself so. They were his truths though, and no one else’s.
He made them books and blog pages because it suited them, and it suited him. Once written and put out there, they were just words waiting to hold weight for another. They were hIs no more, except by pride of creation.
He and the muse within sought and seek peace and self-forgiveness through words woven and wept, while knowing that the peace is ever theirs already.
I hope you too can find your own peace and your own self-forgiveness. Yours and no-one else’s.