It’s so hard to believe 11 years have passed since I took the plunge and listened to my first Who album, Tommy. I’d actually bought it on 7 September 2000 (not knowing at the time that it was Keith’s 22nd Jahrzeit) and listened to it up through “Sparks” the next night, but I didn’t have a chance to play it all the way through till 9 September 2000. I actually didn’t know what to do with it at first, since it was so different from any album I was used to. Up to this point, I didn’t even have all that many albums, and primarily listened to music from the radio. I did have a few Beatles’ CDs and a bunch of cassettes, but for whatever reason, I hadn’t put my money where my mouth was and actually bought music from these Sixties bands I was so into. Part of the reason, I’m embarrassed to admit, was because I didn’t want the clerks to give me looks or made fun of me because I was a young person buying music from my parents’ generation instead of the current stuff.

I’d been interested in The Who since I was thirteen, became a casual fan and started liking them at fourteen, but I didn’t start to love them or become a serious fan till I was twenty. I’d been doing a lot of reading and research since about that February, and actually almost bought The BBC Sessions when I saw it in Best Buy, but again held back because most of the songs weren’t familiar. I suppose that’s why so many people get into established bands by buying a greatest hits collection first, to have a safety blanket in case they’re turned off by unfamiliar songs. But The Who was an albums band, not a singles band, and I’m far from the only fan who thinks it’s ridiculous how they have so many greatest hits compilations, probably more compilations than they had Top 40 hits!

I finally stopped procrastinating and making excuses for why I couldn’t buy an album unless I knew every song or most of the songs on it, and got the only Who album available on CD at Mystery Train Records in Amherst, MA. I only knew one song on it, the massively overplayed and run into the ground “Pinball Wizard” (oldies and classic rock deejays can stop playing that song anytime now and move onto a more representative and timeless Who song!). The song was only written so British music critic Nik Cohn, a pinball fan, would be more enticed to giving the album a good rating.

I only got a version with lyrics in the liner notes, no explanation of the story. I suppose that was one reason I had such a hard time fully appreciating it or understanding what some of the songs were really talking about. I also, for the longest time, didn’t realize Tommy is only a psychosomatic blind-deaf-mute and can see his reflection in the mirror, the same way the unnamed narrator of The Painted Bird becomes a psychosomatic mute after that very traumatic experience on Corpus Christi.

Since this was when I just seriously started getting into them, I didn’t know at first who was who besides Roger. I obviously knew what Roger’s voice sounded like, since he’s the lead singer, and could pick him out in pictures since he’s the only blonde (one of a handful of blonde men I feel extremely physically attracted to, in spite of overwhelmingly preferring men with dark hair and eyes!), but I couldn’t tell the three dark-haired ones apart at first. I actually correctly guessed which voice was Pete’s and which was John’s, by figuring out Pete must be the one with the higher-pitched voice, and John must be the one singing “Cousin Kevin,” since he was the one who wrote it, and it sounded like a different voice, a bit thicker voice. And I figured Keith must be the one with the off-key voice, the one who almost never sang lead for a reason.

Even though it eventually grew on me, enough to make me hungry for more Who albums, it’s not what I’d recommend as an ideal first Who album. I’d have to go with the crowd and say you can’t go wrong with Who’s Next or Live at Leeds for your first. And as a result, whenever I wrote album reviews for the now-discontinued reviews section of thewho.net, on my old website, or on Amazon, I always made sure to mention if a given album, book, or film is ideal for a new fan of whatever or whomever, instead of preaching to the choir. My fourth Who album was Odds and Sods, which almost put me off getting another new album by them for awhile since it’s a collection of rarities and outtakes, not songs a new fan is likely to be that interested in or enamoured of. None of the glowing reviews of O&S at thewho.net had mentioned this fact. So I always try to tailor my reviews as though a newbie is reading them, instead of writing only for established fans who’ll like the product regardless.

When I was younger, I started one of my picture books about a girl named Carmel Allison Jaywalker, who loses all of her senses while she’s asleep on the eve of her birthday. I always wanted to go back to that idea someday and make a real book of it, a book about a girl who goes through the shocking tragedy of losing sight, sound, speech, smell, sense, and taste, but who learns to communicate again partly through her sixth sense. When one sense is gone, the others become even stronger, so when all five senses are gone, I figured the sixth sense, the only one left, has to become predominant. And I just felt it were fate when it turned out Tommy’s surname is Walker, so close to my character’s surname, Jaywalker. Almost as though I knew, even before I knew.

One thought on “Steel anniversary

  1. I grew up with The Who, and Tommy in particular. It was my brother’s album, and he didn’t want me to play it because he was scared I would break it. I think I was about twelve at the time, and I couldn’t get enough of it.

    When I met my future stepchildren their senior year in high school, I was astonished at how many artist from my era that they knew about. They knew the words as well as I did! The great stuff never goes out of style, i guess. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

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