My Quadrophenia story, twenty years later

Though I first listened to Quadrophenia on 18 November 2000, my history with the album truly began in 1993. I’d been looking at my parents’ fairly paltry vinyl collection since I was a kid, but I wasn’t drawn back to it till I was thirteen and getting into classic rock and pop. Since we no longer had a record player, I had to make do with reading the story booklet and looking at the photos.

Being that classic kid who read too much and understood too little yet again, I twisted myself in knots trying to figure out just what the title meant. I thought it was a real word whose definition eluded me!

A certain lyric in “Doctor Jimmy” also greatly unsettled me for years. When you only read lyrics instead of hearing them actually sung, let alone in the context of a complex story being told through a rock opera, you tend to miss a lot of important details.

Jimmy isn’t really saying he plans to rape a virgin. He’s reached the end of his rope and isn’t thinking straight by a long shot. There’s so much clutter swirling in his head, with the four warring parts of his personality. Jimmy’s angry, confused, a hot mess who needs help.

That lyric is also nothing next to some of the jaw-dropping awfulness featured on The Rap Critic’s Worst Lyrics episodes. The all-time worst I’ve heard is the Lil Wayne guest verse in “Karate Chop,” comparing rough sex to the beating of Emmett Till.

17–19 November 2000 was my very first weekend staying on campus at UMass instead of obediently going home to Pittsfield like an overgrown little kid with no life. It’s no fun being a victim of learnt helplessness, even if in my case it wasn’t the result of deliberately malicious intentions. I also only transferred after two years of community college. While that saved lots of money, it didn’t do my emotional, psychological, or mental maturity any favors!

That Saturday afternoon, I walked into town and went to Mystery Train Records. What luck, I found Quad in the used CD section for only $16! I was hungry for a third Who album after Tommy and Who’s Next, and had heard so many people on my lists highly recommending it as one of the best albums to get early in one’s fandom journey.

Was I blown away when I got back to my single dorm room on the first floor of Chadbourne! I loved Quad so much, I played it twice that day, and many more times in the coming weeks. Love at first listen. When I finally quit trying to overanalyze the story and title, and just listened without prejudice, I got Quad.

This album would’ve meant so much to me during junior high. It’s a story just about every adolescent who’s ever lived can deeply relate to—not fitting in, being different from the others, feeling alienated from everyone around oneself, not getting along with parents, being bullied, feeling on the verge of cracking up if one more straw hits the camel’s back.

Each of the four bandmembers is represented by one of the warring aspects of Jimmy’s psyche. Roger’s theme is “Helpless Dancer” (a screen name I’ve used at a few message boards), Keith’s theme is “Bell Boy,” John’s theme is “Doctor Jimmy,” and Pete’s theme is “Love, Reign O’er Me.” The themes appear as instrumentals in the title track and “The Rock.”

In “Quadrophenia,” they’re played separately, signifying how fractured Jimmy’s state of mind is, at war with himself, wanting and trying to be so many disparate things to so many different people.

In “The Rock,” they initially appear individually, but gradually start merging, faster and faster, until finally they emerge as one and Jimmy makes peace with himself in “Love, Reign O’er Me.”

Twenty years later, Quad is still an emotional tour de force every single time. It’s been with me through half of my life and counting, and never lets me down. Words shall never express my deep love and gratitude to this wonderful band and all they’ve meant to me for so long.

Happy 45th birthday to The Who by Numbers!

Released 3 October 1975 in the U.K. and 25 October in the U.S., The Who by Numbers was the band’s seventh studio album, and my tenth Who album. I bought it together with Who Are You at Newbury Comics on Amherst’s Main Street, 15 March 2001. Being only 21 at the time, the album didn’t resonate with me on the same deep, personal level it does now (though I still loved it).

WBN has been called a musical suicide note (which thankfully was averted!), written when Pete was on the cusp of his 30th birthday and feeling really alienated from the current musical climate. This was also the guy who famously wrote the line, “Hope I die before I get old.” He really meant it. That wasn’t a mere metaphor, but the genuine wish of a 20-year-old who didn’t want to become old, boring, and irrelevant.

The songs of WBN aren’t the kinds of songs that could’ve been written in Pete’s early twenties. By the time he began writing material for this album, he’d gone through more of life and was now facing down the sobering, depressing reality of hitting middle age.

Pete has said he felt empty and was crying his eyes out when he wrote those songs, “detached from my own work and from the whole project.”

The band took turns designing their covers, and WBN was John’s turn. His artwork cost all of £32 to make, in contrast to the exorbitant £16,000 of the previous cover on Quadrophenia. Probably unsurprisingly, Pete chose the Quad cover!

WBN reached #8 in the U.S., #7 in the U.K., and #29 in New Zealand.

Track listing, with stars by the bonus tracks:

“Slip Kid” (released as a U.S. single but didn’t chart)
“However Much I Booze”
“Squeeze Box” (retch) (#1 in Canada, #2 in Ireland, #10 in the U.K., #11 and #16 on two U.S. charts, #26 in New Zealand, #45 in Australia)
“Dreaming from the Waist” (the B-side of “Slip Kid,” one of Pete’s least-fave songs to perform, and one of John’s fave songs to perform)
“Imagine a Man”
“Success Story” (John’s song)
“They Are All in Love”
“Blue, Red, and Grey” (sung by Pete)
“How Many Friends”
“In a Hand or a Face”
“Squeeze Box” (live at Swansea, 12 June 1975)*
“Behind Blue Eyes” (ibid.)*
“Dreaming from the Waist” (ibid.)*

My fave tracks are “Slip Kid,” “Dreaming from the Waist,” “How Many Friends,” “Success Story” (full of John’s trademark dark, quirky humour), and “Imagine a Man.”

Twenty years of awesomeness

It’s finally here. My porcelain anniversary with Tommy, my very first Who album. How did twenty entire years pass by already? That’s half of my entire life gone! Half of my life loving The Who. I became interested in them in ’93 and liked them since ’94, but ’twasn’t till 2000 that I finally made the transition from a casual lawnseat fan to a serious, passionate, hardcore fan.

I detailed the story of my amazing journey on my crystal anniversary in 2015. Now that milestone anniversary seems an entire lifetime away. Most people don’t like reminders they’re getting older and that their youth will never come this way again in this lifetime!

When I turned forty at the end of last year, my first and primary thought was, “I’m now as old as John Lennon lived to. At my next birthday, I’ll have outlived him.”

The Who have been a huge part of my life for half of my life, roughly equidistant between my 34 years of being a Monkeemaniac on the highest end and a bit over nine and a half years of being a Duranie on the lowest end. In September 2000, I had no memory of anything that happened twenty years ago, and now I can remember as far as 37 years ago (plus my first, fuzzy memory of 38 years ago, seeing E.T. in the theatre).

Every time with Tommy is like the first time all over again. I’m swept back to that wonderful visit to Mystery Train Records with one of the few good roommates I’ve had and being twenty, my entire life still ahead of me, no idea what the future held. And then listening to the first three songs in Pittsfield after coming home for the weekend the next day, and listening all the way through the next night.

Side note: I really began blossoming and becoming a full part of the UMass Hillel community after I finally started staying on campus every weekend late in my junior year. I was held back so much by almost always going home prior, to say nothing of attending community college the first two years and missing out on formative underclass experiences. Learnt helplessness is very difficult to escape.

Proud lifelong tomboy I am, I take special pride in being a Who Rottweiler, the nickname Pete gave my fellow female fans. There are so relative few serious female fans of hard rock and metal bands, but I’ve never been interested in stereotypically girly trappings. Becoming a Who Rottweiler was a logical outgrowth of that.

Though as I came to discover over the first year of my amazing journey, I’m not as gender-defiant as I thought. I found myself loving songs a lot of guy fans slag off, like “Sunrise,” “A Man Is a Man,” “One Life’s Enough,” and “Our Love Was.” Many female fans swoon at those songs!

And while The Who have never been known as Tiger Beat pinups for teenyboppers, I also was (and remain!) quite physically attracted to the boys as they were in their prime. The music comes first and foremost, but Hashem (God) blessed all four of them with good looks. Perhaps a bit unconventionally handsome, but handsome nonetheless.

Pete’s vulnerability re: his appearance, esp. his nose (which I never found that big), increased my attraction and solidified my choice of him as my fave rave. He’ll probably be the first to tell you he hasn’t always been the easiest person to be around, but I admire his brutal honesty, and adore his sensitive soul.

It’s also fairly unusual I’m particularly physically attracted to a guy with blue eyes. I’ve always been all about brown eyes. (Fun fact: There’s no such thing as true black eyes. People described as having black, raven, sable, etc., eyes have VERY dark brown eyes that merely appear black.)

I’m so glad I finally bit the bullet and bought a Who album already, after about nine months of hesitation and longing. Sometimes we have to take a chance and try something new, and songs will never become familiar if we stick to greatest hits collections and the radio.

I owe so very, very, very much to this wonderful band. Pete is one of the principal writers of the soundtrack to my life, and his music, both in The Who and as a solo artist, means the world to me. I couldn’t imagine not having his songs in my life for so many years.

And it all started in Amherst with the story of a blind-deaf mute boy.

Happy Duran Duran Appreciation Day!—Celebrating my fave songs, Part II

To mark DDAD 2020, I decided to do a Part II of last year’s celebration of my personal Top 10 faves. The songs in the second half of my Top 20 are in no particular order. I can hardly believe Valentine’s Day 2021 will mark ten years since I became a Duranie! Where did all that time go already?

11. “The Edge of America,” eleventh track on Big Thing (1988). So many lovely, deep, thought-provoking lyrics. I particularly love the refrain, “Learn to love your anger now, anger here is all you possess.” This is the kind of political song I like, intelligently and respectfully making a point without angrily, one-sidedly ranting and condemning anyone who doesn’t think that way.

My 34-year-old little brother just disowned me, in a fit of rage, because I support J.K. Rowling and don’t share his toxic woke ideology, so this is a very relevant subject now. So many people, particularly the younger ones, have forgotten, or never learnt, how to have dialogue and state their case without a torrent of insults and ignoring anything that contradicts their ideology.

12. “Do You Believe in Shame?,” sixth track on Big Thing. This tribute to Andy Warhol, record producer Alex Sadkin, and Simon’s childhood friend David Miles has such beautiful, poetic lyrics. The music video is also great.

13. “Last Chance on the Stairway,” seventh track on Rio (1982). Once again, such lovely lyrics, pure poetry in motion. So many people criminally underestimate this wonderful band because of the stigma of throngs of screaming teenyboppers in the Eighties. Some bands who get really popular really quickly and are heavily marketed to teenyboppers have substance below the prettyboy image.

14. “New Religion,” sixth track on Rio. This is a quintessential example of a song with a very long intro done right. There’s over a minute of instrumentation before the first note is sung, but it’s more than worth the wait. It builds anticipation beautifully.

I love the haunting lyrics and vocal tracking. They work so well with the music. The title of my future sixth book with my Russian characters (to be set 1957–64) will be Seagulls Gathered on the Wind, after a line from this song.

15. “Khanada,” B-side of “Careless Memories.” I named my eleventh journal after this song (pronounced Ka-NAY-da, not like the country). The lyrics are like surrealistic poetry, and very evocative of a dream or fairytale.

16. “Serious,” fourth track on Liberty (1990). One of the two standout gems from an awful album that bombed for a reason. Even if the record company had promoted it a lot better, most of the songs are terrible. How did beautiful songs like “Serious” and “My Antarctica” end up among so many bottom of the barrel scrapings!

Warning: Video NSFW or under 18!

17. “The Chauffeur,” final track on Rio. Like “Khanada,” the lyrics are rather trippy and surrealistic, and like poetry in motion. At least twenty other artists have covered it, and it’s been sampled in several other songs. The music video is a prime example of how to be sexy without being smutty.

18. “Breath After Breath,” seventh track on The Wedding Album (1993). I love how part of it is in Portuguese (sung by Milton Nascimento). Romance languages have a natural poetry built into them. Though I’ve never studied Portuguese, either formally or independently, I usually understand a fair amount because it’s so close to Spanish, which I studied for seven years.

19. “Too Much Information,” first track on The Wedding Album. The message about a constant barrage of capitalist advertising and over-commercialized music industry is still relevant over 25 years later.

20. “Tel Aviv” with lyrics, bonus track on their eponymous début (1981). The instrumental version is the final track on the album, but this powerful song somehow went unreleased for 30 years. Though I want to live in the Lower Galilee (preferably Tiberias, right on the lake) when I make aliyah, Tel Aviv is also awesome. Hearing this song makes me wish I could visit Israel again soon!

Happy 50th birthday, Live at Leeds!

Image used solely to illustrate subject for an album review, and consistent with fair use doctrine

On Valentine’s Day 1970, The Who played one of the greatest live shows of rock history at the University of Leeds Refectory, a venue which seats 2,100. On 23 May 1970, six tracks were released with an album cover intending to give the feel of a bootleg.

In February 1995, the album was remastered and released with fourteen tracks. This is the version I bought myself as a 21st birthday present in December 2000, from Amherst’s B-Side Records. Sadly, that store appears to no longer be in business. Since they mostly sold CDs, and had somewhat higher prices than Mystery Train Records and Newbury Comics, I didn’t go there too often.

In September 2001, almost the entire show was finally released on two discs. Fans call this version LAL+T, Live at Leeds plus Tommy, since they performed Tommy live (with a few songs left off). There have since been a 40th anniversary edition and a 2014 deluxe edition (neither of which I have).

As you can see from the above, the complete version (which finally includes “Spoonful”) arranges the tracks in performance order. Even LAL+T didn’t do this. They put the Tommy material on Disc Two, though the band played that in between their other songs.

I got LAL+T as a present from my surviving uncle in December 2001, a bit over a year after I bought the ’95 remaster. Leading up to this, I’d heard a lot of complaints about the sound quality from audiophiles on the Odds and Sods mailing list (which I later unsubscribed from due to its infamously out of control nastiness). Some of them were even quoted in music magazines like Ice.

Guess what, I found not a thing wrong with the sound quality! No tinny, muted sounds or any other problems whatsoever. And the only reason the sound is somewhat softer on the Tommy section is because they turned their instruments down! After that was over, they turned them back up.

After that fiasco, I never trusted a single word out of their obsessed mouths ever again. I was so embarrassed I believed them. These people aren’t audiophiles, they’re audiomaniacs. Who the bloody hell has the time, money, and interest to buy dozens of different versions of the same albums, invest in expensive stereos, and notice tiny differences in audio quality?

You’re not focused on the right thing about music if you seriously declare, “The blue vinyl from China on XYZ Label from 1985 sounds so much better than the picture disc from Brazil on ABC Label from 1970.” No one normal cares or thinks about that!

The leader of these audiomaniacs also has quite the nasty reputation, both on that mailing list and in real life. He’s stalked people, and sent nasty messages to Pete about how he chose to release his own musical catalogue. Amazingly, he asked for five million dollars when he sold his giant music collection.

LAL was my sixth Who album, and I instantly loved it. When I got LAL+T, I loved it even more. It’s right up there with Who’s Next as a quintessential must-have album for newbies, one of their undisputed all-time greats. If you’ve got the money, you should get the complete version.

Of the non-Tommy tracks, my faves are “Tattoo,” “A Quick One” (which Pete gives a wonderfully hilarious, detailed intro to!), “Heaven and Hell” (sung by John), and “Fortune Teller.”