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 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.”

Forty years ago in Cincinnati

Happy heavenly 101st birthday to Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn!

One of the greatest tragedies in rock music history unfolded in Cincinnati on 3 December 1979, the day before I was supposed to have been born. Had I been born on schedule instead of two weeks later, the headlines on my birthdate would’ve been dominated by news of this preventable tragedy.

My favourite band, The Who, were in the final month of their 1979 world tour, which began on 2 May. They were then in their second U.S. leg of the tour. On 3 December, they played at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Coliseum (now Heritage Bank Center). Though the show wasn’t set to start till 8:00 PM, people began congregating outside as early as 1:30. Not just a few diehard fans, but a large crowd.

There were so many people so early because a radio station said festival seating ticket holders would be admitted at 3:00. Of the 18,348 tickets sold, 14,770 were for festival seating (first-come, first-served). Anyone could get a front-row seat if s/he were determined enough.

People expected every door to open simultaneously, but only a pair of doors on the far right to the main entryway opened on schedule. While some concertgoers entered those doors in an orderly fashion, the crowds in front of the other doors continued building.

By 6:30, the crowd had grown to an estimated 8,000. The doors weren’t set to open till 7:00, but many people mistook The Who’s soundcheck for the start of the actual concert. Additionally, it was only 36 degrees, and the windchill from the Ohio River made it feel even more frigid.

The concertgoers wanted in, and now.

People at the back of the line began pushing forward, but this was a short-lived panic (for the moment), as concertgoers quickly realised the doors weren’t open and the concert hadn’t begun. Then people at the head of the lines began pressing forward again and knocked on the doors.

Pandemonium broke out as the crowd heard the Quadrophenia film playing in lieu of an opening act. The mass of humanity began stampeding towards the doors, and many people were trampled, pressed along, swept off their feet, and/or asphyxiated. With only two of 106 doors open, there was nowhere to go but forward, relentlessly forward.

As people in the back continued pushing against the crowd and shouting, they had no way of knowing people in the front were piled up on the ground. Shamefully, the cops refused to do anything, even when begged for help. Some of the doors were guarded by cops with billy clubs.

By the time the so-called lucky ones found their way inside, the crowd was still piling up. People were shoved in through the turnstiles, and ticket-takers seemed to think nothing were amiss. Some people entered through the tops of the doors. Bodies, shoes, clothes, purses, and personal effects worth thousands of dollars were strewn everywhere.

The cops found the first body at 7:54, after about an hour and a half of this horrific stampede. They finally realised just how serious this situation was after the fire department, ambulances, TV crews, the mayor, the fire chief, the city safety director, the Flying Squad from the Academy of Medicine, more cops, and many other people arrived.

Mayor Ken Blackwell, who’d only started his job that day, decided the show must go on, for fear of a riot breaking out inside Riverfront Coliseum. The Who’s manager, Bill Curbishly, also feared a riot and a stampede back out through the plaza. Cincinnati’s fire marshal concurred.

Curbishly knew eleven people had died by the end of the show, and told The Who to be snappy with their encore. When he broke the news after the show, Roger burst into tears.

Many people had previously called out Riverfront Coliseum’s festival seating, which had caused prior stampedes and bottlenecking. Security and fire safety had also previously been found severely lacking. Additionally, there had been calls for gates opening directly into the stadium instead of 106 glass doors.

Mayor Vincent Cianci of Providence, Rhode Island cancelled The Who’s upcoming concert out of fear of more fatalities, despite the fact that the Providence Civic Center had assigned seating. In 2012, Pete and Roger finally returned to Providence and honoured those cancelled tickets.

Cincinnati and many other cities banned festival seating, though Cincinnati later brought it back.

The eleven victims were:

Walter Adams, Jr., age 22
Peter Bowes, age 18
Connie Sue Burns, age 21
Jacqueline Eckerle, age 15
David Heck, age 19, from Kentucky
Teva Rae Ladd, age 27
Karen Morrison, age 15
Stephan Preston, age 19
Philip Snyder, age 20
Bryan Wagner, age 17, from Kentucky
James Warmoth, age 21

May their memories be for an eternal blessing.

“Rock & Roll Tragedy: Why 11 Died at the Who’s Cincinnati Concert,” Chet Flippo, Rolling Stone, 24 January 1980