Posted in 2000s, Music, The Who

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.

Posted in 1970s, Music, The Who

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.”

Posted in 1970s, Music, The Who

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

Posted in 1960s, Music, The Who

Happy 50th birthday to Tommy, Part III (What it means to me)

Tommy was my first Who album, bought at the original location of Mystery Train Records in Amherst, Massachusetts on 7 September 2000. At the time, I had no idea that was Keith Moon’s 22nd Jahrzeit. It was truly one of those times where I knew, even before I knew.

I became interested in The Who at age thirteen, in ’93, and liked them from the time I was fourteen. At age twenty, in early 2000, I finally began graduating to serious fandom. Long story short, I chickened out on buying an album several times before deciding it was now or never.

That was the only Who CD in stock, though they had a bunch of their LPs. For almost all my succeeding trips to the various music stores in Amherst, this was my default modus operandi. I bought the sole CD, or sometimes two CDs, available. As I got more albums, I had to buy the one(s) I didn’t have yet.

I’d been so reticent about taking the plunge already because I was afraid of not liking an entire album of unfamiliar songs. I only knew the massively overplayed “Pinball Wizard” and “See Me, Feel Me.”

I played the first three songs on 8 September, but didn’t have the time to play it all the way through till 9 September, a Saturday night. Until pretty far into my junior year, I obediently went home to Pittsfield every weekend instead of staying on campus like a normal person. Learnt helplessness, but I digress.

I didn’t know what to do with this album at first. It was so unlike The Beatles’ albums which I was so familiar with. At one point, I almost thought about returning it, since this kind of music was so different.

The more I listened to it, the more it grew on me, though I didn’t understand what all was going on for awhile. Some things definitely aren’t directly stated in the songs, but the listener can fill in the blanks based on context clues and one’s own imagination.

As Charles Chaplin said, “While watching a silent picture, each individual supplies the unspoken words according to his own understanding of the action. The dullard sees the story in his own way as does the intelligent, the wise, and so on–each one, as I said before, supplying his own understanding, and everyone is pleased…”

At this early stage of the game, I didn’t even know who was whom, except Roger, the only blonde and lead singer. I correctly guessed straightaway Pete was the one with the higher-pitched voice, and John had the thicker, lower voice. It was obvious which one Keith was. Then I learnt to distinguish the three dark-haired ones.

As a child, I had a character named Carmel Allison Jaywalker, who loses all her senses on the eve of her third birthday. In my juvenile mind, the culprit was “the killer pimples,” giant pimples growing over her eyes, ears, nose, mouth, tongue, and skin as she slept. Tommy’s surname is Walker. It’s another of those uncanny experiences of knowing, even before one knows.

From an early age, I’ve been fascinated by the blind-deaf. What must it be like to be cut off from the two most major senses, living so deeply in one’s own mind, processing everything through sensations, communicating without speech or sign language? I did a paper on the blind-deaf in a class I took on special education in 2005. Someday I’d like to resurrect Carmel.

It’s such a powerful, intense journey, both for the character of Tommy and one’s own emotional feelings listening to the story. Every time feels like the first time all over again. Tommy isn’t what I’d personally recommend as an ideal first album for a new fan, but it was my first Who album, and as such is so, so, so special to me.

Once I began understanding it and was firmly in love, there was no turning back. My amazing journey had begun, and I’ve never regretted it. This band has had my heart, soul, and mind since I was twenty years old. All these years, they’ve never been unseated as my #1.

And it all started with the story of a blind-deaf-mute boy which saved The Who from bankruptcy and breakup. If Tommy hadn’t succeeded, they might never have gone on to become such legends, and I never would’ve fallen so deeply in love with them and been interested in buying any of their albums.

Posted in 1960s, Music, The Who

Happy 50th birthday to Tommy, Part II (Behind the scenes)

Note: All images are used solely to illustrate the subject for the purposes of an album review, and thus consistent with Fair Use Doctrine.

Tommy was recorded from 19 September 1968–7 March 1969, and inspired by Pete’s guru Meher Baba (25 February 1894–31 January 1969). This is particularly meaningful in the context of Tommy because Meher Baba voluntarily went silent on 10 July 1925 and remained so till his death. He communicated with an alphabet board and hand signals. To this day, many of his followers observe Silence Day on 10 July.

From the early days of The Who, Pete wanted to break out of the box of three-minute pop singles, and to explore deeper themes even within said short songs. Traces of his magnum opus Lifehouse can be heard as early as 1966’s “I’m a Boy.”

Pete’s musical evolution continued full-force with the very uncharacteristic (for the era) nine-minute title closing track on A Quick One. This song has six different movements, telling one continuous story.

The Who’s 1967 album closes with another mini-opera, “Rael,” which continues with the brief “Rael 2” on the CD remaster. The roots of “Sparks” and “Underture” are heard here. “Glow Girl,” the closing bonus track (which also appears on 1974’s Odds and Sods), is about a plane crash ending in reincarnation and the refrain “It’s a girl, Mrs. Walker, it’s a girl.”

This became “It’s a Boy,” only “Of course, Tommy was a dear little boy,” as Pete wrote in the liner notes to O&S.

A number of Tommy‘s songs were originally written for other projects or about other subjects, but Pete repurposed them. In August 1968, he gave an interview to Rolling Stone in which he went into great detail about this album in progress. He described the storyline better than the final product!

Pete later regretted spilling so many details, since he felt compelled to follow them precisely instead of editing and revising his story as he felt necessary. The other three bandmembers loved his ideas, however, and gave him complete creative control.

Working titles included Journey into Space, The Brain Opera, Amazing Journey, Omnibus, and Deaf, Dumb and Blind Boy. In that era, “dumb” was the standard word for “mute,” though of course we know today that mutism doesn’t mean one is stupid. It wasn’t used to be deliberately offensive and hurtful. Context and intent are so important in looking at things from bygone eras.

Pete settled on Tommy because it was a nickname for soldiers in WWI, and a common British name of the time. Being the self-admitted pretentious guy he is, Pete prefers to call this album Thomas.

John wrote and sang “Cousin Kevin” and “Fiddle About” because Pete couldn’t bring himself to handle such dark subjects as bullying and child molestation. Contrary to what certain people are still convinced of, Pete has long campaigned against child abuse, and was molested himself.

All evidence has cleared Pete and the thousands of others wrongly accused during the mishandled Operation Ore. Real fans know this, and Pete himself admits he did something really stupid and dangerous to try to take down the real abusers. Unlike a certain other person (coughmichaeljacksoncough), he doesn’t have a decades-long history of huge red flags and creepy behaviour with kids.

Unusual for the band at the time, many songs were more vocally-driven than instrumental. Tommy has a less hard rock sound in its studio version, though it absolutely cooks live.

Though Keith probably didn’t write “Tommy’s Holiday Camp,” he got songwriting credit for suggesting the idea.

After rock journalist Nik Cohn (born 1946) poorly reviewed a working version, Pete suggested Tommy might become a pinball champion. Mr. Cohn, a huge pinball fan, immediately changed his tune. And thus was born one of the most overplayed songs in the history of classic rock radio.

Co-manager Kit Lambert wanted an orchestra, but Pete was firmly against it. That was too pretentious even for him, and their budget and schedule wouldn’t allow it anyway.

Like 1973’s QuadropheniaTommy had Sides 1 and 4 on one LP and 2 and 3 on the other, to accommodate record changers. These devices played multiple LPs in sequence without a human flipping them.

Tommy was #2 in the U.K. and #4 in the U.S., and reached gold status in the U.S. on 18 August. It had mixed critical reviews, but saved The Who from breakup and bankruptcy. Final track “Listening to You” was a genuine song of thanks to their loyal fans who stood by them for so many years, in lean times as well as prosperous.

Over the years, Tommy has been adapted by several opera and dance companies, and became a movie in 1975 and a Broadway musical in 1992. The Who played the album live until 20 December 1970, and used shorter portions throughout the decade. They revived it in its entirety during their 1989 reunion tour, often called The Who on Ice because of all the extra musicians and backup singers.

Tommy is truly the miracle that turned The Who’s entire career around forever.