Behind Blue Eyes - another artist's take on The Who

simon malia malias40 at
Mon Jul 5 06:15:07 CDT 2004

Last night I went to see amnother of my favourite artists - Suzanne Vega.

She currently doing a cover of "BBE" in her set - and pretty good it is too.

Suzanne was also on the bil at Isle of Wight Festival - and got to see The 
Who play.

Here's what she wrote in her tour diary. I quote without her express 
permission, from her website

so I apologise to her.

See what you think. Oh, and she can't spell "Townshend".

Author: Suzanne Vega (Suzanne)
Friday, July 02, 2004 - 3:13 pm

Isle of Wight!!
June 12, 2004

We met up with Ruby and Jackie and then the members of the Mooncusser film 
crew @ the airport and set off for the Isle of Wight.

The ferry trip over was beautiful. Dougie said that someone on the ferry 
introduced him to who he thought were some members of the current Who, but 
they turned out to be some local musicians who had just played a wedding. 
There was a rumor that Pete Townsend was on the ferry, but I didn’t see him.

We parked the bus in the parking lot, which was to be our home for two days. 
It was behind the stage. Isle of Wight has only one stage unlike Glastonbury 
which has several. This makes it much simpler. We got out, and went to see 
Jet performing. Saw John Giddings my agent, out in front of the stage, which 
was nice. More on him later. I liked the band, they were accomplished and 
cool. I recognized their song from some commercial in the States. The camera 
work for the screens by the side of the stage was excellent, it looked like 
a music video. In spite of this, Ruby declared the band “pathetic” and 
stalked off to go on the rides with Jackie.

After their performance there was scramble for food before the Who came on, 
so we went out and walked among the grounds to the concession stands. I 
tried to avoid going through the crowd by walking behind the chain link 
fence barricading the grounds. I was with Ruby, Jackie the babysitter, and 
Glynn. Suddenly I realized that right ahead of us were about 20 guys with 
their penises out, all urinating through this fence. We were about to walk 
right in front of them.

“Girls! Stop!!” I shouted. “Why?” said Ruby. “Turn around right now! Let’s 
go this way!” “Why?” said Ruby. Apparently the girls hadn’t noticed 

We stepped over people on the ground, sunburned, one boy looked very drunk 
or drugged, probably about 14, which disturbed me. We tried to get Ruby 
something to eat, which we achieved finally with great difficulty. Glynn and 
I ate pork sandwiches and made our way back to the bus, avoiding the 

I made sure Ruby got into her pajamas and started to brush her hair when 
Glynn came running in -- “There’s a seat for you at the VIP lounge to see 
the Who, but you have to come NOW!” he said. I gave Ruby a kiss and went 
running off. She complained, but I promised her she could see David Bowie 
the next day. She was too tired to stay up any later, and I didn’t think she 
would like it anyway.

The energy as the Who hit the stage was like a punch in the face. The 
younger bands had been good, but this was another level. I had never seen 
them live before. I knew about them because every boy I liked in high school 
was crazy about them. My first date was at the age of 15 to see the movie 
“Tommy” at the Ziegfeld Theater with Joe Piscitello.

I didn’t like rock n’ roll at that age. All my friends were into Patti 
Smith, The Who, and David Bowie but I thought rock musicians were stupid 
posers acting silly. I was deeply suspicious of any hype and showmanship. I 
was into Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan. Although I wanted to be a performer 
and had written lots of songs, I never went to an actual show until 1979 
when I saw Lou Reed.

I don’t remember what they started with, but early on in the set Townsend 
began to shout for them to turn up the music, complaining that it was too 
quiet. Everybody cheered loudly, and he seemed to visibly relax. It was good 
to see some humor in his craggy face.

Of the two frontmen, Roger Daltrey seemed to be struggling more, straining 
on certain notes, and also he’s a bit heavier now than he was, not quite the 
golden boy he has been. Townsend fares better in that respect -- having 
never been a beauty he has lost little in that department.

Daltrey at one point launched into a harmonica solo which sounded bizarre, 
having nothing to with the rest of the song - Townsend whispered into his 
ear and Daltrey flung the harmonica away. Someone had given him the 
harmonica in the wrong key. This annoyed him, understandably.

I was more and more drawn in by Townsend as the show went on, by his dark 
charisma, and the language of his body with the guitar. Although I have seen 
the pictures so many times, when he did the first windmill, I was struck by 
the absolute defiance of the gesture, not only in his arm. But especially 
his eyes. And then down through every sinew of his body.

I found myself really moved watching him play not only the thunderous 
pounding of “Pinball Wizard” but also the more delicate phrases, I don’t 
remember now which songs they belonged to. “Love Reign O’er Me” was exhalted 
and probably the high point of the show for me. Though we were 60,000 people 
we could feel and see the artistry in his fingers as he coaxed the tender 
notes from the sound hole, notes you would think would be lost in the 
production but never were. I vowed to myself NEVER to lose control of my own 
guitar on stage again.

I particularly wanted to hear “Behind Blue Eyes” since we have been covering 
it in our set. I love this song and have always identified with it. More on 
that some other time. To be honest, they seemed to walk through it, and it 
was a shock hearing Daltrey forget the lyrics at one point. I feel it’s one 
of their most poignant songs.

I began to love Townsend in his black Nehru suit, for his lean austerity, 
his body twisting with power, and the way he became one animal with the 
guitar, one minute bashing on it in a kind of abusive fury and the next 
caressing sweet unexpected notes into the air.

I was glad to see them at this stage of the game rather than at their 
height. It’s more difficult now, and they rose to it. We were curious -- how 
would they play the line “Hope I die before I get old?” Would they wink at 
it? They did not. They played it straight and went on with the show. They 
could have been a cliche, but they weren’t.

The press later confirmed that it was a great show and they were still in 
great form. The article I read in the New York Times a couple of months ago 
when they played Madison Square Garden was mixed, so I really didn’t know 
what to expect beforehand.

The other thing that struck me about the performance was the inventiveness 
of the music. I HATE long solos, and really love words. To me a song is 
lyrics and a melody, sometimes not even that. The rest is theater. During 
long musical breaks I find myself getting restless, and wondering what to do 
with myself, sometimes even in my own shows, looking at my nails and 
wondering if they need a trim. But here I was completely absorbed in their 
musical landscape of shifting harmonies, rhythmic changes, melodic riffs, 
and unexpected textures. I am sure all of this has been written about and 
analyzed to death in the music press but for me it was all new.

I am curious to know more about Townsend the man. Remembering everything in 
the press about him from last year, you don’t want to get too close, 
however. I can’t imagine leaning against a bar and having a drink with him 
somewhere. Although one senses self loathing and personal unhappiness, the 
way he tranforms it onstage is pure dark alchemy. I love the way he plays 
acoustic guitar especially, he opens up all new possibilities of how to play 
it. I came away completely inspired. He did a runner afterward so we will 
never know about him. We all went to bed on the bus and prepared to take the 
stage ourselves the next day.

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