Jeremy Clarkson on The Who and mortality

Brian Cady brianinatlanta2001 at
Sat Oct 11 17:26:38 CDT 2008

For those of you not in the know, he's the tall one from "Top Gear" (BBC/BBC America).

From The Times:

Any slim hope we might have had of a Pink Floyd reunion tour was dashed recently by the death of the keyboard player Rick Wright. Oh, sure, the remaining members could still settle their differences, find another keyboard player and get back on the road but, and here’s the thing, would I go? Would I be watching Pink Floyd? Or nothing more than a facsimile of the outfit that provided a soundtrack to my life thus far?

We see much the same thing today with Queen. Or “the Queen”, as my dad liked to call them. They’re out there now, strumming and banging their way through all the old favourites. They even have Paul Rodgers on vocals – and Paul, in my opinion, is the greatest rock singer of them all. But is it Queen without Freddie Mercury?

As you may know, I am a very big Who enthusiast. I saw them first in 1975 at the Bingley Hall in Stafford, and it was the start of something wonderful. But then Keith Moon shot into the next life through a puddle of vomit, and every time I’ve seen them since – it’s 13 and counting – I’ve always felt that, despite the best efforts of Kenney Jones and Zak Starkey, I’m not really seeing the band that gave us Who’s Next. And now, with Entwistle gone, the problem will be even bigger.

Over the years, we have seen many bands hit by the untimely death of a member. The Pretenders were particularly unlucky. They’d been going only four years when James Honeyman-Scott died after a drug overdose. Then, less than a year later, the original bassist was dead as well.

Meanwhile, being in the New York Dolls was more dangerous than taking part in the all-comers’-East-African-sex-without-a-condom competition. Recent plans for a second comeback tour were almost aborted when one of only three remaining members decided to up sticks and drop dead.

Today, I’m told, Thin Lizzy continue to tour. Great. Until I tell you the band is actually made up of one bloke who played rhythm guitar on Whiskey in the Jar and “some other blokes”. That’s not really Thin Lizzy, is it?

And it’s the same story, apparently, with the Four Tops, who really ought to be called A Top and Some Interlopers.

But we’d better get used to this sort of thing. At the moment, The Daily Telegraph’s obituary pages are full of second world war heroes who charged into enemy lines armed with nothing but a pearl-handled butter knife.

Soon, those guys will all be gone and, instead, we’ll be reading about brave Joe Walsh, who became so fed up with fellow bandmembers knowing he was about to break into their hotel room with a chainsaw that he bought a silent electric version. This way, they would still be in bed, asleep, when he came through the wall.

In other words, the few rock stars who survived the heroin and cocaine will soon succumb to the misery of old age. And then what?

Trying to replace them is like trying to replace the foot from a beautiful old grandfather clock. Yes, you could have a craftsman knock up a new one, and it would undoubtedly do a splendid job of keeping the timepiece upright. But every time you looked at it, you’d know all was not right with the world. And, anyway, what’s the point, when the clock face, the pendulum and the weights are about to give up the ghost as well? So what’s to be done?

My wife insists that there is plenty of fresh talent coming along to replace the dinosaurs. She is wrong. The Franz Flighters, Car-sick Steve and the Frascatis are derivative and hopeless and I do not wish to listen to any of the noises they make.

I certainly wouldn’t pay even so much as one penny to see the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who, so far as I’m concerned, could not make a worse sound if they spent an hour attacking giant sheets of polystyrene with a flock of electrocuted cats. I hate them.

I want to see Genesis and Yes and Pink Floyd. I want to see Stevie Winwood and Eric and Supertramp and Bad Company. But I have the most horrible feeling that I’ve already seen them all for the last time.

There is, however, a solution. At the moment, tribute bands have a fairly poor reputation. But I’m not sure why. When elderly people go to see Rachmaninov’s Third, no one is ever disappointed to find that it isn’t actually the man himself on the ivories. Indeed, many derive a great deal of pleasure in hearing how other musicians interpret the great man’s work.

In fact, when you stop and think about it, the London Symphony Orchestra is a tribute band. It simply turns up and plays music written by someone else.

So why can’t we encourage this sort of thing among today’s youngsters who wish to forge a career in the world of rock’n’roll? Instead of asking them to write their own material, which will be rubbish, we should ask them to interpret work by the masters: Camel, Gong and so on.

At present, tribute bands try to reproduce exactly what their heroes did. Some are astonishingly good. I once saw a Floyd tribute band in Alaska who were semitone-perfect.

But why can’t they experiment? Try to improve on the original? As we saw when Gary Jules rejigged the Tears for Fears song Mad World, a modern twist can be extremely enjoyable and successful.

We see this with every performance of the Royal Shakespeare Company. We see it with every orchestra. And soon we will see it with rock music too.

It’s not the real thing. But it’s the next best thing. And that’ll have to do.

 -Brian in Atlanta
The Who This Month!


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