Roger & Me

Brian Cady brianinatlanta2001 at
Sun Mar 22 13:34:57 UTC 2009

>From The Chicago Sun-Times:,TRA-News-roger22.article

Roger Daltrey & me
A 40-something superfan fulfills her teenage fantasy in London

LONDON -- It's chilly and almost midnight as I land at Heathrow Airport and plod like a zombie toward the dimly lit baggage area. 

I feel icky and exhausted -- not like someone who might soon meet her all-time favorite rock idol since she was a kid. I'd stayed up till 3 a.m. the night before doing laundry, cleaning, finishing my work and posting notes around the house for my husband and two daughters so I could escape for a long weekend in London.

Finally, I'm here. I plop down on a bench and switch on my Blackberry.

"Hi, Stephanie. I'm assuming you are picking up e-mail? Roger may be about in the West End of London tomorrow but this is not something he can confirm until tomorrow, I'm afraid. Best, Jools." 

My heart flips into my throat. Wow. It might actually happen. 

Jools is from the management company that represents Roger Daltrey, the Who's legendary frontman -- the rock god and the face of mod music, and pretty much the reason I survived adolescence. 

From the time I first heard his stuttering vocals on "My Generation," no other rock singer could come close. 

As a teen, I was perhaps Wisconsin's biggest Who fan. My room was a tangle of Who posters, Who T-shirts, Who buttons, Who books, Who flags, Who newspaper clippings -- even my cat was named Baba O'Riley after the Who song. I baked little Who cookies every Christmas. My honors English project was a Who slide show. 

As I rattled my stereo with "Who's Next," "Quadrophenia" and "Who Are You," I felt that someone understood my teenage angst.

Through college, career, marriage and children, that passion stayed with me, like an old friend. I no longer holed up in my bedroom analyzing "Love Reign O'er Me," but hearing "I Can't Explain" on the radio could still take me back. 

And now I might meet Roger -- Roger -- of the twirling microphones and operatic voice. 

I've just arrived in London and already this trip is looking promising.
This all started with a call from my sister, Sue, who lives near Boston. 

Sue has been through a rough patch lately. A separation from her husband of 17 years. Counseling. Mediation. Their dream home up for sale. 

Sue had heard that one of her all-time favorite bands, Magazine (an offshoot of the U.K. punk band the Buzzcocks), was reuniting for a handful of shows in London, Manchester and Glasgow. 

For Sue, seeing Magazine live in concert would be a perfect mini-escape -- her chance to hit the rewind button and fill up on some of the music she'd loved back in school. Maybe it could even break the bad vibe of the past year. 

All she needed was a travel partner.

When she added that she had enough frequent flier miles to treat us both, I happily signed on. We started making plans. This would be a three-day trip to London -- perfect for two 40-something moms in a recession because it would be short (the kids would hardly miss us) and cheap (how much could we spend in three days?). 

We went online and booked four nights at the Mentone Hotel in central London's Bloomsbury neighborhood, where $125 a night would get us two twin beds and a small but clean bathroom, plus full English breakfast. 

We were about to take a journey, not only to London but to a time before work, kids, mortgages and stress. I was thrilled to be along for the ride. 

And then I remembered some unfinished business of my own.
You see, back in 1982, I had this crazy night with the Who. 

I was a high school senior and the Who was coming to Milwaukee. But despite my best efforts, I couldn't get a ticket. 

Then I caught a break: A local radio station was giving out a pair of front-row tickets to whomever was dumb enough to dress up like a turkey on Thanksgiving Day. My best friend, Susan, and I threw together some costumes using white stockings, high heels, big cardboard turkey tails, orange Lone Ranger masks and lots of feathers.

We had to humiliate ourselves by shouting "Gobble, gobble, 93 QFM" at the top of every hour, but it was worth it: We got the tickets.

The afternoon of the concert, Susan and I pooled our money on two dozen red roses. We painstakingly tied a note to each one, professing our love for the Who and offering our phone numbers and addresses (so the Who could become our pen pals).

From the opening chord of "My Generation" to the last note of "Won't Get Fooled Again," we sang, danced and flung our roses with little love notes onstage. Roger picked up a rose and said "thank you" right to us. We went crazy.

During the encore, a roadie motioned for us to come backstage. When we hugged him in disbelief, he said, "Don't thank me -- thank Roger."

We were escorted to what looked like a small living room. I stepped through the doorway and turned to my right. There, sitting on a sofa, was Roger Daltrey, his famous blue eyes looking right at us.

I saw those eyes and that blond hair and the roses with the love notes lying on the coffee table. Here was my rock god, my hero, the singer of all the music that mattered. And all I could do was kiss him on the cheek and babble, "I LOVE YOU! I LOVE YOU!"

To the band's credit, they spent a long time with us, valiantly trying to calm us down and have a conversation. Later, we attended a reception with them, entering the room on either arm of bassist John Entwistle.

When I tell this story, friends always ask, "Where are the photos?" and "What did you talk about?" 

Well, I didn't have a camera and I was too hysterical to talk intelligently. But as this London trip began to take shape, I thought: Maybe I could go back and do it over. Maybe Roger would sit down for an interview. 

After all, he's been on a roll in recent months. In November, the Who released a DVD, "The Who at Kilburn: 1977," featuring one of the last live performances by Keith Moon, who died the following September. In December, Roger received the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors with Pete Townshend. And his charity work continues unabated, most notably with this week's annual Concerts for the Teenage Cancer Trust in London, a fund-raiser he's spearheaded since 2000.

Maybe he'd talk to me if I promised to speak in complete sentences and not throw roses.
It's Feb. 12, our first morning in London. We only have three days, and my sister isn't wasting any time. Guidebooks are strewn around our tiny hotel room; new outfits spill out of dresser drawers. Sue has the glow of a woman released, albeit temporarily, from the duties of work and home.

The neighborhood around our hotel is a hodgepodge of indie shops, small hotels, pubs and ethnic restaurants. While the hotels are filled with European and American travelers, the vibe is more of an ordinary neighborhood than a tourist spot. 

We grab a coffee and wait to hear more from Jools. My Blackberry hums.

"Hi,Stephanie. Can you meet at Marylebone High St., W1, at about 2:45 p.m.? Roger could spare about half an hour. Best, Jools."
After a panicked moment at the hotel ("Do I have coffee breath?" "Does this make me look fat?"), my sister and I thread our way toward the corner of Marylebone High and George streets. 

We make a quick detour down Tottenham Court Road to buy a digital audio recorder because I'm an idiot and left mine in Chicago. The South Asian shopkeeper evidently sees the desperation in my face because he loads the batteries and gives me a quick lesson in its operation. 

Ten minutes and a bathroom stop later ("Does my hair look OK?"), we're at the corner looking for Jools. We imagine she's over-the-top Hollywood, since she works with rock stars all day. But when she arrives, she's pretty and friendly and chats about London as she walks us to the cafe at the Wallace Collection, a nearby art museum. Roger is getting his hair cut, she explains, and she goes off to find him.

The cafe is an airy, uncrowded affair in a sculpture garden in the center of the museum. A high, glass atrium roof lets natural light wash over elegant tables. I'm starting to feel light-headed from lack of sleep, but I'm lucid enough to remind my big sister to let me do the interview.

I look up and Roger is here. I shake his hand and thank him over and over and over for doing the interview before realizing I'm veering dangerously close to dorkdom again. 
He's 64 (he since turned 65 this month) but looks much younger. His famous blue eyes and smile haven't lost a thing. 

I regain my composure and go straight into journalist mode. He sips his cappuccino and patiently answers my questions about what it's like to be a rock star. We talk about his charity work, politics and the Who's plans.

For 45 minutes, he is intelligent, insightful and gracious. At the end of our talk, I can't help myself. I whip out my camera and beg Jools to snap a photo of Roger and me. And then we say goodbye.
The rest of the trip flies by. 

The Magazine concert is spectacular. It's held at the Kentish Town Forum, a theater built in 1934 with a high, gilded ceiling and plush balcony seats overlooking a mosh pit filled with dancing fans. The band roars through its regular set and two encores. Up in the balcony, a guy with a Scottish accent is whooping and taking pictures. 

I look over at Sue and she's ebullient. I sip my Red Stripe and sink into the throbbing sound. I feel like a teenager again.
For the next two days, my sister and I see more of London than we'd ever thought possible, from Shepherd's Bush (Roger's old neighborhood and the birthplace of the Who) to the funky shops of Portobello Road. We scarf warm crepes from a sidewalk vendor and get trapped in a large private garden we thought was a city park. (A sweet old lady with a key card finally sets us free.)

We tour the British Museum, stroll the Princess Di Memorial Walkway, watch the guards at Buckingham Palace. We visit the Tate Modern, Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London. 

In 72 hours, it's over. As we drag our bags to Paddington Station to catch the airport express, Sue and I hug and wish each other a safe journey. Laundry and bills and responsibilities await. But for a moment, travel and music have opened a window for us again and it feels great.

Stephanie Zimmermann ordinarily helps ripped-off consumers with her column "The Fixer," which runs Sundays, Mondays and Fridays (and occasionally Tuesdays) in the Sun-Times.

 -Brian in Atlanta
The Who This Month! 


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