[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

Things to remember the century by

Hello all,

I just saw this article on the internet and thought you'd like to 
check it out.



Copyright  1999 Nando Media
Copyright  1999 Nando Times


(April 15, 1999 1:14 p.m. EDT http://www.nandotimes.com) - "I woke up 
in a Soho doorway./A policeman knew my name./He said, "You can go 
sleep at home tonight/if you can get up and walk away." Those are the 
opening lines of "Who Are You," the title track of a 1978 album by 
The Who. That recording wasn't one of the band's most highly touted, 
but it remains one of their most memorable. 

The Who was one of the best of the British invasion bands that 
crossed the Atlantic in the mid-1960s. Their arrival was not as 
heralded as that of the Beatles and Rolling Stones, but they quickly 
established themselves with "My Generation," a defiant 1965 song that 
hit the spot with the restless youth of the English-speaking world. 
The band offered rugged, straightforward rock 'n' roll featuring 
Roger Daltrey's muscular vocals, Pete Townshend's windmill guitar 
playing and a powerhouse Jekyll-and-Hyde rhythm section of bassist 
John Entwistle and drummer Keith Moon. 

After "My Generation," they had a generation by the ear; now they had 
to figure out what to say to it next. In 1969, they released "Tommy" 
and the stakes changed. "Tommy" was a rock "opera," one of the first 
so characterized. It was referred to as such because it was unified 
thematically, with a central character who appeared throughout the 
two albums. Critics focused on the form of the album instead of the 
content, and soon The Who were regarded in some quarters as 
innovators with artistic (or pretentious) aspirations. 

What was lost was what they were singing about. Principal songwriter 
Pete Townshend (1945- ) was almost obsessively introspective; ever 
since "My Generation," he had been largely concerned with how the 
band interacted with its audience. "My great pride has always been 
that I'm writing for a group of people that commissioned me back in 
1963," he said at one point. "I'm still trying to find a way of 
saying what they want to say." 

So "Tommy," which on the surface was about a deaf, dumb and blind boy 
who becomes a pinball champion, actually was a veiled history of the 
band and its interaction with its audience. Two years later, soured 
by Woodstock and its aftermath, "Who's Next" offered songs about 
their disillusionment. 1973's "Quadrophenia," a significantly 
better "opera" than "Tommy," looked further inward, with four 
distinct personalities (loner, rebel, conformist, romantic) fighting 
for control of Jimmy, the protagonist. 

By the time of 1978's "Who Are You," Townshend and his bandmates were 
in a serious intellectual funk. A good chunk of this album was 
devoted to pondering the contemporary music scene and their 
contributions to it. Four songs dealt entirely with music - one 
savaged disco while another took note of the energy of punk. 
Townshend and company were in a rut, feeling dehumanized, inadequate 
and insignificant. "My music must change," Daltrey sang repeatedly on 
one track, detailing the quest for a new and more meaningful sound. 
On another, disillusionment took the form of: "Every idea in my head, 
someone else has said." 

The introspection went beyond music. "Trick of the Light," an 
Entwistle composition, had the protagonist seeking affirmation from a 
prostitute. All the concerns about self-worth came together on the 
title track, a maelstrom written by Townshend and driven by Moon and 
Entwistle in which our protagonist wondered who he has become. "Who 
Are You" asked "Who Are We?" and the answers they came up were not 
pretty. The Who appeared to still put faith in music, but they seemed 
to have strong doubts about the meaning of their music. 

"Who Are You" was something of a last hurrah for the band. Moon, one 
of the wildest of rock's wild characters, died of a drug overdose in 
September 1978, soon after the album's release. A year later, 11 
concertgoers were trampled to death outside one of their shows in 
Cincinnati. The Who soldiered on, and the three survivors each 
recorded solo material, but the band lost its edge. Unable to 
just "get up and walk away," they relinquished a lot of good will by 
repackaging their material and staging reunion tours. By the 1990s, 
they had come full circle, with a Broadway adaptation of "Tommy" 
overshadowing just about everything they had done in the previous 

Still, in the years between "Tommy" the album and "Tommy" the play, 
Townshend and company released three great albums: "Who's 
Next," "Quadrophenia" and "Who Are You." On these records, they were 
trying to answer the question: Who are we and what gives us the right 
to speak on behalf of our generation? They never did get their 
answer, but they accomplished a lot by asking. 

WHO ARE YOU, a 1978 album. Key figures: Pete Townshend, Roger 
Daltrey, Keith Moon, John Entwistle, Glyn Johns & Jon Astley 
(producers). Available from MCA. 

''Things to Remember the Century By'' is a series about 
underappreciated films, literature and music that appears 2 to 4 
times per week in the entertainment section of The Nando Times. It is 
written by David Cohen, managing editor of The Nando Times, and other 
members of the Nando staff. Cohen can be reached at dcohen@nando.net. 

Get Free Email and Do More On The Web. Visit http://www.msn.com