Nota Bene (On the Title)

Benvenuti al mio blog!

Or, you know, Willkommen, because that’s where I live!

(But I took this photo in London.)

In which I introduce myself and explain the forthcoming venture

This blog will not begin with me. That honor belongs to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Mozart’s comic opera Così fan tutte follows two sisters’ madcap scheme to—what else?—marry their men of choice. The Italian libretto, written by longtime collaborator Lorenzo da Ponte (who *FUN FACT* lived for a while in the town adjacent to my Pennsylvania college town), is not among the texts I have studied in eight years of exposure to the language, nor in any opera studies class. But I did sing an aria from it at a workshop, and I can roughly translate the title to “All women do this.”

Really? All women? How disappointing. I mean, I know I take great pains to deceive everyone in my life into believing I’m devoted to one person before zanily swapping them out for someone else, but I figured that was what made me special.

In any event, I’ve modified the phrase for my agenda: the conjugation of the verb fare (to do) is now in the first-person singular. Così faccio io. This is what I do. I am like this—besotted with music, books, film, theatre, language, travel, and all things cultural.

A few other things I am: a brand-new Master of Arts in English Literature, having graduated this past May from Central Connecticut State University; a singer-dancer-actress; an expatriate Berliner; an Anglo- and Europhile; a voracious reader; my own greatest audience for my jokes and monologues; the biggest Beatles fan in almost any given radius; a high-functioning neurotic; and very, very Italian.

I do hope something in that list resonated with you. Even if not, cut me some slack. I’m new here. And the obscure tidbits and minutiae that occur to me might just have occurred to you too. The human mind is an extraordinary thing. It’s boring to explore it alone.

So give me a chance, why don’t you? Or if not, at least give peace a chance. That’s all we are saying.* Right?

*John Lennon is my love. God help the man I marry, if I marry a man, if I marry at all.

Thanks for reading. Subscribe below to get a regular joyful dose of updates.

I’ve moved to Substack!

Or, an announcement

After 200 posts (!), I decided it was time to move the blog over to Substack. It’s all the same stuff for free, but there will be other content available to paying subscribers, including special projects and semi-regular dives that are somehow even deeper than what I normally do. Check out my first post (a continuation of the Who series) and subscribe if you haven’t already.

Thank you to everyone who has been part of this community, and I’ll see you over at the new house. ♥️

“Now and Then,” the last (lost?) Beatles song

Or, a rose by any other name

So I want to talk about this song, which I called a Beatles song in the title for good old SEO purposes and because everyone is doing it. But I must confess to being somewhat disingenuous. I don’t think of it as a true Beatles song; it’s a Lennon song that features all four Beatles.

At this point, more than ever in the past fifty years, and especially in the past two with the reserves of long-form information to which we’ve been granted access, a lot of people have a pretty good picture of the extraordinary conditions in which the Beatles as a unit made music. I don’t know how much Beatles knowledge the average person is walking around with because I’ve never related to the Beatles in an average way. But I would venture to guess that, certainly in the wake of Get Back, that mean knowledge (‘mean’ being statistical average) has jumped into another percentile. Similar to the way the mean age of marriage has jumped because, as Florence Pugh says in Little Women, marriage is an economic proposition, and as the Beatles themselves say in “You Never Give Me Your Money,” kids today are “out of college, money’s spent / see no future, pay no rent.”

I’m not saying people wouldn’t otherwise have cared about a so-called new Beatles song. But more people cared more than might otherwise have happened. And besides, it was thanks to Peter Jackson’s team and technology that a project that had languished for going on thirty years came to fruition at all.

Despite its foundation being a demo John made in the early ‘70s, the final recording sounds very 2022, which hits my ear most plainly in the production on the piano. All the way through, I get the impression of four contributions, four parts, which do not necessarily make the whole we’re accustomed to. Ringo is as consistent as ever, but his playing doesn’t sound the way it sounds on a Beatles track. The way they managed to recreate a solo George is truly impressive, but it’s just that: a recreation. And even the most emotional aspect for me—past-John and present-Paul singing together—does not represent the Beatles as we know them. If anything, I think the thing the most evokes the Beatles era is Giles Martin’s string arrangement.

It’s a special work, and I’m glad it exists and that they saw it through. I just wouldn’t call it a Beatles song.

The melody isn’t particularly interesting, although it is typical of John’s work in that period. (You know what else isn’t particularly interesting? “Imagine.”) The lyrics, uncannily but perhaps inevitably, give us exactly what we would want from a last statement on (if not from) the Beatles: gratitude, memory, nostalgia. Still, even they didn’t create a strong sense of attachment for me, not to the extent that the story of the genesis of the track did. Seeing the short film and watching it come together (hehe) hit home in a way that several listens, so far, have not. Which only goes to show that, whatever individual listeners believe the song may lack, the whole signifies something greater to us collectively.

I applaud everyone who worked to give us this song. Let’s be honest, I would listen to these four in any combination under any name. And now and then, I want them to be there for me. They’ve never not been.

P.S. In my defense, Google’s predictive text when you type in ‘now and then’ is ‘song by John Lennon.’ Predictive text is known for its limitations and weird logic, but sometimes the logic works in your favor.

Image: released 2 November 2023, Apple

Who #7: thank u, next

Or, prep screams and hipster dreams

I almost called this one ‘I Love My Wife.’ We’ll get there.

Today is the day you may have been waiting for: Who’s Next. A title that is untranslatable, at least into German. I take the album on runs, which is how I’ve finally cultivated an independent relationship to it. “Baba O’Riley” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” are so oversaturated in the zeitgeist that for a long while I felt I couldn’t properly hear them over the noise. Which, because they were the album’s heavy hitters, resulted in my staying clear of it altogether. And I’ve never even watched CSI.

I’ll make the case once again that timing is everything. I remember being on one of my storied walks through the neighborhood I was living in in 2021 when Apple Music presented me with “I Don’t Even Know Myself” (which is to Who’s Next as “Good Vibrations” is to Pet Sounds—not on the album but evocative of the sessions). And I liked it a lot. But I wasn’t ready to go down the rabbit hole. Or up the…Lifehouse, or something.

This year I was ready, and one song that really got me listening was, of all things, “Going Mobile.” Apparently there are people who don’t think much of this song. Those people can fffffade away. It’s so much fun. And it’s got a potentially sarcastic reading, criticizing the negligence and eco-unfriendliness of the road-bound hippie movement (“I don’t care about pollutionnnnn”). And it’s got the most un-self-conscious beep-beep this side of “Drive My Car.” My only complaint is that the early lyric “I’m gonna find a home and we’ll see how it feels” is begging for a line that completes the rhyme with “wheels.” Kind of like—big detour—the line in “Love Shack” that goes “I got me a car, it’s as big as a whale,” and we’re left hanging on the rhyme until way later when Fred Schneider says “and it’s about to set sail.” Which doesn’t even make sense because whales don’t sail. He’s thinking of a boat?

Back to the topic at hand! “Getting in Tune” is gorgeous. It may be my favorite Nicky Hopkins performance on the record, and that may be because it sounds most akin to what he was doing concurrently with the Stones. One morning this summer I sang this song right out my window, full voice. Case of main-character syndrome, perhaps, but I can sing so it is okay.

“The Song is Over” is the one I listen to least of all. It’s not that I dislike it (I actually hum the middle eight quite a bit), but I happen to prefer the cut song from which it takes its last line, “Pure and Easy.” If I’d heard the album at the time as it was first released, with no access to any of what was left on the cutting-room floor, I might feel differently.

There’s a bunch of great middle eights on this record, but my favorite has got to be the one on “Bargain.” The chord progression, the bass, the lyrics…it all just comes together divinely. I love the rising and falling energy of that song. It’s a good one to run up a city street to, since the runner is constantly gathering and losing speed.

I consider “Love Ain’t for Keeping” and “My Wife” a pair. I have to listen to the former directly into the latter: the former is short and the latter begins immediately, with very little in terms of a transition. They also present a hilariously dichotomous perspective on domestic life. You can love your spouse and be afraid they’re going to kill you. #IContainMultitudes

I would retract my statement about the middle eight of “Bargain” in favor of that on “Behind Blue Eyes,” except I don’t call that one a middle eight. It’s an entirely separate section, kicking the song into high gear, allowing it to achieve its full sonic potential before tacking on the footnote of the original theme. So if I called it the middle eight in my concert review, don’t listen to her, she’s an idiot. And that last footnote serves a special purpose: closing on an A major chord to set up the key of “Fooled.”

As for that one, well, what can I say? It’s an incredibly exciting recording, a masterclass in intervals as demonstrated by the synthesizer, a glorious tension build. I adore Roger’s little ‘prep scream’ preceding the third verse, warming up for the big finish like the smart singer he is. I think the first break is fantastic: they’ve modulated to a new key thanks to the middle eight—B major, the roman numeral II in the home key—and Keith’s minimal but powerful beat makes the groove feel positively airborne, like they’re tossing it among them (the handclaps help too). John’s descending bassline on the chorus—chef’s kiss. And all that’s to say nothing of the lyric, which…I’m pretty sure I remember some side character in Anna Karenina going on a chapter-long rant about this. Here’s why revolutions are ineffective, yada yada yada. Whatever! Can we sing it? Just kidding. I enjoyed Anna Karenina.

On one of my first outings running to the album, I timed it just right and rounded the corner back into my apartment complex on the last five tight beats of the song. I wanted to take a victory lap and high-five every stranger I passed. I did not do this, it would have been weird. But the rush was unbelievable.

The title of this post is even cleverer than I planned, tbh. Not only is it a pun, but it references Ariana Grande, who has in her catalogue a closer just as powerful albeit very different: “get well soon” from Sweetener. It’s got a blossoming build all its own, and even setting aside the story behind it, it manages to elevate the album purely on its own merit.

As usual, I digress. I do think Who’s Next distinguishes itself with the twin pillars of opener and closer. I’ll tip my hat to producer Glyn Johns for his superior sequencing skills. A select class of albums can boast that kind of double whammy. Maybe Ziggy Stardust (“Five Years”/“Rock & Roll Suicide)”? Maybe Tapestry (“I Feel the Earth Move”/”Natural Woman”)? Maybe Weezer’s Blue Album (“My Name is Jonas”/”Only in Dreams”)? Maybe Turnstiles???

Feel free to offer up your contenders.

Image: “Now push.” “Which way?” “No no no don’t push!” “I’m hungry.” (photographed by Ethan Russell)

California Tragic: Weyes Blood at Astra

Or, electro-pop Joni Mitchell from the future?

I got a ticket on short notice to see Weyes Blood (pronounced ‘eyes’ with a ‘w’ attached) perform last week at Astra Kulturhaus, a Berlin club down in the clubby district. I’m a newcomer to her, though she’s floated in my periphery for years, and I wasn’t sure what her fanbase would look like in appearance or number. Turns out you’d be surprised by both the appearance and number of people who’ll turn out for her on a Monday night. Lots of guys whose passion for her equals their girlfriends’.

Weyes Blood is the project of L.A.-based singer-songwriter Natalie Mering. She lifted the name from “Wise Blood,” a Flannery O’Connor story, and has used it professionally for twenty years. (Easier to fit on a marquee than “A Good Man is Hard to Find.”) This was her second Berlin show of 2023, the first being in January: she has a soft spot for the city, she told us, although she confessed that she was “not feeling very funny tonight” and that Berlin was probably the reason why. She went on that she likes to “walk around the dark streets and think about the abyss of [her] soul.”

I mean. Can’t pretend I don’t relate.

But I think she proved herself wrong. For as many of her songs as probe the abyss of the soul, Mering’s stage presence is refreshingly playful. She took the stage in a glittery dress and matching cape, and from the start—“It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody,” the opener to 2022’s And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow—she swayed with it, flounced around with it, actively danced in a way I hadn’t necessarily expected. By the second number, “Children of the Empire,” she had us singing along, the whole crowd in the palm of her hand. Her music often has a droning quality, her lilt wafting over an electronic Debussy-esque wash of chords, and it would be easy to feel lost in it. Mering was a present, attentive guide.

Critics have described her work as chamber pop, evocative of Laurel Canyon in the late ‘60s and ‘70s. (The venue’s pre-show playlist included songs by the Association and the Mamas & the Papas.) To be sure, I was first drawn to her voice for its undeniable Joni Mitchell influence, although seeing her in the flesh gave me just as strong an impression of Karen Carpenter. She has a gorgeous low range and she luxuriates in it: you can tell she likes to sing there, despite the occasional flirtation with a falsetto-like high register (see: “Twin Flame”). As for contemporaries, she’s compared to Lana Del Rey, understandable given the aesthetic I can only call ‘California tragic’—but even then (and this coming from someone who knows nothing of live Lana) she seems like more fun than Lana.

As is currently incumbent on every artist who can claim eras to their career, she took us on her own eras tour, hopping between 2016’s Front Row Seat to Earth (my favorite LP), 2019’s breakthrough Titanic Rising, and Hearts Aglow, whose orchestral experimentation Apple Music likened to—wait for it—Pet Sounds. There was more timeline-shuffling than I would have preferred: if anything, I would have appreciated a single fleshed-out ‘era’ dedicated to each record. But we did hear our share of songs from each in the end, however scattered. Her songs are long, generally taking four or five minutes on average to unfold, but the verse-chorus structure is clear; and, again, as a performer, she’s there every step of the way, so you feel like each song is an adventure led by her. Plenty of them have an atmosphere that envelops you immediately; but even the ones that start intimately build into a tremendous statement that, in person, is really a force to be reckoned with. Not…actually, not at all unlike the Who.

I have to shout out Mering’s band, of course. They crushed it. The bassist, a woman, reminded me a lot of Tina Weymouth in her movements, which isn’t gonna get any argument out of me. The drummer was fantastic, and, while the candelabra looked cool all around the stage, the one that threw light on his kit looked the coolest. And the crew obviously knew what they were doing: the lighting in brilliant colors, the images projected over Mering’s body during her delivery of “Movies.” These choices, possibly even more so than the music, created an idea of Mering filtering the Laurel Canyon folk-pop sensibility through a futuristic lens. It owes something to that scene, yes, but it isn’t derivative.

I was also gratified to discover something live that the records alone hadn’t revealed to me: her music is about her voice. Not even the emotions she expresses or the language she uses, exactly. About her singing. This is something I don’t tend to find these days.

That said, listening to multiple consecutive Weyes Blood records, as I did in the days leading up to the show, can be a little taxing. I was reminded that I don’t even listen to multiple consecutive Joni records because, much as I love her voice, it’s just not one to be listened to all day long in my experience. Two hours of hearing Mering sing live were magical, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to have her on repeat in my apartment for any longer than that. Or, if I do, it’s going to be the forty-second clip I captured of the first section of “Diary,” which opens Front Row Seat to Earth. I’m only glad I had the presence of mind to record, because I was transfixed.

Image: taken by the author during the encore

An Improvised Quatrain on the Lennon-McCartney Songwriting Partnership

Possibly greater than Arlen and Harburg,

Possibly greater than Rodgers and Hart,

Possibly greater than Gershwin and Gershwin—

Gosh, I don’t know where to start!


Thoughts on “Now and Then” coming soon.


Image: 1969 via AP

Goodbye, Matthew Perry

Or, a restless farewell

*CW: addiction*

Back when I first started this blog, I had the idea for a post about the concerning number of times I have said or done or felt something very Chandler Bing. That I can pinpoint these words or actions or feelings as such is only thanks to Matthew Perry’s outstanding honesty in his creation of the character, which kind of destroys you even as it makes you laugh.

He was more than Chandler, as the obits have taken pains to elaborate on. But that’s what he’ll always be, first and foremost, to me and, I suspect, many others. (Lest we forget, he was also the older Zac Efron in 17 Again.)

I barely passed through the internet last weekend—preparing for a good old-fashioned Reformationstag performance of polyphonic chapel music will do that to you—and so managed to miss the news given when it hit in the US. I found out from my mom on our next phone call. She’d figured I must not have known or else she would have heard from me, and she would have.

It’s devastating because it is both sudden and not necessarily the farthest out of left field. His wellbeing always seemed the most precarious of the Friends group. I’ve been meaning to read his memoir, which came out last year, but evidently Lisa Kudrow wrote in her foreword that she was asked constantly about how he was doing, that in fact that was the single question she got most.

Perry was remarkable in that he originated a character and, with him, a whole new philosophy of confronting your insecurities and personal demons, and also forged a real-life blueprint for dealing with those insecurities and demons. His work on- and offscreen has helped and will continue to help so many people in difficult situations. Whether it was Chandler trying to quit smoking or Perry himself battling an opioid dependency, this was a man we could look to for an example of perseverance. And we still can, even though he’s no longer with us.

As for Chandler Bing (or Ms. Chanandler Bong, depending on what you’re mailing), there will never be another character like him. He was undeniably successful at…whatever he did for a living, and he was charismatic in ways that made his supposed ‘loser’ status pretty implausible, and he ultimately found a loving relationship with a level of security and commitment that he wasn’t afraid of, and he simultaneously struggled with feelings of inadequacy and unavailability and had a level of awareness of these things that no one else anywhere on TV at the time displayed. The character would be proud of the mental-health discourse we enjoy today, imperfect as it is.

Like I said of Sondheim what seems like ages ago, I understand the basic concept of human mortality. But I don’t go around anticipating people’s deaths. Nobody does. We engage in this low-level denial to sustain our fundamental executive functions. So then, when we lose someone we didn’t count on losing, or not so soon, or whatever the circumstance, it hits hard.

I never thought watching Friends would make me cry. I just have to accept that that’s what it might do for a little while. That it will feel lopsided. That I will perceive a hole, even though the cast are all there onscreen and their one-of-a-kind group chemistry remains, undiluted and undiminished.

I might still do that other post someday. But I doubt Chandler needs my nostalgic rehashes to keep the memory alive. He and his creator are just that immortal.

In memoriam Matthew Perry, 19 August 1969-28 October 2023. I’m not sure I could say what your job was, unless ‘giving people hope’ counts.

Image: you hear it, don’t you (Friends S2E17)

Saint-Saëns’ “Danse macabre”: a perennial appreciation

Or, a musical memory

Halloween may be past, but All Souls’ Day is the second-best day of the year to discuss Camille Saint-Saëns’ 1875 symphonic poem Danse macabre. Besides, the day one of my grade-school music teachers introduced us to it was twenty years ago either this year or last year. So I’m late any way you slice it. But better late than never.

I remember sitting in the cafeteria, where our music class often happened, and really doing just that: sitting there for seven minutes listening to a recording of this piece. Ours was not an overly rambunctious class, by and large pretty content to sit and listen to things, but I feel this aural object was special. It is, as I said, a symphonic poem, belonging to that nebulous genre typical of the Romantic era; and in retrospect it’s no surprise at all that it should have spoken to me so instantaneously and indelibly, given its temporal and environmental and thematic resemblances to my first favorite, Paul Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

Saint-Saëns, a fellow French Romantic, seems to me to be Dukas’ lighter-hearted parallel, one who didn’t destroy much of his work in a spiral of self-loathing. And, for what it’s worth, the piece’s Wiki includes a 1925 recording by the Philadelphia Orchestra under the baton of Leopold Stokowski. (The version I listen to most is Daniel Barenboim conducting the Orchestre de Paris. As you will.)

Those seven minutes have, on first listen and over time, taught me more than I could ever have thought to wonder about the relationship between major and minor modes. More immediately, they taught me about the tritone, one of two arresting themes that the solo violin lavishes on the listener. As for the other theme, while I’ve never seen it directly correlated to “Eleanor Rigby,” I maintain that its descending half-step gradations are too distinct not to have been at least an unconscious inspiration. George Martin would have known it.

The piece took shape as an expanded version of an earlier composition of Saint-Saëns’, an art song based on a play by the Italian playwright Camillo Antona-Traversi. In this rework, the violin took the place of the vocal line, better suiting the story it told. “Death tuning his violin,” my teacher said of the tritone. I was riveted.

According to the legend on which the play and musical works are based, the personified Death rouses the dead from their graves every Halloween night and plays the fiddle while they dance, until the cock crows and they return to their graves for the next year. At the time of its premiere, the symphonic poem caused a bit of a scandal for using the xylophone—then still an orchestral novelty—to evoke the dancing skeletons’ clacking bones.

It’s got a cinematic sensibility from the beginning, with twelve D notes from the harp indicating the stroke of midnight. The first major theme to appear, introduced by a flute and echoed by the orchestra, is modally ambiguous in a pleasant, bewildering way. Even a listener who is unfamiliar with the narrative is pulled into the atmosphere of the piece, which contemporary audiences found anxiety-inducing. A classic case of I guess you guys aren’t ready for that yet but your kids are gonna love it.

When I listen to it now (as I do at least once a year), Danse macabre feels almost like a pop song of its era. Unlike its counterparts, it’s short enough for the major themes to never really be lost, running contrapuntally throughout and increasing in urgency. The transitional phrases embellish, accentuate, add wonderful flourishes without impeding our understanding of the main ideas. Those ideas join forces at the end, fitting together like a puzzle. The whole thing is accessible, for lack of a better term, to a degree that resonates with people who don’t listen to classical music. Subsequent creators have recognized this and tapped into it: a skim further down the Wiki reveals a lengthy list of pop culture usages.

I count myself lucky to have been exposed to this work so early in my life and will be indulging in it for years to come. And today I learned that it was immediately snapped up and transcribed for solo piano by Franz Liszt! Who transcribed every non-piano piece known to man. But that’s another post.

Dedicated to Frank Bigenho, who taught me the tremendous power of appreciating music.

Image: now THAT guy looks like fun (via Gramophone)

Who #6: Raise your hand if you loved Roger’s voice pre-TOMMY

Or, an eras tour but it’s just one era

A narrative I encounter not infrequently in my Who reading says something to the effect that Roger Daltrey didn’t really work out how to sing until Tommy. I would like to contest this claim.

First off, I don’t know what ‘how to sing’ means. Secondly, I’m not sure I agree it was at that point that he became world-class. Something did change then, and he’s been essentially unstoppable since, as I heard for myself. But he’d kicked it up a notch by Who’s Next, and some of my favorite moments of his are on The Who By Numbers.

Anyway, this isn’t about any of those. I believe he was a great singer from the start. And if people are suggesting that Tommy was what helped him find his unique place, well, I’d argue he already had that too. Don’t forget it was this early voice that gave us “I Can See for Miles,” a thrilling performance if you ask me. I wouldn’t object if he dipped into that low register more. Also “Pictures of Lily,” half of whose power lies in how innocent he sounds—the Monterey Pop rendition leaves me in need of that same relief (*wink*). Also “Substitute,” the song that may have singlehandedly created the concept of Elvis Costello. I picture a young Declan McManus thinking, “I wanna write like THAT and sing like THAT.”

Basically, I’m into his Really Insecure Era.

It might as well have been called that. Not only did his bandmates not let him join in any reindeer games, he had no desire to join them. There was a hesitancy among all four to commit to being Officially A Thing in the mid-‘60s, but it manifested most visibly in Roger, who was first ejected and then left briefly of his own volition. The former because he threw out Keith’s amphetamines and fought with him over it (and was reinstated on the condition that he no longer express himself through violence), the latter because he was alienated by the others’ drinking and drugging and hotel-room-destroying and just got so fed up that he decided to chance it out on his own. But there was nothing else for him to do. The dysfunctional family unit always draws you back in. His only course of action was to keep calm and hope his bandmates’ indulgences didn’t interfere too badly with the work they were doing.

The fact is, even with his anger getting the better of him at times, he was usually the Adult In The Room. Big eldest-sibling energy, bordering on mum energy when the situation called for it.

All the tension and dissatisfaction were reflected in his performances. As he himself has observed, it’s particularly prominent on tracks like “Lily” and “I’m a Boy” (that one will have its own post, because it totally upended me at the beginning of this year). It didn’t help that the material he had to sing was getting weirder: he couldn’t play it defiant as on “My Generation” and its ilk when the songs were now about insecurity and questioning and a need for validation. Townshend, before becoming the bi-coded human emoji we know and love, was a tough nut to crack. What is the singer tasked with interpreting his writing supposed to do? Ask him about it?

(Side note, at the risk of belaboring: nobody else could have done “My Generation.” And when they would do it later, like at the Isle of Wight, he didn’t sound the way he sounded the first time.)

So Roger’s role in that period was a fairly impossible one, and I feel he was up to it even at his lowest personal points. He got the messages across in their ideal form. To be sure, some of his vocal choices have endured—one that I’ll never have enough of is his pronunciation of ‘again,’ rhyming, of course, with ‘explain.’ Aside from the James Brown thing he did very early on, he has never been an American imitator: he sounds English, sounds like a Londoner, which I really dig.

I’ve discussed the harmonies, and I like that he took the lowest line of three. Not necessarily what you’d expect of a lead singer. Obviously he developed his high range to fearsome effect, but even then he would often take low harmonies, like a vocal signifier of his status as the group’s grounding force.

Oh, you need more examples? “Tattoo” from The Who Sell Out, as I’ve mentioned. (Speaking of, let’s appreciate him on the cover sleeve. You can’t sit in a bathtub full of Heinz Baked Beans and be arrogant.) Heck, he’s great on “I Can’t Explain,” for more than the fact that he was the only one who could be bothered to sing.

And “Magic Bus.” I LOVE MAGIC BUS. The call-and-response bit is not unlike “My Generation,” which tracks given that Pete wrote it the same year, but the vibe is way different. I hope Roger had as good a time singing this one as it sounds like: you can hear him laugh in the middle of a phrase. And you can tell he’s trying to make it worth your while—they never intended to record the song after having given it to the Pudding, except that Tommy wasn’t even fully drafted and in case you’ve forgotten, Pete, you have a Working Band That Needs To Stay Relevant(TM). So it became a single for them, and we’re lucky it did.

On a non-musical note: his hair! It’s so cute how he thought a mod couldn’t have curly hair. He’s looked good to me in every hair phase.

Not that the succeeding eras aren’t a veritable cabinet of wonders. The way he goes all vulnerable on the bridge of “Squeeze Box”? Damn. I’d squeeze his box too.

Image: at the Monterey Pop Festival, 18 June 1967 (shortly before Hendrix obliterated them like his own guitar)

Who #5: This is embarrassing

Or, a check-in

While interloping at the conference in Milan, I met a very knowledgeable presenter (British) to whom I took an instant liking. It somehow came up that I was writing this series on the Who because I had been listening to them all year. Her knee-jerk reaction was a weirded-out face and a “Why?”

It was very funny. The best return volley I could summon in the moment was “Why not?” But it highlighted a feeling I’ve wrestled with, since beginning to write about them overall and particularly since beginning to pitch magazine editors with more Serious Pieces on them.

Namely…embarrassment. Trying to convince people of the significance of my newfound love for this historically loved band kind of makes me want the ground to swallow me up.

Why should that be? I’m happy to talk out loud to pretty much anybody, paint a picture of what I’m finding most fascinating, watch them watch my eyes light up and my gestures get more animated. I enjoy witnessing these symptoms in others. I think we all appreciate the vitality of the presence of a person who is stirred to passion.

Substituting a written presence for a physical one is another story. The reader gets the ideas with very little context; the writer doesn’t get to charm the way they might hope to with their face or voice. At the sight of my ideas out of context in an email box, I blush and squirm in my seat. I hit send and sign out in a hurry. I can’t look. Oh, you like the Who? So does EVERYBODY EVER. What’s novel about that? The sort of thought that never enters my mind when I read any recommendation in any format, however well-known the subject. I love that people love things. I want to encourage them. As you can see, I don’t always extend that generosity to myself.

Part of it is that it’s so on brand for me. Anybody who knows me is like, duh. They must wonder why they put up with someone so incapable of surprising. But then those who don’t know me have no history to go on, only this seemingly anachronistic fixation. And when it comes to people in positions of editorial power, I’ve got to sell them. Why should you care that I care? To paraphrase the adage, it’s the mortifying ordeal of being known coupled with the mortifying ordeal of being unknown.

Am I uncomfortable with being an open book, with the nagging feeling that I can’t possibly be cool if I’m so predictable? Or with laughing delightedly at every story I encounter about their antics, which confirms that I’ve officially hit adolescence in my mid-to-late twenties? Or with the fact that I find Roger really attractive in Tommy, not because he’s portraying a disabled character but because he allows himself to be pushed and pulled and thrown every which way in an act of total submission that excites my power fantasies, and looks so goddamn pretty doing it? Or with not shutting up about John at least in part because of a different power fantasy that may or may not involve handcuffs? Or with not knowing where my vintage-pop-culture-literary-analysis brain ends, if indeed it has an end? All of the above?

My friends graciously call it ‘radical openness,’ this thing I do. I call it being completely beholden to my desires. Names matter, don’t they?

Anyway. Not to make this whole blog about me. I think I’ll go hide under my bed for a bit. Don’t see me, don’t feel me, and for CRYING OUT LOUD don’t touch me.

Image: tour poster spotted by the author in Angel tube station, London, end of May

David Byrne

Or, your latest song rec

I hadn’t heard of the Australian trio STUMPS until last week when YouTube recommended the music video for their new song “David Byrne.” Now, I’m a simple man. I see something Talking Heads-affiliated, I click. And taking inspiration from David is a pretty good starting point for a song. I hope he’s heard and/or seen this. I’m sure he’ll approve.

I also hope this means we’re about to see a resurgence of the trend of naming songs after singers. The success rate has been high so far: Weezer with “Buddy Holly,” the Barenaked Ladies with “Brian Wilson.” Those were debut singles, so I imagine a band with something of a catalogue already, as STUMPS have, would fare even better.

Then there’s “Bob Dylan” by Nine Days—you know, those guys who did “Absolutely (Story of a Girl),” the song whose name no one knows and whose lyrics no one understands but everyone of a certain age can sing—and “Marvin Gaye” by Charlie Puth and Meghan Trainor. And that’s to say nothing of the song titles that are more than just the singer’s name, like Van Morrison’s “Jackie Wilson Said” and Paul Simon’s “The Late Great Johnny Ace.”

The band were smart with this single, capitalizing on the expanded 40th-anniversary release of Stop Making Sense. But any time would be about time one of my favorite frontmen got his tribute. And in such catchy fashion.

Does anybody have any questions?

Image: from the video