don’t be mean to ice spice

Or, room to grow

I saw Ice Spice’s musical guest spot on the opening episode of the new season of SNL, and, contrary to what seems to be popular consensus, I don’t think the problem is her.

Let me say right off that, concerning Gen Z music, I am thus far a bigger fan of the rappers and hip-hop artists than of the pops. Something about the production and the lyrics and the vocal styles and the samples just hits different. Doechii is a big one.

My favorite work of Ice Spice’s to date is “Barbie World,” her collab with Nicki Minaj for the Barbie soundtrack. Recent Genius annotations comment on how her rhymes and layered references have matured even in her short career. That’s the thing: it’s such early days for her that I think it would be premature to count her out for one appearance that might seem lackluster.

I didn’t exactly find her verse on the remix of “Karma” inspired; I think there’s a reason that pairing was unlikely. But, regardless of Taylor’s motives for featuring her, what may have begun as a fake game turned real. To ultimately have an endorsement from Taylor Swift? To then have part two of your SNL performance *introduced* by Taylor Swift? People who have been going on about the Eras Tour ought to think twice before completely dismissing this girl.

Was it the highest-energy guest spot ever? No. Between the writers’ strike delaying this and all episodes (Pete Davidson was due to have hosted back in May), the fact that she was not originally slotted for musical guest on his episode, and the disorientation she must be experiencing becoming so suddenly visible, I rather think she can be forgiven. Maybe it was a manifestation of nerves. I’d be nervous.

The issue for me was the material. The two numbers she performed aren’t her best, but the quality of her catalogue (which then contributes to her stage presence) will evolve too. All this to say I’ll be continuing to follow her, because I think she is poised for greatness.

Meanwhile, let women be in music.

Image: Will Heath via Billboard

Who #4: La La La Songs

In which I do a lot of air-drumming

You know how any given McCartney composition has little cues and clues that let you know it’s a McCartney? I guess those tend to be musical more than lyrical. Anyway, in a like manner, Pete Townshend has a collection of what I call ‘la la la songs,’ which feature either main lyrics or backing vocals that say just that (we have a remedy / falala-la-laa-lala).

It’s a funny move, a delicate syllable juxtaposed against a tough sound. But that’s one irresistible thing about the Who, their singular blend of savagery and sensitivity.

Of this subcategory, my favorite is “Happy Jack,” released as a single in December 1966 in the UK and March 1967 in the US. (’67? They were on to “Pictures of Lily” by then. Pick up the pace, boys. Or, as another Lily—the one on Modern Family—would say, “TODAY, LADIES.”) This may be my favorite Who song, period (McCartney agrees). It’s the tale of a village idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Pete was reportedly inspired by a local character he saw on family holidays to the Isle of Man. Thus, as the portrait opens, “Happy Jack wasn’t old, but he was a man”—with cognitive abilities lagging behind his physical appearance.

Before learning about this inspiration, I took the line to mean the opposite: that he was a child forced to mature too quickly through cruel treatment by his peers. Don’t you just love how open to interpretation pop lyrics can be?

In any event, no songwriter has been so preoccupied with the collision of childhood and adulthood since, well, Brian Wilson! I could go on and on about the creative parallels between them. But I won’t, because I am trying this thing where I focus on one thing at a time. Ask me how that’s going in my career. I dare you.

Okay, what about the la la la’s? These ones switch it up with each repetition, endearingly childlike all the while. Notes a major-third interval apart, Pete taking the low and John taking the high. Eighth notes on the latter half of the first verse (sounds like singing), eighth notes plus a little sixteenth skip on the second verse (sounds like dancing), quarter notes on the last verse (nearly sounds like lap-lap-lap-lap in a gentle, rhythmic demonstration of the “waters lapping”). The first time evokes the kids singing, an activity in which Jack is othered for his inability to stay in tune: but the subsequent la’s represent him and his determination to keep a positive attitude despite his tormentors’ efforts. A reclamation of sorts.

Pete claims they no longer play this song live because they don’t remember how. I don’t know if I believe that, but I can think of another reason they would avoid it—that no one, not even Zak Starkey, can replicate what Moony did. That’s two minutes of the most joyous, uninhibited drumming I’ve ever heard. I play along every time. It’s one aspect that made the song one of the handful that sent me down the rabbit-hole. Another is the 5/4-to-4/4 time signature hiccup in each line of verse, emphasizing Jack’s quirks. Another is the harmonies on the chorus, almost classical in the way they start out dissonant and then resolve with the descent of the lowest line. I hadn’t really known the Who for their harmonies. I was charmed.

Also, the rhyme of “wrong key/donkey.” Fantastic.

And the promo is kind of Monkees-esque! Although I do feel a bit sad for Roger being on his own, as was often the case IRL at the time because he wasn’t into the drugs the way the others were.

In short, this song makes me feel like no one can prevent me from being happy. It won’t surprise you that they didn’t do it when they came to Berlin. And they didn’t need to. But boy, would I have loved it if they had.

Image: the UK single, featuring 3 different Entwistle tracks on the B-side, Reaction/Decca

Airport Postscript

“‘I am not a great sleeper, and I loathe airports.'” : John Dwyer, as told to my friend the brilliant writer Elle Carroll

I have a somewhat significant visual impairment, but I never feel so blind as in airports. Signs upon signs upon signs, lighting that usually skews too bright, queues that run together, people in uniforms waving their hands at someone who is almost always not me. Someone may as well take my arm and guide me, because it’s as if I forget how to walk around like a human being. And yet I somehow manage a fair amount of solo travel.

I don’t think I’m alone in this. All the airport opinions I encounter are neutral at best. It definitely has the feel of a liminal space, and you may be preparing to fly through the air but it’s not magic. I’m also willing to bet that the vast majority of the people in any given airport at any given time have not had a proper night’s sleep.

It doesn’t matter the airport’s size. I’m more or less accustomed to Brandenburg by now. Linate, one of Milan’s secondary airports, is much smaller and still gave me mild trouble. Gate signage stresses me out. The way some airports are designed, you never quite know where your gate is.

At the risk of sounding trite, I also associate airports with unpleasant or uncomfortable feelings, like saying goodbye, and not knowing what the future holds, and wondering how my fortunes will fall or what mistakes I’ll make when I reach my destination. Chalk some of these up to the aforementioned lack of rest, in all likelihood, but being left to your own devices in an overstimulating environment really compounds the Low-Level Terror of it all.

Planes themselves give me mixed feelings too. I try to sleep on flights. Jack Donaghy of 30 Rock has a rule against it (“I don’t want to get incepted”), but forcing myself into power-saving mode helps me combat the fact that I am a somewhat nervous flyer at least during takeoff and landing. Better to put on sunglasses and a deadpan face and just pretend I’m on a very bumpy car ride.

Who knows what you’ll find at the airport on the other end. I’m not crazy about these new electronic passport readers many airports seem to have; given that I don’t trust my eyesight, I would rather interact with a human being. Anyway, the whole process is much smoother on flights within the EU, and I’m trying to get back to the ‘intra’ traveling itinerary for which I had such high hopes before the pandemic. I may not like airports, but in this case they’re a small price to pay.

Even so, my favorite part of any airport is leaving it. Including when I bring friends to one, wherein I get to be of moral and physical support, wish them well in their travels, turn around, and waltz out without having to deal with any of the stresses. I could leave airports for the rest of my life. The journey from an airport into the ‘real’ world can actually tell you quite a bit about the place. Maybe I’ll start documenting those.

Image: I didn’t actually take any photos of Linate so here’s Brandenburg before my early flight out

Who Albums as FRIENDS Episodes

Or, too much of anything

The weekend after the concert, as I rapturously recounted it to a friend over brunch, she asked, “Did they do the big one? The one with the teenage wasteland?”

Yes, they did. And, I thought, that’s exactly what the song, indeed the entire album, would be called if it were an episode of Friends. Which begged the question: what would other Who albums be called?

(I’ve only done up through the Moon era, I don’t have all day)

The Who Sings My Generation: “The One Where It’s Supposed to Sound Like That”

A Quick One: “The One Where They Can’t Afford a Cello”

The Who Sell Out: “The One with All the Copyright Infringement”

Tommy: “The One with the Weird Parenting Handbook”

Who’s Next: “The One with the Teenage Wasteland”*

Quadrophenia: “The One Where Everybody Rides a Scooter”

Odds & Sods: “The One with American Football”**

The Who By Numbers: “The One Where Pete is Fine”***

Who Are You: “The One Where Roger Throws Punches Around”

Bonus: ‘ffffffade away’ is definitely the musical equivalent of this

No one told them life was gonna be this way.

*I will also accept the existing title “The One with Unagi.” I can’t help thinking the way Phoebe and Rachel look at Ross when he’s describing the ‘state of total awareness’ that he thinks is called unagi must be the way Pete’s bandmates were looking at him when he got into Meher Baba.

**Aka the Geller Cup!

***Another Ross reference (concerning), but that’s what you get when you say you’re fine and it comes out all loud and squeaky.

Dedicated to Steph. Never change.

 Image: Friends S6E17 via Medium


Or, vintage Miley

Writing about one of the most famous stutters in music reminded me of my personal favorite stutter, delivered by Miley Cyrus on the infectious chorus of 2007’s “See You Again.” She was fourteen, and the album whence it came, called Meet Miley Cyrus, seemed intended to give her some genre space from the strictly defined preteen pop of the Hannah Montana persona. In alignment, the song had more of an edge than what Hannah’s audiences were accustomed to, with a slightly more suggestive lyric and a slightly harder guitar. But it proved just as viable a hit as its “Best of Both Worlds”-esque predecessors.

It’s my favorite stutter precisely because it’s self-referential, tripping over its own consonants: “The last time I freaked out / I just kept looking down / I st-st-stuttered when you asked me what I’m thinkin’ ‘bout.” The energy of the chorus is so explosive, contrasted against the simmering verse, that you can’t help but go full silly as you sing along. The lyric is funny, too. “Felt like I couldn’t breathe / You asked what’s wrong with me / My best friend Leslie said oh she’s just being Miley.’” In fact, it could be describing a scene out of Hannah Montana. I remember wondering who Leslie was and if Miley actually meant Lilly, her best friend on the show (played by Emily Osment). I guess I was exactly the kind of pigeonholing listener whose mind she was trying to expand with this record.

As far as her attempts to break free of Hannah, the rest is history. Another hint at what was to come was “Start All Over,” the song which, I even detected at the time, proved she was mature beyond her years as a singer and was only headed more determinedly that way.

The moral of the story is I’m going to go blast this album now, and I invite you to do the same. There’s a reason her latest single “Flowers” holds some ridiculous record at the top of the charts, surpassing even “Party in the USA.” From the very beginning, she’s been here to stay.

Image: go girl, give us everything (Kevin Mazur via Rolling Stone)

Un viaggio a Milano

In which I give my airport city its turn

I have flown into Milan three times now, and the third time I stayed.

Granted, all of four days. But four days that went quite a ways toward a sense of the spirit of the city and the people who spend any kind of time there. Which are a lot of different people and a lot of different perspectives on time.

Milan is a city of 1.4 million, with the larger metropolitan area encompassing about 3.3 million. It felt both smaller and larger than this to me, with ristoranti and bars that clearly felt like cherished neighborhood spots as well as sprawling piazze swarming with visitors, some of whom were probably just trying to cross town home to their families. The weather was gorgeous, and the high season officially being over didn’t stop the crowds. If anything, there was more for them to glom onto since the summer holidays had passed and most shops and attractions (though not all) were open once again.

Wading through the tourism-heavy districts—la Brera, Navigli, and the area dominated by the Duomo—I came to conclude that there were more Italian tourists in Milan than I had seen German tourists in Berlin or British tourists in London. People evidently ventured from nearby regions like Emilia-Romagna and far-flung southern places to see the sights, stroll along the canal, and even attend conferences (hi there). That being said, I found it unexpectedly hard to interact with locals in Italian because they were so accustomed to tourists. English was more widely spoken than I had anticipated. Probably shouldn’t have been a surprise, in retrospect, for the fashion and business capital of Europe.

I assume to a degree that I would have blended in more as a solo traveler. This assumption may well be inaccurate, given that my current days of language immersion are in German, not Italian, and in no way can the grammar rules of one be grafted onto the other. (Though I did speak German with a woman who seemed more comfortable giving directions in it.) And anyway, I was with my dad, whose presentation of a paper at a Sinatra conference was the whole reason for any of our family to be there; and our roots being what they are, it meant much more to explore the city with him.

The Duomo was nice. What do I realistically have to add about another cathedral around which an old European city center sprang up? Its sheer size is undeniable. It felt more like an events space than a house of worship, if only because it basically is an event unto itself, an edifice to be roamed through and observed. En route to it, we found a smaller basilica, San Marco, in which I certainly felt closer to God. Due to the architecture, the chapels, the accessible structure of the altar, the noontime lighting. Also, in no small part, to the fact that it was nearly empty.

There’s a showmanship to the city, like a stage set for anyone from anywhere to collide. One night at dinner I made an overture to the young woman at the table next to ours and ended up in one of those lovely long-and-winding-summer-night conversations. We zipped around on the metro, which seemed to me impressively efficient. I had the best Chianti I’ve possibly ever had, with which we toasted my recently late paternal grandmother. The wine would have made her proud. On my last morning in the city, we took the train out to the more residential Dergano, whose small-town-style main street and apartment buildings comforted me with their mundanity. We even stumbled upon the Via Rosa Luxemburg, a figure after whom we in Berlin have also named a ‘Platz.’

Over those few days I realized that I want to spend more time in Italy. In a way, however removed, it’s my country, and they’re my people. The little Italian my grandmother spoke throughout her life is not the Italian I have studied and spoken. That era, sadly, ends with her. But another era is beginning, and I see no reason not to take the opportunity to develop a closer relationship with my ancestral country, especially while I’m able to live in Europe. If not for my own sake, then for hers.

Grazie a Milano! Ritorno a presto.

Dedicated to my dad, Gilbert; to our new friend, Ariane; and to the memory of Angela Rose Marie Antoinette Virginia Carella Gigliotti, 29 September 1932-20 August 2023.

Image: Basilica di San Marco, nella Brera

Who #3: why don’t you all ffffffff

“we live in a generation where a generation we live in a generation lives in a generation we live in but y’all ain’t ready to have that conversation” : Lil Nas X

What is a generation?

This is not a question I asked myself while listening to “My Generation,” because I was busy wondering if I had ever really heard the song before. I mean, damn.

It’s a brilliant recording, though its greatest impressions on me are not the usual. People will go on about a certain lyric until they get old and/or die, but the one that interests me most by a long shot is “why don’t you all ffffffffade away”—my new go-to when I need to self-censor. (Also, to be perfectly honest, as far as pop lyrics that confront mortality go, I’m firmly in the camp of “he not busy being born is busy dying.”) All in all, Roger’s stutter takes what would otherwise be a collection of weird couplets and makes them iconic. There’s a whole separate post in store about how his voice makes me feel.

I once saw a tweet (or whatever X calls it these days) that read “why is being alive so expensive I’m not even having a good time,” which I consider the present-day manifesto. Less catchy, maybe, but no less resonant. Aside from our friend Montero’s tweet in the subtitle, and the Girls line that you KNEW was coming. Don’t even pretend you didn’t.

More recently, I saw a thoughtful video by YouTuber Rowan Ellis that cites a Pew Research Center-affiliated proposal to dispense with generational distinctions altogether. According to the proposal, terms like baby boomer and millennial are not only ‘arbitrary,’ failing to adhere to consistent year brackets, but also insufficient to cover the demographics they describe. For instance, while the younger half of today’s population is often slated as having grown up with the internet, a large percentage of those people live with intermittent or nonexistent internet access. The terms imply residents of Western countries that are ‘developed,’ i.e., not recovering from or even currently experiencing the damage of colonialism.

For my part, I think such distinctions have only pitted us against one another over time. The elders judge the younguns for being inexperienced or impulsive, the younguns judge the elders for being stodgy or short-sighted. As evidenced by the viewpoint expressed in the song. And is anyone the better off for it?

Speaking of, I guess I should say more about the song. The line “just because we get around” has got to be a reference to the Beach Boys’ “I Get Around,” which was the biggest hit of 1964. Well, aside from everything the Beatles did. So like, the fifth-biggest hit. I think the lyrics in general are, as Joey Tribbiani pretending to be of a different generation once said, wack. “Things they do look awful cold“? What does that even mean? And John’s bass solo is so good that, in some clips I have seen of their early performances, the camera does not even dare to pan over to him while he is playing it, choosing instead to linger on Pete, who is doing nothing. Pete’s true stroke of genius with this song was to give everyone else the hard work, whether vocals or solos, while his only job is to sing “talkin’ ’bout my geeeeenera-ti-on” like an absolute slacker. Well done.

Keith, of course, takes a mile for every inch he is given, although I have to say my favorite points are when he interacts with the other percussive touches on the “call” sections of the call-and-response in each verse: clap, clap, clap-clap *snare*. I was able to better appreciate that once I stopped paying attention to the lyrics. It’s a very satisfying sequence to me.

I also like that there are not one but TWO key changes, a pretty high ratio for a song that just clears the three-minute mark. You really can do whatever you want when you write a song. Don’t box yourself in.

On a practical note, assuming we’re not doing away with the distinctions anytime soon, I would gladly talk about my generation if only I knew what it was. The New Yorker and Atlantic seem to disagree on where the cutoff is. We mid-’90s American kids (I’ve seen TikToks marking the no-man’s-land as wide at ’94-’98) are too young to be defined by True Millennial Crises like the Great Recession and too old to be True Digital Natives with iPhones in middle school (and, in my case, high school). We’re just here, not really knowing what we’re doing or why.

So all you postwar kids, be grateful you at least know what you’re complaining about!

Image: the inimitable but very imitable Hannah Horvath (Lena Dunham), Girls S1E1

Who #2: We’re off to see the Wizard

The Pinball Wizard of, uh, Portsmouth!

Today I’m here to talk about Elton John singing “Pinball Wizard” in Ken Russell’s 1975 film adaptation of Tommy. This bit must have taken some extra special directing, because… *gesticulates to everything*

Side note right off: the more I have learned about Russell and his influences, the more I feel the need to see every single film this person ever made. Tommy sounds like the LEAST unhinged of the bunch. But then, what else could I expect of a decadent Catholic?

This scene was a low-key life-changing experience for me as a teen. I first saw it on one of those fake-MTV channels that seemed to have free rein at night on the East Coast, and it was the most scene I think I’d ever witnessed. So much happening at once! I was kind of scared, kind of confused, kind of turned on. In fact, the movie in full was one of the works that taught me how fear, confusion, and arousal could coexist.

(Contextual anecdote: while I’m riveted to this overwhelming sequence on TV, the only other person present is my mom, who is dozing on the sofa. At one point she stirs, lifts her head, and asks sleepily, “Why does Roger Daltrey have that funny look on his face?” Careful to keep my eyes forward so as not to betray any funny look I may have on my face, I answer, “Because he’s Tommy.” She says, “Oh, okay.” And promptly goes back to sleep.)

Today the scene gives me great joy. All the facial expressions, the fact that they got a whole crowd together (in Portsmouth) and basically threw a concert centered around a couple of pinball machines, and, of course, Elton John’s incredible, over-the-top costume. Even the premise of him singing the song is funny to me. As I’ve tangentially discussed before, he set himself apart from many of his singer-songwriter contemporaries in that he was recording very few covers: his albums comprised mostly, or entirely, his and Bernie Taupin’s compositions. If, then, you asked me which songwriter’s work he would choose to cover if he were to, I would probably say McCartney. Or maybe (you guessed it) Brian Wilson. Pete Townshend is nowhere near the top of the list. So this Crossover Episode of Music is an unexpected and wonderful thing. Also, he really just goes for it on the vocal, part of which is slightly out of his range (and the key has been transposed, mind you, higher than the original). 10/10.

And everybody else is partying, and Keith’s splashing water over his kit, and it’s just a grand old time. The only thing I don’t buy—I mean, assuming all disbelief is thoroughly suspended for the duration—is the sound versus the visual. Elton John and his band had been churning out the hits and the records and performing constantly, so they were extremely tight. In fact, Pete has said this was the easiest number on the soundtrack to produce because they just went into the studio and nailed in it a couple of takes. But we’re seeing Pete and John and Keith mime to a track that, sonically, is nothing like them. It’s just a little disorienting. I think I can get over it.

Even so, especially with the breakdown in the middle and the extended outro, the band manages to make it sound like an outtake from Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. Again, 10/10. (Love that they had to hide their obvious desire to play “I Can’t Explain” inside a whole other song.)

So there you have it. I still want a pinball machine connected to a keyboard. And if I’m not wearing giant platform shoes, then I’m not playing.

Image: what even is this face I can’t (Dailymotion)

Who #1: “You lot don’t sound bad at all!”

Or, a listy (listless?) review of a great show

That is, if I recall correctly, exactly what Roger Daltrey says to us a few songs into the set. I am putting it on my CV, thank you very much.

For a singer, Roger is not a talker. Probably healthy, and one of many things I like about him. He is here to sing some tunes (my GOD is he here to SING some TUNES) and otherwise lets Pete do most of the banter.

Pete is a funny old man who wears a bandana. Sometimes he does a windmill with his arm while playing the guitar (not an overrated move, every bit as wonderful to see as you’d expect). He has a history of damaging his equipment, but tonight the only thing he breaks is my heart when he walks offstage. And I’m a roadie who will glue it together, again and again, expressly for this purpose.

My friend and I are two young people in a crowd that skews far older. I am, additionally, a rather short girl in a crowd that skews taller and overwhelmingly male. I first notice this en route out to the venue, standing in an increasingly packed train car and being unable to see over shoulders, and yet I feel totally safe and comfortable. We all know we’re in for a spiritual event.

Here is an annotated set list, in chronological order to the best of my memory:

  • Selections from Tommy (“Overture,” “1921,” “Sparks,” “Amazing Journey,” “The Acid Queen,” “Pinball Wizard,” “We’re Not Gonna Take It”)—I have my differences with Tommy, but I gotta say: you haven’t lived until you and 19,999 other people have gone a little out of your minds to a song about an arcade game. How bizarre and beautiful is this world of ours? (Equally compelling, if more unsettling and thought-provoking, was the sight of a couple of women in front of me jamming shamelessly to a song in which a prostitute drugs and quite possibly sexually assaults a young man. Only this band.)
  • “Who Are You”—I would like to congratulate myself and the guy on my other side, because we really brought it on this one. Though I don’t see how one can’t.
  • “Eminence Front”—what a bop! Convinced me even more that Pete may have been listening to Talking Heads when he wrote it?? I hear some Remain in Light in there. 

*Orchestra leaves*

  • “The Kids Are Alright”—perhaps the sweetest moment of the night. I love this song. It’s got a great bridge, simple and striking (Pete makes the difficult task of writing a strong bridge look easy), which, in a lovely twist, they sang twice!
  • “You Better You Bet”—ok, so my headcanon is this: Pete wrote “I’m not into your passport picture / I just like your nose” because he was feeling insecure about his nose, and Roger picked up on that and addressed the line to him when he sang it. And I was proven RIGHT at least on the latter point! I love male friendship. Especially between men who weren’t always friends.
  • “The Seeker”—OMG they pulled out this gem for us! It’s my understanding that they’ve played it sporadically over the years, i.e., not for every crowd, so I’m still glowing to think they deemed us worthy of it. (Alternate reading: I hear Roger isn’t a big fan of it, so it was very nice of him to suffer through it for our sake.) Pete doesn’t have many straight-up blues, which is part of what I think makes it special. Side note: first song I’ve heard to name-drop Timothy Leary? He was alluded to all over the place, of course, but no other songs come to mind that name him.
  • “Substitute”—one of the few times I sang along full-voice, to live out my fantasy of doing John’s high harmony on “LOOK PRETTY GOOD TOGETHERRRRRRR!” etc. This song is a masterpiece. During the acoustic break, it occurred to me that we could have been anybody, anywhere in the world, lounging on a lawn on a summer night drinking beer while some guy played the guitar. Except we had paid a fair bit of money to lounge on this lawn and drink this beer, and the guy playing the guitar was Pete Townshend. I’m a person who takes joy in being alive generally, but in this moment I was REALLY glad to be alive.
  • “Tattoo”—I didn’t realistically dare hope that they would include a number from Sell Out. It’s one of my favorite records, with one of the highest proportions of songs I would have loved to hear. This one’s got a funny lyric and a luxurious, gorgeous arrangement. Kind of made me want to get a tattoo! Not really. (If I did, it would be a tiny red ‘A’ on my chest, there is literally no other tattoo that makes sense for a New England girlie.)
  • “Won’t Get Fooled Again”—a wild transition from “Tattoo,” come at us outta nowhere, why don’t you. I can’t say just what I felt for the next nine minutes, but ‘the pull of gravity’ was not it.
  • “Behind Blue Eyes”—I kid you not, every man in that arena was singing this song with every fiber of his being. I personally have hazel eyes, but I think it’s pretty good anyway. They stripped down the second part of the middle eight (“And if I swallow anything evil…”), a moment that gives me chills just writing about it.

*Orchestra returns*

  • Selections from Quadrophenia (“The Real Me,” “I’m One,” “Cut My Hair,” “5:15,” “The Rock,” “Love, Reign O’er Me”)—among the works I’m less familiar with at this juncture. It’s my concert companion’s favorite; he’s quite knowledgeable about its creation and meaning, and it was fulfilling for him to hear it live. I enjoyed the artistry of the songs even without feeling a particular connection to them. “5:15” is a good one. I would have liked to hear “Doctor Jimmy,” but we can’t have everything.

*Pete introduces a fraction of the people onstage*

  • “Baba O’Riley”—one of the best live song experiences I have ever had. The place was in total communion. My friend and I sang to each other. Hearing the intro with an orchestra behind it was unreal. Hearing the coda, played by the immensely talented violinist Katie Jacoby, I almost forgot where I was. I hope this number showed Pete that he has ultimately succeeded in building the Lifehouse, if not as originally envisioned. For those five minutes, we were the Lifehouse.
  • That’s it. No encore. When they leave, they leave. My brain was like GET BACK OUT HERE AND PLAY “MY GENERATION” YOU IDIOTS. A TERM I USE AFFECTIONATELY. But I can respect knowing when it’s time to go.

In summary, it was simultaneously a completely human endeavor and everything I hoped it would be. Before I go, three last things that must be said:

  • A few of my favorite Who songs are John Entwistle Originals, and I was conscious of the painful contradiction of wanting to hear them while knowing it would be wrong to play them without him.
  • Zak Starkey is not Keith Moon. Zak Starkey is Zak Starkey (!!!), an extremely good drummer. And a STARKEY.
  • The train back from the venue, gradually losing fellow revelers until my friend and I suddenly found ourselves surrounded by normies, was a jarring comedown. It really was like slipping into and out of an alternate dimension. I couldn’t listen to any music at all for the next couple days, and I wanted the rest of the city to shut off their music too. Didn’t they realize what had just taken place? Concerts, man. They’ll wreck you.

Also, props to the guy down the row from us who shouted “MAGIC BUS!” I too would have appreciated hearing that one. Maybe next time.

Dedicated to Liam. Obviously.

Image: taken by the author just before the finale

The what, the where, the when, & the why

…but most of all, the who!

This story begins with a new listening cycle that started in late January or early February. It reached a milestone in late June, with a concert. I can see by now that it has no end.

I guess I wasn’t ready for the Who until now. I have many guesses as to why that would be the case, concerning both nature and nurture; I’ll be exploring those in posts to come. But I have not stopped listening to them all year, which means I have not stopped writing about them all year, and to a certain in-group of unfortunates I have not stopped talking about them all year. The AI placed a couple of choice tracks in my path last winter, then I waded in a bit farther, then I fell and hit my head. That’s how it always goes for me, and yet it somehow took me by surprise. I read their entire Wikipedia page in one night, and let me tell you how unprepared I was for that ride. It was an every-other-paragraph-made-me-go-WHAT kind of evening.

I struck up a running dialogue with a close friend who, in April, alerted me that the Townshend-Daltrey caravan was coming to Berlin in the summertime. It remains difficult for me not to believe that I conjured this tour through the sheer power of my imagination, never mind that it’s been ongoing in some form or other since 2019. What else could explain my preemptive dependency? Algorithms and luck?? Anyway, we snapped up tickets, and you will shortly hear about every detail of that evening that I have retained, which is, let’s be honest, most details.

That I was able to see them live so soon after dedicating myself to the sect really amounts to a miraculous cherry on top. All along, the research I’ve accumulated (the sundae, to build out that metaphor) entertains me endlessly. Pete Townshend has not shut up for nearly sixty years, and yet we may know very little of what he really thinks. If I’ve learned anything about his relationship to the press and the public, it’s not to trust a word he says. What he sings you can believe, because you can tell he believes it, but the rest is fair game. He might be the most unreliable narrator in rock and roll. Or maybe not unreliable so much as contrarian. Or do the two work in tandem? However you slice it, it’s a feat in an industry full of people contradicting themselves.

But what I’ve been doing above all is listening. And I gotta say, the more I listen, the more deeply I appreciate the chance to cultivate a relationship to this band in my adult years. The catalogue is so fraught with the agonies of childhood and adolescence that I think it would have been a bit too much to be latching on in the thick of that time of my life. Besides, there’s no shortage of ways in which I’m currently growing up. At least I can match the sounds to the feelings in my personal domicile where no one beyond the people of my choosing will be bothered. I can have my own private revolution. (Status update: the new boss is very much the same as the old boss.)

I also have more of a musical education to go on, and while I’m only just phasing out the honeymoon era wherein I say wow heart-eyes emoji to everything I see and hear, I’m better able to pinpoint what gets that reaction out of me. For this I must also credit the online fandom, because Who fans on the internet are top-shelf. The YouTube commenters can articulate exactly why they respond to certain musical choices, lyrical ideas, physical cues, usw. (the German form of ‘etc.’); the fanfiction writers are open and unapologetic about the desires the band excite in them; and the whole community sets the bar for me.

So this marks the start of a series, akin to the Stones one. I’ll be meditating on different aspects of the group and their work that fascinate me and infuriate me and smite me. In both the sense of being smitten and of smiting: love and violence, which they possess in equal measure. I’ll intersperse unrelated posts because my brain is like that, but it’s gonna be a theme. Strap in.

Image: Caption this photo. I’ll start: “Okay, you guys, this is not what I meant by ‘roleplaying.'”