Listening to Who…

In 1989, when I was 9 years old, we climbed the stairs at Busch Stadium (the old one) and took our seats for a night that would change my life. Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle, and a host of others took the stage and I witnessed my first Who show. “The Who on Ice” Roger called it…he didn’t like the pomp and circumstance of the horn players, the extra percussionists, and the background singers. In hindsight, he was right…it was a fun experiment that ultimately didn’t QUITE come off as well as Townshend thought it would…but it didn’t matter to me. I looked down at the stage and saw these powerful, foul-mouthed, brilliant musicians playing songs that felt like they could make the world end…  I saw Townshend swinging his arm through the air, jumping, and giving all he had… And I thought, “I want to do that.”

It is 27 years later. I am 35. I’ll be 36 in May. And tonight, I climbed significantly fewer stairs at the Scottrade Center, sat in my seat, and watched Pete and Rog do it all again–sadly John left us in 2002. It was a hell of a show. And I still found myself thinking, “I want to do that.” Although it would probably be a mistake at this point/age to put in my two-weeks and give it a shot…

But I also thought something else. I thought about the 27 years in between. The other times I’ve seen The Who since. The band’s I’ve been in that covered Pinball Wizard or The Seeker. The personal losses I’ve experienced that only Quadrophenia could’ve gotten me through. The personal victories that only that same record could’ve helped me celebrate. That the week after seeing them in 1989, I was in church explaining Tommy to the other kids and the teacher, because it seemed just as important as the Bible. That I am, I think, STILL the only graduating senior from my Bible College to give my senior sermon after showing a PowerPoint presentation with a Who song as the background music (it was The Real Me).  That after that same event a professor said to me, “so you like The Who?” and I unblinkingly replied, “No. I LOVE The Who the way some people love Jesus.” That on every record I’ve done, I’ve either directly thanked The Who or referenced them in a lyric (see “Beautiful Disaster” on the new record). So, watching them tonight, I thought, “I DID that.” And I wouldn’t have, without them. I’m not sure I’d be breathing without them, in fact. (No hyperbole. The Who’s music has reminded me to keep living more than once.)

The show was great. That’s under-selling it. The band seemed to be having fun. They were funny and smart and played wonderfully. They were loud…but not TOO loud (once you’ve survived a Motorhead show, your definition of “loud” changes). They played most of what I wanted to hear and nothing that I didn’t.

…and they made me happy. Few things in life have managed to make me happy in the way The Who does. They’ve been there for me through a lot. But it’s more than just happy…  They make me feel strong. And not just even strong…but strong ENOUGH. In my deepest, most frightened, most dark, most bitterly depressed moments, I will listen to Quadrophenia and by the time Dr. Jimmy is playing, I feel like I can overcome whatever I need to. I’m strong enough to do it. I’ve still got passion inside me to get out and fight. And the hell with those who stand in the way!  The Who empowers me.

Tonight, they pulled off a clear example of how I’m not alone in that. They’ve done that before…anyone who watched the concert for 9/11 knows that they lifted the mood that night and changed lives–The Who told the world that it was still okay to have fun after 9/11, and more of us should really thank them for that… But tonight they did something that caught me off guard. They played the instrumental piece “The Rock” off of Quadrophenia. In the story of that album, The Rock represents an emotional climax for Jimmy (the main character) it’s a turning point where he ultimately faces his own emotions and demons and on the other side calls out for love to reign over him. It’s a gripping piece, if the album/story means a lot to you. But tonight they did something different with it. They usually show sea imagery and play into the narrative of the piece…but this time it was out of context. So the screens showed images of note throughout history… The war in Vietnam. President Kennedy’s death. Princess Diana’s wedding and death. The announcement of Elvis’ death. The war in Iraq. Reagan and Gorbachev. The Berlin War. Images of the dust cloud from 9/11. A small floral decoration with a sign reading, “Pray for Paris.” All of this mixed with peace signs. With protest signs. With slogans that state that acts of violence are forgetting who we are. That refugees are WELCOME here. It was powerful. I don’t mind saying that I had to swallow hard a couple of times to hold myself together. It was midway through Love, Reign O’er Me before I remembered it was a rock concert again.

…because that’s what The Who does for me. Their music has always and WILL always help me confront the ugly things. And then I’ll remember that I’m supposed to be having fun. I’m strong enough to get through it and to end up laughing and singing in the end… “No one knows what it’s like to feel these feelings like I do…” And I blame The Who.

This was very likely the last time I will see The Who. They’ve been calling this a farewell tour. And 50 years in, it’s hard to blame them. They’re in their 70s and guys they used to share stages with have been dropping right and left. They’ve earned their retirement. But still…that was the last time I will see that. I’m a little sad about it. It’s like my church has closed it’s doors. But…I do still have the records. I’m still strong enough to do this…

I wish I could communicate any of this to the band. I wish I could sit in a room with Daltrey and Townshend and just SAY to them, “Do you have any idea how much that meant? I’ve had crippling depression for years and you guys made me feel better and unafraid…” But I’m unlikely to meet them. And that’s okay. Not every Catholic gets to thank the Pope, either.

That was my last Who show. And I went with my dad and brother, with whom I went to my FIRST Who show. (Rob Horner was also there in 89…but whatever.) I’m glad the three of us were all there. I’m glad we all DID that. And I’m glad The Who has been in my life these 27 years.

Known as the Who’s biggest fan, Irish Jack Lyons stuck them with the moniker of, “The only band that ever mattered.” He sold them short.

Taken from my seat in the opening moments of the show.

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