Won’t Get Fooled Again: The Who From Lifehouse to Quadrophenia

 

(Jawbone
Press)

 

www.jawbonepress.com

 

BY FRED
MILLS

 

Out here in the fields, I fight
for my meals

I get my back into my living

I don’t need to fight to prove I’m
right

I don’t need to be forgiven (-“Baba O’Riley,” by Pete
Townshend)

 

When I
first heard that Who song in ‘71 I was no more some slogan-spouting,
placard-waving teen rebel than its author, who at the time had already begun to
view the counterculture as a hopeless “teenage wasteland.” Just the same, I was 16, and it did strike a chord, sensing as I did how all those contradictory,
part-empowering/part-self-destructive impulses that accompany teenager-dom
could surface from deep inside me. Townshend himself was channeling aspects of
his younger self while simultaneously engaging in a spiritual quest of no small
consequence, which is partly why the musical output of The Who during the early
‘70s is so riveting: you can actually feel Townshend’s soul tremble while the
band thunders around him.

 

I’d
initially fallen under The Who’s spell a few years earlier, with the expansive
and elegiac The Who Sell Out, subsequently
gravitating to Tommy and then Live At Leeds. The latter, in
particular, gave me a preemptory tutorial in how truly transcendent a concert
experience could be, as I hadn’t yet been to my first big arena show. With
accompanying images of The Who’s performance from the Woodstock movie in my head, I’d put on my Koss headphones, turn
down the lights and turn up the volume, and let the extended sonic mayhem of Leeds‘ “My Generation” wash over me.
Talk about a formative experience: Townshend, Daltrey, Entwistle and Moon
drilled me on how rock ‘n’ roll can so masterfully see-saw between tight
ensemble playing and more freeform (“jamming”) thematic extrapolations,
charting the classic light/heavy dynamics that lead a listener down the path to
pure catharsis.

 

When the Who’s Next tour rolled into the Charlotte
Coliseum in late ’71, the band came out and sealed the deal for me, doing most
of the new album, a short Tommy section-by
then they were sick of the rock opera, but knew that it had been their ticket
to breaking through in the States so they wisely continued to court their
American fanbase – and a handful of still-unreleased tunes they’d been working
on during the period leading up to Who’s
Next
. It remains one of my most vivid concert memories, tinged perhaps with
the haze of age and no shortage of chemicals, but there’s no question I feel
deeply privileged to have witnessed the group when they were unquestionably at
the height of their performing powers.

 

In the
years to come I’d get to see The Who numerous times, including two memorable
back-to-back nights in D.C. on the Who By
Numbers
tour and a surprisingly inspired show in Phoenix in the late ‘90s
when they were touring their revived Quadrophenia with Billy Idol and Gary Glitter in the ensemble. One of my big regrets is not catching the original Quadrophenia tour, for despite it being
fraught with gear and backing tape glitches that left both band and audience
frustrated at times, surviving bootleg audio and video tapes of the tour
testify to The Who’s ongoing concert prowess.

 

I’ll
confess that I felt considerable bitterness about Townshend’s decision to
resurrect the band in the mid ‘80s, with drummer Kenny Jones, who originally
came on board for two unremarkable albums following Moon’s death in ’78. Yet
there was always something about those songs of his that could draw me back in
and make me whole (young) again – a quality
that even extended to other people’s versions of Who material. You can
characterize that as simple fanboy/completist geekdom, of course; for
contemporary evidence of my more or less unwavering devotion to The Who, look
no further than my purchase late last year of the 4CD/LP/45 Live At Leeds-Super Deluxe Edition, which followed my purchases of
the 2CD 2001 Deluxe Edition, the 1995
CD remaster, the shitty-sounding CD reissue in the late ‘80s, and of course the
original LP (the one with all the cool inserts).

 

But hey –
if you’re a music fan, I suspect you’ll identify with this on some level.
There’s a new book about The Who, Won’t
Get Fooled Again: The Who From Lifehouse To Quadrophenia
(Jawbone Press),
penned by veteran writer and former Option editor Richie Unterberger, that’s aimed squarely at fans like me. There are
a lot of Who books out there, some of them regarded more or less as definitive
at the time of their publication, like Dave Marsh’s ’83 biography Before I Get Old, and others the work of
pure hackdom (Geoffrey Giuliano’s 1996 Townshend tome, Behind Blue Eyes, comes to mind), not to mention more specialized
volumes devoted to discographies, concertographies, photo essays, etc.

 

Unterberger,
however, zeroes in on that aforementioned inspired early ‘70s period, detailing
the day to day and week to week minutiae of The ‘oo’s world that not only
produced two of the band’s greatest albums but also very nearly put Ol’ Behind
Blue Eyes himself in a straitjacket. The gist of the story is well known: how
Townshend struggled to come up with a worthy successor to Tommy, with the Leeds album a stopgap (though equally classic) release that bought him time to
develop-well, attempt to develop – a
conceptual piece eventually dubbed Lifehouse;
how Lifehouse proved too unwieldy and
was dropped, yet ultimately yielded the bulk of the songs that would comprise
the mighty Who’s Next; how the band,
recharged by that album’s success, then managed to come up with the true
conceptual followup to Tommy, Quadrophenia; and how many years later,
circa 1999-2000, Townshend found himself returning to Lifehouse as a radio play, a boxed set, and a series of concerts,
all of which earned modest but favorable reviews.

 

Unterberger
interviewed a number of Who associates with firsthand knowledge of
conversations and events that took place during this time, additionally drawing
upon a wealth of archival Townshend interviews (in the early ‘70s he granted
them seemingly on a weekly basis) to really paint a you-are-there portrait of
inspiration, neurosis, hubris, despair and, above all else, how in the end it
was the music itself, and by extension rock ‘n’ roll, that made everyone whole
again.

 

Overall,
an outstanding read, one that took me back to scores of memories while
demanding that I pull out my boxes of Who albums, both official and bootleg,
and cue up the soundtrack to those memories.

 

 

 

Note: a version of this piece
originally appeared in Atlanta
music ‘zine Stomp and Stammer.

 

 

 

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