Monday, February 13, 2012

No. 843 – Christmas

Performer: The Who
Songwriter: Pete Townshend
Original Release: Tommy         
Year: 1969
Definitive Version: Live At Woodstock, 1969

In Columbus, back in the old days, two great record stores resided near the Ohio State campus—Singing Dog and Magnolia Thunderpussy. Both are long gone, although I think Magnolia survived the big-corporation takeover of the south campus stretch along High Street a decade ago by moving South, off-campus.

When I was in high school and college, those record stores were the places to go if you wanted to buy something exotic—bootleg recordings of unreleased concerts. Copyright-law enforcement was a lot looser 30 years ago (i.e., record companies didn’t sue their customers), but even then I knew that bootlegs were illegal. Records generally flew under the radar because the recording quality often was muddy and they weren’t reproduced on a widespread basis. That’s the thing that the Internet and Napster changed.

Enough digression. On Christmas break, 1983, I found what I thought was the Holy Grail of bootlegs at Magnolia: Starring the Who! It was The Who’s complete performance at Woodstock.

As anyone who’s seen The Kids Are Alright or the Woodstock movie knows, The Who owned the festival with their legendary performance in the early morning hours. The pieces that I’ve seen of it remain the single most electric performance I’ve seen on film. It was the performance that made them superstars. And now I finally was able to hear the whole thing—including the part where Pete knocks Abbey Hoffman off stage with his guitar.

Well, most of it anyway, because as it turns out, the record cut off the ending of My Generation, when Pete smashes his guitar and tosses it into the crowd, as you can see in both movies. Seriously? That’s like buying Citizen Kane and having the movie end before you see Rosebud get tossed into the fire. (Spoiler alert!) Fortunately, I since have found a bootleg that has the restored ending, thank goodness.

Anyway, it was obvious that this had to be my Christmas present to my sister, who was the ultimate Who freak. It also was obvious that she would have to immediately make tapes for me and Scott after she opened the treasure.

That might be the longest introduction I’ve written so far to the actual story of the song itself, but there’s a reason for that. The Who at Woodstock played a major role on our family trip to Hawaii in the summer of 1984. Needless to say there’s a lot more to come on that, and I don’t want to burn everything up too quickly, but when I hear this song, I don’t think of Christmas 1983 but of driving home from the North Shore of Oahu after a long day at the beach the following summer.

And we’ll just leave it there for now.

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