Performer: The Who
Songwriter: Pete Townshend
Original Release: single, The Who Sings My Generation
Definitive Version: The Monterey International Pop Festival, 1992. I love how at the end, after The Who trashed their instruments and the stage, the audience is somewhat in shock and silent until the p.a. announcer (after testing to see which mic remained intact) says, “Let’s hear it just one more time for … The Who,” and the crowd explodes in cheers.
Except, the REAL definitive version is the one that ended the set at Woodstock, where Pete banged up his SG Standard and tossed it into the crowd, as seen in The Kids Are Alright or the Woodstock movie. I didn’t consider that one, because it included a taste of Naked Eye. Had I considered it, this song would be in the top 400.
In August 1979, I was at a musical crossroads. All of my favorite bands had released either nothing or nothing good in a long time. Disco dominated the airwaves, and to a certain extent, that’s what I listened to. When I wasn’t listening to that, I was listening to, among other things, George Benson, whose latest album was more pop funk than jazz, or (gasp!) Barry Manilow. (Mom got his live album and played it a lot—that’s an explanation, not an excuse.)
QUBE changed everything.
I’ve written about QUBE, the interactive cable system introduced in Columbus in 1977 that was about 25 years ahead of its time; and our purchase of The Movie Channel, which brought recent movies into our homes. QUBE changed my music forever in 1979.
I don’t remember what channel I was watching, but previews for upcoming movies on The Movie Channel were on, and one of them started simply with Ringo Starr sitting in a chair talking to the camera: “Hello, children. You know who I am; I know who you are; and we all know who The Who are!”
The preview was for a movie called The Kids Are Alright, and over the course of two minutes, it showed scenes of madcap reverie and total mayhem on and off stage. I still remember Starr saying “3,000 broken guitars” with images of the said guitars being destroyed on stage; “$1 million in damaged hotel rooms,” which featured Steve Martin in a video of some sort, and finally “15 years on the road.”
If the first images were a shock; these images were the hook. It was a montage of swirling laser lights (something I’d never seen before) interspersed with images that included the singer in flying fringe jacket with the guitar player jumping all over stage all to this spooky synthesizer track.
When the clip was over, my eyes were open. I knew Pinball Wizard and Squeeze Box, which was a good-size hit when I started listening to top-40 radio in 1975, and I knew about the Tommy movie, that pinball was featured, and that’s it. The truth is I barely knew anything about The Who.
But … that preview. My God. What possibly was going on there? I had to see the movie to find out.
The first day it was shown around the clock was a school day; I had just started high school. I raced home to start watching, and Marty came over to check it out with me. The movie, of course, starts with the infamous clip of The Who miming this song on The Smothers Brothers Show before trashing everything, and it’s funny and crazy and … just … so … damn … cool.
The movie, of course, weaved from live footage to insane interviews and staged bits (early music videos). Most of the Woodstock footage came early, and that’s where I recognized from the preview the clips of a fringe-jacket wearing Roger Daltrey as a white-suited Pete Townshend was jumping all over the stage. (I now knew all the names of the guys in the band.) And when Townshend tossed his guitar into the crowd at the end, I thought this had to be one of the most exciting bands anyone’s ever seen. My switch was totally on.
Marty bailed in the middle. I can’t remember why exactly, although I think it was just to get home from school, but the fact that he left while the movie still was going spoke to our continued alienation as friends, which would be complete in another year.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The last two performances before the credits rolled are, of course, My Generation from Monterrey, which included an extended montage of Townshend and Keith Moon destroying their guitars and drums from their early years and then Won’t Get Fooled Again, which introduced (finally) the highly anticipated lasers.
As the credits rolled to Long Live Rock, I was stunned. This was the most incredible musical thing I’d ever seen, and I’d never seen anything like it. I watched the movie several more times that day. The next day, I rode my bike to Rinks and bought the double album soundtrack and wore a groove into it—particularly side three (the Woodstock stuff) and side four (Won’t Get Fooled Again and the aforementioned Join Together medley).
It was as if a light switch flicked on in my head. Suddenly, I stopped listening to almost everything that I had before—never to seek out again. It was as thought it had been anhilated in the whine of a screaming Fender.
George Benson, gone. The Eagles, gone. Paul McCartney and Wings, gone. Barry Manilow, are you freakin’ kidding me? Keith Moon would light his ass on fire and Pete Townshend would send him off with an overhead whack of his guitar. It all just was so lame, so dead end, so childish.
This music, though, The Who, were just ALIVE. They weren’t for kids. I needed more, more feedback, more loud guitars, more lasers, more … everything. I ran toward The Who and then other acts with open arms, and I never looked back.