Sunday, May 25, 2014

No. 11 – We’re Not Gonna Take It

Performer: The Who
Songwriters: Pete Townshend
Original Release: Tommy
Year: 1969
Definitive Version: Starring The Who!, 1969. You don’t want the Live at Woodstock version. Unfortunately, the person who released that bootleg decided it would be a keen idea to splice in the “cleaned up” audio from The Kids Are Alright soundtrack for the songs that appeared on that album into the raw audio.

It was a bad idea, because the raw sound is better, while the “cleaned up” sound is muddy, like the song was recorded down the hall. The See Me, Feel Me part of We’re Not Gonna Take It is one of those unfortunate edits.

This is a song (and a version) whose greatness comes from seeing the performance. Like a lot of The Who, it’s one thing to hear this song on record and quite another to see The Who do it live. The Woodstock version is so iconic that I can’t even think of another version of this song without envisioning Roger, bedecked in flying fringe jacket, eyes rolling back into his head as he delivers the final “Heal meeeeeeee” in the bridge as the song winds up to its “Listening to You …” climax.

It should come as no great shock that We’re Not Gonna Take It is here, at least somewhere near the top of the list. After all, the grand finale of each of Pete’s other rock operas—Quadrophenia and Lifehouse—also made my top 50. Say what you will about Townshend’s songwriting—if there’s anything bad to say about it—but the man knows how to wrap things up.

We’re Not Gonna Take It is one of the few songs that at another time would unquestionably have been my No. 1 song of all time. That time would have been 1980, when I was undergoing my music renaissance period. 1980, as I mentioned, also was when I went to The Who’s homeland—England.

England was one of those trips that was fun while it happened but would have been so much better had I taken it years after I did. I mentioned my experience at Brighton Beach. I also would’ve gotten far more out of the experience of going to Westminster Abbey and seeing the collection of literati crypts therein had I done it at, say, 22, instead of 16.

I mean, I knew Charles Dickens, but that was about it. Years later, at Wabash, I realized I had been in the presence of Robert Burns, Christopher Marlowe and Thomas Hardy, who became my favorite author, among others.

England, actually, was the scene of a lot of firsts, and not just obvious things like the first time seeing Buckingham Palace, climbing to the top of the dome of St. Paul’s cathedral or crossing the Prime Meridian and officially entering the Eastern Hemisphere, which, of course, I did. For one, it was the first time I had a legal beer.

I’d had beer before—a full can of Coors, in 1978—but England was the first time I had a beer at a pub. One of Uncle Jack’s friends visited while Jin and I were there, and when he arrived, they went to the corner pub in Sloane Square, where Jack and Linda lived. They asked if I wanted to go. It’s OK? Yeah, the legal drinking age was 16.

So I went to the pub and had a beer. I couldn’t tell you now what I had, and actually that was another facet of England that was lost on the 16-year-old me: I was years away from being a beer drinker of any stripe.

Another first was eating pizza with a fork and knife. The food in England, for the most part, was pretty forgettable—again, even had it been good, it would have been lost on me at the time—but one night we went to a nearby pizza place that was notable for the tabletop Space Invaders game it had in the waiting area. (I’d played Space Invaders before but not much given how crowded those games were in the States.)

Anyway, when the pizzas came, Jack, I think, used a fork and knife to cut up his pizza rather than pick it up and eat it by hand, as I had done since the first time Dad brought home Romeo’s pizza (his favorite) when I was a little boy. Aside from wanting to be polite and do the right thing, I kind of liked that, and it made the pizza last longer.

Now, I almost always eat my pizza with a knife and fork. Heck, with Chicago pizza, that’s a requirement. Good luck trying to heft a Gino’s sauseege with your hands and not having half of it end up in your lap.

When we weren’t touring the countryside or using utensils to eat pizza, Jin and I went with our cousins Jenny and Amy to play in a nearby park—another example of something that was lost on me at the time. Battersea Park was south from where Uncle Jack’s family lived, across the River Thames.

Jin and I loved going there. Battersea Park had this really cool playground area that wasn’t anything like the playgrounds we were used to in the United States. The swings and slides were all of the rope variety, and they were more like zip lines than actual swings and slides. Battersea Park was the first time I saw cricket being played live, and it’s where I did some of my best beer-can hunting.

Now, it would be more notable for the Battersea Power Station that loomed to the East. At the time, the structure was impressive enough as is, with its distinctive four smokestacks. Seven years later, after I’d discovered Animals by Pink Floyd, seeing that building would have taken on far more cultural significance.

However, not everything required more time to gain a full appreciation of the significance of it. There was playing tennis on a grass court, for example. Another were The Cotswolds. To this day, it’s still one of my favorite places in the world.

As was the case with other destinations, Jack and Linda took us out of London to see more of the country, we headed northwest for the Cotswolds. The first stop was Stratford-Upon-Avon. I might not have appreciated Burns, Marlowe and Hardy, but I knew who William Shakespeare was. His house was cool, really small and SHORT.

That night we stayed at a bed and breakfast, another first for me. This was a bed and breakfast in the original sense of the term. It was a farm, and we all stayed in one room. I had a bed that had a bowed mattress so extreme my butt was dusting the floor. Now, such a bed would kill me, but back then, it was heaven.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t sleep in as much as I might have to make breakfast on time. It was the most straight-forward of breakfasts—eggs, really fatty bacon and toast. Where’s my English muffin? Advertising lied to me again!

The next day we went to the Cotswolds themselves, which are a collection of small towns that make Stratford appear to be a sprawling metropolis. Our first activity was a little horseback riding—yes, including me. That was a nightmare, although I didn’t fall. I just plodded along while everyone—Jin particularly—zoomed off over the countryside.

The second activity was more my speed. We hiked from Chipping Camden to Broadway. It’s about a 4-mile hike, but the payoff would have been worth it if it had been 100.

I’ll never forget when we came over the hill and first spied Broadway, down in the valley. It was the same sensation I had years later the first time I saw Wabash. Broadway was exactly what you imagine “England” looks like: a small collection of tan limestone buildings with a single church steeple rising in the middle of town, while all around breastworks form a checkerboard of varying colors of field. It was stunning.

Seeing Broadway like that put an exclamation point on what was a vacation of more new experiences, some small but many huge, than any other I probably ever had. When I got to Wabash and dove into my English studies, I vowed I would return to England and see everything through the eyes of wiser appreciation.

Unfortunately, that vow remains. It’s been 34 years since I’ve been to England, and, except for layovers in Heathrow in 2012 going both to and from Italy, I still haven’t gone back. Life gets in the way sometimes, but no excuses. Time is growing short.

And with that, we've reached the Top 10.

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