Being the emotional sort I am, there's some memory baggage associated with each and every item in my record collection. Not all albums are equal in this regard. Some records have as little as where they were purchased (Goodbye Yellow Brick Road – King's Department Store, Middletown, Connnecticut). Others have one or two associated incidents (Think Pink — The Fabulous Poodles: I came back to the dorm one afternoon to find my roommate and a friend dancing on the beds to this record. They had decided to reach into my album crate and play the first disc encountered. Hilarity ensued).
But then there's The Who. For whatever reason, the music of The Who has attached itself to a crazy number of life events:
- First Who record: Tommy, the original Decca LP. Swiped from my sister's record collection.
- Hearing "Won't Get Fooled Again" on late night radio, falling out of bed to see if the song was on the one Who record I owned. Obviously, it wasn't.
- Stocking the bins at LaVerdiere's Drug Store with fresh copies of Who Are You.
- Seeing my friend Tyler arrive at school dressed in black the day after Keith Moon died.
- Me buying a copy of Who Are You the next day.
- The party up at Tyler's house that involved too much beer, the abuse of a poor guitar and amp, and a brutal version of "My Generation."
- A romantic encounter, soundtrack provided by Pete Townshend's Empty Glass.
- The "Maximum R&B" poster (from the much-coveted import version of Live at Leeds) taped to the cinderblock wall of Tyler's dorm room.
- Roger Daltry's "There Is Love" being sung at my (first) wedding. (Apparently, there wasn't quite enough love.)
- Attending one of those crazy "Farewell" shows at the UMaine field house, concert shown on closed circuit TV.
- Seeing The Who play an outdoor show in Foxboro, Mass. Lousy seats, great show.
- Attending a tour date of "Roger Daltry Plays The Music of Pete Townshend." Linda Perry singing "Doctor Jimmy": Amazing.
- Listening to Quadrophenia in its entirety the night before Ty moved from Vermont to California.
There are more. A lot more. Still, despite the memories, it's the power of the music that matters. Pete Townshend's song constructions, not to mention fabulous guitar playing, have always resonated with me. When I get a chance to sit back and listen to records like Quadrophenia, the thought surfaces that if I had managed to compose such an amazing suite of music, well… shoot, that'd be enough, wouldn't it?
Now, nearly 30 years after my first late-night encounter with "Won't Get Fooled Again," comes Endless Wire. Is this really a Who record? Despite Townshend being the mastermind behind most of their musical history, both Moon and Entwistle are gone. Is this another case of "They would have wanted us to go on?" Honestly, I don't know. Calling this group "Daltry/Townshend" would have worked for me.
Naming semantics aside, this is a glorious record. Beginning with the "Baba O'Riley-meets-Philip Glass" synthesizer of "Fragments," Endless Wire shows the old Daltry/Townshend alchemy is still in full effect. From the beautiful-while-sneering "A Man In A Purple Dress" to the jaunty "Mike Post Theme" to the singalong of "Endless Wire" to the pretty "God Speaks of Marty Robbins," this record underscores why the music of The Who has remained with me. Townshend plays a pile of instruments both stringed and not, and Daltry sounds far better than he has a right to for a guy his age. He's definitely a counter-example to the stereotype of the rock star who has let himself go.
"I Hope I Die Before I Get Old." Pete, I'm so glad that didn't happen.