Monday, August 21, 2017

Who Is the Who?


In defiance of my wife’s objections (“No more room on the shelves!”), I still buy CD’s. I’ve been browsing record stores and bookstores my whole life and surfing i-Tunes just ain’t the same. So yesterday, I walked into Amoeba Records with a vague idea of looking for a recording of a Poulenc piano piece and see if any of my favorite artists had put something out since my last visit. Couldn’t find the Poulenc and the other answer was no, but my browsing paid off. An album by a favorite jazz pianist (Fred Hersch) playing jazz interpretations of Russian classical pieces and Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble. While in the store, an old rock song was playing and I eventually figured out that is was the Who. ("What?” you say. “No, the Who!” “Who?” “Yes, the Who.” “But Who is the group?” “Yes, that’s right.” And so on.) So I sauntered over to the rock shelves wondering if they had Tommy and there it was, for $4.95.

Now Tommy was my listening companion for all of July, 1969, in company with Tracy Cunningham, my starter first girlfriend. She taught me how to drive her stickshift Volkswagen bug and we tore around the backroads of Watchung Reservation in New Jersey listening to Tommy on her 8-track. I thought it was a work of sublime genius and yes, it was partly due to the fact that it was the soundtrack to a budding romance and some horizontal explorations in the cramped backseat of that Volkswagen bug.

The human mind and memory is an extraordinary thing. I listened to it in my Prius automatic shift car through its Bluetooth device while driving to school today and damn if I didn’t remember just about every note and word! Almost 50 years since I last heard it, but there it was, etched in the grooves of my neurons and carrying me back to the 17-year old in that remarkable summer between high school and college. There was Tracy on the seat beside me, there was hair on the top of my head beginning to flow down to the shoulders and I hadn’t the slightest idea what the world held in store for me, but had the intuition that it would be mostly good. And that proved to be true.

How did Tommy hold up musically? Well, it was an interesting experiment, that constant carpet of pulsing 8th notes with a few cool bass riffs and chords moving to sometimes unexpected places. But Bach or Coltrane it was not. You could feel The Who ("Who?") stretching toward something more artistically interesting than the 3-minute song—it was a Rock Opera after all. But musically, it only went so far. And from my now more-evolved musical perspective, it wasn’t far enough.

But still it was fun to think of Tracy, who ended up betraying me with a good friend. I visited her once the next year in Wellesley College and never heard from her again. I thought about searching for her on Facebook, but really, what’s the point.

Meanwhile, I’m desperately looking for some room on the shelf to put the Tommy CD. (Shhh! Don’t tell my wife!)

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