Sample Chapter: The Who

History Ain’t Changed

The Who at Sullivan Stadium
Boston Phoenix, July 21, 1989

WITH A TYPICALLY fervid whimsy, the reunited Who’s set at Sullivan Stadium on July 12 reaffirmed the group’s 25-year-old gift for posing key questions—Who are we? Who are you? Why are we all here (again)?—that will aIways be larger than the answers. The grand rock spectacle they virtually invented had ripened, extended itself well into queasy adulthood, and the set bounded from weighty opuses (like “Baba O’RiIey”) to non-entities (like “Face the Face”) with telling gaps in quality. Even those of us blessed with the memory of vintage Who sets came away with our best hopes recharged, and in some ways restored. As a piece of rock history, it was less than riveting, and yet far more fulfilling than nostalgia.The evening had the odd afterglow of a long-lost friend whose unexpected reappearance helps to reveal something illuminating about yourself.

Accustomed to controversies about motives, the aesthetics of rock pretension, and any number of self-contradictions (they supposedly gave their farewell tour in 1982, with drummer Kenny Jones), the three remaining band members seem perfectly at ease explaining their latest incarnation. Guitarist Pete Townshend, as always, feels responsible to his fans, and has fewer and fewer qualms about staying rich. Singer Roger Daltrey and bassist John Entwistle were never as equivocal about the band’s demise—after all, Townshend was the one to quit publicly and become an editor and writer at Faber and Faber. Although Daltrey, the most well-preserved of the three, claimed in Musician that he would do the tour for nothing, he quickly added, “Better not tell John that. He’ll want my share…”

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Roger Daltrey

A rooty toot toot, rooty tooty toot toot
Rooty toot toot, tattoo too, to you…

Roger Daltrey Turns 77 Before He Gets Old… an excerpt from Fever: How Rock Transforms Gender (2002)

The Who Sell Out (1967) sent up the chatty Top 40 radio genre of the era, but it’s also a campy look at the foppishness of pop in general—the disposables it sells (including pop hits), the way it sells them, and how bands succumb to the charade. For the album cover, Roger Daltrey posed in a bathtub full of baked beans. Jingles were written to interrupt the album’s song sequence, so that out of a song like “Glittering Girl,” a peppy soda-pop hook would descend and the record would nosedive back into the hilarity of capitalism at its crudest. One of the ads enticed men to enroll in an exercise course: “The Charles Atlas course with [in deep reverb] dynamic tension can turn you into … a beast of a man.” That album’s hit single, “I Can See for Miles,” flaunted the Townshend-Moon musical rapport as signature. There are actually two drum tracks throughout: the basic rhythmic track on the left, and the added snare and cymbal kicks to the right. That’s Moon dodging and prodding Townshend’s guitar right from the opening moments, hammering away at rhythmic ideas like he’s boring a hole into the sound. Just as the climactic moments at the end of the refrain leave Townshend repeating a single high note above the rest of the band, Moon’s galloping snare drum becomes a locus of aggressive momentum—he’s funneling his passion for tom-tom swirls onto a single snare. Each time the refrain comes around, Moon leaps out to race ahead of the band by whipping off gleeful sixteenth notes like a sprinter blithely streaking over a string of absurdly difficult hurdles. The cacophony of the Who’s sound echoed their backstage reputation for squabbling. Townshend and lead singer Daltrey were in a perpetual feud for leadership, especially since critics were writing things like: “Even if Daltrey were God himself, you’d have to watch Townshend.” Keyboardist Al Kooper remembers the July 1967 session for “Rael” in the liner notes to its 1995 reissue…