This past week I celebrated a 40th anniversary of sorts. On September 18, 1979 my friend Reinhard and I drove from Kenyon College to New York City to see The Who perform at Madison Square Garden. Reinhard’s friend Bob accompanied us, and I believe it was his five speed that I drove into Manhattan at rush hour the morning of the18th after sleeping twisted up in the back seat most of the night. I had never been to the Big Apple before and I had never driven a car with a stick shift, and even though it would be my second time seeing The Who, it would be the first time I'd see them perform without Keith Moon who had passed away the previous September.
Our seats were positioned in the out-of-town-mail-order-nose bleed section behind the stage, where the sound mix was pretty crappy, but it was The Who in New York City and we were just happy to be in the same cacophonous concrete palace as our favorite rock n’ roll heroes and thousands of fellow screaming fans. During the song, “My Wife,” Roger Daltrey had to jump into the crowd to calm down a fight that had broken out in the first few rows, and from our “vantage point” behind the band we could occasionally see the blood dripping off of Townshend’s fingers onto the stage. The band leaned heavily on songs from Quadrophenia, Who’s Next and their latest album, Who Are You. There were also some selections from Tommy and some choice covers in the set list too.
I always thought Who Are You was a much better record than most people were willing to accede. It was a solid collection of rock songs released at a time when a solid collection of rock songs was under fire for being “just another solid collection of rock songs.” It was 1978. Punk music was revving up in the wings, and Townshend, Entwistle and Daltrey could feel it’s stale breath on the back of their necks. Townshend didn’t begrudge the young punks with their D.I.Y. approach and disdain for dinosaurs like himself — he was inspired by it. He accepted the challenge and incorporated it into his work throughout the album; attempting to answer the timeless, soul-searching question: “Who are you?” ie. "who am I?" His response was a masterful collection of some of the best music he and his band ever produced.
These days there are a lot of things in the throes of change. It’s a never-ending cycle of “out with the old and in with the new.” The “new” isn’t always a bad thing, but when it’s not necessarily a good thing, perhaps the response should be less reactionary and more akin to the pro-active philosophy espoused in today’s Happy Medium Song of the Day: “Music Must Change” by The Who. (Please use the comments box to share your thoughts.)