If truth be told, I didn’t even know that The Who were coming to San Diego, and even if I had known I would not have considered going, the primary reason being that tickets to rock concerts, starting as they are at fifty dollars or so and going up into the hundreds, are way out of my price range. However, someone affiliated with the show came to the naval base where one of my sons is stationed and passed on a number of tickets to my son’s superior officer, and so it was that my son, one of his buddies and I headed, along with about ten thousand other rock fans, to the sports arena in which the event was to be held.
The concert is part of the Quadropheia + More tour, during which The Who play the entire rock opera Quadrophenia (which came out as a double album back in 1973), along with an encore of some of their greatest hits. Of the original members of The Who only Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend are left, Keith Moon (the original drummer) and John Entwistle (the original bassist) having died. The rest of the group is made up of musicians who have since been added, most of whom have played together off and on for years.
I used to listen to The Who back in the sixties; their singles played frequently on local rock radio stations, and we owned their first rock opera, “Tommy”. I watched them in the splendid documentary of the original Woodstock Music and Arts Festival. I didn’t really follow their musical progress, though, after the early 70s. Especially when I got involved in my own struggles as a writer, moving to Los Angeles to attempt screenwriting, and afterwards hitchhiking around the world, I lost touch with what was happening in the contemporary music scene, with the exception of whatever I might hear by chance on public radio stations in Europe, the Middle East, and the Indian Subcontinent. As a result, I had never heard of Quadrophenia before last night, and I knew nothing about the story behind the rock opera. This became a problem when The Who began to play, because though the instruments were sharp and clear the vocals were indecipherable; it was impossible to understand any of the lyrics. I suppose most of the attendees were long-time fans and knew the lyrics by heart, and so for them it was no problem, but for me it was like watching an opera in Italian or German; I could enjoy the music and instrumentals, but I could not follow the story.
Don’t get me wrong – the music was superb, and it was well worth the time (The Who played for more than two hours) to appreciate the music alone. But reading about Quadrophenia afterwards I was struck by the depth and the nuances in the story, and I wished I could have known it before I experienced the performance.
No matter. It was what it was, and I’m thankful I had a chance to see it. Both Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend, though they are almost seventy years old, can still rock. Townshend especially is still a wizard with a guitar. He didn’t break one on stage, though, this time, as he used to, which is probably just as well.
Now I want to say a word about these two near-septuagenarians, something that struck me even before I attended the concert. I’ve thought of it in the past when I would hear that The Rolling Stones or Paul McCartney or another of the old rock superstars was on tour. Some might wonder why the old farts don’t retire, but such an attitude never occurs to me. If they retired, what would they do? Curl up and die? Music is their life, their talent, their calling, just as writing is mine. I could no more conceive of not writing than they could conceive of not playing music. It’s a part of who they are; it’s their destiny. And it’s clear that the fans agree, as evidenced by the near-sellout crowd last night who were giving The Who one standing ovation after another. If you have found your calling you don’t stop what you are doing ever. It makes no difference, in fact, whether you are famous and successful or not. You are what you are; you do what you do. Entertainers may try to retire but it seldom works out. It’s like what I’ve heard of the difference between an author and a writer: an author is someone who has written something; a writer is someone who writes. Present tense, not past tense. That’s what drives these rock stars. That’s what drives actors and actresses who take on TV and movie gigs late in life. It’s true not only of the entertainment industry, but applies to other facets of life as well. Parents, for example, don’t stop being parents when their kids grow up and move away; most are still concerned from afar.
Anyway, it was a great experience to go see The Who perform. I wish them well, and also any other artists who want to keep working until they drop. That’s what I plan to do too. When I’m on my deathbed, just make sure there’s a keyboard close at hand…
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