(CBC Hamilton welcomes guest columns from the public. Terry Ott is a Hamilton resident and freelance journalist who has been a fan of The Who for more than four decades.)
I went back to the doctor
To get another shrink
I have to tell him about my weekend
But he never betrays what he thinks
Can you see the real me?
Can ya? CAN YA?
(The Real Me, Quadrophenia, The Who, 1973)
Just a little bit like Tommy, I first became aware of The Who just steps south of the current CBC Hamilton de-camp, at the Tivoli Theatre.
Unfortunately, part of the theatre has since been torn down and is at present an empty lot with a few bricks strewn about the urban wasteland. But in the hot and muggy mid-August of 1970, up on the huge screen the grand old lady of Hamilton theaters, I watched as Pete Townshend windmilled his way through See, Me, Feel Me from Tommy.
It was an incredible moment, captured on film by director Michael Wadleigh's exhausted cameramen as the sun was coming up over what was by then an Old Testament biblical-like gathering at the Woodstock Music and Art Fair. As Eric Burdon once sang, "this really blew my mind."
I would return to the theater two more times in a week to see it all again.
I never tired of the rawness and intensity of The Who's performance, even though Townshend would forever kick sand on his experiences at the Aquarian Exposition in a sloping and slopping cow pasture in Bethel, N.Y., claiming he had been doused with LSD and played raggedly.
See, Townshend was a wonderfully twisted punk before there were such things in rock.
Through the albums Live at Leeds and Who's Next I was all-in from the age of 15 on, glomming onto the recordings like they were a code or something. Yet it was Quadrophenia that I really sank my psyche into.
Townshend's brilliant follow-up to Tommy, this so-called "rock opera" was expertly constructed to include all four members of The Who in a Mod-fuelled early 1960s U.K. narrative. Yet the real guts of the thing was about Townshend's struggle with the past and — more importantly — what the future would bring for him.
Quadrophenia did not speak to all my counterculture, dope-smoking partying friends, but it sure did to me with its intense introspection and its superb melodic cadences. And although the original double-album with its iconic cover is nigh 40 years old now, I still adore it.
I always regretted that I never saw The Who perform Quadrophenia live. They bypassed Toronto when they first played it on tour in late 1973, and by the time they stormed Maple Leaf Gardens in December 1975 just a song or two from Quadrophenia occasionally made the set list, so I passed on the $7 tickets. I missed them again in 2008 at Copps Coliseum (here’s a snippet of it on YouTube).
Now Pete is nearly deaf, relegated mainly to a non-windmilling acoustic guitar. And singer Roger Daltrey only agreed to tour again if Townshend ceded complete creative control to him.
But come Tuesday evening — with tickets now $140 — I will be there at Copps Coliseum for the much-anticipated second (and quite possibly last) visit of The Who to Hamilton. "Quadrophenia and More," the thing is called.
I’ll be there by myself, and close enough to the stage to see if the now-grey sexagenarian warriors from Woodstock can still get it done.
I am hoping, of course, for the best of outcomes. Because even though sound systems, staging and general musical proficiencies are superior now to the "good olde daze," sometimes heroes from four decades ago have a hard time living up to (my) mythology.
I shall see and hear what Pete The Seeker and Roger The Helpless Dancer have left after close to 50 years as a band, and a phenomenon. And I’ll relish every second, making up for 38 years of regret.