In a few days, The Who will play a concert at ScotiaBank Place, the hockey arena where the Ottawa Senators play and which is a five-minute drive from my home.
Now, my all-time favourite band on most days of the week is The Clash. But on those days of the week when it is not The Clash, my favourite band is The Who. And as The Clash is no longer touring, this tour by The Who is about my only chance to see my other favourite band of all time in live performance.
But I’m not going.
And here’s why.
I am getting mighty close to 50-years-old. I have a wife and two kids — one is 9, the other 11. Pete and Roger are, er, over 55 at least. I think at this point in all our lives, it’s perhaps best that I, Pete and Roger just remember all the good times we had together 30 or 40 years ago. We are not adding to or enriching our collective experience by getting together in a hockey arena in suburban Ottawa on a November night when I have to get up and go to work the next day (that phrase would be code for “I have to remain sober”) so we can all sing “hope I die before I get old” with 30,000 other people.
Still, my friends say to me: Take your kids to The Who show! Show them a real rock band. To which I say: The last time I took my kids to a concert at ScotiaBank place, the band that was playing was The Wiggles (And I hope that someone has let Roger and Pete know that the core of The Wiggles, which is a very good band for the under-10 set, has decided to retire though they will pass on the franchise to other musicians.) . My wife took my daughter to the hockey arena a year or so ago to see Selena Gomez. I’m sorry but you cannot be an 11-year-old who has gone from The Wiggles to Selena Gomez to The Who so far as arena concerts go and and come away from The Who show agreeing with your 48-year-old dad that The Who is one of the greatest bands of all time. And let’s face it: what do the Wiggles, Selena Gomez and The Who at Scotiabank place all have in common? They will all be a Disney-fied experience. Which is to say, it is a manufactured experience that is neither unique to Ottawa nor to the performers. Each of those shows is selling fantasy and escapism. And, like Disney, thanks to everything from digitized lighting cues to digital backing tracks, the folks in Ottawa who saw Selena or who will see Roger will see a carbon copy of what the folks in Cleveland or Korea saw when Selena and Roger went there. (I don’t mean to be so cynical. David Remnick here seems to suggest that Bruce Springsteen tries to create a unique experience most nights though I’m sceptical) Disney-fied experiences are fine. Our family visited there last year. But the whole point of The Who and, later, The Clash was a commitment to real life, to what’s happening now, to a refusal to wallow in nostalgia, escapism and fantasy. It was, in that sense, political music. The message: You must engage. Indeed, that, to me, was what punk was all about and one of the reasons why I liked it. It was a genre that engaged with society’s problems, that asked it’s audience to get engaged and, in the meantime, was a ton of fun.
If you do go see The Who on this tour and it is your first exposure to their music in a live setting, I strongly encourage you to listen to their live performance from 40 years ago on Live At Leeds, which I would be quite pleased to argue is the best live rock record of all time, The Allman Brothers’ At Fillmore East notwithstanding. Live At Leeds was released in 1970 and the band is absolutely in its sweet spot in terms of execution, inspiration and talent. Remember, on Live at Leeds all you’ve got are bass, guitar and drums and a vocalist who was just about to record his best work ever, (that would be Who’s Next, released 1971). And this trio-plus-vocalist managed to pull off a 15-minute version of their two-minute radio hit “My Generation”! The Allmans did 23-minutes with “Whipping Post” and took up all of side three (not even going to explain the concept of side three to those of you born in 1980 or later. You just wouldn’t get it) and everyone called it a tour de force – and it is — but the Allmans had what amounted to an orchestra on stage. Well, Pete, Keith and The Ox are going on for 15 minutes — 15 minutes! — on Live At Leeds off the “My Gen” riff.
I could be wrong but I just don’t think I’m gonna see that kind of rock’n'roll at ScotiaBank Place next week.
And, I absolutely do not mean to dis Pete, Roger and whoever they’re playing with. (Half The Who I grew up with is now dead. Keith went in 1975, The Ox in 2002.) Keep playing. Keep touring. I’ve no doubt you’re finding new fans who, I hope, will listen to all the great work you’ve recorded over the years.) It’s just that The Who I want in my head for the rest of my life is the 1971 version, not the 2012 version. Others who saw them in 1971 will buy a ticket for this tour. That’s fine, too.
So far as my kids are concerned, I’d like them to have the sense of discovery, excitement and power that I did when I grew up to discover and, in some sense, own The Who and The Clash (and Supertramp and the Talking Heads and Max Webster and The Smiths and Teenage Head and The Beatles so on and so on).
But there is no way my kids will “discover” the power and the magic of The Who’s greatest music next week in Scotiabank Place. I hope they discover it in their own time and in their own way and if they do that, that will be a wonderful accident that will make their dad proud. But I’m almost certain there is no way my kids will “discover” any music while I’m hanging about. It’s their journey. It will be very different than mine.
Which reminds me: Thank you, Pete. Thank you, Roger. You didn’t know it at the time, of course, but you were very important to me as a teenager growing into a young man. Your music is still very important to me. It is still smart. It is still powerful. It is still beautiful.
Enjoy your time in Ottawa. I’m sorry I won’t be at ScotiaBank Place. I’ll be at home in the suburbs, after a long day at work, with my wife, two kids, and three cats, resting up before I’ve got another day of work ahead of me.
Special note to Pete and Roger: Your show on Nov. 21 is in Canada’s national capital, as you may now, home of our prime minister, Stephen Harper. I would not be surprised if he was in attendance for he is a great fan of your work. Any other G8 leaders you know of do a cover of “The Seeker”?