Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Thanks: Part 1, Pete Townshend:

Sporadically throughout 2005, I'm going to write about artists who changed my life. I'll start with Pete Townshend.

In a recent Black Table piece, I described my adolescent self thusly: "...a teenage art-geek. Frizzy haired and studious, I hadn't yet learned to work a prodigious vocabulary and ample rack to my advantage." I had close friends, and for a brief while, a boyfriend, but I felt hopelessly out of place at the uber-prep Catholic high school that my folks insisted I attend.

At various points along the way I was class president and editor of the school paper and one of the leads in the annual musical (performed at The Intiman, natch) and a member of the honor society, but I mostly remember being bored out of my fucking mind. My friends and I were smarter than the teachers and it cast an air of absurdity over the proceedings. I wanted out so badly and I couldn't leave.

Enter Pete.

I was already well-versed in all things Beatles and Stones when said boyfriend gave me a tape of The Who's "Quadrophenia" one day at lunch. When I got home, I popped it in my fake Walkman, wrapped myself in my butterfly quilt and listened to both sides all the way through. I was transfixed. Suddenly, the world was a bit more light.

If I were writing this for publication and not for fun, I'd delve into the mechanics--to the degree that I understand them--of Pete's guitar wizardry, Roger's soaring vocals, John's throbbing bass, and Moonie's frenetic drum assault. But that's not why I'm writing this. What matters to me is that Pete felt like a friend, someone wiser and more scarred who got the joke. Twenty years later, the lyrics to "Cut My Hair" still make me crumble:

Cut My Hair

Why should I care
If I have to cut my hair?
I've got to move with the fashions
Or be outcast.
I know I should fight
But my old man he's really alright,
And I'm still living at home
Even though it won't last.

Zoot suit, white jacket with side vents
Five inches long.
I'm out on the street again
And I'm leaping along.
I'm dressed right for a beach fight,
But I just can't explain
Why that uncertain feeling is still
Here in my brain.

The kids at school
Have parents that seem so cool.
And though I don't want to hurt them
Mine want me their way.
I clean my room and my shoes
But my mother found a box of blues,
And there doesn't seem much hope
They'll let me stay.

Zoot suit, etc.

Why do I have to be different to them?
Just to earn the respect of a dance hall friend,
We have the same old row, again and again.
Why do I have to move with a crowd
Of kids that hardly notice I'm around,
I have to work myself to death just to fit in.

I'm coming down
Got home on the very first train from town.
My dad just left for work
He wasn't talking.
It's all a game,
'Cos inside I'm just the same,
My fried egg makes me sick
First thing in the morning.

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The Who's Albums & Lyrics

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