I saw The Who this week (or as my friend Dave and I joke - ‘The Two’). Anyway, I couldn’t help but consider several things as I watched them play. It occurred to me that even in a revised form, they are still powerful, exciting and valid. The obvious parallel of a band replacing key members and carrying on almost doesn’t warrant comment. There are also obvious differences, but the notable comparison for me was how little their current bassist, Pino Palladino, tries to emulate John Entwistle. He brings his own style to the mix, which has got to be a tough gig. I’ve seen The Who three times and never much thought to consider this fact until now. He holds his own bravely and admirably, occupying a position that would seem untenable.
Being that this week marks one year since we lost Joe Young I could relate to how he must feel. Although it may be a bit of a stretch to compare my position to Pino Palladino’s – or ANTiSEEN to the Who for that matter – I think I can fairly say that stepping up to work at a level that occupies a ‘legacy act’ status is quite daunting. I can’t speak for the others, but for me Joe’s memory weighs heavily in my consciousness every time we play. It isn’t that I necessarily feel as if I’m being ‘judged’, or that people are making unfair comparisons. I already resolved that sort of thing before I ever played the first show. For me the memory serves as a standard; an expectation to do the best I can do. Not so much for the expectation of ANTiSEEN fans as my own self-satisfaction. The fans can walk away carrying whatever praise or criticism they may have, but I gotta live with this shit every day. And my conscience is clear. I channel my anger and angst through this outlet I’ve been fortunate to have been provided. And for that I have no doubt what I’m doing is correct and respectful… and valid.
I argue that art in general and music specifically – however great or meaningless or meaninglessly great, or greatly meaningless – isn’t subjective; it’s patently objective… if it has validity. Because if it is valid it possesses meaning and will stand. This is why something like the Ramones, what once was considered non-commercial at best and anti-commercial at worst, now is used in commercials.
OK, OK... maybe that’s a bit of an over-simplification, MAYBE… but it’s true. There is a reason why Gerry Rafferty isn’t a household name and the Sex Pistols is. Moreover there is a reason why the Sex Pistols are still remembered and recognized while say, something like Color Me Badd is not.
I guess the point I’m trying to make is that so much of what has risen in the wake has been increasingly mediocre if not wholly non-essential. Far too many are grandstanding in self-sanctimonious posturing while expressing nothing outside of their pointless self-indulgence. I think as a culture we are fragmenting, splintering and disintegrating constantly. I don’t see very much new model anything leaving any real impression. That which does usually echoes back to another era. Perhaps this is why we cling so dearly to our shared cultural past. What we once dismissed as ‘dinosaur’ we now acknowledge as ‘iconic’. Talkin’ ‘bout my g-g-generation…
Because the other thing I was struck by seeing The Who is a latent truth only recently realized; the truth that ‘My Generation’ is still ‘My Generation’. However what once was an anthem of teen angst rebelling against a society masking its own insecurity with complacency is now an anthem of the middle-aged raging against the succeeding youth culture masking its own ambivalence with the same said tired complacency.
Youth culture is so seemingly void of transcendence, catharsis or - I dare say – spirituality. Oh, I don’t mean church-like or religion. I mean that intangible quality that shakes you to the core; that which sets the hair on the back of your neck on end and can bring tears to your eyes. I've been fortunate to see, hear - experience - things that I cannot really describe in words. I've been fortunate to see icons, legends and groundbreakers... Little Richard, Blue Cheer, The Who, GG Allin, Chuck Berry, Ramones, Johnny Cash, the New York Dolls, Bo Diddly, Stooges and so many more. These moments are burned into my memory and my soul. Trying to convey what it is, what it means and why it is important is all but impossible. I somehow seriously doubt anyone gets that same sort of elation at a Foo Fighters or Red Hot Chili Peppers gig.
The children of privilege stomp about with their instant gratification, iPhones, MP3 players, movies streaming on demand and omnipresent social media substituted as communal experience. Their pursuits are superficial and superfluous. As such they offer nothing of substantive integrity. Even their protest is prefabricated and predictable. But then, it is kinda hard to rebel when you’ve been allowed so much.
Rock and Roll was a sin in my house, and I found myself having to fight tooth fang and claw for every piece of vinyl I could embezzle my lunch money to buy. Time spent in church never offered the salvation I was seeking or the redemption I required. Time spent in front of my ancient console stereo was much more penetratingly meaningful than Sunday school by a long shot. If ever I saw the light, I must’ve realized I wasn't blinded. I still craved the forbidden fruit, ripe for the plucking as it always is. As I myself, was at that moment. I was ready to R-O-C-K in the U-S-A, but still I lacked fundamentals while cursed with the fundamentalist.
When I bought ‘Honour Among Thieves’ - my first ANTiSEEN record - way back in 1989, I studied the back cover liner notes and clearly remember being impressed and surprised to see comparisons to The Who. I didn’t totally hear it; my ear not yet trained to that understanding, but I somehow instinctively understood it. Its attitude was unstudied and unrefined. Its pose was unpracticed and uncaring. Its energy was unrelenting and unmerciful. The music jumped off the grooves and infected my psyche with a freaked out overload of aggro that demanded attention and response. It opened up new avenues to self-discovery and self-realization and altered my life forever.
But here I guess I’m throwing punches around and preaching from my chair.
This week we are going to play in Detroit, spiritual wellspring for a great deal of my musical upbringing. From the distant thunder of ‘Kick Out The Jams’ in the Grande Ballroom to the cannon blasts of KISS at Cobo Hall to the Stooges infamous implosion ‘Metallic K.O.’ at the Michigan Palace, or The Who shocking the chaperones of Southfield High School in 1967… if I can syphon off even an ounce of that history and energy then I count myself fortunate.
It seems anymore when I get that old-time feelin’ it usually comes via the dusty grooves of an old lost record from some bygone era. But, hey, them roots need augmented every now and again… And if I’m ‘left in the dark’ then hide me from the light forever and ever…
Coz I don’t care what you say, boy – there ain’t no way out.