A Fan’s Note: The Who Are the Best Bloody Rock Band in the World

LEXINGTON, KY - JULY 11: With English bassist John Entwistle (1944-2002) in the background, English multi-instrumentalist, singer and primary songwriter for The Who, Pete Townshend, performs his signature windmill on his Fender Telecaster, with a cast on to protect his cut hand, at Rupp Arena, July 11, 1980, in Lexington, KY. (Photo by Jeff Hochberg/Getty Images)

This article originally appeared in the September 1989 issue of SPIN. 

I turned on the radio at 7:40 p.m. on June 27th and a DJ was announcing, in that near hysterical delivery DJs have, that they would be broadcasting the “WHO’S ONE AND ONLY LIVE PERFORMANCE OF TOMMY SINCE 1969 AT RADIO CITY MUSIC HALL.” I didn’t have a ticket. I had a stomachache.

The show was supposed to start in 20 minutes I couldn’t stand it. My heart was pounding. People look at me funny when I say this, but the truth is I used to pray to Pete Townshend when I was a teenager. I mean not literally. but kind of. I talked to him a lot. We had all had the same problems. Too skinny, too sensitive, weird nose, screwy family. He was my favorite thing on earth. The whole band was. First it was Daltrey. I saw “Tommy,” the movie, about 15 times and in the beginning, I thought Roger was the Who. I thought Pete was Roger’s guitar player or something. Hell, I was only 9 years old. And Daltrey was awfully cute with that hair and everything. But it was purely physical. And eventually I caught on to the fact that Pete wrote everything.

Pete taught me everything I know. I played Quadrophenia over and over and over and over. It was like a survival guide. A kind of post-modern existentialist rock and roll Bible, if you will. Pete taught me all the essentials. That I could take on anyone and not be scared of a bloody nose. That a paranoiac is a person who has some idea of what is really going on. Pete said none of it was my fault. I wasn’t nuts. They were.

Pete said: “You got altered information. You were told to not take chances. You missed out on new dances and now you’re losing all your dimples.” Deep shit: Very existentialist. “Get a job and fight to keep it. Strike out to reach a mountain. Be so nice on the outside but inside keep ambition.” “We’re the slaves of a phony leader. Breathe the air we have blown you.” Very anarchist. Pete started punk.

He was like the God of the underdogs. Like, don’t tell me Mick Jagger could give a fuck if you were skinny and ugly and lived in a working-class industrial housing complex in a small, dark, freezing shoe factory town in the middle of Sweden, which is a damn near totalitarian society if you ask me. It sucked. So I stayed in my room and jumped on my bed and blasted the Who. Then my sister Bibi would come in and blast Led Zeppelin. She turned me on to the Who in the first place, but somehow, she got sidetracked by this long, awful Led Zeppelin phase. What the hell did stairways and misty mountain tops ant forest nymphs with long, flowing hair have to do with our current situation, I wondered. Still I was kind of jealous. Bibi had boyfriends with long hair and turquoise jewelry who were reading Lord of the Rings and seemed to know about all kinds of mystical stuff.

A Fan's Note: The Who Are the Best Bloody Rock Band in the World

Then punk came, thank heaven, and I cut my hair and dyed it orange. I declared a boycott on all super-groups, which was the thing to do, and started a band. None of us knew how to play. It was heavenly. I tried to convince my friends that the Who weren’t rock idol assholes like same other bands. That they kicked more ass than every last punk band combined—but just happened to also write great songs. That Pete cared about the punk movement. Even better, like I said, he started it.

So I had been waiting 14 years to see the Who, but I had a stomachache and I had exactly $200 to my name and I had heard that tickets were going for $1,000. But I had to go anyway, so I called my friend Greg. He’s a Who fan. His sister threw him down a laundry chute when he was only two

I met Greg at a party four years ago. He was sitting around, strumming a guitar when suddenly I deciphered a few chords from Quad and came barreling over. I made him play every song on the album, even the ones he didn’t know, while I thrashed around, wind milling on an air guitar, jumping like some spastic person and singing at the top of my lungs. “LAUGH AND SAY l’M GREEN. I’VE SEEN THINGS YOU’LL NEVER SEE, BABADABADABADABADABADABA. TALK BEHIND MY BACK BUT I’M OFF THE BEATEN TRACK.” It went on for hours. Watch out for Who fans when they’re trashed.

By five in the morning, Greg and Bibi and I decided to have a band together. Bibi and Greg on guitars and me on drum. At this point I wanted to be Keith Moon. Poor Greg though, I kept trying to turn him into Pete. I was always after him going, “Pleeease Greg, don’t play the thing, attack it! Throw it across the room. Hit Bibi over the head with it! Do anything! But don’t just stand there. Come on Greg, I know you’re angry and traumatized. Now take it out on your instrument.”

But Greg wanted us to actually get signed. He said I thrashed too much and needed to take drum lessons and lay the
fuck off the crash cymbals and be crisper, tidier, more Eighties, more Stewart Copeland. I said “God forbid. Copeland?” That blond sugarpuff with his clever little rim-shot tricks and his damned Brazilian influences! What does he know about rock n roll? He’s an impostor like all the rest of them! He’s the enemy! People like him are corrupting our youth! Ruining rock n roll! Lobotomizing it! And you’re helping them! In fact you’re helping them undermine they very foundations of…”

“Cel, shut up,” Greg would say right about then.

“You just don’t want to practice.”

“Practicing isn’t the point,” I would retort. “Blowing the roof off is.”

“You can’t blow the roof off unless you’ve practiced,” Greg said.

“Bullshit,” I would yelp. “You can’t blow the roof off unless you don’t give a fuck about the roof.”

I hate the Eighties. I don’t know who all these people on MTV are or what they’re singing about or why. I can’t help it. I’ve looked under chairs. I’ve looked under tables. All I see is wimps, everywhere. Wimps and tits. Help me Pete! What am I supposed to do? I hate the music, I hate the clothes, I hate the drumming. I hate the attitudes. I hate the Fine Young fucking Cannibals too. O.K? What on earth is going on, Pete? Pete says: “We are the generation with no balls. And I’m gonna keep repeating that until somebody shows me differently.”

And people wonder why we still flock by the millions to see the Who. They think it matters that that Townshend is half deaf, or that he has kids our age. We couldn’t care less. All we know is that in their heyday, the roadies would come out after a Who show in white coats and shovel the equipment into buckets. Every seat demolished. As Keith, once put it, “the whole place would look like Attila the Hun just rode through.” Now that’s what I call a proper band.

The Who was very much Keith Moon, who actually did things like drive his car up the steps and through the plate glass window of a hotel, toss the keys to the desk clerk end say, “park it.” Other drummers played beats with fills thrown in. Keith made beats out of fills. Nobody ever figured out how he did it. He sounded like he had four feet and eight arms. On Keith’s third grade report card, his music teacher gave him a B minus and commented “great ability, but guard against a tendency to show off.”

Pete tells a story about when Keith took eight horse tranquilizers and wound up paralyzed in a wheelchair. The doctor said his heart was only beating once every 30 seconds, that he was clinically dead. Keith opened his eyes and said, “Fuck off.”

A Fan's Note: The Who Are the Best Bloody Rock Band in the World

Clearly, although he may have been the funniest little bastard who ever lived, he was tragic. A seeker, a really desparate man, looking for love. A bellboy. Always running at someone’s heel. People who knew him describe him as insane, yes- but also, kind, affectionate, generous, very cheerful and very sad. As Pete told Musician in a recent interview, Keith could barely play towards the end. He’ d come in and throw up on the mixing desk and Pete had to give him hell. Just before he died, Pete says, “he started to call me up to say goodnight and I love you. He did that about 10 times, and you could tell he was crying a little bit. He’d say “You do believe me don’t you?” I’d say, “Yes, but you’re still an asshole.”

They put him in a chair that so ironically says “NOT TO BE TAKEN AWAY” on the Who Are You? cover, to hide his growing potbelly. That was his last album. He was the most irreplaceable drummer in the world.

So anyway, the Who, Radio City Music Hall. I called Greg. “Hi, it’s me. Let’s go see the Who.” Silence.

“You’re a nut, Cel. We don’t have tickets.”

‘We’ll get tickets.”

“Oh yeah, you got $2,000?”

“Greg! It’s the Who!”

“No, it’s not the Who.”

“Well it’s close enough. It’s Pete! And Roger! And John!” ‘It’s everybody and their uncle on percussion and horns, too.”

‘So?”

“No. I’m busy.”

“Well I’m going.”

“You won’t get in.”

“I’ll get in.”

Click.

Tommy camps in every city. Millions flocking in like sheep. What they want ain’t cheap’s a pity. But who am I to upset their dreams?

It was 7:55 p.m when I got to Radio City. People everywhere, swirling, muttering. “How much?” I asked.

“$600”

“For one? You’re kidding right?”

“No doll. They’re orchestra seats. You want ‘em?”

“I only have $200.”

The tall, Black man cackled at me. “Two hundred!” Go buy a couple ZT-shirts fuh dat money, honey.”

I was starting to get pissed. Why does everybody have to be such a pig about everything? I put my Walkman on. The show was about to start. Some DJ backstage having hysterics all over the poor band, like it was the Superbowl or something. The overtune to Tommy started. Yep, it was the Who alright.

I couldn’t see them but I know it was them. God bless them. God bless John Entwisle with his bass that sounds like something out of a whale’s belly. It was unbearable, standing out there. I had to take the headphones off. I stalked frantically back and forth in front of the dwindling pack of scalpers, hoping they would start dropping their price. Some guy in a suit and his squealing girlfriend in a cocktail dress and heels suddenly appeared, hatched from a big white limo, and of course, right there in front of me, the bastard walks up to one of the scalpers, pulls out a wad of bills, get two tickets, and dashes off.

Don’t rush – keep steady! Have your money ready. Buy your way to heaven. That comes to one pound seven. Bless you luv!

“T-SHIRTS! WHO T-SHIRTS!”

“How much?” I asked.

“$20.”

“Each?”

“T-SHIRTS!”

Buy your shades and earplugs here. Keep in line I’ve got a huge supply. Get your Tommy record, you can really hear him talk. Tommy pics and badges. Half a nicker for the cork. You lucky people.

“Ya need a ticket/” C’mere. Walk with me.”

All I remember is that he was Black and had a blue and white sweat suit. I said, “I only have a $200.”

“O.K Two hundred. C’mon walk next to me, the cops are lookin’ at me. I don’t wanna get lifted. Get your money.”

‘Show me the ticket first.”

“You wanna see the ticket? It’s a good ticket I’m tellin’ you. Orchestra seats. Man I could get $500 fo dis ticket. Keep walking.”

“So why don’t you?”

“Lissen you want the ticket or not?”

“Yeah. I want it.”

I studied the ticket in his hand. It actually was an orchestra seat. Unbelievable.

“Shit. The cops are looking at us. Keep walking. Gimmie the money.”

“Give me the ticket first.”

He handed me the ticket.

“Keep looking straight ahead. They’re watchin.”

I clutched the ticket and handed him the money. I looked at it and spun around, stunned. It was a Stray Cats ticket, a year old no less. And Jumping Jack Flash was gone. Vanished in less than two seconds.

A Fan's Note: The Who Are the Best Bloody Rock Band in the World

“AAAAAASSSSSSSSHOLE!” I brimmed.

Giants Stadium: July 3rd, 1989

I have a ticket this lime. A real ticket. I’m with my sister, we’re psyched. We both bought Maximum R&B Who T-shirts for $20. On my way in the escalator this guy behind me is holding his fists up in the air and just screaming out loud like he’s getting stabbed or something. And this is before we’re in the stadium. When they finally hit the stage every last person just stands up and screams. Even me, sophisticated cookie who thought she had grown out of this supergroup hysteria bit years ago.

They sound good. The drummer, Simon Phillips, is is a monster, especially on the mid-late stuff. Before Pete introduces the additional 12 musicians onstage he says, “We had to hire 366 people to replace Keith Moon.” He looks kind of sad. What’s wrong, Pete? He said he wasn’t gonna windmill but he does anyway. Gorgeous.

The show is sponsored by Budweiser, and after the show, the big video screen says: The Who were brought to you by Budweiser. Please drive home safely. That would have killed Keith.

I knew the critics were going to piss all over the event —accuse the Who of being over-40 and deaf and greedy. For coming back when they’ve already said farewell three times. Who cares? No fan in that stadium would have cared if they came out in wheelchairs. Cause they’re the Who and we love them. Simple as that. Even Pete’s new song about being friendly. Critic Dave Marsh said the show was pathetic. So who’s he anyway? He sat in his seat throughout the show and wasn’t even ashamed to say so. Don’t let ’em get to you guys, they ’re just jealous. Fuck ‘em. And Pete, if they say your name is too big, tell them their lousy noses are too small.

After the show, I dragged my sister around the entire stadium twice looking for the backstage entrance which was located right next to gate A, B, C or D, depending on which yellow-breasted moron you asked for directions at Giants Stadium. had a backstage pass, O.K., but the fascists at the Will-Call window wouldn’t give it to me because I didn’t have the right ID on me. I should’ve punched my way straight through the glass and squeezed that woman’s neck until her snotty, uptight little hen’s face turned blue. That’s exactly what Keith Moon would have done. God I miss Keith.

Anyway, I was hell-bent on getting backstage. “Why do you want to go backstage?” Bibi yelled halfway through the show. “There’s more rock and roll in these five square feet,” she said,” than you’ll ever find backstage. “I know,” I cried,” but I want to meet Pete. I just want to say hi to him.”

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