So I was driving to work one pre-dawn morning, and I heard an advertisement on the radio for a Who concert at Citizens Bank Park in Philly. "Whoa, that might be fun," I thought. Mind you, I had not had my morning caffeine at the time.
But even after the caffeine was restoring my neural tissues, the idea persisted that a Who concert might be a fun Saturday evening, especially in a ballpark where you could count on some affordable tickets. I asked The Fair if she wanted to go, she said yes, and I flung some ducats at a pair of seats in the nosebleed region of the structure.
The Who has always been my favorite rock band -- with apologies to Bruce Springsteen, who I also adore. I just go back farther with The Who.
EXHIBIT A: THE WHO 1970
As I plunked down $45 for two seats, I fondly recalled such seminal Who lyrics as "Hope I die before I grow old" and "We won't get fooled again." Classic anthems of rebellious youth, those.
With the Fair's schedule being what it is, inevitably she baled on the invite. This left me with two tickets to see The Who and only one person who wanted to go. I turned to poor Mr. J, who firmly feels that ballparks should be used to play ball -- but that hard-working wives need to be humored sometimes. He agreed to tag along.
Do you believe in magick? Sometimes it's hard to be skeptical.
The Fair came over for Concert Day even though she couldn't stay until evening. We went to the thrift store. Mr. J went too, and there he found, among the men's clothing, a t-shirt that said "Pinball Wizard." Never before has there been anything remotely Who-related in that store, because I would have bought it. This seemed like just the omen I needed to strengthen my resolve to actually attend the event.
Evening fell, and Mr. J was snoozing on the couch while I, pencil in hand, assayed the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle. Before we knew it, the clock said 8:00 and we hadn't even printed out the tickets. More reason to bag. But we persisted, because hey ... I remember the 1970s ... there's always a warm-up band, and the main attraction doesn't even take the stage until 10:00, and they play three encores. Plenty of time to get to The Who portion of the show.
We took the train into Philly and changed onto SEPTA. It was now 9:15. We waited awhile for the south-bound train, idly watching the rats scurry along the tracks.
By the time we got to the ballpark, it was 9:45. The ticket-taker said, "You're kind of late." (I guess so, no one else was ticketing in.) The Who had been performing since 9:00. Can you imagine, fellow people-of-a-certain-age?
Well, we entered at the concourse level and couldn't even find a ramp to ascend to the rafters. And at about that moment, the place rocked up with "Join Together." Being who I am, I just started dancing on the concourse. The fact that I was the only one dancing did not daunt me. Mr. J suggested that we just stay on the concourse and not even try to find our seats.
And after some trial and error, we found ourselves standing just behind a rail with a decent (albeit remote) view of the stage and a better view of the jumbo-tron.
It was at first bittersweet and even humorous, because to hear these two men sing "We won't get fooled again" is a great relief. Getting fooled again at their age would be humiliating, don't you think?
EXHIBIT B: THE WHO 2019
When I bought the tickets and saw the price range, I thought to myself, "The only way I would buy some of these high-end tix are if the entire evening was 'Quadrophenia' from end to end."
It was "Quadrophenia" that bonded me to The Who back in the day. I was an angry teenager, living with a mentally ill, abusive mother in a dead-end small town. I got bullied in school and at home, and much of the responsibility for managing day to day household tasks fell upon me, along with my school work. Someone actually gave me my first copy of "Quadrophenia" (released in 1973). I wore that one out and bought another. The rage in that album, the sense of loneliness and isolation, parental disapproval and the solace of nature just spoke to my alienated soul. I'll bet I've listed to "Quadrophenia" over 500 times, if you count all the years I used it to exercise to as well. I know most of the lyrics, more or less, adjusting for accents and colloquialisms.
Back to the narrative: Mr. J and I had missed fully 45 minutes of the show. But what we didn't miss was a 30-minute run exclusively of songs from "Quadrophenia." Daltrey and Townsend tucked into this challenge the moment I got a place at the rail.
Reader (if you've even gotten this far in this opus), I stood there and cried. And of course, sang along.
Mr. J had never heard "Quadrophenia." Neither, apparently, had the drunken millennial Sad Boys sitting in the high end seats in front of the rail. But deeper down in the crowd, other people my age were as passionate as me.
Sometimes when I describe my childhood, people ask how I came out of it without being badly bent myself. Well, I do have scars that have affected my life, and make no mistake about it. But I credit The Who, and most especially "Quadrophenia," for keeping me sane when the world was burning down around me. I wasn't angry and alienated alone. It made all the difference.
So it was very, very special to re-visit "Quadrophenia" live in the open air, on a beautiful night in Philly, surrounded mostly by people my own age or older. It was like, "You know what? I survived, by all the Gods, and this is what saved me."
The "Quadrophenia" segment was so lengthy that after it ended, there was only time for one more song: "Teenage Wasteland." Which Townsend and Daltrey sang without a hint of irony. (They must laugh some other time, offstage.) Then they said goodnight, thanks for coming, Philly.
I turned to Mr. J and said, "They will play an encore." This is what happens at rock concerts.
They didn't. The entire light bank of Citizens Bank Park came roaring to life, and 28,000 gray Boomers and 2,000 bleary-eyed Sad Boys headed for the exits.
Bruce Springsteen has aged gracefully, turning his rocking tunes into mournful, slow ballads that he croons over a minimalist acoustic guitar. And I have to say there's something noble about that. It's easy to mock The Who for belting out their teenage angst anthems with all the theatrical moves and blasting drums of yesteryear. But you know what? It never hurts to switch off the internal clock for an evening and re-immerse yourself in your teenage experiences. And how illuminating it is to see them brought to you by someone who looks as world-weary as you feel yourself. Damn. We survived, and we won't get fooled again!
EXHIBIT C: GEEZER WASTELAND, ONLY GEEZER WASTELAND
We're all wasted!