Sunday, November 5, 2017

A Brief History of The Who - Part 2

Monterey Pop, particularly for promoters, John Phillips, Derek Taylor and Lou Adler, The Who, Janis and Jimi (and half a dozen others), was a smashing success. 200,000 people watched as rock concerts became a thing. Woodstock gets all the press, but it was Monterey where the music mattered.

On his way home from the festival, Pete popped a new psychedelic, STP, that provoked a lengthy trip he would later describe as "painful." Pete swore off drugs and began to look for other paths to higher consciousness. It was then he found Meher Baba ("Baba O'Riley" from the track more often called "Teenage Wasteland"). Baba, like the Maharishi for The Beatles, would become Townshend's spiritual guru.

A month after Monterey, The Who were back in the U.S. to begin their first real tour of North America, opening for Herman's Hermits (only slightly less absurd than Hendrix opening for The Monkees). The production cost more than it made, the instrument-smashing conclusion to their act only part of the reason. More often the costs incurred were from the destruction offstage, as Moon honed his alter ego wild man. He may not have actually driven a car into a swimming pool at a Holiday Inn (Daltrey says yes, everyone else says no), but he did more than enough damage along the route, blowing up toilets and ransacking hotel rooms like a marauder.

"See Me, Feel Me," Woodstock
One of his wildest moments of mayhem came after performing "I Can See For Miles" on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour on September 15, 1967. Following "My Generation," the TV performance ended when Keith blew his drum kit apart with explosives. The publicity propelled "I Can See For Miles" to No. 9 on the Billboard chart, their highest position for a single in the U.S. In the U.K., however, the band had been dubbed old hat and the iconic single barely squeaked into the Top Ten. The single's disappointing sales in the U.K. created a lack of confidence in Townshend. Feeling he could no longer write hit singles for The Who, he turned his full attention to completing a "rock opera," the first of its kind (don’t confuse the rock opera with a concept LP).

The Who Sell Out from late 1967 didn't boost his confidence with regard to sales, but has of course over the years become a critical darling. Troubles and tribulations marred 1968, beginning with The Who's Australia tour in January. The Who were targets for Australia's right-wing press who derided them as drunken louts. Pete vowed never to return (it took 36 years for him to do so).

Finding spirituality through Meher Baba was a catalyst for the "Amazing Journey" of a young boy who finds his calling after being rendered "deaf, dumb and blind" by a childhood trauma. Several Who singles tanked in the interim, including "Magic Bus," which only inspired Townshend to remain focused. (It's interesting that despite The Who's overall virtuosity, history mostly extols Townshend with disregard for what many argue are the greatest rock vocalist, bassist and drummer – and Mooney indeed has this writer's vote). 

During the summer '68 tour, Pete gave a long interview to the fledgling magazine Rolling Stone, discussing in depth his plans for a rock opera, the intellectual meaning of the medium, and his next project, Lifehouse. The full Lifehouse project would never come to fruition, and many felt it hindered Pete's finishing Tommy. Indeed, disputes with Kit Lambert, The Who's manager, led him to a nervous breakdown early in 1969. Tommy was finally released in May to great critical acclaim, leading in to The Who's performance in July at Woodstock. The band would release Live at Leeds the following year and in 1971 release what many/most regard as The Who's masterpiece, Who's Next (a honed down version of Lifehouse) in August. Pete's next project, originally a musical history of the band, turned into the story of a  troubled Mod, Jimmy who Idolized The Who. The recording of Quadrophenia (this writer's favorite Who LP) began in May 1973 in a brand-new, half-completed quadrophonic studio built for the band. The album was release in October of that year.

Despite the critical acclaim and the LP’s success, there was a new antagonism growing within the band. Since MCA's quadraphonic format was poor,  Quadrophenia poor, was reduced to stereo with Roger hating the result and feeling that Pete had buried his voice under thick layers of synthesizers. Rehearsals for the tour turned violent as a drunken Pete (hmm, what happened to Meher Baba?) got into a fight with Roger, who subsequently knocked him out. The new material, performed onstage with elaborate backing tapes, proved unwieldy and the show was whittled down with almost every performance. Then, on the first show of the U.S. tour (November 20, 1973), Keith OD'd on PCP. (Incredibly, a substitute from the audience, Scott Halpin, was brought up to play drums for the rest of the show.) To top off the tour, the entire band was thrown into jail in Montreal after Keith and Pete destroyed a hotel room.

While the band would continue to produce music that any other band would embrace, nothing would ever be the same for The Who after Quadrophenia. A huge American hit would find its way on Who Are You with the title track, while that LP's success was marred by the untimely death of Keith Moon on September 7, 1978. He was only 32. A cryptic message can be seen on the album's cover. Moony sits backwards on a chair with the words "NOT TO BE TAKEN AWAY" stenciled across the back.