February 2, 2008

In The Blackout, They Danced

Personal, possibly not-too-shocking revelation: in high school, I was a mod for about fifteen minutes.

It came about through listening to the Jam; eventually, I made my way through vintage R & B, the Small Faces...and to The Who. Eventually, The Who became my band du jour in high school, and I listened to their first six albums quite religiously. In fact, I ended up renting - and nearly destroying - a then-new copy of The Kids Are Alright on videotape upon its first release. (It's one of my top three rock movies of all time). But I always had mixed feelings about the band - their post-83 breakup behavior seemed to indicate a movement being towards an "oldies" band - in fact, moving increasingly towards irrelevancy (in my opinion)

It was with slight trepidation that I approached watching Amazing Journey - after all, in my mind, Kids was the definitive Who documentary. Although Journey doesn't quite reach that height...it is, possibly, the most necessary, providing a great overview of the past 40-some year history of the band.

Colored by the recent death of bassist John Entwistle, Amazing Journey provides the opportunity to get things "on the record", the spectre of mortality haunting both Pete Townshend and (more obviously) Roger Daltrey. It covers a critical piece that Kids does not - the post-Keith Moon years, after the drummer perished from a drug overdose. It even includes material that most documentaries might gloss over, including Townshend's recent run-in with the law in England. Even the bonus material is revelatory - a 1964 film when the Who were at their mod peak; "Six Quick Ones" and a "Scrapbook" including pieces that were not included in the film - as a historical document, it is essential.

Yet, it is also very flawed in many ways - at times, Daltrey and Townshend seem to castigate Entwistle's behavior (but not to the point of, say, former Monty Python members recalling the late Graham Chapman). At certain times, Entwistle's bass is slightly overmixed, making it overpower songs where it is more subtle (such as a televised clip of "I Can See For Miles"). There's also, curiously, an almost palpable sense of nostalgia - at one point, Townshend even claims that he'll "never" surpass his previous work...which is a shame. At any given moment, a band prays for a defining song like "My Generation"...or solid rockers like "I Can See for Miles" or "Won't Get Fooled Again"...or a ballad like "Behind Blue Eyes". They might even wish for a solid album like Who Sell Out, or Quadrophenia. The genius of the Who was that, for a little over a decade, they delivered a solid body of work. To see both Daltrey and Townshend claim that "they're all they've got", and to seem unwilling to shoot for those heights...is tragic and saddening. It's not asking for rehashes or new versions, but songs that give the same down-the-neck chill as their best work.

At the end, Daltrey and Townshend sing "Tea and Theater" which...well, shows that even some amazing journeys don't have a wonderful end.



Roger Green said...

An OLDIES band? Just because they use all their songs on CSI: Albany? Or
half their original membership has died? Actually, I thought they could still be The Who without Keith (sacrilege, I know), but not without John.

we need a pic of mocker Gordon.

Gordon said...

Roger - any band that is willing to simply coast on its older hits - and rest on its laurels, especially with its questionable use of corporate sponsorship (I mean, Townshend's a recovering alcoholic...and shills for Schlitz in the early 80s)....that, to me, is an oldies band.

And luckily, no photos of me as a "mocker" exist.