John Entwhistle is dead. That should come as no surprise – that he lived so long might raise eyebrows. Yet tonight, I saw, live for the first time, one of my all time top three rock groups. Missed The Beatles (but none of their music) – saw The Stones at Madison Square Garden in the ’70s – and tonight, (my first rock concert in a long time, and my audience chops are rusty) I let Pete and Roger remind me why I am so moved and uplifted by their music. The opening act was Counting Crows, and they acquitted themselves honorably, meaning that their performance was impassioned and committed. I’ve always liked their music, and their performance energy justifies their partnership with The Who’s 2002 tour. I’d been enjoying my vista in this amphitheater, seats open to my left and right, as well as ahead, but knew they’d soon fill as the headliners approached. Behind me sat a father and his perhaps 9 year old daughter, who was psyched and giddy with anticipation. I enjoyed (for a spell) her enthusiasm and marveled at her seeming expertise, for her incessant questions to her father (good-natured but clearly wilting under the onslaught of chatter) revealed a remarkable familiarity with music 40 years her senior. This guy had gestated and tutored a pre-teen ‘classic rock aficionado’. As the PA played background medleys, she both identified the groups (mostly dinosaurs) and sang the hoary lyrics with confidence and accuracy (a knack that was impressive but later to prove a distraction.)
Hey, our tickets cost the same ($170 plus), obviously he had the income and faith in her staying power to invest in her experience of musical history. As I remembered my first live rock experiences (Hendricks, Joplin, The Jefferson Airplane) and envied his opportunity to share his past with his daughter, I noticed a few approaching patrons. Actually, I noticed just one (could that be one person; surely that must be at least two?) And then the lights went out. Well, not really, but so it seemed…for as this man assumed his seat, directly in front of me, I was struck by the whimsical nature of the universe. I am attending my first concert in many years, alone. The ticket was expensive, by my standards but I felt it unworthy of debate: The Who is appearing LIVE in LA, I live here and have always loved their music, therefore I must attend. Period. …the fuck else is money for?
This man was tall (perhaps 6’4”) but that was hardly the point. This mother was wiiiiiide. I’d guess he weighed close to 400 lbs. This man would be forced to buy 2 tickets on any airline. His fucking head was a foot wide. As he sat (and blocked out 50% of any view beyond himself) folks behind me chortled and shared my ironic, fatalistic laughter at my fortune. What could be worse? I now congratulated my decision to leave binoculars at home…which would now afford a reeeeally intimate view of the back of his neck. That was somehow scarier than his immensity. His hair was perhaps 1 ½ inches long, all over his head, sort of a growing out brush cut. But his hair grew right down to his shoulders and presumably beyond… There was something creepy, dangerous beyond his ability to fall on you, about that hair…I’d noticed (Townsend commented upon it) numbers of fans seemingly from abroad and (judging by their T-shirts celebrating past Who concerts ) hard core devotees…and why not? A legendary band, touring perhaps for the last go-round (losing parts like a leper- sorry bout that unattractive allusion), they must be supported and cherished. But somehow…there was something vaguely …soccer fannish, hooliganistic about him, at least in my recently enlarged consciousness.
I’d retired to the alcoves for a few tokes. Dinosaur tho I may be, I still have standards. Maybe mescaline, acid and hash are now fond memories, but classic rock requires classic pot, and I honored that tradition. Now nicely enhanced, I returned to my seat, dedicated to ‘riding the horse in the direction he is going”, to be NOT bummed by my seeming misfortune. (But he was clearly the largest fucking human being in this area code; I’d learned The Greek seats 5800 people and what are the fucking odds?) I noticed upon my return, as the lights dimmed announcing the imminent arrival of The Who, that all the vacant seats in my vicinity were now filled. And as the excitement grew, and the two side video screens (God bless them) began to glow, I noticed the couple who’d sat beside the large man, just to my left. The guy had maybe 45% of his seat space available. His lady was now safe; to his left, she could see just fine…but he (while not a small man, maybe 6’) was dwarfed by the giant to his right and his bulk extended into this poor man’s seat, into his space.
I then realized there were perhaps worse misfortunes than having an anomalous human seated in front of you. He might be seated beside you. You can complain about noise, you can complain about odor or aberrant behavior. But I really don’t think, in today’s world, you have much leverage when fortune gives you such lemons. It’s time to make lemonade. As The Who takes the stage, and our excitement grows, I feel some empathy for this man on a date. He’d paid his $400 for their tickets, yet needed to somehow reconcile his attenuated seating with his ability to enjoy the concert.
Confronting his overlapper was fruitless…the guy couldn’t make himself any smaller. What to do? I watched him continually shift his body to avoid physical confrontation, while grappling with his own sense of injustice at this inequity (When this guy turned his head, huge portions of the stage just disappeared behind that bristly globe..) And then, magically, solutions appeared. As the opening chords rang out, we all as one, stood up to celebrate The Who’s presence and the occasion. (This giant was broad, but not absurdly tall, so I could now see; the guy to my left could now ‘own his own space’ – at least standing) and for the first 15 minutes, it was like old times, rock and roll. Eventually, people before us sat down, encouraging others to do so…and I realized this fucking guy is huge…and it must be tiring just to stand up for awhile. Yep, it was… he’d much prefer to sit whenever he could. Those about him now had options. We could sit and see around him and see the screens on either stage side…or we could stand, and see a concert as God had intended it to be seen, unobscured by morbid obesity.
Have I mentioned the music? It was splendid. Many songs from Quadraphrenia, one of my favorites, and the performances were electric. Pete Townsend is rarely mentioned in guitar supremacy; Clapton, Van Halen, Hendricks, Plant, and others come more readily to mind. But consider this: Pete still has chops and can play the shit so integral to their legacy. Pete Townsend, 40 years later, retains the passion, technique, and willingness to re-create those memorable licks of so many classic Who songs – without tracks or backup. (I wonder if Keith Richards can say the same? I hope to find out, later this year, when the Stones come to town.) Daltry still holds his own on stage, (adding fierce harp licks),Townsends brother capably duplicates Entwhistles bass licks; drums and keyboards faithfully and spiritedly fulfill their responsibilities. The music lives! It’s classic rock, it’s damned good rock, and it’s music I grew up on and still cherish. The on stage lighting and winged screens provided compelling visuals to the music (but I do miss Glenn McKay’s HEADLIGHTS…a genuine light show for concerts in the ‘60’s)
In time, as Daltry sang Behind Blue Eyes, I became irritated by the surprising accuracy and strident accompaniment of the toddler behind me. Once on my feet, it faded (tho I noticed that any number of older concertgoers were singing right along, too.) We were a mixed bag; many of my generation, some in their ‘30s, and a complement of teens and 20 somethings, all grateful to be present for this event. There were the usual gaggle of ‘dishes’, such events seem to attract them in numbers…or should I say, make them trophy dates for men with money, memories and a fondness for mammories. Lots of exuberant breasts about, some clearly aging but still riding high (good surgery), some trolling, some a little past their prime but proffered, nonetheless in the spirit of the occasion. It’s conflicting to me to respond to attention from a woman, knowing her date has just spent so much to bring her here. (Probably a flashback to The Eagles Millennium concert on New Years Eve, 1999, when I paid $800 for tickets and was barely talking to my future ex-fiancée by the time we got there.)
Earlier, as I’d applied catsup to my absurdly priced chili fries, a guy reeaaally pressed into my space. I apologized and made room for him, but he said, “No, man…I recognize you. Did you do Millennium?” I was momentarily stunned and said, “No, I don’t think so,” not remembering any film or tv project by that name….and then suddenly DID – (it’s one of my favorite roles.) I said, “Yeah, thanks for remembering” and he said. “Please wave at my lady, she was sure it was you, but we were embarrassed and didn’t know how to approach you.” I did wave to the woman several feet away, she smiled, and I moved back to the general seating area, a little puzzled that I’d managed to disappear a character I’d cared so much about. Such an encounter is no problem; clearly the guy is the one initiating contact. But when it’s a woman (never mind her ultimate intentions) who begins such a conversation, I’m always leery of the effect my response may have on her escort. I’m not concerned with being punched out by a jealous boyfriend or husband; I’ve just seen way too many women over the years get giddy once they encounter someone they’ve seen on film or tv. I now know how little it has to do with ME; it’s just a civilians response to ‘public personas’. (It’s rarely about my work; someone from Survivor or Big Brother would elicit the same excitement; it’s about “I SAW HIM ON TV!!”) And my curious predilection for empathy immediately shifts me from my own reality into their dating reality… “Son of a bitch, brought this broad to share this memorable, high priced event and here she is, coming on to some asshole she saw in a movie!!”