Monday, May 18, 2015

Talkin' 'Bout My Generation

One of my favorite questions to ask people is what their first concert was.

I know it's not like anyone's first concert is any sort of indicator of their musical taste. When you're talking first show, there are myriad factors to take into consideration.

Lack of choice is one. I've met people whose first show had nothing to do with their taste, just the result of a parent, sibling or friend inviting them along.

Sometimes it's as simple as being a a teenager. You were 13 and thought the band was speaking to your pimply soul, only to decide not long after that no one needed to know you were at that show. Too embarrassing.

For me, it was my high school boyfriend who suggested we go see the Who and as slightly more than a casual fan, I agreed immediately. What he didn't know was that I'd already ordered tickets to see Carole King, thinking that would be my first concert.

Wrong. The ear-splitting volume of the Who set the tone for my future music-listening and I was hooked. When you start out Who-loud, there's no going back.

For that matter, when the opening band is Lynyrd Skynyrd (unknown among the crowd of 20,000 that night) who spend the evening shaking up beers and letting them spray over the audience while they slug Jack Daniels, you're probably damaged goods anyway.

I didn't become a Skynyrd fan that night (or ever) but the concert convinced me that the Who were the real thing. Pete Townsend was a guitar virtuoso who seemed to be able to levitate off the stage while playing and Roger Daltrey reveled in the role of bare-chested rock god. And at that delicate age, sadly, I had no clue just had good John Entwhistle and Keith Moon were.

What I did know was that it was grand rock and roll theater.

That one night decades ago all but guaranteed that I'd be in the small minority (four people total at the Criterion) eager to see the new documentary "Lambert & Stamp" about the two guys who decided to make a film about a band's rise to fame. Their only challenge was finding a band to chronicle and they did in 1964 after Kit Lambert entered a sweaty club with blacked out windows, pink light bulbs and 500 kids dancing to the High Numbers.

Apparently even that far back the band had that indefinable something. They just needed a new name and two optimistic managers, which they got in Lambert and Stamp.

But let's hold on for a moment. In all my years of listening to the Who and probably reading countless interviews with them, I'd had no idea that they'd been essentially shaped by outsiders, their image and style created to better serve the film that was supposedly being made (it never was unless you count now). This was big news to me.

One thing I loved about this film was all the footage of the band from their early days. taken, naturally, by the wanna-be filmmakers/managers. So young. No one in the band was over 20.

And the footage of young Jimi Hendrix being asked by Lambert and Stamp to be on their record label made me go weak in the knees. Hendrix has to be one of the sexiest men of all time, especially then before he'd made it big.

Documentaries all but demand talking heads and here it was everyone left standing after the rigors of the rock and roll lifestyle, namely Townsend, Daltrey and Stamp, a charming and handsome man who wasn't much older than the band he was helping manage and film (and who has died since it was filmed).

One thing I'd never known about the band members was that while Townsend was an art school student at the time, the other three were already holding down jobs. Daltrey was a factory worker, of all things, who was used to settling things with his fists. When he tried doing that during band disagreements, Lambert and Stamp had to sit him down and make him promise to stop hitting people.

I'd forgotten what a big deal the rock opera "Tommy" was and how off-putting that concept was to people, especially opera fans, back then. "Without the libretto, it was harder to understand than Italian opera," one man lamented. Wow.

The most personally gratifying moment of the entire film was when a reporter asks Lambert if he thinks the Who will be bigger than the Rolling Stones. "Does that mean you think the Beatles are bigger than the Rolling Stones?" Lambert inquires. Of course, he says.

Back then, my entire generation could be boiled down to that one essential issue. Almost everyone agreed that the Beatles were at the pinnacle of the musical pyramid, but the standard party question, the one fact you had to know about someone before you dated them, the essential truth about music that everyone had an opinion on, boiled down to just that.

Rolling Stones or the Who?

If you don't know where I stand on that issue, I can't explain.

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