How’s this for greatest fantasy gigs?
You’re a music journalist in March 1969 and you get a phone call saying to come to Ronnie Scott’s in Soho because The Who are going to be playing through a musical they’ve been working on, and you get there and it’s you, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle, Roger Daltrey and Keith Moon, and they do the whole of Tommy – just guitar, bass, voice and drums.
And you’re sitting there thinking that you might not be able fully to trust your Dextromethorphaned ears, but this, sure as shit, is going some way to compensating for Yoko stuffing John with so many bean sprouts that Paul now wants to leave the Beatles.
Which is kind of what happened to someone interviewed on Happy Birthday Tommy Walker (21 May, 11.30am, Radio 4). A half-hour, 40th-birthday celebration of the rock musical Tommy on stage and screen, the programme particularly exploded into life whenever Ken Russell opened his mouth, saying that he had been wary of working with “pop people” on the film adaptation, but they seemed OK to him – although not exactly keen when he suggested an 8am start.
I love it when Ken comes over all professional – this is the guy who flushed so many baked beans over Ann-Margret’s head in the film that they had to call an ambulance.
Me, I’ve only ever liked The Who inasmuch as Roger Daltrey is weirdly but unbelievably hot – for a naffish blond now fond of wearing Guernseys, who has never even been the leader of his own band. I cannot think of Daltrey shaking the hair from his eyes without actual pain.
Mine is a ridiculous passion, which I resolve by never ever looking at pictures of him. Plus, I love his muso ramblings: “A lot of the songs in Tommy pump the same note. ‘Christmas’ pumps a C. The voice gets tired.” Also, one must never forget that when the Beatles were writing “Help!”, The Who were already knocking out “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere”, which was basically heavy metal, and, for that: respect. (Just to clarify the hot point. Everyone in Tommy is at their career-best hot. Robert Powell is hot in his RAF outfit. Paul Nicholas as the psychotic cousin Kevin is just astoundingly hot. Even Keith Moon as pervy Uncle Ernie is kind of hot. OK, so Elton John isn’t hot. I’ll give you that.)
So I call my friend James, who knows about these things, and ask, “What do you make of Tommy?” and he says, “Well, like with all of The Who, after a while it’s just too mega.”
“Mega like how?”
“Well, Tommy is just . . . the heaviest machine. [I swear this was James talking and not Lester Bangs.] I was eight years old and it told me everything I needed to know about the world.”
“But give me specifics.”
“Well, you know that bit when Tina Turner as the Acid Queen suddenly sees snakes crawling around a skeleton? Well, I can remember that being the first time I was ever conscious of a metaphor. I remember thinking, ‘That’s evil scouring through her veins! That’s a visual expression of something’s she’s feeling!’ It changed my life! But it’s still too . . . mega.”
I was going to pass that off as my own story, people, only then I remembered that none of you would believe I knew what a metaphor was.