The Who, 1982

February 24, 2013

Unknown-1Because I’m going to see the Who tonight (or, Who’s left, as I now refer to them while saying a quiet little prayer for John and Keith), I wanted to post this snippet from an essay I published in Prairie Schooner.

The piece is about how I was an actress in high school, both on and off the stage, just like we all learn to be one way or another. As children, we’re often told the importance of “being ourselves,” but truthfully most of what we learn is how we’re supposed to act–what we’re supposed to show on the surface, and everything else we’re supposed to hide. And in high school when there’s a constant mix of hormones and yearning running through our thoughts, playing to a background of rock music that only amplifies those feelings, it’s amazing that any of us survived all the battle wounds we both suffered and inflicted as we learned exactly how to “act.”

The essay ends with the story of two boys from my school who went to see the Who in their first “last tour” almost thirty years ago. I suppose they were friends with each other because they had a lot in common, including a love of music. They also shared the distinction of being ex-boyfriends of mine–here I’ll remind you that I’m from a small town where, if you don’t date boys who are friends with each other, you run out of boys pretty quickly. I had coldly dispatched them, one after the other, in large part because I hadn’t yet learned how to act and so I gave into a human’s most primal instinct to flee in the face of danger (or love, which often amounts to the same thing).

And maybe I love the Who because Pete writes songs that express that mix of loneliness and love and terror in a way that keeps me connected to those feelings, I’m not sure. Anyhow, here’s the clip, from my essay “Method Acting”:

That December, Troy and Jeff became the toast of the school—or at least the toast of the drama geek/gear head/band nerd contingent—when the two of them somehow made up a plausible story for their moms about why they’d be gone all night on a Saturday and hopped on a Greyhound bus to Worcester, Massachusetts to see the Who on their last tour (their first of many last tours but no one knew that then). They had a hundred dollars between them plus a few dozen T-shirts Troy had silkscreened with the classic Maximum R&B image of Pete Townshend in all his windmill splendor, and they traded everything for tickets in the nosebleed section.

The real adventure began after the concert, when they had to spend the rest of the night outside a gas station as they waited for the 5 a.m. bus back to New Hampshire. Because it was December of course there was a blizzard and because they were self-respecting New Hampshire high school boys of course they were without hats or gloves or boots, and they probably barely escaped freezing to death in the cold. Following their triumphant return they told and retold the story to everyone who asked; my version came from Jeff who I ran into a week later outside the band room.

I remember asking Jeff what it was like watching Roger Daltry toss his microphone twenty feet in the air and if he really caught it every time, and asking what John Entwhistle’s bass solo sounded like in “My Generation” and if he had his water bottles lined up in front of him like we’d seen in photos from Rolling Stone, and I remember asking how many times Pete did that lead guitar windmill, how many times he recreated the classic picture from the Maximum R&B poster that Troy silkscreened on those T-shirts that got them in the door in the first place. And Jeff answered all of my questions, giving me more details than I thought anyone could possibly remember, especially when I finally asked what everything was like when it was real and large and loud and right before you instead of frozen in a picture from a magazine or T-shirt. But I didn’t ask Jeff the one thing I really wanted to know, the one thing I hoped he’d be able to share.

I didn’t ask Jeff what you talk about with someone when you’re on a Greyhound Bus for three hours to Worcester and three hours back, what you say when you stand all night in a blizzard as the minutes tick slowly by wondering if you’re going to make it through the night. I could see Jeff and Troy in my head—those two skinny bespectacled boys, those two boys I’d walked away from—huddled together in their jeans and sneakers and their coats far too thin for winter. While I knew they hadn’t talked about me, or if they had they’d never say, I did wish they had saved at least part of that long night figuring out how on earth I could fix what was wrong inside of me. I wished they had come back from that infamous odyssey with some answers we all could use.

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I also wanted to post photos of an air band contest from back in 1985 when my brother Kevin dressed as Pete Townshend and his best friend Scott was Roger Daltry (I’m pretty sure they got second place but I could be wrong about that) in part because Kevin is who I’ll be with tonight, just like Kevin is the first person I watched Quadrophenia with way back when. Lucky for him, I can’t find them, but maybe one day. . .

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