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The Who: It's Very Cinematic, You Know

By Michael Cohen

"What we are dealing with here is a problem of perception. Humans are equipped with an eye that perceives a very limited part of the electromagnetic spectrum, an ear that only perceive relatively low frequencies of vibrations, and a vocal apparatus that can only produce one sound at a time. We hardly know to what extent our knowledge is controlled by the physical nature of our bodies. Indeed the physical world as we understand it is merely a summation of what we perceive. What a man perceives is not what is there. His conceptualization of the world is not what it is, but merely what it seems to be. What it seems to be to us is no more real than the way the world appears to a dolphin, equipped with a weak eye, and a very acute sense of sound, perceiving shape and density."

I have read this brief selection as background for the rest of my discussion of the Deaf Dumb and Blind Boy concept. As far as I can tell, with a few rare exceptions, it is the scientist who usually explores different points of view, seeking some sort of objectivity. It seems that one of the most revealing ways of exploring one-self is to examine the limits and variances in perception. It is such an inquiry into ourselves that is at the roots of Deaf Dumb and Blind Boy. Suppose a person has none of the normal mechanisms of perception; in what terms will be formulate his understanding of the world? Peter Townshend's answer is that the world is understood wholly in terms of vibrations, perceived through the sense of touch I presume. Thus, his recreation of the story of a particular deaf, dumb, and blind boy is wholly musical. He is seeking not only to imagine what such a person is like, but to translate it into terms that anyone can feel and understand. Furthermore, this is all simply the conceptual framework for a musical and songwriting style that . . .

I'm sorry Mr. Marten that is all the time that we can allow you. Now that we've heard both sides of the discussion, its time for you in the studio audience to determine who the winner is by your applause. First, Mr. . . . (THE BOOK OF LOVE)


A young man with curly black hair turns off the television which is set on top of a white refrigerator in an otherwise white kitchen. He turns to a girl sitting at a table.

"'Chapter four you break up, but you give her just one more chance.' I think the first one was better. The Who play hard rock music, and have a great act, and are very weird people. The group has a drummer, a bass guitar, lead guitar, and a singer, but they produce a complex, brutal, hard sound. People go to their concerts to try to see how they make all those noises with so few instruments. Its hard to describe, but the breaks in their sound awfully formless and abstract, but deep down they consist of just a hard drum beat, a loud bass, and Townshend's amazing chorded rhythm or lead guitar. They use virtually no sophisticated recording tricks. I guess the thing is that they have retained all of the normal apparatus of a regular old rock and roll band, but their sound is unique. The only two groups that have done remakes of Who songs are the Amboy Dukes, and Count Five, but both of them were dismal limitations. Look at the individual members of the group. Peter Townshend plays lead and writes most of the songs. A lot of the time he plays chorded lead like the Stones on "Jumpin Jack Flash." A lot of the time he uses feedback. His lead is never predictable or clear cut; more so live than on the records. Often the breaks in songs performed are unrecognizable if you don't know the records well. But if you do know what he's working on, the abstraction and suggestiveness of his music is delightful. Keith Moon is drummer. He's fast, uses two sets at once because he needs them, and breaks a lot of sticks. He plays the drum as an instrument in itself, no less than the guitars, but much more of an enemy. His music serves as punctuation. It is not delicate. John Entwhistle plays the bass. Entwhistle is a very placid performer. He stands in one place on stage and just plays. But the patterns of backup he provides are not predictable. So often in rock the various instruments come to follow patterns which are predictable after you listen to a lot of music. But the Who's music can't be followed so easily. They have taken the forms of rock and played it onto a new level. They are unique. Roger Daltrey sings and plays French horn occasionally. Nicky Hopkins plays piano, as sort of a guest performer on the recordings where they use piano, but he's not in the group."

He paused. The girl blinked her eyes as he looked at her. She took a breath and gestured with her hands as she spoke:

"This doesn't mean a lot to me, you know, all this talk about music. I can't feel it, you know, just from words like that. What about lyrics, man, do they have anything to say?"

"No. I mean, they don't have something to say, like a message. Its not meaningful in an immediate sense the way something like "For What Its Worth" is. I'm moved by the lyrics the same way the lyrics to early Frank Sinatra, or a song like "Somethin Stupid" are moving. There is a specific situation, a load of information concerning the lives and motivations of the individuals who are being discussed--usually in the first person--in the songs. In Sinatra, the situations are very realistic--a man writing a letter to his wife who has left him, or something like that. In the Who the situations are very strange. Townshend has a very strange head. Some of the lyrics make no sense internally. "I'm a Boy" is about a boy whose parents insist that he is a girl, and he wants to act like a boy, but he's afraid. Why? Well, the thing about Who songs is that they always make perfect sense within the right context. I couldn't imagine a situation in which "I'm a Boy" would have made sense, except if his parents were crazy. But then I read that it was part of a whole story, an early mini-opera. It was supposed to take place in the future, where some parents order a girl from the child supplying centre, but they get a boy instead, and won't accept the fact that the child suppliers made a mistake. The song is sung by their child. All the songs tells a story. "Magic Bus" is about a man who takes a bus to see his girl every day, and decides to buy it. "Dogs" is about a man who meets his future wife at a race-track, and later finds that she is not the perfect mate for a dog racing addict. "Tattoo" is about two brothers who get tattooed because they decide it will make them men. "I Can See for Miles" deals with a person who can see his girl being unfaithful because he has telescopic vision like superman. The song deals with the same emotional situation as "I Heard it Through the Grapevine." "Disguises" expresses the same sentiment as Bob Dylan's "I Don't Believe You." The situation that the Who use are no less revealing about people than songs attempting to represent real life situations, like "Somethin' Stupid," since they require an interested listener to see a new situation, a new point of view, a different way of living."

The boy seats himself in the course of his conversation opposite the girl. There is a wooden construction--a centrepiece--between them on the table. It is a bit like a castle, with parapets for salt, pepper, sugarbowl, and a container of lemon juice. There are also several knobs, and a window.

"Such songs are valuable for the same reasons that biography and history are valuable--they provide a new point of view. I learn from them."

He reached to the centrepiece and turned a knob. There is applause.

"Thank you. The next . . . The next number is the mini-opera, we played it last time we were in, and in case any oy you don't know the story its all about a campfire girl, who was seduced. Seduced by an old engine driver, called Ivor, who was a Welshman. Any Welshmen in the audience? Any people in the audience with their parents waiting outside to retain them? He was a Welshman anyway, and he seduced the campfire girl while her boy-friend was away working. And when he found out about it he forgave her, as all good boyfriends should when they find out their girlfriends have been hanging around. Anyway, the song's called 'A Quick One While He's Away.'"

Micheal Cohen is a former junior in Dudley House who dropped out of school and is now living in Boston.

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