Cultureguru's Weblog

Of food, technology, movies, music, and travel—or whatever else strikes my fancy


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Shopping spree in Orillia!

Last week’s vacation was mostly about visiting family and friends up north. But instead of just barreling our way straight through, we stopped in various Ontario towns on the way and back. Like in Orillia.

“Why Orillia?” That has been a common question.

First visited on a rock concert pilgrimage (Roger Daltrey performed at the Casino there in 2009), we just found we liked the town. Nice beaches, decent restaurants, good shopping.

Shopping?”

OK, maybe we are the only people in the world who go to downtown Orillia for shopping. But let me tell you, we did a fine job boosting that town’s economy on our two days there.

First stop was this discount clothing store which sometimes has interesting items, for men and women. Jean didn’t have much luck for himself, this time. fortunately, he’s able—in limited doses!—to amuse himself finding things for me to try on.

I tried on more than I bought. But one Jean find that I came home with was this brown crochet sweater, as I’m forever looking for something to wear over sleeveless dresses and such that don’t ruin the whole line of the outfit.

brown-sweater

This should do the trick

We had gorgeous, hot weather in Orillia, but the rest of the vacation became rather cool, especially for August, so this sweater got some use  on this trip. And some compliments.

Also acquired was this blue top, which looked a little odd on the hanger (my pick; Jean was dubious), but quite nice on a person.

blue-top

Nice blurry photo by me. 🙂

Jean did better at the Walking on a Cloud shoe store (he likes shoes almost as much as socks. No, seriously.). And although I didn’t feel I really needed more shoes, apparently I can’t resist a Rieker. I had just bought these really cute navy blue Rieker sandals before vacation (with heels!); they are now joined by these little sparkly runners:

Red purse and shoes

These are photographed with a red purse I also got at the first clothing store. I haven’t used it yet, though, because I’m still sporting this one (a local purchase) for the time being:

Colorful purse

Cute, huh?

Another stop was our favorite kitchen store. Yes, we have a favorite Orillia kitchen store, as we told the confused clerk: “We come here every two years to replenish our pots!”

No photos, because, well, pots and pans, but we literally did buy a pot and a pan (both high-end; not your Canadian Tire job-y), plus sundry kitchen gadgets.

We then popped into a big warehouse-style discount store—of the sort we never go to in our own home town—because we were looking for cables that would help our tablets talk to the hotel TV. We bought that, but while there, we thought, hey, why not get that rug we’ve been meaning to get for ages, for the front of the fireplace?

So right, not an expensive rug. But it’s frankly mostly for the cats to sleep on (and potentially sharpen their nails on), and definitely better-looking than the towels we previously put there for them, so that’s OK. Zoë gave the new addition her stamp of approval almost as soon as we put it down at home:

Zoe the cat and fireplace

And by the way, we finally got our fireplace brick and frame finished.

And we also acquired various prosaic mats that we hope will help keep the litter residue in better check.

Worst thing? After dropping all this cash downtown, Orillia had the nerve  to give us a parking ticket! Even after getting it, I was like, “Parking meter? Where is there is a parking meter?” But there was one… It was just well back from the sidewalk, very easy to miss.

But Orillia, we still like you. We were able to get to the beach and swim both days, for the first time this summer. We also found some nice walking trails. The restaurants were somewhat disappointing this time, though not to the extent that any of the meals were actually bad. Just unimaginative.

Just make your parking meters more visible, already. 🙂


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Vinyl

For the first time in decades, I bought a new album. And by “album”, I mean vinyl record album, LP, “big black CD”, as Jean’s nephew used to call them. And by “new” I don’t mean just mean new to me; I mean that it’s fresh off the presses, a just-released record, preordered from Amazon.

It does, however, feature a couple really old guys: Roger Daltrey, best known as singer of The Who, and Wilko Johnson, not as well-known to North American (except to those who watch Game of Thrones, I guess), but a British guitarist and songwriter, formerly of a band called Doctor Feelgood. The two have been wanting to collaborate for some time, but when Johnson was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer, they decided not to put it off any longer.

I, of course, mainly wanted it because of Daltrey, but I went the LP route instead of CD or iTunes because it just seemed to have such a nice cover:

Cover of Going Back Home

When it did arrive, in a ludicrously large box, I found the whole package to indeed be quite lovely. It has a sturdy record sleeve, with equally good vintage photos on the back. It has an insert with more photos, and full lyrics—that you don’t need a magnifying glass to read. It has a very solid record cardboard sleeve as well, and the vinyl record itself is thicker, and presumably stronger, than those that were popular back when LPs were all we had. I guess today’s LPs are more luxe products.

But what about convenience? Well, it also came with a download code, so I now also have the album in MP3 format on my iPod.

But first I played the actual LP. And my first impressions are good. It’s just straight-up, fun, rock’n’roll, and Daltrey’s voice seems to me to be very well-suited to Johnson’s songs.

“I Keep It to Myself” by Wilko Johnson and Roger Daltrey on YouTube


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Movie review: The Beggar’s Opera (1983)

*** The Beggar’s Opera (1983) – Rental

Roger Daltrey, Janet Baker, Carol Hall. BBC adaptation of John Gay’s 18th century opera about greed, lust, and corruption among the working class of London.

Roger Daltrey in John Gay's The Beggar's OperaShe says: Sometimes, when I get a new movie from zip.ca, I can’t even recall why I wanted to see it in the first place, but with this one it was obvious: It stars Roger Daltrey. Furthermore, unlike many movies featuring Mr. Daltrey, it was supposed to be decent.

Still, it is an opera, and it does run 2 hours 15 minutes. I didn’t actually watch it all at once, but in segments, over a weekend.

Though he’s the lead character, MacHeath, Daltrey doesn’t appear for the first 50 minutes of the movie. His character is being discussed (or sung about) that whole time, but in a way that just left me baffled: First, Polly’s parents are upset she’s married MacHeath—they see it as a wasted opportunity. But then she sings about how much she loves him, and they’re OK with it. Briefly. But next thing you know, they want him dead. They suggest Polly kill him, but she’s not down with that idea, so the parents conclude they’ll have to do it themselves.

Then the parents leave, MacHeath arrives, Polly tells him he needs to run away, but instead they just make out.

So here I paused the DVD and went to look up a Wikipedia synopsis. And not just to figure out what the heck had just happened; I decided I might as well look ahead at what was to come as well. Plot, after all, isn’t really the point of opera.

So from that point on, I was able to follow along despite the thick Cockney accents, and found it be a pretty enjoyable piece.

My raison d’être for watching the movie, Mr. Daltrey, looked very fine indeed, all long curly very blonde hair, blue eyes, and tanned—definitely the prettiest thing in the movie. He sounded good, too. Now, I don’t what MacHeath’s songs were supposed to sound like, and Daltrey certainly doesn’t have the “traditional” operatic voice that some of his co-stars do, but he is one those rock stars who actually can sing, on-key and with power and control. His acting also seemed just fine; one of MacHeath’s major problems is balancing the many, many women who find him irresistible (and that he, in turn, also can’t resist), and perhaps, just perhaps, Daltrey was able to draw on his own rock-star life to depict what that’s like.

And as opera’s go, it all moved along pretty quickly, and was quite entertaining, with its plot of lust and deceit, with crimes and lies a-plenty. Though none of the characters were that sympathetic, in the end, except, perhaps, Polly.

The only disappointment was that, having read the synopsis, I was looking forward to seeing the opera’s trick ending played out. Only, this movie had a trick ending to the trick ending.

He says: Thanks for not making me watch that one.


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Who I Am

No, this won’t be a philosophical statement of my essence; it’s just my reaction to Pete Townshend’s 500-page autobiography, Who I Am (now out in paperback).

Who I Am book coverI read a lot of reviews of this, both before and while reading it. And clearly a number were disappointed to find out what a flawed human being this very talented artist is.

Personally, I had never looked up to him as a personal hero in that sense, so I wouldn’t say I was disappointed in him. But I was very struck by his extremes, by how he would so frequently repeat destructive patterns of addiction, overwork, isolation, speaking out unwisely. In one chapter he would be mourning the loneliness of being the only band member trying to stay monogamous; a few later, he would be brazenly chasing younger women, even in front of his daughters. Here he’s giving up drinking, then he’s drinking daily, possibly with a side of cocaine. Then sober again, then taking a test drink.

You’re getting the idea. My most frequent synopsis, after finishing another section, was “Wow. Pete is really messed up.” I ended up straggling the reading of this over a number of months, as his life wasn’ always the happiest one to travel through.

So if you needed more proof that genius, creativity, success, and money doesn’t always bring inner peace and satisfaction, here it is.

While some biographies have wide appeal, I do think this one requires a pre-standing interest in the man, in his band, or at least in the music of that time. Though it should be noted that often doesn’t spend a lot of time on some of the best-known events of the band’s history, only mentioning these perfunctorily, as though obliged, sometimes with reference to websites for more information. This would be true, for example, of their literally explosive appearance on the Smothers Brothers; details of the creative process behind Tommy; the incident where Roger knocked him out cold at Quadrophenia rehearsals; the death of 11 fans in Cincinnati… Even Keith Moon and John Entwistle’s deaths don’t take as many pages as you might think. In some cases, I can see why he might feel he’s already said enough about that elsewhere. In others, I think he may just have been unwilling to delve too deeply into it.

Naturally, I had a particular eye out for what he’d have to say about Roger Daltrey. And mostly, it was positive, complimentary stuff. Some of the many personal conflicts they’ve had through the years are mentioned, but definitely downplayed. Despite the self-censorship, I did learn some things:

  • While I knew that originally Pete was supposed to sing much more of Tommy than he did, I didn’t realize the breakthrough came because Roger deliberately worked very hard to develop that beautiful, high, falsetto tone that we hear in “See me, feel me”. [Both Pete and I are relieved that he did.]
  • The usual story of the Who By Numbers album is that Pete wrote a bunch of really personal songs that Roger had to be persuaded to sing, indeed refusing to in some cases. Here Pete writes that he actually had many songs available for that album, and it was Roger who personally picked out those more personal and bleak ones. [Hmm.]
  • Becoming a bigger star in his own right, Roger started showing up at band events in his personal helicopter, which Pete found weird and which made Keith Moon very jealous. [That’s just funny.]
  • Pete thinks that Roger’s vocal performances  on the little-known (but lovely) “One Life’s Enough”, from It’s Hard, is one of his best. [I agree. Listen for yourself.]
  • Pete says wrote “After the Fire” (1985) about South Africa, and that it’s Roger’s interpretation that turned into a dirge for their lost youth of being rock stars [the latter, I admit, is how I’ve always interpreted that song!]
  • Pete hesitated to appear at Roger’s Daltrey Sings Townshend concert (1994), not, he says, because he was angry about the whole idea (as had been reported), but because he was afraid that performing again would threaten his newfound sobriety. [I love Pete’s appearance, and indeed that whole concert. Glad he did it.]
  • There was a lot of pressure on him to make his Iron Man solo album a Who album, but he was sure Roger would hate singing these songs. So sure, I guess, that he has completely forgotten that Roger did sing “Dig” on that album. It’s never mentioned. (Only, in passing, that he did have Roger sing and John Entwistle play on a cover version of “Fire” on that record.)

Video proof of something Pete has apparently forgotten ever happened…

As for the whole child pornography investigation, it’s a bit amazing that it’s received so much attention in book reviews and interviews, as it, appropriately, makes up so little of the book itself. Pete did nothing wrong. Can we move on now?

But it was nice to hear that he received many letters of support related to that and that he even made an effort to respond to many. And that he does seem happier as an older man than he was a younger. As an appendix, he includes a fan letter from 1967. He comments how he realizes now, as he couldn’t then, that this fan, his fans, love him in a genuine. And thinks how different his life would have been if he could only have learned to see and accept love earlier.


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Can a discount orchestra save the electric series at Centre in the Square?

This tweet was the first I’d heard about the KW Symphony being dropped from the Jeans’n’Classics series of concerts, which struck me as very strange, since the whole point of those concerts was marrying rock band with symphony.

Except for this one, though, Twitter—often a great source for finding things out—was annoyingly silent on the subject. Finally I had to go old tech: I emailed Centre in the Square to ask them about the tweet. The fact that they didn’t quickly reply made me think it was probably true.

And indeed, the email response that eventually arrived confirmed it, saying that the KW Symphony would be replaced with session musicians: “the size and make-up of the orchestra will be tailored to meet the artistic and stylistic demands of each Jeans ‘n Classics production”.

The community discussion I’d been craving kind of broke out in the pages of the Waterloo Region Record, who ran a story about this on May 31. That was followed by various letters to the editor, then a very critical commentary piece by a member of the Symphony board , followed by a defense by a member of the Centre in the Square board.

Nobody seems very happy about this change, but what strikes me in particular is that first article claims that lower production costs were not the main reason here, but an artistic need for revitalization. The last article frankly states they couldn’t afford the series any longer in this form—which at least makes more sense of the whole thing.

They both agree, though, that they want a bigger audience. Got to wonder if they’re going to achieve it. I’m afraid that I, for one, won’t be helping them out with that.

At the third concert this season, they had us vote on which three concerts we wanted to see the following year (out of six choices). I thought that wasn’t a bad idea, but note that everything they selected was a reprise of a previously done show. If I go next year, I’ll be seeing three similar concerts again, only with a smaller, less talented orchestra. The promised “better staging and lighting” won’t make up for the diminished music.

When it works, it’s a fantastic sound, it really is. The sound of an orchestra when it’s playing with a rock band well… It makes every hair on your body stand on end. It’s incredibly powerful.

– Roger Daltrey (The Who), 1994

I’d know what I was missing. So after about 10 years of great seats, I’m out.

And I know I’m not the only one. So to get their bigger audience, they not only have to add people, they have to replace the ones lost to this decision.

But you know, I do wish them well. I love Centre in the Square. It’s a fantastic hall. It’s incredible that a smallish place like Kitchener-Waterloo has one of the two or three best concert halls in the whole country. More people should go experience the sound there. It’s unfortunate it’s somehow developed a bit of a “stodgy” reputation. Some things do need to change. They do need better acts, more acts, even gimmicks to drawn more people in.

I’m not sure this particular series change will work out for them. But I sure hope something their Strategic Plan does.

And it’s not like I’m abandoning the place. I’m already signed up for six KW Symphony concerts there next year (to go along with my three at the Conrad Centre). And with some dates now opened up by not going to the Jeans’n’Classics series any more, I’ll probably add a few more.


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Scrobbling Last.fm

Pandora radio is this website / app that is, apparently, amazingly good at finding new music you will like, based on algorithmic analysis of music you already like. However, it’s never been legally available to Canadians.

Nevertheless, I have found my way through to it a few times. But I’ve never had the patience to stick with it long enough to see its amazing-ness in action. Because, of course, you have to “seed” it with information about your current tastes. This requires you rating songs it throws at you, or trying out shortcuts like naming a band you like.

I don’t have the patience to stick with the ratings thing for too long, and naming, for example, The Who, as band I like, results in a fairly unsophisticated playlist of bands like The Rolling Stones, Cream, and Jimi Hendrix, none of whom I’m that bowled over by. (So whatever it is I love about The Who, it’s not whatever musical commonality they have with those bands.)

But, then rediscovered Last.fm. Legally available to Canadians—albeit not on our smart phones!

I had actually signed up for a free trial with Last.fm a little over a year ago, but didn’t end up motivated enough at the time to switch to pay mode. However, I did allow them to continue to “scrobble” on my computer, even though I didn’t quite know what that meant. I just knew that after running iTunes to sync my iPod, it would ask if it could “scrobble” certain tracks, and I’d say sure, and it would apparently do that.

But I checked them out again recently and discovered that it has been essentially building up a profile of my musical tastes. It has lists of the artists and songs I’ve listened to most in the past year, 6 months, 3 months, or ever… Most of which are not a surprise, although the vagaries of the iPod shuffle do result in some weirdness, such as the fact I that I apparently listened to Abba’s “Thank You for the Music” more than any other song last year! (Geez, it’s not even my favorite Abba song…)

Abba

Abba, of whose music I am apparently very grateful

And then, if you pay Last.fm (a big $3 for a month), you get access to various “radio” stations based on your stats. You can use them to just listen to stuff you already own (to which I say, don’t I already have an iPod / iTunes for that?), or to a mix of your songs plus other songs they think you’ll like, or to entirely new music they suggest.

You can also build stations based on theme (like 80s music, classic rock, or dance), or other artists, which will also take into account your listening history.

I don’t believe Last.fm has the sophisticated algorithm that Pandora does. So, results are a bit uneven. For example sometimes my mix has just too frequent repetitions of weak-link offerings such Keith Moon solo songs or Queen without Freddie Mercury, or gets too heavily weighted toward female singers (maybe that’s the Abba effect?), leaving me with a testosterone craving.

Bjork

A girl can only take so much Bjork…

Roger Daltrey

… before she needs a little Daltrey

Although The Who playlist (sigh) has too much Cream, Jimi Hendrix, and Rolling Stones.

Fortunately, though, you can always switch to another “station” if the current one is letting you down. I had great luck with “The Police” radio, for example, which seemed to result in playlist of all the 80s music that didn’t suck! And that magically seemed to improve my “Mix” when I went back to it after.

All in all, Last.fm is helping me find new (or old) music that I like, or had forgotten I like, even though I though I do have to skip forward through some tracks on the way. (I now know, for example, that Elvis Costello did a quite decent version of Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful”) For the impatient Canadian, it’s not a bad option.


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Quadrophenia live on Grey Cup weekend

Going in, I had mixed feelings about this one.

Of course, there was no way I would miss seeing The Who performing one of my favorite albums in nearby Toronto. But despite the mostly positive reviews of the tour (the only exceptions being from those boomers who, far as I can tell, mainly resent The Who for no longer being 25), I wasn’t sure how much I would enjoy it. I thought that:

  • My seats at the opposite end of the stage (behind the floor seats) would not compare well with the “right in front of the stage” seats I’d had at the last two Roger Daltrey concerts.
  • The sound quality would be pretty crappy.
  • The singing quality might be kind of crappy, given how difficult Quadrophenia is to sing.
Our view of The Who stage

We weren’t exactly down front this time…

The date would also prove to throw up a few other challenges. When I bought the tickets back in July, I didn’t know that would be bringing me to downtown Toronto on Grey Cup weekend. That made for some incredibly inflated weekend hotel prices! And just a wee bit of extra traffic.

But it all turned out better than expected.

We were actually staying (without intending this at all) at the “official Grey Cup hotel.” Which, yes, it was pretty crazy with people there. But they were a bunch of really happy people! And it’s not every day you see the Winnipeg pipe band playing and marching in your hotel lobby while blue-haired Argos fans and cowboy-hatted Calgary fans look on. It was weird, and definitely seemed that my Who T-shirt was the wrong uniform to be in, but it was entertaining.

And all my concerns about the concert evaporated really quickly as well:

  • We weren’t close, it’s true, but we were as central as you can get, with perfect sightlines. At any time I could see all five big screens, all members of the band on stage, and if I really wanted a closer view, I had binoculars.
  • The sound quality wasn’t bad at all. The horns, keyboards, guitars, bass, and drums all seemed nicely mixed; it was loud enough without being too loud.
  • Of course some of the songs were wisely keyed lower than the original, but Roger Daltrey sang the best I’ve heard him in recent years, deftly handling the vocal jumps in “Dr. Jimmy”, singing the chorus of “Love Reign O’er Me” with impressive power and passion, and absolutely nailing the scream in “Won’t Get Fooled Again”.
Concert shot

But we could still see

The opening act

I do want to pause for a minute and acknowledge that opening act Vintage Trouble were fantastic. Led by Ty Taylor—most famous as a former contestant on Rock Star: INXS—they were energetic, engaging, and charismatic, and Ty’s signing voice remains a miraculous thing. Their half-hour set was tons of fun, and I’m going to pick up a few more of their songs. They earned a standing ovation.

Quadrophenia

As is typical, not everyone showed up for the opening act (their loss) but by the time 8:30 rolled around, that stadium looked really packed—more than I expected, really, as I didn’t think it was a sellout (and maybe it wasn’t, but it must have been close). And once again, I had that feeling that the people of Toronto really love The Who. They may have been average age 50 (I’d guess), but they were as enthusiastic as teenagers.

Apparently the original Quadrophenia tour was a bit of a mess, the band not having been given enough time to prepare for a live presentation of that complex music. The 1996/97 outing (which I have on DVD) featured a narrator telling the story of Jimmy the Mod. This one returned to another central idea of Quadrophenia: that it represented the band itself, aspects of the four very different personalities in The Who. So it was presented, sort of, as today’s Who paying tribute to their own past.

The Who before backdrop, Quadrophenia

Earlier in the show; Roger still in jacket

They played the album straight through, no narration, not even pausing to talk to the audience. But throughout, they used the five large screens behind them to either illustrate themes of the songs (a lot of water imagery—don’t see this show on a full bladder) or show scenes from that time. (Along with showing what was happening on stage, of course.) Often the scenes were of their younger selves. For example, during “The Real Me” and “Cut My Hair” were scenes of the very young mod Who at the tiny clubs they originally played at.

During “The Punk and the Godfather”, the song where Jimmy is angry that The Who have become so famous, abandoning their mod roots, the scenes were all of the band in their glory days: Pete leaping, Keith thrashing, John being cool, and Roger as the ultimate rock God. (Struck me that seeing the younger selves on the big screen while the current members sang live was the closest someone my age could possibly get to seeing The Who in their prime. And yes, I’m grateful for the experience.)

Band image

On “Helpless Dancer”, the tough guy theme, Pete and Roger traded off lines (Pete seemed to deliberately censor himself on the “lesbians and queers” line, which was interesting) while the screens showed The Who in their destructive phase, smashing their guitars, drum kits, and microphone stands, and setting off bombs.

Most notably, of course—it’s mentioned in every review—during 5:15, the live band stops at one point to allow the big projection of John Entwistle to play his famous bass solo from the Albert Hall concert in 1997. The band was really rocking at this point, and earned their first standing ovation of the night.

The Who 2012 doing 5:15

Out of my brain on the train, on the train… 5:15

Then during “Bell Boy”, Roger handed off vocal duties to Keith Moon (video image of), just like in the old days. (Here’s video of that–not by us–also featuring the fabulous “Dr. Jimmy”, which followed.)

Bell Boy mike handoff

I have to say I found that part unexpectedly touching. I’m too young to remember when Keith Moon died; to me, in a sense, he’s always been gone, you know? So seeing this footage is the first time I can recall feeling sad about his passing.

During the instrumental “The Rock” (the only time Daltrey left the stage) the images ran through key points in history from mod days to now. The timing of the music to the 9/11 imagery was powerful and, again, very touching.

That led to the aforementioned “Love Reign O’er Me”, in which I was honestly astounded at how great Roger sounded on the chorus. I have to say that another thing about the hockey arena is that it really struck me how big and powerful his voice is, when contrasted with that of the Townshend brothers. Simon has a gorgeous, sweet-sounding voice; Pete’s has developed a bit of an odd growl in the lower ranges. But neither can fill the space in the same way.

Love Reign O'er Me

Still Mr Body Beautiful at 68: Love Reign O’er Me

“Love Reign O’er Me” produced the second standing ovation. (Video of that: Not from great seats, but does have great audio.) It was also the conclusion of the Quadrophenia portion of the evening.

… And more

The Quadrophenia portion was tailor-made for The Who geeks. It was not so good for more casual fans, such as my husband (who was very happy he at least had his camera with him, to keep him busy. He took 1500 photos!). So the “and more” part of the evening was especially for them. Pete Townshend finally addressed the audience, talking about how Toronto had always been a special place for the band. And then they launched into “Who Are You” over a fun backdrop, featuring, among other images, a Canadian flag (very astute of them) and the Argos logo!

Who Are You?

Who are you?

Meanwhile, the smaller screens flitted between different band members. Who are you? Who, who?

“Behind Blue Eyes” followed (the crowd just stayed standing through this entire last part), and it was quite something to hear that many people singing along with every line. Then we got “Pinball Wizard“–and both Jean and I are quite surprised how well the video of that turned out, given the distance, apparent from the shaking:

What followed were the two remaining CSI themes, “Baba O’Riley” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again”. Complete with epic scream.

Won't get Fooled again

Meet the new boss… Same as the old boss

The very end featured just Daltrey and Townshend, on the most perfect song to end it on, “Tea and Theatre”, from Endless Wire. According to the Toronto Sun, they’d played for 2 hours 20 minutes. And gotta say, both Daltrey (who looks younger than he is) and Townshend (who does not) make growing older look a lot less scary, they had so much energy throughout, jokes about foot rubs and bed times notwithstanding! We should all be in such good shape at their age.


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Missing from the North American version of Tommy

Bit of a tiring weekend, sorting through papers, files, magazines, books that all needing clearing out of our large downstairs room, so new flooring can be put in. Still to be addressed is all the media–CDs, DVDs, VHS! Many of the latter I expect to finally discard (though I do still have a working player), but I plan to hang on to the CDs and DVDs for the time being. Even though they’re rapidly becoming obsolete themselves.

One concerning thing about DVDs disappearing is that with them seem to go the “extras”. I realize that plenty of people don’t give a toss about the “extras” on a DVD; they just want to see the movie. So the alternative of downloading, or using Netflix (which never includes extras, I hear?), suit them just fine.

But me, I like a good “extra”. I’m a bit a analytical, and if a movie makes me think, I like to see if the extras provide any answers. I therefore still rent physical DVDs (albeit from an online service). And though my movie purchasing has slowed way down, I can still be lured in by the offer of juicy additions to a movie I really enjoyed.

When I discovered that the European version of Ken Russell’s Tommy had a whole extra disc of “stuff”, none of it available on any North American release of the movie (and also not findable, at least by me, on any torrent site), I had to get it. I have reconciled myself to the fact that I basically love Ken Russell’s Tommy, despite its excesses, sexism, controversial portrayal of pedophilia, and casting of people who can’t really sing. For me, that’s just outweighed by the incredible visual design of the film, the effort at teasing out a semi-coherent narrative from a muddled LP, and of course, the sheer beauty of Roger Daltrey.Roger Daltrey in Tommy

Young Mr. Daltrey looking rather angelic

Finding a European copy proved a bit tricky, as the movie is going out of print. But via Ebay, I did my hands on a German version. (The movie and extras are all in English, of course; it’s just the subtitles and navigation and cover that are in German.) It was PAL format and Region 2, but Ebay also offers region-free DVD players at a good price, so I was set.

And now, from her interview, I know what Ann-Margret was thinking during her infamous writhing in beans, chocolate, and champagne scene. (At one point it was “ouch!”, because she badly cut her hands on the broken glass.)

Ann-Margret with beans in Tommy

Ann-Margret losing herself in the role

Unfortunately, they didn’t ask her one of my other questions, which was how she felt about having been cast a “mother” to someone just 3 years younger than she. Daltrey kind of covers that, though, saying that his biggest acting challenge here was trying to pretend that the gorgeous woman draped all over him in certain scenes was his “mom”.

(Honestly, those two look like they want to devour each other in some scenes. I’m curious to see what Ken Russell has to say about that in his commentary, but I’m not up to those parts yet.)

It seems that no one but Daltrey was ever seriously considered for the lead, but Townshend does say the age thing gave him pause. “Well, Roger wasn’t a natural choice to me! He was a bit long in the tooth for it.”

And what did Ken Russell, an older man who preferred classical man, think of working with the ‘orrible ‘oo, reputed to be so ill-tempered, out of control, and generally nasty bunch of guys? He said:

He [Daltrey] was as good as gold, full of suggestions, willing to do take after take. He suggested things, very inventive, very imaginative guy, and one of the nicest people you will ever hope to work with.

In fact, I was told at the beginning, Oh, you don’t want to work rock stars, they’ll make your life a misery, they’re difficult, they’re drunk. They were the nicest people I’ve ever worked with! They were good as gold. They were like little babies! They were just sweet.

The Who. Sweet as little babies. Where else am I going to hear something like that, but on a DVD commentary track? How will I find out these things, in a future world with no “extras”?


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Can you see the real me?

I’m a latecomer to The Who’s QuadropheniaTommy  was the first Who album I got, and that was decades ago (on LP); Quadrophenia may have been the last, and that was a couple years ago (on CD).

Quadrophenia album cover

I resisted that one, I think, because I just didn’t find the concept that appealing. The story of drug-addicted, “quadrophenic”, disillusioned mod Jimmy just seemed so British, so male, so 1960s–I couldn’t relate.

When I finally got the album, I liked the songs well enough right off, but really couldn’t put “the story” together until I also saw the 1996 Quadrophenia Live DVD. During that concert, a Jimmy narrator (on a big screen) provides a narrative thread through the songs—even though it’s not exactly the same one intended by the original album—that sufficiently put it together for me.

But that’s when I started to realize, with repeated listening, that the “story” didn’t really matter. Because the songs just sounded so great, you didn’t need to worry about plot.

The Quadrophenia songs work as standalones–much more so than most of the Tommy ones do. They also have a universality that you might not expect of “rock opera” songs. Who doesn’t want to be seen for who they are (“The Real Me”)? Who hasn’t had to do a crappy job (“The Dirty Jobs”)? Who hasn’t felt the wish to just slide away from a bad situation, even if it’s into oblivion (“Drowned”)? Who doesn’t want to feel awash in love (“Love Reign O’er Me”)?

You don’t have to be British, or male, or a baby boomer to get it. You just have to be human.

So it’s with that background that I went to see the new Who documentary about the making of Quadrophenia, subtitled Can You See the Real Me?, at the Galaxy theatre last week.

Given previous, it should come as no surprise that the parts I found least compelling were the fuller explanations of Jimmy’s story, and what the mods were all about. Though that wasn’t all a loss, since it’s always good to learn things, and that I did. Story-wise, I hadn’t realized that “The Punk and the Godfather” was about Jimmy going to see The Who themselves in concert, and being disillusioned that they’re now big rock stars, worlds apart from him. (Because that’s something they changed in the 1996 concert version.)

As for the mods, the point that their tidy hair and neat suits made them look like smart, respectable young men at work, when it was really a form of covert rebellion (though they did need those jobs to afford the suits) was an interesting point.

Though Pete Townshend the story-teller is the dominant figure in this documentary, I did like that some commenters view the album more as I do, as fairly universal: “I thought it was about me” says Manager Bill Curbishley, and he doesn’t mean that’s because he was a mentally ill mod, and not so much needing a plot: “Pete always has these great concepts, but the problem is he always wants to wrap a complicated story around it”, says Roger Daltrey.

What I liked best was the exploration of the music, the songs; all the archival concert footage included (nothing like seeing the young and beautiful Roger Daltrey on the big screen); and the look at the band dynamics at the time.

Those dynamics were some ugly, Unfortunately, we are somewhat stymied in exploring them by having only two band members remaining, and apparently not having a lot of footage of what Moon and Entwistle thought of Quadrophenia. Both men are featured, but they of course don’t necessarily get asked what we’d now like to know. For example, Pete says at the outset that John, as a songwriter, was unhappy that the band had become all about Pete’s songs. So how did John feel about Quadrophenia, to which he didn’t contribute a single track? No idea.

Tommy was quite a collaborative effort by the band, at least for The Who. Entwistle contributed two songs, Moon came up with the holiday camp idea (and a writing credit), Daltrey suggested that he embody the Tommy role, thus finally truly becoming the voice of the band. But Quadrophenia was all Pete, all demo’ed and done and presented to the band. “The rest of them must have felt a bit like session musicians,” is one opinion expressed in the documentary.

Yet, Pete did use the four very different band members as the both representative of Jimmy’s four split personalities, and as the four musical motifs that echo through the album, which Pete says is the more important aspect. Moon the lunatic, Pete the hypocrite (interesting, and I’m not sure how that leads to a “Love Reign O’er Me” theme), Roger as “bad” (the album liner notes say “tough guy”, but Pete’s original notes say “bad”) and John as “romantic”, those two intersecting as “sex”. (I don’t think Pete meant that in a gay way.)

Who concert image

Of course, it’s only Mr. Bad who’s still around to say what he thought of all this, and it’s interesting that there still seems to be so much tension between the two on this (given they’re about to tour it together, and all). Pete comments on how the rest of the band liked to drink for a couple hours before getting to work, which the non-alcoholic Roger hated as a waste of time.

Then there’s this. “Pete may have produced this album”, says Roger, steely-eyed, “but he did not produce my vocals. I wouldn’t have it.” And Pete suggests that’s because Roger could not take criticism. “You had to be very careful what you said to him. You really did.” Little wonder that during the first rehearsal for this album’s tour, Pete hit Roger with his guitar, and Roger responded by knocking him out cold with one punch.

Yet there’s no denying the deep admiration Pete expresses for Roger’s vocal work on the album, particularly, of course, on “Love Reign O’er Me”, a song that literally gave me goosebumps every time it was played on the wonderful theatre sound system during this documentary—the album version, a live version from that time, and the 96 live version.

Looking at Moon’s vocal work on “Bell Boy”, Pete comments on how Keith could never sing anything straight; it was always as a character. And that he did find it hard for his Ace Face character to come off comic. But of course, again, no way to know what Moon thought of this, though he clearly enjoyed singing the song in concert.

Bell Boy mike handoff

Those two songs get special focus during the documentary, as do some others, like “The Real Me”, “Cut My Hair”, “5:15” (partly Beatle-inspired, that one), and “Drowned”. But I was disappointed that “Doctor Jimmy” didn’t get that treatment. It just seems there would be so much to say about that one… How the complex musical arrangement of song that itself suggests a split personality (it’s my favorite Who song to play on the piano, but it’s not easy!), the shocking lyrics (“Who is she? I’ll rape it!”), even its importance to that darn storyline, as this moment of craziness then leads Jimmy out to that rock and possible redemption. But nada about “Doctor Jimmy” here.

Much as I enjoyed the concert footage, the documentary also covers how that tour was something of a disaster. It was booked a mere two weeks after the album was done, leaving the exhausted band no time to really prepare a stage show, and forcing them to play songs that the audience just didn’t know yet.

Pete said at the outset that his goal had been to write something that would replace Tommy as a concert vehicle. In that, Quadrophenia failed. (And maybe that’s why Pete feels this is the one he just has to take on the road again. Needs another do-over.)

The doc was only about an hour long, the theatre viewing filled out by showing some of the songs from the 1996 Quadrophenia Live DVD. This leads me to wonder if some footage is being held back for the eventual DVD release. Maybe I’ll get that “Doctor Jimmy” analysis after all?


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Separated at birth?

When we acquired this handsome, blue-eyed fellow—a tabby / Siamese cross— six years ago, we had to name him. We went through various famous blue-eyed men: Frank Sinatra, Paul Newman, Brad Pitt, Jared Leto… (It was long enough ago that I don’t think Roger Daltrey even came to mind.)

Photo of McSteamy

But none seemed quite right until we thought of this fella, Eric Dane:

McSteamy the actor

Or, as his Grey’s Anatomy character is nicknamed, McSteamy. The gray-ish hair, the solidity, the air of mischief… It all just really seemed to match our cat. (“Wow. He really does look like McSteamy,” my Mom said, on first seeing the cat.)

And so we have a cat named McSteamy. Six years later, the name remains the source of either much delight or much confusion, depending on how much the person first hearing the name knows about Grey’s Anatony.