My Childhood Finally Got To See The Who Live

toddmwilms
May 20, 2016 · 4 min read
Yes, Schlitz Rocks America

If you remember the phone number Tommy Tutone sang in his one-and-only hit (I’ll start you off with the 867), or you raised your hands high above your head to “Eye of the Tiger,” you probably remember 1982. It was a complex cocktail of music: rock bands like Chicago and Foreigner went all saccharine sweet with love ballads, The Go-Go’s, Flock of Seagulls, Duran Duran and Billy Idol were the front line of a new wave of videos on the still fledgling MTV, Cougar-before-Mellencamp, Stevie Nicks and Loverboy were catnip for still record-buying teens. Fingers flipped through bins of albums at actual record stores and cover art was a big deal. And you camped out, overnight, for tickets for a chance to see YOUR band if they came within a 200 mile radius.

My band was The Who. Sure, there was music before and I had a healthy collection of Beatles and Stones, but this group was mine and mine alone. Those first decisions you make on what you want to listen to are so important.

To be fair, it started with a crush. Again, another first. And a two-year-older-than-me crush. Scandal. I was batting out of my weight class. (You like The Who? I love The Who! You like “Knight Rider?” Hey, me too!)

Midnight showings of “The Kids Are Alright” with her and her friends, long discussions of obscure liner-note references, and reading “Rolling Stone” back when it mattered. My teachers saw the band name on notebooks and jean jackets; my parents saw my room suddenly shift to black-and-white posters of my idols as I tried Pete’s signature windmill move on my crappy Yamaha acoustic. (There were no animals in our neighborhood after that, as if they all said “I don’t know what moved into that house, but it sounds angry and I am outta here!”)

So when I couldn’t go to their Thursday, September 30th, 1982 concert at the Pontiac Silverdome with 75,000 of my closest Who fanatics, I was crushed. Too young, too scary, my parents said. There was anger and a wave of unbound hormones behind slammed doors and “Long Live Rock” turned up to 11.

What I heard the next day was the stuff of rock-n-roll legend. Pandemonium at the stadium. For the opening acts, Eddie Money is lauded, but the Clash were booed. Where 90 degree sweltering heat forced promoters to use fire hoses on the floor to cool them off. Lots of fights and souvenir hunters grabbed everything that wasn’t nailed down. I listened intently to replays of “Eminence Front” or “It’s Hard.” I pretended as I was there as I heard how raw were “Baba O’Riley” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” “Pinball Wizard” and “I Can See For Miles” all in one set? Gasp.

The girl didn’t last, but The Who did. Sadly, until last night May 19th, 2016, I had NEVER seen them live. Every time I had the opportunity over the last 34 years, I turned it down. I knew nothing would ever live up to the fantasy in my head of that first big love (I mean the band). Nothing would ever top the memory I didn’t really have.

But, this is it — this is the end. The farewell of farewells. It has been said before, but no one ever believes it. Fans accepted their 10 other farewell tours as “you just need a rest, you’ll get bored, and you’ll be back. See you in 5 years. We will save a place for you, on that stage, right there!”

So I still didn’t really believe I was there — seeing them live — until those first chords of “Who Are You” shot through the stadium, or we “Joined Together” with the band a few songs later. Requests from the audience were turned down as Pete replied, “Uh, this is the tour, ya’ know, where we play the hits.” And that they did. The crowd knew every note, every riff, every drum beat.

Videos of the band were displayed in Gilliameasque quality. And, as what can only be described as a modern psychedelic lightshow, tried to pull us in to their world of the last 50 years. But I was transported to being that teenager again — back in my bedroom, with my band, my posters, my albums.

I was a delightful spectator in my own childhood memories. The future I was so worried about back in 1982, is now my past — my rearview mirror. And some day, far in the distant future, I can listen to their music and think about last night. It is all a time machine between your ears.

Such is the power of your first crush, rock ’n’ roll music, and a band called The Who.

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