So, last weekend we were hanging out over at my friend Leslie’s house. Les and I have been friends since fifth grade, through the trials and tribulations of adolescence and early adulthood, and now we find ourselves living in adjacent neighborhoods with husbands and children all simpatico. It’s marvelous.
So we’re over there last weekend and with a twinkle in her eye she says to me, she sez, “Hey, you have to hear this cd we got.” The cd is Petra Haden Sings: The Who Sell Out.
Oh. My. God. Have you heard this? Click on the link for samples, if you haven’t. If for some reason you can’t hear the samples, here’s what it is. This woman, Petra Haden, recreated almost the entire album in a Bobby McFerrin-esque way, singing all the parts herself, vocals and instrumentals.
A bit of background. During our tortured adolescence Les and I were huge Who fans. And I mean huge. Her little brother, too. The three of us would get together and not just listen to the records, but do the total air band thing. We would put on side one of The Kids Are Alright. We’d recite the entire interview with Tommy Smothers, mouthing the words along with the band. (”My friends call me Keith but you can call me John,” ha ha!) And then we’d play along with the whole damn record. I got to be Keith Moon, the drummer, and I had a stool to sit on and an actual pair of real drumsticks, and I’d airdrum myself into a frenzy. Les was the late, great John Entwistle so all she had to do was stand like a statue and occasionally look over at me and crack a half-smile while her fingers flew over her tennis racket bass guitar. Her brother John, aka Roger Daltrey, would jump around the room tossing an actual real microphone, etc., etc. No one wanted to be Pete because Pete was just so . . . Pete. What other human being in the world could possibly be Pete? The cat was Pete. We took this very seriously.
And you know? Later in life I have come across Who fans, or former Who fans, and it’s an instant bond. You find out someone’s a Who fan, and you know something about that person. I’ve never felt that way about any other music. “Oh, you like Bob Dylan/Brahms/The Kingston Trio too? We must be soul mates.” Uh-uh. But you once loved The Who? Now that’s a connection.
I had this friend in college, Alex, and he was a Who fan, and one time we were driving from Swarthmore into Philly when to our utter amazement, the radio began to play the beginning of The Who Sell Out. “Sunday, Monday, Tuesday . . . ” and continued with the whole entire album. There was no announcement beforehand, it wasn’t some regularly scheduled whole entire album program. For all I know the deejay was stuck in the bathroom. But our shared amazement and delight at hearing the whole album on the radio was so intense that we, uh, oh, never mind. I sorta miss Alex. He was an interesting guy. There was another time when we were drinking scotch and listening to Empty Glass. At the end of the record we looked at each other and said wonderingly, and in unison, “Ohmigod, it’s a concept album!” I have no idea where he is now, haven’t seen or heard from him since 1988 or so, but I’ll bet anything he remembers the night we heard Sell Out on the radio as vividly as I do.
I rarely listen to The Who anymore, partly because all I have are LPs and our turntable isn’t set up very well, but mainly because, well, although the music still rocks, I now find the lyrics to be just the teensiest bit sophomoric and pretentious. The Who will always have a place in my heart, don’t get me wrong, but I just don’t want to listen to them anymore.
Or at least, I didn’t until Les played the Petra Haden cd for me last weekend and all these memories came flooding back. It was like a shot of adrenaline, honest to god. A shot of adrenaline. I found a cd of Sell Out, the original, I mean, not the Petra Haden version, at the library. I’ve been listening to it and nothing else for the last three days. My kids are loving it, too. Now, instead of asking what’s for dinner they sing the “Heinz Baked Beans” ditty: “What’s for tea, mum?” Very fun.
Oh, and Les? We’ll be getting The Kids Are Alright from Netflix any day now. Bring your sleeping bag. I’ll make the popcorn. And maybe, if we get lucky, we can sneak some beer.