Like many of you out there, I consider myself a fan of the Who. Seriously, if you're a fan of high volume rock -- be you a "punk" or a "metalhead" or a "mod" or whatever label you affix to yourself --- it's pretty damn hard not to acknowledge the power of their genre-transcending music. While they were never officially my "favorite band" when I was a pre-teen (a dubious honor handily claimed by Kiss, whose high-decibel spectacle-rock owed a sizable debt to The Who), all it took was a single airing of "My Generation" or "Baba O'Riley" to convince me that they were worthy of my exacting standards. My first Who album was the sprawling compilation/soundtrack from 1979, The Kids Are Alright (featuring their notoriously explosive performance on 'The Smothers Brothers' Show' and an iconic cover shot of the boys at Grant's Tomb in NYC). While purists tirelessly cite Who's Next as the disc you need to own by the band, The Kids Are Alright was an amazing primer, capturing them from their hook-laden Mod origins through their beefier, more ambitious "rock opera" period. Never mind that entirely needless new Greatest Hits disc (presumably released to trump up their inexplicable appearance at the Super Bowl halftime show), go pick up The Kids Are Alright and you'll be well on your way.
That all said, like most of you out there, I'm firmly of the opinion that it's high time that the band -- or what's left of it -- called it quits. With their original rhythm section now long dead, it's now only principles Daltrey & Townshend out there. While I suppose it's true that they can still dust off the oldies with some admirable intensity, there's something about the sight of the aging Who that depresses me. The predictable citation at this point would be that fateful lyric of Townshend's in "My Generation" wherein he hoped to die before he got old, but that's beside the point. Sure, Pete can still windmill with a fury and his voice is in fine shape (not sure the same can be said of Daltrey), but really ..... just retire. Surely, both remaining participants have made enough money and have plenty of other projects they could attend to. Can't we just let the Who go?
The only reason I'm addressing this today is because of an annoying medical condition I happen to share with Pete Townshend (although I gather his case is a bit more pronounced). Like the fabled guitar-abuser, I suffer from piercing tinnitus in my right ear. I've waxed about it here (pardon the pun) on several occasions (posts devoted to same can all be found here), but it's something I've grappled with for the last eleven years, presumably developed after a few decades of irresponsible exposure to high volume music. When I was in my teens and twenties, I never wore hearing protection to any rock concert or punk show I attended and I relentlessly wore my headphones with the volume all the way up. After years of cumulative, systematic abuse of this kind, my right ear started to shriek like a tea kettle in October of 1999 and shows no sign of ever letting up. In a word, it sucks.
As such, I periodically scour the `Net for tinnitus-related news. As of 2010, there is no known cure. For the past couple of days, the ringing in my ear has intensified. It does this every now and then, usually the result of stress or some dietary indiscretions or the misalignment of the planets or bad karma or voodoo of the wrath of an unforgiving God or any number of nebulous reasons. So, prompted by same, I did a Google search and spotted a new item about Pete Townshend's struggle with tinnitus. Legend had it that the seeds of Pete's hearing problems were sewn in that afore-cited performance on 'The Smothers Brothers' Show,' after Keith Moon loaded up his bass drum with explosives for the destructive crescendo of "My Generation." As if the volume of their performance wasn't loud enough (as it had been and would remain for years), Pete was evidently standing far too close to the blast, leaving him deaf for a short period (watch the clip below for more). Well, it turns out that after years and years, Pete's problem has also intensified, casting the future of The Who (for whatever that's worth) in doubt. He's understandably threatening to pull the plug on impending live dates if it's going to be problem.
Again, while I wish the Who would hang it up, this news made me sad. Pete Townshend is arguably the highest profile figure representing the plague of tinnitus (although William Shatner is also a vocal sufferer). With all the resources and financial muscle at Pete's command, if even he can't find some sort of relief from tinnitus, what hope is there for the rest of us?