Monday, April 19, 2010

This Post Is Not Meant For Certain People

In a comment the other day on my post about the Rolling Stones, Anonymous sort of came to the Stones' defense, which I kinda understand because even though I said I liked the song I was writing about ("Stray Cat Blues"), I also made some pretty unflattering comments about the Stones, probably more as an attempt to distance myself from the topic of that song (viz., statutory rape) than anything else.

So, to be clear:

Stones = Good. I lurves me some Stones (up until around the mid-to-late 1970s, anyway, after which they seemingly ate a Big Communal Bowl of Suck).

Rape, statutory or otherwise = Bad. I oppose rape in all forms. I realize this is a controversial stand to take and might alienate a number of people who read this blog, perhaps even all seven of you, but I was never afraid to take unpopular stands and then let the chips fall where they may, because I have this little thing called Fearless Integrity.

And might I just add: Mmmmmm ... fallen chips.

But anonymous also said — and I quote — "Now do an analysis of a Who song for us, and make us believe in those honest lyrics."

Your command is my wish, Anonymous!

But first, a disclaimer:

People who used to read my late, unlamented blog The Hedonist Hermit's Musical Retreat already know that I would write about Who songs at the drop of a hat. That being the case, I'm aware that "Anonymous" might kinda looks as though s/he were my very own sock puppet, asking me to write about something I am more than willing to write about with no prodding at all. Indeed, I would not be surprised if many of you thought Anonymous were actually me commenting on my own blog posts to make it look as though the next hobby-horsical post I did were in response to some genuine "request". I also wouldn't be surprised if there were a few of you who hadn't thought that but do think it now, since I brought it up.

So maybe I shouldn't have brought it up.

But too late - I already have. So: I want to state, categorically, that I do not know who Anonymous is — s/he is not my sock puppet; and furthermore, I myself am not Anonymous. Moreover ... I now consider Anonymous to be My Bestest Bloggy Friend because s/he asked me to write about things that I wanted to write about anyway and since now I'm merely "responding to a commenter's request", there's fuck-all the rest of you can do about it. Man, even though Anonymous is not a sock puppet, this makes me wish I had thought of setting up a sock puppet to comment on my blog long ago because, man, it really is useful to be able to say "I'm only writing about this stupid topic because so-and-so asked me to."

Anonymous, even though you're not my sock puppet, I would gladly hire you as my sock puppet.

If I were hiring. I mean ... the bad economy and all.
Originally, in response to the Real And Actual Request of Non-Sock Puppet, Not-Me Anonymous's Request, I was going to write about "I'm One", because I think it is a great —  and, in terms of themes, wonderfully representative — Who song. But then as I was listening to my iTunes this morning [most of this post was written on Saturday] while riding Morrissey — HARD!1! — another great Who song came on: "Sally Simpson".

The key to understanding just about any Pete Townshend song is recognizing that they are all explorations of the question of identity. And I say "question" rather than "theme" because Pete never offers facile "answers". How could he? Our sense of identity is in a constant state of flux. We think we are one thing, only to discover that others don't see us that way; or only to discover that, in fact, we no longer see ourselves that way; or we conclude that we have no idea who we really are ("Can You See The Real Me?") — nor does anyone else.

This is a consistent theme in Pete's songs, and the question of Identity is at the very core of Tommy, the "rock operas" album on which the song "Sally Simpson" appears.

This song is interesting for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that it explores the idea of identity — Who Am I? — through the peripheral character of Sally, rather than the main character Tommy. (The whole rock opera is about Who Is This Tommy Geezer? Messiah? Charlatan? Confused kid? Victim? Exploiter? Exploited? All these things?)

But in "Sally Simpson", Pete explores the issue of identity as it pertains to the mind of a follower rather than a leader. Sally sees "the New Messiah" Tommy as someone she loves and absolutely must be with. She defies her father (and in doing so, interestingly, throws a "book of her father's life" in a fire — a symbolic destruction of his identity?) and "sneaks out anyway" to attend Tommy's revival meeting.

But from the very outset, doubt as to Sally's true fate, her identity, is expressed in the song:
She knew from the start
deep down in her heart
that she and Tommy were worlds apart...
but her Mother said "Never mind your part is to be...
what you'll be"
The mother's comforting words stand in counterpoint to the father's harsh dismissal of Sally's attempt to explore her own identity and follow her own path. The mother seems to understand that finding out who you really are is a constant struggle; and perhaps the most meaningful thing anyone can say about her identity at any given time is the virtually meaningless — but true — "I am who I am; I am becoming who I am meant to be".  The question of identity, here, remains, as ever, a question.

The parallels between Tommy's revival meeting and a rock concert should not be lost on listeners. It's been said that the incident in this song where Sally is violently thrown from the stage was based on an incident PT witnessed involving Jim Morrison when the Who were the Doors' opening act during a 1968 tour. A fan who rushed Jim Morrison was violently ejected from the stage by body guards while Morrison watched with indifference. (Pete was always extremely ambivalent about fans' tendency to see him and other rock stars as saviors of some sort. He explores this theme more fully in Quadrophenia. But he also explores that theme to a certain extent in Tommy.)

Sally is similarly violently dealt and dispensed with in this song; her tears mixing with her blood, she is taken away by "the ambulance men". Tommy is unable to see what happened to her because he is blinded by the stage lights — somewhat ironic, since Tommy describes himself as the Source of (En)Light(enment) in the song "Sensation":
I leave a trail of rooted people
Mesmerized by just the sight,
The few I touched now are disciples
Love as One I Am the Light …
Sally, having survived what we might easily imagine her describing as one of the worst days of her life, eventually marries a rock musician, we're informed; Tommy, abruptly abandoned by his acolytes at the end of Tommy (for reasons that are not exactly clear), refers to this same day as the greatest day of his life:
"Tommy always talks about the day/ The disciples all went wild!"

Ultimately, at the end of "Sally Simpson", we have no better grasp of who Sally is ... or who Tommy is. The theme of identity has been pretty thoroughly explored, but no resolution has been offered.

What else should Pete Townshend's group be called other than "The Who"?
Outside the house Mr. Simpson announced
that Sally couldn't go to the meeting.
He went on cleaning his blue Rolls Royce
and she ran inside weeping.
She got to her room and tears splashed the picture
of the new Messiah,
She picked up a book of her fathers life
and threw it on the fire!

She knew from the start
deep down in her heart
that she and Tommy were worlds apart...
but her Mother said "Never mind your part is to be...
what you'll be".

The theme of the sermon was come unto me,
and Love will find a way,
so Sally decided to ignore her dad,
and sneak out anyway!
She spent all afternoon getting ready,
and decided she'd try to touch him,
maybe he'd see that she was free
and talk to her this Sunday.

She knew from the start
deep down in her heart
that she and Tommy were worlds apart...
but her Mother said "Never mind your part is to be...
what you'll be".

She arrived at six and the place was swinging
to gospel music by nine.
Group after group appeared on the stage
and Sally just sat there crying.
She bit her nails looking pretty as a picture
right in the very front row
then a DJ wearing a blazer with a badge
ran on and said "Here we go!".

The crowd went crazy
as Tommy hit the stage!
Little Sally got lost as the police bossed
the crowd back in a rage!

Soon the atmosphere was cooler
and Tommy gave a lesson.
Sally just had to let him know she loved him
and leapt up on the rostrum.
She ran across stage to the spotlit figure
and brushed him on the face
Tommy whirled around as a uniformed man,
threw her off the stage.

She knew from the start
deep down in her heart
that she and Tommy were worlds apart...
but her Mother said "Never mind your part is to be...
what you'll be".

Her cheek hit a chair and blood trickled down,
mingling with her tears.
Tommy carried on preaching
and his voice filled Sally's ear.
She caught his eye, she had to try
but He couldn't see through the lights.
Her face was gashed and the ambulance men
had to carry her out that night.

The crowd went crazy
as Tommy left the stage!
Little Sally was lost for the price of a touch
and a gash across her face! Oooooh.

Sixteen stitches put her right and her dad said:
"Don't say I didn't warn Ya".
Sally got married to a rock musician
She met in California.
Tommy always talks about the day
the disciples all went wild!
Sally still carries a scar on her cheek
to remind her of his smile.

She knew from the start
deep down in her heart
that she and Tommy were worlds apart...
but her Mother said "Never mind your part is to be...
what you'll be".


  1. GAH! First? Really? Me?

    I didn't know I had to leave an anonymous post to be your bloggy-best-friend...geesh. I could have done THAT months ago.

    Now I have to go back and read past that point.

  2. OK...I read the rest, and I have no other comments to make about The Who because I don't know nearly enough about it other than to note that you, clearly, do.

    On the other hand, you used the word "facile" which also made me giggle...and "Not Anonymous" which made me think of "Not Mike" and he, no doubt, was "facile" or maybe he was just flaccid, which is not even close to being the same thing, but is the reason why the word "facile" makes me giggle.

  3. I'm anonymous only because I'm too non-tech to comment any other way. I tried google but it didn't work for me. Yes, you know by that admission I'm too old to have heard The Who or The Stones in my youth so that song is completely new to me. It was a good song, made more interesting with your comments but didn't seem as engaging as a Dylan song would on first hearing so I'm going to listen to it a few more times. Please continue to post more Who songs just for me.