The Who, By the Trends

As you surely know, Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend were honored at the Kennedy Center last night. (I wonder if Dubya asked them to sing "Fool Me ... Can't Get Fooled Again"?) When reflecting on the band's 45-year career, it was astounding how many trends the group kick- started. Not that this was always a good thing. Here's a brief rundown of five ways the Who made an impact on rock-and-roll, from best to worst.

Windmill Guitar
Rock-and-roll is inherently cool. Same with playing electric guitar. And Townshend managed to ratchet that coolness up to another level with his famous windmill strum. Forget about nimble-fingered solos. The majesty of a barre chord and the windmill is the apex of rock guitar coolness. Like you've never imitated it while cranking "Won't Get Fooled Again." The move has been adopted by plenty of axepersons over the past few decades, but only Sleater-Kinney's Carrie Brownstein has managed to make it look anywhere near as cool as the original.

Destroying Equipment
Gearheads may frown at the thought of all of the vintage and expensive equipment that has met its demise at the hands of Pete Townshend. But there's absolutely some primal, Beavis-like joy to be had from witnessing someone demolish a guitar after a performance, even if it is premeditated (most Nirvana shows) and not a spontaneous act of destruction (the cover shot of "London Calling").

The Farewell Tour
If there's anything worse than a reunion tour, it's a farewell tour. At least with a reunion tour there's some sort of nostalgia involved. A farewell tour is pure narcissism, foisting that nostalgia on you whether you like it or not. "Come see us now, it'll be your last chance, we've decided we don't want to do this anymore!" And you know that most bands self-important enough to embark on a farewell tour wouldn't be able to resist the big bucks and attention of a reunion tour some years later. At least the Who took the Clash along for its 1982 "farewell."

Rock Operas
As previously stated, rock-and-roll is inherently cool. Opera is civilized and classy and cultured ... but cool? And that's not a knock on opera. The inverse is true, in that classy and cultured "rock" like, say, the Decemberists is extremely uncool. While Townshend was able to pull this gambit off with "Tommy" and "Quadrophenia," it inspired far too many inferior writers to think they had what it takes to make a grand artistic statement while ultimately creating something bloated and pretentious.

Concert Stampedes
This one is obviously not the Who's fault but the Cincinnati tragedy of 1979 is certainly one of the darkest moments in rock history. Similar incidents have occurred at festivals over the past 30 years, although increases in staffing and improved concert layouts have made it so these moments are, thankfully, limited. But anyone who's been near the front of the stage at a big, sold-out concert knows that the crush of a big surge can be a pretty frightening thing to experience.

By David Malitz |  December 8, 2008; 11:24 AM ET Kennedy Center Honors , Lists
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Given the amount of silly legislation passed by Congress every year ("We decree that today is Bob Smith day" etc) can't we get some legislation allowing fans to sue bands for false Farewell tours. And fans have already sued Creed for being terrible, so this is not totally out of left field. I think a little litigation would certainly be merited for Kiss and Cher, among many others.

Also, bands should not be allowed to call anything a reunion unless they have both the lead singer/main songwriter and at least 50% of the band. That would knock out Journey, "Queen", "The Doors", the 57 different Beach Boys tours etc.

Posted by: M__N | December 9, 2008 10:43 AM

I saw both the first and second "Farewell Tours" the Who did. The '82 one with The Clash was by far the better of the two. My favorite scene from the '82 show was all punkers wandering about in Clash shirts that read, "Who are the Who"!! Classic!

Posted by: EKruse | December 12, 2008 9:28 PM

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