The Who Played My High School
The Who appear on the current cover of Relix in a feature that includes an interview with Pete Townshend as well as many musicians’ and journalists’ memories of the group. Here is what Editor-at-Large Jaan Uhelszki’s unique account. Earlier in the week we shared Widespread Panic bassist Dave Schools’ perspective on fellow bassist John Enwistle and the group as a whole.
Photo by Don Henderson
The Who played my high school dance the night before Thanksgiving in 1967. Those mic-swinging, instrument-destroying, foppishly clothed, TV-hurling Second Wave British Invaders brought their Modtastic bombast to Southfield High School’s auditorium—a medium-sized, rather colorless gathering place, more used for noon time assemblies and Friday night sockhops than hosting members of rock’s Valhalla.
A student rep named Howard Tyner—who later went on to mastermind the fortunes of the New Kids on the Block—contacted The Who’s agent at New York’s Premiere Talent under the guise of being a big Detroit area radio station, never mentioning that the 10-watt student station only broadcasted to a five-mile radius, and asked about potential bands that they could hire for an event. The agent tried to convince him to book The Blues Magoos but agreed to let him have The Who for $3,200 against 60 percent gross after Tyner assured him the station was really going to “push the show.”
Just in case The Who wasn’t able to draw a huge crowd, the school also budgeted in $200 each for local favorites The Unrelated Segments and Ted Nugent’s Amboy Dukes. (Four thousand people eventually showed up at $3 a pop.)
The Who arrived at the school late in the afternoon on Wednesday for a sound check, unobtrusively setting up camp in the boy’s locker room after the student body had all gone home. In 1967, they were still very D.I.Y. in every way, from hemming their own pants, to setting up some of their own gear, to cutting each other’s hair.
This was pre-Tommy Who and the foursome were rather preciously decked out in tea-stained ruffled shirts, Nehru jackets, stovepipe pants and artfully constructed mop tops, except lead singer Roger Daltrey.
While beginning the set with a rather poofy sculpted bob, by the end of the show, the singer’s hair had reverted to its natural state—an angelic corona of golden curls that defied his great efforts to tame them. Though Daltrey may have looked like an angel, he viciously spat out the words of the band’s first song, “I Can’t Explain,” pushing up the sleeves of his tight dandy’s jacket as he flung his microphone across the stage like a pirate’s lash—defying gravity and causing great concern to anyone in its elliptical path.
From Daltrey’s combative mic hurling and thuggish vocals, to Pete Townshend’s savage guitar work and cartoonish windmills to Keith Moon’s tantrum drumming and John Entwistle’s stoic and
glowering immobility, they projected anger and ennui with their prickly snapshots of British life in the mid-1960s, delivered as only a disgruntled pack of Mods could, with none of the intellectual preciousness of The Kinks.
More than any band before them, The Who transformed rock and roll into a rude weapon to pry open the generation gap of the 1960s even further, putting a petulant scowl on the face of the
The Who’s canon had a precarious undercurrent of brutality and recklessness behind their knowing smirks and high ambitions. Something that was obvious in the eight-song set that they performed on that pre-holiday night with songs like “Substitute,” “Quick One While He’s Away,” “Run Run Run,” “Mary Ann with the Shaky Hands,” “I Can See for Miles” and their cover of Eddie Cochrane’s “Summertime Blues.” But they unleashed all their showy, willful rage when they demolished their instruments during their set closer “My Generation.”
For years afterward, the basketball coach routinely took visitors to see, as he explained it, the “assault on the school’s property”—a huge scratch on the surface of the stage that Townshend had made when he rammed the neck of his guitar into the soft, polished wood.
But the assault was much more widespread than that. It was the harbinger of change—the sound of tradition splintering and a new order emerging.
Jaan Uhelszki first saw The Who at the Fifth Dimension in Ann Arbor, Mich., on June 14, 1967.
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