Right In Tune: An Annotated Karaoke Poetica via Who’s Next or Nate Pritts Sings the Classics
Out here in the fields I find myself surrounded by Syracuse slush if by “fields” we understand that I mean both exterior & interior plains & if by “slush” we agree that I mean both the quickly melting snow & the icy drifts of blankness clouding my head.
I find myself surrounded by what I am surrounded by but know, too, that there’s a transcendental reality to all this. I hope, however, that my hopes for a fully realized life can be real & here & right now (more than ever) & can exist between breathing people & not just shimmery glowing essence.
Lots of people with brains have written about The Who’s record Who’s Next (1971) – & they’ve done a good job of articulating the fantastical, utopian vision that Pete Townshend had in mind for Lifehouse, the concept performance/religion out of which wreckage Who’s Next was forged.
Though I have a brain, I mostly listen to The Who using equal parts ear (I have two of those) & heart (just one, but it’s big) & maybe soul (I imagine I have one of those). So though I am incredibly drawn to the story of a mad rock god who tried to facilitate a moment in which the music played could reflect every personality in attendance on a given night, that he could play hard enough & better enough (& ENOUGH enough!) to blend those people together, to shake them from their separate lives & accelerate them all together to some revelated state of being, I’m also living in a world in which I know the great experiment failed…at least on the terms Townshend laid down at the time.
The rains are coming in as I type this & my head is buzzing with the word “compathy” because I typed it in a letter to a friend. I’m thinking about how I communicate. Though sometimes pegged as melodramatic – over the top – to me, Who’s Next will always be an earnest, rip-your-face-off statement of Romantic Sentiment, music that embodies the soul & makes luminous the body, an undeniable pull to live life more fully than you think possible & to be happy to fail more grandly than ever in the attempt.
Track 1: Baba O’Riley
“The happy ones are near. Let’s get together before we get much older.”
Sally, take my hand. This is an introduction to the record’s method, the complex weaving of the far ends of The Who’s range – melodic, musical, composed & beautiful, paired with a barely contained rage, a ragged & driving guitar that picks its way across desolate fields.
Townshend can barely croon “Don’t cry, don’t raise your eye” before he’s overpowered both by Moon’s explosive & unpredictable percussives & his own voice going rough. Implicitly, this modulation of tones, this deployment of emotion, gets us closer to the bone of the authentic utterance. It puts your back into your living.
Track 2: Bargain
“I’d gladly lose me to find you.”
Again, a melodic lure before the Moon landing assault begins.
To find you, I’m gonna drown an unsung man. That’s a bargain? Yes. Punctuated again with light bursts of Daltrey’s signature lilting vocals, the context here is much more frantic, desperate. The underlying theme is “whatever it takes.” The drive is to drive – to keep pushing. To give everything your all. Thankful for the tragedy; gratitude for the anguish. Our salvation is that we can, if we’re lucky, be with someone else. Sally, take my hand.
Track 3: Love Ain’t For Keeping
“The air is perfumed by the burning firewood. The seeds are bursting. The spring is seeping.”
A bucolic moment. A romantic, & Romantic, breath. The song starts recollected in tranquility & stays there, despite the resignation of the repeated sentiment: Love ain’t for keeping. But such tenderness in the acceptance of this – such buoyant affirmation in recognizing your place in a world where even the bad is good (black ash from the foundry perfumes the air) & where we can, yes, be everlasting today. There’s a subtle shift here as the push for connection foregrounded earlier may have a crack – that maybe searching is the best we can hope for (see also, “The Seeker,” Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy, also 1971). Finding never lasts.
Track 4: My Wife
“Gonna lay down on the floor; I gotta rest some time so I can get to run some more.”
Panic switch; relay point; terror. To me this song moves more than the others; perhaps this is the jump cut exterior action the listener responds to after the mostly lyrical moments presented in the previous tracks. Again & again, after listing consequences, Entwistle (who wrote the lyrics as well) takes solace from the fact that “I’ll still be alive.”
A life of being on the run, of resting only so as to be able to run some more, gets drilled into our heads while brass drones & a piano bangs around. This is the fallout of the failure. But, tellingly, it’s never the end.
Track 5: The Song Is Over
“I’ll sing my heart out to the infinite sea.”
Maybe the biggest Romantic proclamation on the whole record & it’s both BIG & ROMANTIC. This epic lost love song repeatedly reinforces the need to simultaneously embrace the past & the future. Our love is over; it’s all behind me; they’re all ahead now. While the speaker asserts the confusion inherent in his project (Thought it was me I was looking for), the outstretched heart pleads to be sung out – to be given voice. As if that’s enough.
It is – if coupled with the bust-your-ass aesthetic implied in a lyric like “I must remember even if it takes a million years.” Childish, maybe. But honest & full of feeling. Sally once took my hand & then let go.
Track 6: Getting in Tune
“There’s a symphony that I hear in your heart sets my head a-reeling.”
The song starts as a statement on the process of art-making – ie, singing this note only because it fits in with the chords he happens to be playing. Whatever one has to say will come out with the proper occasion & the proper occasion may be no occasion at all. But along with the interior pledge to sing a song & sing it well, comes the drive to connect with an other. When I look in your eyes and see the harmonies, the heartaches soften. Never mind the concision of the image spheres & word choice.
There is something lovely in the way Daltrey’s voice alternates between clean & clear sentiment & ragged yowls that seem to try to either 1) cover it up or 2) be overwhelmed by it. Such complexity of registers makes this a model. We’ve become more committed than ever to the failed math equation proposed earlier (“One & one don’t make two; one & one make one,” “Bargain”).
Track 7: Going Mobile
“I’m gonna find a home & we’ll see how it feels.”
Daltrey has Townshend take over to lighten the vocalization even more, airing it out a little, while Pete adds some electrifying squeals to the principal project– one of being out on the run, experiencing, not stopping.
The speaker says all this momentous momentum is his “solution” to the problem that has been posed in song after song on this record. How do we live?
How do we live in a world that has other people in it when, ultimately, we have to live without other people?
Track 8: Behind Blue Eyes
“No one knows what it’s like to feel these feelings like I do.”
An opening croon disables your defenses for the anger barely concealed underneath this ode to separate living. There’s a fallacy in the very first line – obviously we all know what it’s like to feel – that gets clarified after the emotional floodgates are opened. Logistically, we feel isolated & alone in our emotions until we learn to actually express our anguish & hope (my love is vengeance that’s never free). Then, we come to the truth of the matter – that no other person knows what it’s like to feel these feelings like I do. Rewind to “compathy,” a term that means essentially sharing your feelings with other people (maybe a little more possible, in this Next world, than empathy which takes as its fundamental principal that you can feel the feelings of others).
Once unleashed, the speaker has no choice but to enumerate all the instances in which an other might be able to help mediate an experience of the world. But this just seems like so much fist-shaking. The hope has long since been given up on.
Track 9: Won’t Get Fooled Again
“Smile & grin at the change all around. Pick up my guitar & play. Just like yesterday.”
What’s left? Now that the world has been revealed as a kind of disappointment in & of itself, that the only thing left for all of us is to keep on keeping on, just like yesterday, we shout out loud that we won’t get fooled again. We know better! Though certainly that’s a lie – that the Romantic spirit carries us ever & always hopeful in search of that connection, that transcendence.
If the world is a failure & human interconnection doesn’t work, what choice do we have but to keep trying? We pray we won’t get fooled again while being pretty sure we will & are glad of it.
Why else end the record with a scream?
How To Say Goodbye Early Morning
When the words don’t add up, skyrocket
the marigold picture you’ve kept in your heart.
If accumulation isn’t
a poem it might just be some drift. I’m just
snow; I’m typing miles of slush.
I’m just but I’m being tried & the discussion
splinters the shut door. Today
is decommission day, a frantic blocked
transmission hitting its beak against the glass
lonely for the living room. I’m done with
hummingbird. I’m ready to stay put or drop
broken to the ground after one frantic rush
too many. But the sky was clear! Some invisible
brick, some crack on the wing. I’m done
with trudge though I’m marshaling
my forces. I’m putting on my boots. I’m
a parade dress, obvious lockstep as I blanket
the bed & check my watch. We’re going
through maneuvers. I can’t remember
if I mentioned the sun. I’m afraid to look back
& check. I’m afraid to stop. The workings
a mystery, the feelings of hunger & heat.
People, here are the results. Here’s the arc
stuck far up my sleeve, ready to throw down
at the right time. Here’s the trajectory for today.
Today, I’m left or leaving. Would I have stayed
a few more minutes if someone had tricked me
into thinking those minutes repair & build?
Nate Pritts is the author of three full-length books of poems – The Wonderfull Yeare (Cooper Dillon Books, 2010), Honorary Astronaut (Ghost Road Press, 2008) & Sensational Spectacular (BlazeVOX, 2007). His poetry & prose have been published widely, both online & in print, in journals such as The Southern Review, Jacket, Gulf Coast, DIAGRAM, Rain Taxi Review of Books, Octopus, & Forklift, Ohio among many others. He is the founder & principal editor of H_NGM_N. Find him online at http://www.natepritts.com.
Questions, compliments, (hopefully not) complaints? Contact Jackie Clark: afterthoughtgraveyard [at] gmail [dot] com. Check out previous POP essays here: http://pop.coldfrontmag.com/