Who’s Next

The story behind this album cover is supposedly that The Who had asked Stanley Kubrick to direct the movie version of their album Tommy. Kubrick declined; in response, they pissed on this concrete monolith, a reference to his film 2001: A Space Odyssey.

A good portion of my summer vacation in 1971 was spent trailing my two older brothers and cousin around Brainerd, Minn., visiting every record store and head shop in hopes of finding the new album by The Who. My cousin had just seen them in concert at the Mississippi River Festival, and “obsessed” is not too strong a word to describe his quest to find the record. That show at MRF lives on in St. Louis lore as one of the best …Keep reading

Refreshing My Music

At the beginning of this week, I trashed my entire iTunes music library on my computer at work. It consisted of 4,077 songs, which, if played consecutively, would go on for 13 days, three minutes and 20 seconds, according to the application’s statistics.

Over the last couple of years I’ve imported a number of CDs into the library. I don’t think I’ve actually bought more than two or three songs from iTunes in my life; if I want music, I’ll generally just get the CD. I guess that makes me remarkably old-fashioned, but let’s remember that CDs didn’t exist before about 25 years ago. Even though they now appear to be going the way of the 8-track tape — judging by the shrinking bins at music stores (remember music stores?) — I have managed to compile a pretty good number of them over the years.

But I digress. Even though I have a comfortable collection of CDs, I hardly ever listen to CDs anymore. Generally I just fire up the iTunes on random play and let it run. That keeps the collection alive, because you never know what song, or even what style of music, will come next. Just yesterday, for example, iTunes gave me “Four Horsemen” by the Clash, followed closely — surprisingly closely, in fact, because by default iTunes uses a two-second crossfade between songs — by James Taylor’s “Sunny Skies.” Strangely enough, the transition worked.

If it ever doesn’t work, it’s easy enough to hit the “skip” button — the Macintosh keyboard even provides a key for this — to go on to the next song. It’s really a great way to listen to music, since I’m stuck at the computer anyway.

My problem was that, in addition to all those CDs I imported, I also got into the habit of downloading whatever free music was being offered up by various vendors. Amazon, in particular, sends out scads of free music each week through its MP3 store. I think you have to sign up for their newsletter or something, but each Tuesday they send out an e-mail with links to a bunch of giveaway songs and samplers, which, when downloaded, conveniently drop right into the iTunes library.

Some of them are great. Most aren’t. And usually I didn’t take the time to weed them out when I downloaded them, so over time my iTunes library got more and more polluted with songs that I had no interest in.

So, with the new year, I’m starting over. I dumped the library, and have been re-importing my music from my CDs. And what’s cool is that I started from the beginning — the first batch was artists from the 1960s and 1970s. (OK, it’s the beginning for me, anyway.) I’m mostly through those discs now, and working a little up into the 1980s. And frankly, it’s been great to hear the older stuff — and only the older stuff — come through the computer speakers. Eventually I’ll get back to the point where a Derek and the Dominoes song will be followed by a John Mayer song or something, and that won’t be bad, but for the next few days it’ll go from Derek and the Dominoes to Little Feat or the Beatles or Simon & Garfunkel or someone like that. Next week U2 will make its way into the collection. After that, it’ll be Dave Matthews and his ’90s brethren. After that, Amos Lee and the rest of the new generation (much smaller in number than these earlier artists) will join the party.

And yes, sure I could have just deleted the offending songs and gone on with my just my own music, and saved the trouble of having to reimport all my CDs. But I’m also a geek for statistics, and iTunes kindly compiles information about how often songs are played, when they were last played, etc. For example, in that old iTunes library, the song I ended up playing the most was “Night Train” by Amos Lee. Not my favorite of his songs, but random-play doesn’t play favorites. In fact a good number of the top songs were Amos Lee songs, because for a while there I was in a big-time Amos mood, just selecting his three CDs and letting them run. (As of January 25, by the way, he’ll have a fourth album out, which I’m definitely looking forward to.) Other times, I’d play the Who for a day. Or the Beatles, or, like last fall, the Rolling Stones. Still other times, I’d turn on my instrumental playlist, which contained all of the instrumental songs from various artists; sometimes it’s just easier to write or edit when there are no words in the background music. “The Rock,” Quadrophenia” and “Underture” were way up on that play count, benefiting from being both instrumentals and also Who songs.

But anyway, with the new year, everything’s reset to zero.

April 28, 1980: The Who At The Checkerdome

Note: This is the third of a three-part “mini-series” of posts. The first two parts are here and here, but if you’d like you can start right in with this one.

The St. Louis Who concert announcement may have been the worst-kept secret in the world. By the time they actually went public, in about February or early March of 1980, rumors had been circulating for days or weeks, so I pretty well knew what to expect, and I was ready to pounce. The details: tickets would be sold by mail order only, with a cashier’s check or money order sent to a post office box, first come, first served, yada yada. At $11 each, they were the most expensive concert tickets I’d ever bought. AND, there was a service charge on EACH ticket of a WHOLE DOLLAR. But it was the WHO; well worth the price. I had a … Keep reading …

Why Should I Care If I Have To Cut My Hair?

“I’ve got to move with the fashions, or be outcast…”

The story of our WHO weekend in 1980 continues. Episode 1 is here.

After our adventure in Columbia, Geoff and I rode the bus back to St. Louis on Monday, arriving mid-afternoon at the downtown bus station. I showed him around a bit; I think it was his first visit to the city, other than trips in and out of the airport. I still remember his question: “Where are all the people?” Yes, St. Louis in mid-afternoon is a ghost town compared to NYC, but hey, it’s home.

We got a ride home from my dad, going home on highway 40, which took us past the Checkerdome, with the marquee: “The WHO – Sold Out” We’d be back there in a few hours, and … Keep reading …

A One-Way Drive In 1980

Preface: Maybe I have a strong internal calendar. I seem to remember a lot of key dates in my life ; I remember way more birthdays than I have a right to; and if I hear it’s the anniversary of something or other, it always seems to be more interesting to me than to the people around me. Whatever. Some people know important things; I know anniversaries. Anyway, 30 years ago this month I saw what still stands up as my favorite concert of all time — The Who at the Checkerdome in St. Louis. As I’ve thought about that show and all of the events that surrounded it, it occurred to me that that whole year of 1980 was one of the most significant in my life. I selected and started attending a new, out-of-state college; I cast my first presidential vote; I turned 21; I flew for the first time, and saw the ocean for the first time; and, most importantly, I met the girl I would end up spending the rest of my life with. So I decided I’d devote a few pages of this blog to the year of 1980, sort of following along as it happened, with the benefit of 30 years of hindsight. For those who shared at least part of that year with me, I hope this brings back good memories. If not, the money-back guarantee applies. All posts in this series will be in the category “1980,” for those playing the home version of our game. -js


The spring of 1980 found me living at my parents’ house, after 2-1/2 years at the University of Missouri. I’d left Mizzou at the end of the fall semester in 1979, with plans to finish my schoolin’ at a smaller college somewhere. First, though, I was going to take a semester off.

My friend Geoff was also back at home after having left Mizzou, but he had already started his second college stint, at CW Post in New York city. We had a literary friendship — we typed dozens, probably hundreds of letters back and forth, mostly, but not exclusively, talking about whatever music we were listening to. Music was a critical element of our friendship. We each “discovered” the Who’s Next album at about the same time, a thousand miles apart and almost a year before we met each other, and we both, I think, remain firm in the belief that it’s the greatest rock album of all time.

Who’s Next was released in 1971, but by 1980 the band had seen more than its share … Keep reading