Tuesday, September 25, 2012

'82 concert helped define 'Who' I am

Listening to you, I get the music
Gazing at you, I get the heat
Following you, I climb the mountain
I get excitement at your feet ... "

- The Who, 1969

JFK Stadium: September 25, 1982

September 25, 2012

There are days in your life that, as time passes by, you realize helped define you as a person. They are those all-too-rare days that have such an incredible impact on you that, even years later, you are still well aware and appreciative of their significance. For me, one of those days was Sept. 25, 1982.

That was the day - exactly 30 years ago - that I attended my first rock concert.

That was the day I saw The Who play to more than 100,000 people at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia.

And that was the day I experienced, perhaps for the first time, the power, the energy, the spirit and the beauty of rock 'n' roll.

And if were it not for that day, there's a very good chance I wouldn't have done a lot of the things that I've done over the past 20 years, such as serving as the music editor at The Times Leader, the editor of The Weekender, a music columnist at both papers and a DJ on 102.3-FM, The Mountain. Such work also led to the launch of the former "Concert For A Cause," which led me to the work that I do today with Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Many important dots in my life can be connected to September 25, 1982.

Although it's been 30 years since that show, some of the memories remain as clear as the skies above on that gorgeous fall afternoon. I can still recall Roger Daltrey doing his trademark microphone toss high over his head, and the great Pete Townshend doing his patented guitar "windmills." 

(Yes, that old promo in The Weekender of yours truly doing a "windmill" - if you remember it - was my tribute to Townshend.)

I remember how the mammoth JFK stadium, which stood where the Wells Fargo Center now stands, was lined with British flags, and I can still recall some of the banners fans had brought into the facility.

Pete Townshend on the 1982 tour

 "Long Live Rock!" read one.

"Break the (expletive) guitar, Pete!" read another.

Townshend, who had stopped smashing guitars at that point in his career, unfortunately did not oblige. 

I remember my parents being kind enough to drive a friend and I to Philly to the concert. They knew how much I wanted to see the show, so they dropped their teenage son and his buddy off at JFK in the late morning, spent their day in the city, and picked us up after the show. I am still, to this day, appreciative.

I remember seeing opening acts Santana and The Clash, and I remember hearing on the car radio on the way to the show how a disturbed man named George Banks decided to kill 13 innocent people back in Wilkes-Barre earlier that morning. And although I was only 15 years old and extremely excited about going to my first concert, my thoughts also were on the tragedy back home throughout the day.

My biggest memory from the concert itself was simply being overwhelmed and awed by the sheer size of the crowd. I'd been to professional baseball games and football games before, but I'd never seen such an enormous sea of humanity as I did on that day. Nor have I ever seen one like it since. And it was all for music, and all for The Who, which is, in my opinion, one of the greatest rock bands of all time.

 A seed was planted in that 15-year-old kid that day, and it was the glorious seed of rock 'n' roll. In the ensuing years, I bought almost all of The Who's albums, and with each one, I seemed to discover more and more of Pete Townshend's creative brilliance. I'd go to the "midnight movies" and watch films such as "The Kids Are All Right," "Tommy" and "Quadrophenia," and I became fascinated with the band's tough-as-nails image yet ultimately discerning music.

JFK Stadium, Philadelphia - September 25, 1982
I wore out a few cassette copies of "Who's Next" and "Who Are You," and my concert shirt that I bought at the show soon became equally worn.

Although The Who's 1982 road jaunt was billed as its "Farewell Tour," the band, thankfully, didn't keep its word. In 1989, the group was out commemorating the 20th anniversary of "Tommy," and in 1996, the band dusted off "Quadrophenia" and brought it to America's stages. I, of course, was in Philly again on both occasions. And I was able to catch them again in Hershey in 2002. Personally, I'm glad they didn't stick to their "farewell" words of three decades ago, and considering Townshend and Daltrey are still playing shows together and packing them in, apparently so are a lot of other people.

 In 1969, The Who, according to some, stole the show at "Woodstock."

 In 1985, The Who stole the show at "Live Aid."

 In 2001, The Who stole the show at "The Concert For New York."

And on Sept. 25, 1982, they stole a little bit of my heart. And every time I hear "Baba O'Riley," "Won't Get Fooled Again," "Behind Blue Eyes," "Love, Reign O'er Me" or any of the band's incredible songs, I revisit that day just for a few moments. And it is during those moments that I again feel the power, the energy, the spirit and the beauty of rock 'n' roll.

It is then that I remember why I became at least a part of who I am.

It is then that I remember, with gratitude, how I got here.