The Who, "I Can See For Miles" When I was 12, my oldest sister left home for college and I gained access to her large bedroom to make room for my first band to practice in. My friend Steve Alberti played an ugly old set of Ludwig drums, and I had a Fender Musicmaster guitar. Nobody our age owned a bass. Because we only knew two songs -- "Light My Fire" and "Gloria" -- Steve's attention span would drift after an hour or so and practice would descend into a depressing scenario of him challenging me to a wrestling match, which he would invariably win. And then he'd go home, leaving me to entertain myself with two collections my sister left behind that I found irresistible -- past issues of Seventeen and Vogue containing artful photos of the most beautiful women in the world in various stages of undress, and a record collection containing gems like Smiley Smile and Sgt. Pepper. She left behind a fairly loud record player as well. First things first: I'd lock the door and focus on Vogue underwear ads for a few minutes, and then start spinning discs for hours.
One afternoon I discovered a 45 of "I Can See for Miles" by The Who. It was the heaviest song I had ever heard. I played it over and over for an hour straight. I played it slowed down to 33 1/3 rpm, then back up to real speed. I memorized the menacing lyrics. I tried to play drums along with Keith Moon and settled on an eighth-note tom-tom groove that sounded like I was on the warpath, because there was no discernable snare backbeat on the recording. Everything about the record fascinated me. Keith's double-tracked drums. John Entwistle hammering one note through all the chord changes. Roger Daltrey not screaming -- he was killer calm as he melodiously threatened his cheating girlfriend. Pete Townshend! The epitome of loud, but there's an acoustic guitar in the mix. The huge electric guitar sound was barely distorted. The exquisite knock-out punch of an obviously facile guitarist opting for a blistering one note staccato solo that derails at the end like a hubcap falling off a spinning wheel. Holy shit! I knew he had to be an even bigger wise-ass than John Lennon, and he could do it without speaking a word. I had dreamt of becoming a rock star, but my goal now was to become the second best guitar player in the world. Pete would always be No. 1. I picked up my guitar and taught myself the two-string chorus bends. I learned how the nifty key change at the second bridge worked. I played along on the root notes and moved the static hand positions to match Pete. I managed to squeeze a little feedback out of my Silvertone Twin Twelve amp. I played until my fingertips were excruciatingly tender and my virginal white guitar had blood smears marring it. By the end of my second day of playing along as an unofficial junior member of The Who, my Mom knocked on the door and told me one of the sweetest lies I've ever heard, "Robby, you sound just like that guitar player on the record!" A few months later I talked my dad into taking me to see Jimi Hendrix, and I was ruined for all other service to mankind.
ROB FETTERS performs Thursday at Northside Tavern with Maurice Mattei and Friday at Bogart's with Adrian Belew.