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  • Ray Chavez / Bay Area News Group

    Roger Daltrey, left, and Pete Townshend of the Who play earlier this month at Oakland’s Oracle Arena.

  • Mark Drolette is a freelance writer who lives in Sacramento.

On the Lighter Side: We go way back, The Who and I

Published: Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3E
Last Modified: Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013 - 9:19 am

"We won't get fooled again!"

Oh, yes we will. Or rather, I will. And have. And will again. Though with three divorces to my (dis)credit, I hope certain restrictions apply.

That opening line, in an amazing bit of songwriting coincidence, is from the song "Won't Get Fooled Again" by the Who, who I saw perform in Reno recently. Really, half a Who: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend. Their inestimable bassist, John Entwistle, died in 2002, while brilliant-but-mad Keith Moon went to the Big Drum Kit in the Sky in 1978, at age 32, thanks to legendary drug and alcohol abuse.

Before we continue: Few know that back in the daze, Keith and I were remarkably similar. That's right. Except for the fact he was a fabled drummer and I had zero musical talent; he was mega-famous and I had trouble getting into my high school yearbook; he was British and I'm from Torrance (hey, somebody has to be); plus a bunch of other things, we were exactly alike! (As in, we were both drugged-out drunks.)

Then, one of us died. The other didn't. (Good thing, too, or today's article would've been harder to write, let alone submit to the editor.) In 1984, at age 27, I was wildly lucky to be able to quit booze and drugs for good. Since then? I've dedicated my years to growing up. (And, someday, no doubt, I'll get there. As long as I live to 106.)

It was impossible not to think about life stuff like that while the Who played their hearts out for more than two hours, nailing every instrumental note and most of the vocal ones. Not bad for rockers knockin' at the door of the 70s. (And I don't mean the decade.)

It didn't hurt they had a stellar supporting cast, including Zak Starkey on drums. But talk about time warps: Was this middle-aged guy really the son of Ringo Starr? The same fresh-faced, mop-topped Ringo on those Beatles cards I used to trade math answers for back in second grade? (Uh – just kidding, Mrs. Wildeman!)

But this isn't a concert review. Nor is it some old guy reminiscing about how everything was so much better in the old days. Sure, some things were better, but some weren't. On the plus side, we now have expanding gay rights, twice-world champion Giants (be still my heart), online pizza delivery ordering. (A giant leap forward for single mankind.) On the minus: endless war, the Great Recession, Snooki. (Um, just what is a Snooki, anyway?)

Plus, though this sounds corny, the show was more than a show. It was, well, an affirmation of life.

Daltrey and Townshend, toward night's end, seemed quite sincere when they smilingly thanked the near-capacity and delirious crowd for, heck, just showing up. A far cry from the first time I saw the Who (at Winterland in the '70s; and, yes, I do mean the decade) when they played a short set, then arrogantly refused an encore. I guess 40 years can mellow a guy. (You know, if he lives.)

Back in Reno, soon came "Won't Get Fooled Again," with its classic closing lines:

"Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss."

It didn't escape me how anachronistic (or worse, silly) it might be for a concert hall full of seniors to be singing a testosterone-fueled, in-your-face war horse about revolution. (Present walkers!) But it didn't matter now. We were there to have a good time, and boy, did we.

The concert's finale was genuinely touching. ("Touching" never would've been used to describe the youthful Who. "Touched," maybe, but then, Who wasn't?) Townshend played acoustic guitar while Daltrey sang, soulfully, about two friends having tea. Friends, who've navigated some very rough waters. Survivors.

Survival was an unspoken but palpable theme of the night. I wasn't the only one there who'd made it through tough stuff. We all had. No one lives to their 50s and beyond (the average age of the crowd) without incurring scars and enduring pain.

The good news: I know now nearly all of my troubles in life have been self-inflicted, a very foreign thought to me for far too long. 'Cause, boy, did I ever keep getting fooled again.

But, with rare exception, 'twas by me. Life improved by miles and miles and miles when I finally comprehended I was my own worst enemy, and always had been.

So, yeah, I'll get fooled again. But not as often. And not nearly as often will I be the one doin' the foolin'.

And that's definitely worth singing about. Who'd a-thought?

No one lives to their 50s and beyond (the average age of the crowd) without incurring scars and enduring pain.

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