Knowing when to call it quits: The Who

June 28, 2011

Daltrey and Townshend. Photo credit Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

I just read an interesting article in Rolling Stone about The Who’s struggles with being aging rock stars. Lead singer Roger Daltrey is having trouble hearing himself and is unhappy with the quality of his voice. This may be a hearing issue, after years of aural abuse to their ears the band can’t hear so well these days. He blames it on the sound system and is investing in a new one. Good luck on that, Roger. Lead guitarist Pete Townshend said of Daltrey: “…he always ends up distraught, sobbing in a corner somewhere”–– which Daltrey doesn’t deny. Roger is also concerned about Pete whose well-known struggle with his hearing loss is making creating the old sound rather difficult as he/they can’t really hear what they are doing.

Is this our version of the famous moment where Beethoven stands before the orchestra playing his ninth symphony, stone deaf, but following the music, I assume, by watching the orchestra. Beethoven didn’t call it quits because of his deafness. He heard his music in his inner ear, and affixed it to notation for future generations to play. The Who doesn’t really have that luxury. They have their legacy set in vinyl and 1’s and 0’s in recordings. That is how rock stars pass down their legacy. In hopes of making more money and revisiting old times, greying bands do reunion tours. Some audiences don’t mind that it ain’t the same; others know that this may be the last time they hear their old favorite band and choose to remember the way it used to be.

My dear friend, Mark Carlson, posted an article on his blog announcing his retirement from playing the flute––an interesting read for aging performers.

I am retiring in a few days as Chair of the UCLA Department of Music, and will retire as a professor of music in spring 2013. I’m ready and will cherish my final time as a teacher. And I am confident that as I shut one door, others will open. I highly doubt that Daniel will find me collapsed in a corner of our new home sobbing, missing my time as Chair, nor when I retire from teaching. None of my colleagues have missed teaching after they retired. They celebrate their new found freedom.

Although I don’t know the financial health of The Who, I suspect that they could retire and be just fine for the rest of their lives.

A word to the [younger] wise: don’t fool yourselves in rock concerts–WEAR EARPLUGS. Remember that when you have ringing in your ears after attending a loud concerts, you have done irreparable damage to your hearing and it will never come back. I give this commercial to my students year after year and I fear most don’t believe me. I have mild tinnitus that comes and goes which I have learned to live with. I also have deafness in my family, so I know hearing issues may be part of my future.

Although they didn’t have hearing problems, The Beatles knew when the time to call it quits was nigh. The nostalgic millions wanted a reunion, but that never happened.

Pete, Roger, perhaps it’s time to call it quits. Grow old and accept your limitations. We will still love you, listen to and value your music.

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