"Long Live Rock"
The above song has never even made my personal Top Forty pantheon of truly great Who numbers -- its title sentiment blending in with too many lesser, self-conscious anthems to the power of rock that I've heard on FM radio in my day. But now it's sunrise on a new morning and I'm sitting in a hammock on the Kona Coast of Hawaii, listening to this song on my iPod over and over while my wife and kids sleep inside. And somehow "Long Live Rock" is moving me as never before.
I've just finished working as co-producer and co-writer on the VH1 Rock Honors tribute to the Who that premieres Thursday night, and being around the Who and so many other people who love them reminded me why rock actually deserves to live still, and why "classic rock" should not be considered merely as the kind of easy insult that confines one to the dustbin of history.
It was incredibly inspiring to see bands like Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters, Flaming Lips, Incubus and Tenacious D -- and, yes, Adam Sandler -- pay their musical respects to the Who's illustrious past. Yet ultimately what moved me most was watching the band's two surviving members Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey -- two men now well into their sixties -- somehow breath new life into the music that made many of us love rock & roll in the first place.
That Townshend and Daltrey are managing to do so at this point in history -- and at their ages -- is remarkable. After all, this is a band that understandably seemed to lose the plot after Keith Moon's death in 1978 and arguably should have faced the fact that the song was permanently over after the loss of John Entwistle in Las Vegas in 2002. I happen to review the Who's first appearance following Entwistle's death for Rolling Stone and walked into the Hollywood Bowl that night a cynic and walked out a believer in the Who again.
A good deal of the credit must go to drummer Zak Starkey and bassist Pino Palladino who somehow fully honored the legacies of the irreplaceable men they replaced and brought their own passion to the playing as well. Yet in the end, what's most impressive is that rather than dying before they got old, Pete and Roger have found a way to get old and stay connected to whatever it is in rock & roll that remains forever young and full of meaning and power and a kind of human majesty.
"Rock is dead they say
"Long live rock."