I have a response to ubiquity. After a three month absence, I have a response to something that’s happened. It just all happened so quickly, so pervasively. No days off, I notice. And I don’t mean anything specific or even topical, necessarily. I don’t mean the impeachment business (whichever one we’re on now), or the Syrian debacle; I don’t mean Brexit or climate green deals, or wildfire alarms that hit close to home, literally; I don’t even mean the pathos of a shooting at an airb&b. Anomalously, I might have attended the Who concert last month—perhaps the last time they will perform in my unburning neck of the woods—and meant something lamentable in my time-is-passing reverie. Once I would have thought The Who ubiquitous. Or inviolate. Something not to be taken away, as the sign on Keith Moon’s chair once read. Something that will be with us, always.
I don’t mean this in a temporal sense, of course. I don’t mean that aging doesn’t exist and that icons don’t die before they get old. Smokey The Bear just turned seventy five, I hear—how timely, I think, not realizing how much we need him and his message. As I tell knowing friends or colleagues, I didn’t miss The Who this time. I never miss The Who, those closest to me know, because they are never far away from my mind. They are incorporated, as psychoanalysis teaches us: that means something like downloaded to those who think in cybernetics. They are introjected, which means something broader, more meaningful in an abstracted sense. Once, when I was a kid, as in last week, I played with the gestures of performance, swinging my arms in a Pete Townshend-like arc, doing the windmill thing, as it was once dubbed. My second favorite is a Keith Moon act, which looks like a Muppet maneuver: the arms flap about like those of a manic chef attacking his waiters with knives, or a symphony conductor who has lost track of the beat. There was no idea in this per se. There was no thought as we think of it. Behind these elements, however, is some manner of scripture. There is a story that began (and even this is arbitrary) in the 1940s, in West London during World War II, and was itself shaped by intergenerational trauma.
Yes, what isn’t? Trauma was ubiquitous in the 1940s, as it is today. The difference was that trauma was lesser spoken of back then. It was dealt with, however, with play of an exciting yet dangerous kind: enactments, repetition. War. And maybe sex, Freud’s preferred obsession, though The Who, my incorporated objects, had less to say about sex. At the time, non-masturbatory sex was being written about, or sung about by everyone except The Who. For their dominantly male audience (they even included the male symbol in their original logos), mimesis about something else was the original, and aptly primitive mode of communication. It was also reciprocal. Pete and the boys copied the Mods’ narcissistic dances, and he wrote lyrics that mirrored them, not himself. He held them, a Winnicottian might say—taught that their experience was no illusion. Whatever is happening is real. “I” or they couldn’t explain, he first expressed. No words, just action, based upon loneliness and confusion. The links had been attacked and destroyed, says a Bionion interruption, by bullets and bombs, and later prohibitions that stretched through the fifties…no, don’t, and STOP. Something primal didn’t stop, and a baby boom followed. That’s what follows war, I glean: life. Only life changes, gets electrified, and eventually, mass produced and consumed. That meant, among other things, that things don’t matter. Guitars and drums, for example, don’t matter. They are no longer precious artifacts, so they can be destroyed, or sacrificed in the name of an as yet unidentified human phenomenon.
What fans later introjected from The Who were a repertoire of gradually articulated ideals: they were anti-war, anti-material, egalitarian, and implicitly tolerant of the different, the wild and the marginal (I mean only that the members of The Who were very different in their individual personalities, thus enacting a symbolic democracy). At the same time, their ongoing mental illness was manifest and wrought casualties: they acted out their traumas, their early abandonments and abuses, doing some damage amid the entertainment, it has to be said. Do I mean anything specific? When eleven fans died in a concert stampede in Cincinnati in 1979, The Who incurred ambiguous responsibility, being part of the machine that made money and killed. As Keith Moon and talismanic manager Kit Lambert played out their respective self-destruction, The Who played on, not knowing what else to do, perhaps? In the 21st century, they are ghostly hypocritical, serving as an echo of inchoate principles—their gestures of performance and expression lingering like totems of an exploded generation.
21st century life is beyond electrified. It is digitized, and our heads (and personal info) are up in the clouds; it is relentlessly solipsistic, and I don’t like change or floating, or burning. I occasionally look up from my phone, and I’m doing something The Who didn’t do so much: I’m writing about sex. I’m writing about excess, which The Who did indulge, and in the context of sex that means sex addiction, plus the treatment of it, because when the play is over, the pieces have to be picked up and looked at by someone. In my forthcoming book, entitled Getting Real About Sex Addiction (plus a subtitle that hasn’t been worked out yet), the treatment of sex addiction or its synonymous terms are thought about alongside a whole lot of ubiquity. Honesty, I didn’t know where to begin. I just mean that I did.