Waxing Nostalgic Connecting The Dots: The Who, “Won’t Get Fooled Again” (1971)

Published on September 18th, 2013 in: Music, Waxing Nostalgic |

By Jeffery X Martin

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The John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge connects Covington, Kentucky (the town of my birth) to Cincinnati, Ohio (the town that, as a teenager, became my stomping ground). At the time of its completion, in 1866, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world, with a span of 322 meters (1057 feet).

Let’s get down to brass tacks here. Driving over the Suspension Bridge is scary as shit. As soon as you hit the surface of the bridge, the road surface changes. No smooth blacktop or asphalt here; it is nothing but closely spaced thin strips of steel. That’s all keeping you and your car from pulling a Mothman Prophecies and plunging hood-first into the Ohio River. When you drive over it, the car begins to vibrate, and this hideous hum begins emanating from your tires. Rubber meets metal, and the entire vehicle shakes and swerves.

It’s not pleasant.

Unless you’re two years old and don’t know any better.

Here’s the odd thing. Depending on how fast you go, the friction of the bridge against the tires produces a musical note. I know for a fact that as my mother drove across the bridge that day, she was playing an open A chord without realizing it.

Bear with me. I’m making a point.

I am two years old, maybe three. I don’t know where we’re going, but mother is driving her bad-ass muscle car, a Mach I. We’re going somewhere over the river. I can’t remember where. It doesn’t matter.

What matters is that sound, that tone, that blessed open A.

If you cannot hear that A chord in your mind, I want you to think about the last power chord Pete Townshend plays in “Won’t Get Fooled Again” before the keyboard solo. Can you hear it now, fading off into the distance? That is the music the bridge played.

I am two years old, maybe three. I am lying down in the back of my mother’s Mach I because it is the early Seventies and car seats are for pussies. We are a family of rebels. The car shimmies. The hum of the Suspension Bridge starts. I stare up out of the rear window, watching the cables that hold the bridge aloft swish past us. They’re out of context from my viewpoint. Lines in the sky.

The radio is blaring The Who. That A power chord fades out. The keyboard part comes in and the bridge takes over for the guitar. The world is an open A; it resonates through the American steel of the car. The tone grounds the keyboards, giving it something to bounce off of and wind around. It is a constant.

For a moment, it is like living inside music. The Who blaring through the speakers, the car vibrating at a perfect frequency; we could have driven through the spaces between atoms at that point. A synchronicity of tonality. The lost chord.

When the rubber meets the road again, Townshend’s guitar has windmilled back into the song, Daltrey is screaming and we are in Ohio.

This explains why I love The Who more than The Beatles. It explains why I can never turn off “Won’t Get Fooled Again” when it comes on in the car. One more thing: you know what can hear a little bit of in that keyboard solo?

That’s right.

Phasing.

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