July 28, 2014
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Tales From the Road with Binky Phillips : WHO?

I was in Heaven.

My hideously painful crush on Esther Mickley was getting some incredibly tangible relief and hope.

It was April, 1970 and I had slept out for two nights to the immediate south of the marquee of The Fillmore East to get tickets for The Who’s Final Performance of “Tommy” at the absurdly ostentatious and downright silly venue, The Metropolitan Opera House in Lincoln Center.

Bill Graham was organizing and promoting the show for the management at The Met, consequently, the tickets were going on sale at The Fillmore’s box office on the Monday morning of whatever week that was in early April.

I was 3rd on line behind two blithering idiots who, amazingly enough, knew almost nothing about The Who.

“We usually like, sleep out for Dead tickets like, y’know, all the time and we thought, like, hey, why not for The Who, too, y’know. I mean, like, they’re pretty cool, right!”

It was infuriating.

But, just as I’d known that AA113 was the front row on-the-aisle seat in front of Pete Townshend’s mic stand at The Fillmore, I’d done my homework and knew,

in advance, exactly what seat to ask for for the matinee (a matinee!?) and “late show” (that started at 7pm!) for The Met shows.

Virtually every other person on line, and by Sunday afternoon there was almost a hundred of us, were indeed, true Who loonies.
I knew about 2/3s of them. It was a Who party on the filthy streets of the East Village.

While the area is funky-chic-gentrified these days, back then, it was one block from frickin’ skid row and three blocks from The Hell’s Angels’ headquarters... more on one of them later.

Bad sad scary people hassled us dopey Who freaks constantly for the full two days... although less so as our numbers grew.

Someone had brought a guitar, and on Sunday night, I treated everyone to the entire “Tommy”. Yep, at 17, I knew how to play the whole dang album.

I can still do the intro to “Pinball Wizard”... and... uh... mmm... that song that Jack Nicholson sings in Ken Russell’s cartoon version. Oh, and “See me, Feel Me Up...” too.

Anyway, I’d decided that I would ask Esther (imagine Cher with Twiggy’s haircut... stunning and all legs) to go to the matinee with me.

Around 6am on Monday, Bill Graham opened The Fillmore up to everyone on line and served free coffee and donuts while showing cartoon on the Joshua’s Light Show screen.

Can you imagine?!

His staff gave out numbers so everyone got to keep their place in line, as it were, while relaxing, munching, and watching Bugs Bunny.
Because I was 3rd on line, I never had to bother with cooling my heels in the Orchestra section.

When the box office opened, bang, I got the exact seat I wanted for myself for both shows and the seat next to me for the matinee.
I got home, filthy, exhausted, but totally psyched... I took a deep breath, called Esther, told her how I’d just spent the weekend and asked her if she wanted to sit in the front row with me on June 7th. Esther had been playing hard-to-get for more than three years, but, no dummie, she. Her answer Yes, sent me into ecstasy.

About 8 weeks later, Sunday, June 7th, 1970... it’s Show Time.

I was still living at home in Brooklyn. Esther arrived at my house on time and announced that she’d dropped a tab of acid about 20 minutes earlier and was just starting to feel the effects. Not to be outdone, or appear a loser, I went upstairs and found the half-joint I’d had for over a month. The half-joint laced with ANGEL DUST!

I took three tokes up in my room while Esther started to giggle and off we went to the subway. We’d gotten about half a block from my house and I realized I could barely walk.

“Esther, we’ve got to take a cab. I can’t walk.” She wisely and wittily giggled some more.
I recall that as we drove to Manhattan, the windows of the cab seemed to be little movie screens with the outside world 2-D flat.

Somehow, I was able to negotiate the paying-the-cab-driver (where did I get the money for a cab, anyway?!) and Esther and I staggered towards the back of Lincoln Center where The Met stood, looking waaay too grown-up-fancy, The Met, not us. We must’ve looked like idiots.

When we walked in, I burst out laughing. All the ushers from The Fillmore were there dressed in actual tuxedos, augmenting the clearly-mind-blown staff of The Met.

We sort of floated down the right aisle to our seats. I was instantly dismayed and deeply disappointed. There was a damn orchestra pit! I hadn’t thought of that!

The first row was a good 25 feet from the lip of the stage... like maybe the 8th row at The Fillmore East. Dang!

Esther immediately distracted me though with a deep French kiss of thanks as soon as we sat down. Wwwwwwwow! We were completely blasted, but thoroughly enjoying ourselves.

There was no opening act, and within less than 10 minutes of sitting down, the lights dimmed, the crowd roared, and Bill Graham came out of the wings, and as he always did at a Who show, solemnly intoned with his deep voice-of-authority...

“Ladies and gentlemen... John Entwistle... Keith Moon... Roger Daltrey... Peter Townshend... Please welcome, The Who...”

The curtain opened to reveal THREE Hiwatt stacks on either side of Moon’s enormous kit (The Fillmore shows were two stacks each)...
The Who walked out onstage...

Uh Oh... Pete was SCOWLING! He was FURIOUS! He spit on the stage. He shouted something to a roadie and Bang!, off they went into John’s “Heaven & Hell”.

If you don’t know this song, you are missing one of the greatest tunes in The Who’s entire catalog... probably the best song Entwistle ever wrote.

Amazingly, and, believe me, I remember ALL of this like video tape, the moment they started playing, the angel dust... disappeared. I was totally fine, totally lucid, and stoned on The Who.

Now, as a true Who freak knows, you were always in for a great show if Pete was pissed off... But, he was angrier that I’d ever seen him in the 20 or so shows I’d seen before.

They went into “Young Man Blues” and Pete’s solo consisted of smashing E chords... AND NOTHING ELSE!

I mean, literally, E E E EEEEE EEE   E        EEE  E E E EEEEEEEEEEE    E   E       EEEE EEEE E E EEEEE    EE       E      E       E  EE      EEEEE    E...

He was playing The Met like it was a sh*tty rainy Maximum R&B Tuesday night at The Marquee Club and no one had shown up... six years earlier. I was just dying with pleasure.

Moon and Entwistle figured out that they had to provide the music and flew off into terrain that I’ve never heard on any recording... foookin’ JAZZ.

And Pete just kept bashing EE E     EEEEEEE E E     EEEE       EE E    E E E E E       EEEE E      EE ... It went on for at least 5 minutes.

Then, they debuted “Water”, a killer and then, “For the very last time...” (if ONLY that had been true, dammit) they did an hour’s worth of “Tommy”.

Pete had calmed down a bit and threw himself into entertaining the rabble that was desecrating the seats of The Met. Probably, not probably, the ONLY time that venue ever reeked of reefer.

At one point, Pete made eye contact with me and sort of jerked his head towards Esther, as if to say, “That your bird, mate?” I nodded back, yes. (I’d never brought a grrrrrl to a Who concert before).Pete nodded back a kind of A Ha! approval and for a moment had a tiny secret smile on his face.

They finished up with “My Generation”, and to my distinct disappointment, Pete very carefully leaned his Gibson SG Special against one of the stacks without so much as one bang or toss and the boys took their bows and walked off.

Naturally, the crowd was insane for an encore. Back then, encores weren’t the horsesh*t rituals they soon became. An audience really had to DEMAND an encore.

I was thinking that this was ridiculous, they had another show to do in less than three hours... The Who don’t do encores!

I wanted to go make out with Esther for awhile, put her on the subway, and get ready for the next performance.

Suddenly, the lights went back down, the crowd bellowed, and The Who walked back onstage... and Pete was beaming... a total change from the opening. They launched into “Shakin’ All Over” and I mean LAUNCHED.

Whatever had happened while they were offstage, they’d come back out just FLAMING!

Townshend went into the solo and started playing blistering lead guitar... just wailing. I can still see Roger looking over at Pete with a look of “Holy Fook!” on his happy face.

Pete was so into his soloing that he didn’t realize he’d been slowly backing up toward his amps and at one point, did a huge windmill move and smacked the head of the guitar against one of the stacks so hard that he instantly and totally knocked it hopelessly out of tune.
Oh boy... he was furious again.

He threw the poor thing on the stage like it was a dinner plate he wanted to shatter, walked into the wings and came back out with another SG Special, plugged it in, and tried valiantly to get back his focus.

As he played, a roadie slithered out onstage on all fours, grabbed the strap of the out of tune SG, and started slowly pulling it offstage, trying hard not to be noticed by Pete.

But, notice him, Pete did.

The roadie was about halfway to the wings and Townshend stalked over and stomped on the guitar, instantly snapping the head off the neck and vehemently shook his head NO! to the hapless roadie who scurried away back into the wings...

The guitar now lay onstage with it’s headstock and bridge laying next to it, attached to each other by the six limp strings.

Then... very very quickly... in maybe a half second... Pete snuck a very deliberate and deeply significant look at me. Our eyes met.
I INSTANTANEOUSLY understood.

That guitar... was... coming... my way.

I started having trouble breathing.

Esther had seen the glance too. “Did you see the way Pete just looked at you?” “Yes...    I did...”  I didn’t say another word.

The song ended. While Moon and John thrashed around doing the big coda thing, Pete put down the “new” SG and walked over and picked up the headless SG that he’d bashed all those EE EEEE     E E    E EEE E E E ‘s on.

With exaggerated care, he carefully wrapped the strap around the body, walked to the edge of the stage, looked at me again, and with a shrug of his shoulders, and a quick nod, asked me with his body language if I was ready. I nodded. He stepped back a foot or two, judging the distance of the orchestra pit, and with one Zen motion tossed the guitar high in the air.

It must’ve gone up 15 feet. It slowly, as in ssssssssllllllllllllloooowwwwwwwwwwwww motion arc-ed towards me.

Because everyone else in the front row was a Who pal of mine, and because Pete had made it so very clear who the guitar was intended for, I could see in my peripheral vision everyone else leaning AWAY from the guitar. The guitar glided in, face first, and I literally caught it by it’s two SG horns.

For those of you who don’t know... think of literally every picture you’ve ever seen of Angus Young. THAT is a Gibson SG... with the two sharp small curved cutaway horns on either side of the neck. 

It was toss Joe Namath would’ve been proud of. As soon as it was in my hands, I looked back at Pete. Pete smiled, and with his eyes said “Nice catch.”

He then walked over and picked up the bridge of the guitar and slowly walked backwards offstage, miming that the headstock was a little dog and the strings were the leash, making barking sounds, looking at John for humor-approval, with John laughing out loud.

The lights came up and I turned to see at least 75 kids charging down the aisle, absolutely intent on taking the guitar away from me... a true MOB!

Suddenly out of nowhere, one of Bill Graham’s actual Hell’s Angels ushers (I told you we’d get to him) was standing next to me.

He was the guy who normally patrolled the right aisle (the one that AA133 sat on) of The Fillmore East. He was at least 6’ 6”... as wide as a linebacker, with long long gold-blond hair, a Harry Chapin neck-beard, and one wandering eye... a VIKING.

He looked down at me as the hoards came charging down the aisle and said “You’ve been at every f*cking Who show I’ve ever ushered... NO ONE is taking that guitar from you!”

And he turned and put himself between me and 75 lunatics and yelled “I’ll f*cking break the arms of anyone who even touches this guy. Pete threw it to HIM! Back the f*ck up or you’re gonna f*cking be bleeding!. Try me, assh*les, just try me!” Everyone just screeched to a halt. A girl about 15 was sobbing and begged me “Can I please have a knob?”

I pulled one off for her. Another kid begged for another one. I pulled another off and gave it to him.

The Hell’s Angel looked at me and said, “What the hell you doin’?! Jeez, I gotta get you outta here... Who you with?”

I pointed to Esther. “Okay, follow me... Okay, back the F*CK up... it’s over... it’s his... LEAVE!” He started to pull me along the edge of the stage towards a door at the furthest right-hand corner of the stage with Esther holding my left hand while I clutched the guitar against my body with my right. People were reaching out and touching the guitar like a religious object as we slowly made our way towards that stage door.

The Viking pulled me and Esther into the doorway and up a small flight of stairs and into... an empty, stunningly opulent, lounge area... all gold brocade Louis the Something chairs, leather couches, silk wallpaper, plush gold carpeting, a crystal chandelier, and a bar.
The room wasn’t empty after all. Standing at the bar, by himself, in a tux with a white silk scarf draped casually around his neck, one foot on the brass rail, with a glass halfway to his lips, was Chris Stamp, who along with Kit Lambert was one of The Who’s two managers. He turned and looked at me, with the Hell’s Angel’s arm around my shoulders, chuckled and said...

“Ahhh... So, you’re the one who got it!”, turned away, and downed his drink.

The Viking took us into a long corridor, opened a door, congratulated me, and shoved me and Esther onto the sidewalk of West 66th St, the part that’s covered by a tunnel sort of structure between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue.

We spent the next two hours wandering the streets with the guitar.

Esther had had such a wonderful time, and I was so thrilled to be the apple of her tripping eye, that I vowed to sneak her into the next
show. And... I did!
The same Hell’s Angel usher was patrolling the same right side of the stage and when he saw that Esther was sitting on my lap without her own seat, with the guitar in her lap, he just laughed, shook his head, and left us alone.
When the evening show started, during the first song, Pete looked over at me, I mouthed the word “Thanks!”, he nodded “Of course!”, made another gesture that said...

 “Snuck your girl in, I see...” I nodded back, he smiled, and another Who show was underway.

37 years ago this Sunday.
Coda 1...  Two and a half years earlier, my dear pal, Jacob, at a show at The Village Theater, soon to be renamed The Fillmore East, caught a few chunks of one of Pete’s smashed Gibson guitars,  including, remarkably enough, the headstock. Jake graciously gave me the head and I had my pals @ Guitar Lab (remember my Patti Smith story?) attach it to the Met SG... and I’ve been playing it in my living room ever since... Plugged into a big amp, it sounds EXACTLY like “Live At Leeds”... EXACTLY!
And, yes, sometimes I just bash out several dozen E E E EEEEEE E     E E’s...
Coda 2...  If you ever watch the recent authorized Who documentary, “Amazing Journey”, and I recommend it highly, there is a few minutes of footage from ABC’s Eyewitness News story
about The Met show televised on June 7th, 1970... and for about 3 seconds, you get to see Pete wind-milling on MY GUITAR! Yes, the wood-grain matches!
“I was once on welfare and food stamps and nobody bailed me out!” - Craig T. Nelson, Mr. Unintentionally Hilarious Irony, 2009
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