So I’m listening to “Who Are You,” and as I once posted on Facebook, I love this song, but it makes me so sad. The album cover is well-known for it’s eerie foreshadowing: a bloated, alcoholic Keith Moon, just months away from drinking himself to death, sits on a chair that says NOT TO BE TAKEN AWAY.
And though it’s a great song, the drumming is just such a shadow of what Moon’s drumming was back in his prime. I always compare it to something like “I Can See For Miles,” one of my favorite Who songs, and the differences are just shattering. In “Who Are You,” the fills just don’t sound as if they’re quite on the beat, and the cymbal crashes are all the most basic accents, all of them on the first beat of the measure.
And then you compare it to “I Can See For Miles,” and it’s as different person drumming. Moon is flying all around the drum set, and there are these accents that I always used to call “washes,” where he’s clearly playing these small drum rolls on the cymbals. The fills meanwhile, are actually part of the beat--it’s practically a drumming part consisting entirely of fills--and the dynamics go back and forth from medium to loud, so that the build in the chorus (“I can see for miles, and miles, and miles and miles, and miles”), with the steady sixteenth notes getting louder and louder, does more than steady the song…it propels it.
In truth, Moon was not one of my “go to” drummers (I loved Squeeze’s Gilson Lavis, and adored Bun E. Carlos from Cheap Trick, with his vests and wire rimmed glasses). At the same time, “I Can See For Miles” was one of the first songs I learned to drum to, and it was just a great song for working out an adolescent energy that doesn’t seem to have completely left me.
(For what it’s worth: the very first song I drummed along with was “Plastic Passion” by The Cure. Other favorites were “Touch Me” by The Doors, and “Everything Works if You Let It” and “Surrender,” by, you guessed it, Cheap Trick. As I said, I loved Bun E. Carlos, because he had this uncool regular nerd guy look that spoke to me. I even wore vests in high school to emulate him.)
So “Who Are You” will always make me a little sad. Yes, it’s this glorious, muscular song that just grabs you and doesn’t let go. Yet it’s also this painful swan song of a musician who couldn’t outrun his demons.