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Patrick Madden

Though it doesn’t fit too well, lately I’ve been singing the phrase “How are you?” into the Who’s “Who Are You.” The main “Ho-o-o-w are you” works fine, but when you get to “how how how how,” you really feel the awkwardness. The W subtly asserts itself, forcing the initial H to aspirate, and the dipthonged /ow/ makes your mouth shapeshift, so you wish for the simple owlish “who who”s. Which: I mean, I’ve always considered it a bit gauche to sing a song in which your band name figures prominently. Examples that spring readily to my mind include “Black Sabbath” and “Bad Company” and “Damn Yankees” (all of which appeared on eponymous albums!), and a quick search turns up a song called “New Kids on the Block,” which I’m not going to listen to. But I’m OK with “Who Are You,” which feels clever, ironic, and I’m likewise fond of Galactic Cowboys’ “Ranch on Mars Reprise,” with its affirmation that “Galactic Cowboys never age!” which seems like a nice sentiment, but if singer Ben Huggins’s Facebook feed is any indication, it’s not true. Ben readily proffers an intentionally aged perspective with curmudgeonly provocations from a libertarian viewpoint, we’ll call it. And of course there are small doses of nostalgia, too. During the current lockdown, Ben has several times taken to his closet and filmed himself joking while reading decades-old fan mail, including, once, a typed letter from yours truly, which was not quite as embarrassing as it might have been, thank goodness. I wrote of their debut album, “I find it so refreshing to hear good hard rock / heavy metal with good lyrics and great vocal harmonies.” I still feel that way, though I might try to vary my adjectives were I to express the sentiment today.

I realize I’ve been beating around the bush here, and I thank you for your patience. Surely my dithering is a kind of avoidance, revelatory in what it omits. Why (I ask myself) can I never confront the thing directly? In this case, the thing everyone is living, enveloped in, thinking about, worrying over? The thing that gave rise to this worthy project, driven by that usually superficial question “How are you?” Perhaps (surely) because I worry that my life is utterly uninteresting to others, and my sufferings utterly unworthy of sharing, lest I seem not to understand my privileged position or to rank my trials above the demonstrably more grievous tribulations of others who’re not so fortunate, so buffered from the effects of the thing. If you know me (which you likely do: who else would be reading this missive?), you likely already know more than you care to about how I am, specifically now amidst the thing, and generally, always. In short, I’m fine. Really. But…no one whose mind is introspective (and mine is painfully so) can be really, fully fine. And I am not. Neither are you.

When I was eleven, the Who (minus Keith Moon, who’d died four years prior) did their first farewell tour, though at the time nobody could have known they’d be back. The show was broadcast via pay-per-view, and as my family didn’t have cable, I arranged with my friend John Hickey to watch it at his house. Already a preemptive nostalgic, I brought my dad’s tape recorder and leaned it on the carpet against the television set’s speaker, asked my friends to keep quiet, and recorded the whole thing, carefully timing the cassette flips between songs, certain that I’d return to it often to relisten to the magical musical valediction of the iconic band I knew only from a handful of radio staples.

Reader, I never once listened to those cassettes, but I do return to this scene often in memory. I never want for occasions, as my listening habits and the programming on classic rock radio frequently conspire to deliver reminders. But I’ve never quite settled on what the event means. Which: I mean, I could take it all rather superficially/personally and see my lack of foresight or inability to conceive of my life’s future twists and turns and what would become or remain important; or I could see societal cynicism in the band’s (successful) attempt to capitalize on the seeming finality of a farewell, only to return repeatedly, then strongly suggest another “long goodbye” tour in 2014 that likewise didn’t stick, which is good news for the Who faithful, I suppose, and doesn’t really bother me much, so. And perhaps all of this seemingly evasive palaver about “How Are You” and farewells/returns and unfulfilled nostalgia is working metaphorically as commentary on our current situation, covering for my reluctance to engage directly with the thing. But the fact is that while some readers may really want to know, reaching irritably (irritatedly?) after conclusions, I have no desire to preach from my chair. So I take my leave, leaving the essay to stand only for itself, inconclusive, subtle, hinted, nebulous. A bit like the thing, perhaps.

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