Song: “Magic Bus”
Album: Released as a single
Release Date: September, 1968
About two months ago, I made an effort to explain my appreciation of the Who to Cousin Jack (after great feedback from him about The Kids Are Alright film where he brought up Ringo’s promotion for the movie; the Beatles drummer sitting sternly in an armchair stating “Hello children….you know who I am…. I know who you are….but we all know who The Who are!”). I put it this way to Jack: “You know, in those days (the mid-70s’) we were all about Red Sox, Bruins, Lost in Space and Wacky Packs. I look at the Who as simply an extension of all that.” Since then I’ve been meaning to expound upon just what I meant by that comment. Now is the time.
Jack’s reminder of the Ringo promotion was the catalyst for that specific reply by me. There are several reasons for this. First off, Jack and I were products of our times. We had what could best be defined as pop sensibilities. The term ‘pop’ is simply an abbreviated term for ‘popular’, and in the context of ‘pop art’ it is having an affinity, maybe even a fascination, with mainstream (as opposed to elitist) art and culture. Many in prior generations found this a bit odd (including my Dad). Their appreciation for the upper-crust things in life; classical music and books, traditional art galleries, powerful historical figures, fine dining, Greek and Roman ruins and the like, was noble for sure, but these had taken a back seat for most of us baby boomers. There was now brand new interest and insight into what was brilliant, sunny, cool and funny.
There was and continues to be a significant visual aspect to pop art. Makers of album covers, comic books, games, sunglasses, clothing, shoes, sitcoms, musical instruments, lunch boxes, you name it, all spruced up their acts after the advent of pop. Heck, even sports cards got livelier in the 70s. Perhaps this was simply an inevitable follow up after the dawn of color TV. Who knows? What I do know is that for Jack and I and many of our friends and family members, it was all borderline addictive.
Rock and Roll has for many years fed off of this visual aspect of the pop phenomenon, starting with the psychedelia of the late 60s and never really abating much since. And it was not just the aforementioned album covers. It was also the stage acts, the personas, and the songwriting. Bands like the Kinks started writing about the average guy in songs like “Mr. Pleasant” and “Muswell Hillbilly”. David Bowie and Elton John out flanked one another on a weekly basis with their garish stage acts. The Rolling Stones built up an outsider tax-exile image in Southern France. It all factored in to what was accessible to the average guy and gal.
Of all the bands that capitalized on this pop culture, The Who took the cake. They were, from my perspective, the most visual extension of my pop-generational mindset. To use the analogy of this blog series, this band was the main act in the Big Top tent: A rock and roll circus extravaganza! There was so much going on in their 4-piece live act that it would often border on sensory overload. With the Stones, you could focus on one instrument or another. With Neil Young and Crazy Horse, you could simply take in the totality of the sound. The Who? Well, there was this powerful visual essence that went with the music. There was Pete Townshend all over the stage, wind milling, strutting, hovering, sliding and spiritualizing. There was John Entwistle, anchoring, thunder-fingering, harmonizing, focusing, and decompressing. There was Keith Moon flailing, pacing, innovating, master-minding and intensifying. There was Roger Daltrey, whirling, swirling, internalizing, prancing and encapsulating. This was pop art in pure form: It was incredible.
With this pop sensibility of my generation came a collector/hobbyist mentality as well. Savvy promoters with a creative touch knew how to tap into my mass-appeal market. We witnessed “collector’s additions” for just about anything. Even the prizes inside cereal boxes were fair game (see below). It was a blast to strive for the complete set of anything (I don’t think I ever got there with any of my collections, but it was sure fun trying), and to understand the value of any particular item (often based on demand and quantity produced), and to trade with your friends.
At the surface this all had an air of superficiality about it. But there was something deeper going on. All this stimulation led to personal creativity for many of us on the receiving end. Our minds were opened up to out-of-the-box ways of thinking. I’m not sure many of the synapsis in my brain would have ever been used without my pop-art interests.
With all this said I’d like to delve a bit into a big part of what made my adolescent world so fascinating. Let me start with a gift I got under the Christmas tree when I was 5 years old. It was a blue box of animals, each of them elastic-strung into their slots and labeled. This collection was created with passion I am sure, as every detail of these animals was exquisite: The sculpting (for lack of a better term, considering these were plastic molds), the painting (this was no shoddy rush job, as even the eyes were handled with care) the scale coordination (each animal was perfectly sized relative to the others). This collection opened my eyes to the diversity of life on the planet. Yes the standard creatures were there: Lions, giraffes, elephants, and zebras. But there were also unusual animals that no one I knew had ever heard of: Tapirs and okapis, elands, spring bucks, anteaters, and ibex.
When my parents received the package in the mail several days before Christmas, they spotted that the tiny platypus was missing. They knew this bizarre creature would be a big hit with me and promptly contacted the toy store to inform them and ask what could be done. On Christmas Eve, so the story goes, the duck-billed platypus arrived on Santa’s sleigh just in time to be tucked into its tiny slot beneath the elephants.
No one else I knew had this animal collection. Believe it or not, I still have a number of the figures from that set (alas, not the platypus, a victim of a neighborhood bully hurling all my animals into the woods). I had hours and hours of fun with those animals, particularly with friend Phil, who concocted fantastical character development for every one of them (for example, the ibex was a detective who came to many of his insights by sticking his nose into the elephant’s ear).
For years I’ve tried to track this “Britain’s LTD Animals” collection on the web. I’ve found individual animals here and there, but never in that original blue box complete set. Finally, just recently when I started compiling this entry, I checked again and found it!:
I recently read a Pete Townshend interview where he talked briefly about the uniqueness of Who fans (as opposed to fans of other bands). He said something to the effect that we are a fascinating, creative bunch. Good people, interesting, deep thinkers. Having met many myself over the years, I have to agree. I believe that this entry gets to the core of what Townshend meant: The Who as a visceral product of their pop-culture times appealed to us fans in the same way that all the above products did. And this appeal led to wonderful lives for many of us. It complimented who we are, what our career choices were, how we committed ourselves to our families and our faith, how we took risks, how we reasoned, and how we opened our true selves up to those we love.