The first rock bio I ever bought was in 1979, when I was 14. It was about The Who, Headliners by John Swenson, as I had just become a devotee of the band. The book had a huge impact on me as it was the first time I had a jumping-off point for a band I was obsessed with. It made me want to know more – everything – about a band I absolutely loved. Over the years, that passion for books about bands I have an appreciation for has grown. But no matter how many things I read about The Who, it always finds a particular place in my being, since I consider The Who my reason for being in music to begin with. I loved and revered The Beatles, but The Who made me buy and learn guitar; Townshend made me become a songwriter and their background inspired me to be a Mod.
Now comes along this new study – for that’s what it is – by Casey Harison, a professor of history at the University of Southern Indiana. While his writing and research has been in modern French and Atlantic history, his academic look at The Who is, without question, one of the finest pieces of critical/analytical thought that anyone has ever presented on the band – and is long overdue. The fact is, The Who have always been more than a band. Like The Beatles were in so many ways, The Who are a cultural institution; their inventiveness through the “classic” years (when Keith Moon was still alive) led music – and maybe to a lesser degree some members of society – into a previously untapped realm of creativity and possibility.
Professor Harison writes this in a two-fold manner: as a scholar and as a fan. It is not dry but rather intriguing and filled with a depth that I can appreciate and take note of. Much of the book offers an insight of The Who as a force on the British music scene in the mid-to-late ’60’s but also their impact as they crossed over and ascended to superstardom in the United States. It is an assessment of the band that I feel is accurate, on point and worth studying – I would be willing to make the argument that this could be used as a textbook in a college class when teaching about rock music and contemporary culture. It also doesn’t go over the same stories and anecdotes that have become rote in the legendary tales of The Who but rather gleans a few items when trying to give a full scope on the band’s motives, etc.
Whether you want to view this as a fan looking for a different sense of depth or a musicologist seeking new perspectives on this most important of bands, Feed Back: The Who And Their Generation is a direct hit. If you’re a student of The Who like I am, this is one of the few books that you must have in your library.
Feed Back: The Who And Their Generation is available now