Is it me for a moment?

I’ve become a huge fan of The Best Show on WFMU hosted by the irascible Tom Scharpling. The call-in show has been on the air for about a dozen years, although I’ve only been listening to the podcast for the past few. It’s a formula I instantly fell in love with. Tom starts the show with a mix of indie rock and Led Zeppelin sandwiched between two theme songs, puts down his producer AP Mike, threatens to quit and then takes calls from a cast of regulars — including the various characters voiced by Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster — and people who don’t always have much to say. Frequent guests have been people like comedians Julie Klausner and John Hodgeman and musicians like Ted Leo. If you haven’t heard this show, check it out.

Lately Tom has been playing cuts from the Deluxe Edition version of The Who’s 1973 classic album Quadrophenia, which came out in November. The Director’s Cut edition is available on Amazon.com for only $133.78. The special box set comes with a booklet, some extra crap (i.e. outtakes) and a snappy looking case. But if I am gonna drop that kind of money, the least it could include is some authenticated DNA from Keith Moon and/or John Entwhistle.

Fortunately, I still own this on vinyl, so I broke it out the other day for a listen. Quadrophenia is one of the two great records by a band mostly known largely for its singles and a horribly over-appreciated rock opera about a deaf, dumb and blind guy. Lyrically, this is Pete Townshend at his best. This is a record that saw heavy rotation when I was 14. Now that I am a grown-ass man of 44, I was interested to hear how it held up 30 years later.

When I was teen, I identified strongly with Jimmy Cooper, the protagonist of this rock opera. His was the classic story of a teen struggling to find his identity while feeling like an outsider, captured succinctly with the opening line “Is it me for a moment?”  In those days, I was more into the more powerful songs of the record: “The Real Me,” “The Punk and the Godfather,” “I’ve Had Enough” and “5:15.”

Listening to Quadrophenia for the first time since I was young, I am even more impressed with the arrangement and production. As a musician, I developed my listening skills over the years. Coming through the mix now are parts I never was able to appreciate as a kid in high school. I have a newfound appreciation for the beauty of “The Sea and Sand” and the string and horn arrangement in “Doctor Jimmy.” This is a glimpse of four of the most talented players in rock — and a surrounding cast — at their absolute peak of ability that is well worth revisiting.

I made the mistake of selling some of my old classic rock albums when I was in college. I rue the day I sold all my Led Zeppelin vinyl (II, III and Song Remains the Same) so I could buy the latest Smiths record at the time. And it was a bloated mess at the end of their run. I’m glad I didn’t sell Quadrophenia too.

Free stuff = awesome

You would be a fool not to download the free sampler from Gringo Records. I’m just throwing that out there right now. Often I find that free music is hardly worth the time it takes to download. But if you like the rock, this brings it.

Gringo Records is a bedroom label run out of Nottingham, UK, that features a deep lineup of guitar-driven indie rock, agitprop and instrumental bands. FREE! Gringo Sampler showcases songs by Lords, I’m Being Good, That Fucking Tank, Hookworms, Ox Scapula, Bilge Pump, Broken Arm, Spin Spin the Dogs, Part Chimp, Soe’za and Souvaris.

I use music like a drug and this sampler is the perfect elixir for when you just need to crank the volume and tell the world to piss off. And wouldn’t the world be a better place if people would put on their cans and let their eardrums bleed instead of reaching for a gun? Let’s work on that next year.

A heartwarming story

John Grabski has cancer. He’s been dealt a shitty hand, but he hasn’t let that stop him. After reaching out to the Electrical Audio Forum, he found an online community ready and willing to give him support and love. He was able to realize a dream of making a recording under the moniker Teeth with his brother — engineered by no less than Steve Albini. Along the way, he’s been interviewed by NME, garnered interest from the management firm that handles Johnny Marr and, more importantly, has been able to play with friends and family. Yesterday he worked with Bob Weston to master the upcoming release The Strain, which will come out in the first quarter of 2012. I greatly look forward to that.

Tom Long is one-third of the seldom heard Chicago band The Ethyl Mermen. The name Tom Long can be found in the dictionary, Baseball Encyclopedia and a pub in Ireland. Tom Long is not affiliated with any other Tom Long; he won the rights to use his own name after prevailing in a three-way game of Jan-ken-pon by choosing "dynamite!" No Toms were harmed in the making of this blog.

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