“I’m One” – The Who from “Quadrophenia” as seen in “Freaks and Geeks”

Ever since I introduced the late 1990s TV show “Freaks & Geeks” to my son a few weeks ago, he has binge-watched the entire one-season show (18 hours) at least 5-6 times on Netflix.  It’s been nice reconnecting with the best show ever to be broadcast on TV about teenagers, if not one of the best series in TV history.

This particular scene is one of my favorites.  It’s one where the geekiest of the geeks, latchkey child Bill Haverchuck, comes home after school to watch TV by himself.  He catches an early TV appearance by comedian Garry Shandling and experiences a moment of unbridled joy laughing at Shandling and just hanging by himself.  I know that many people paint the life of a latchkey kid as unbearably tragic.  But speaking as a latchkey kid myself, sorry Dr. Laura, I had a f–king blast! And no, it’s not because I used the alone time to drink alcohol, do drugs, use my bedroom as a f–kpad, or look at porn.  I realize this is anathema to common ideas of parenting these days, but sometimes kids just need one-two hours a day to do absolutely nothing but veg.  Yes, socializing, exercising, doing school activities, etc. are important, but vegging is seriously underrated and kids these days don’t do enough of it. 

Anyway, I love the way that The Who’s “I’m One” … one of the best, but least-heralded tracks from their great album “Quadrophenia” is used in this scene.  One of the best uses of popular music for dramatic purposes ever.

“A Quick One While He’s Away” – Green Day


The punks meet the godfathers. Green Day mastered the mini-rock opera on “American Idiot” with two 10-minute rock operas: “Jesus of Suburbia” and “Homecoming.” Here Green Day pay homage with a damn terrific cover of the original mini-rock opera, the Who’s “A Quick One (While He’s Away),” recorded as a bonus track for “21st Century Breakdown.” This is my favorite Who track of all-time and Green Day delivers magnificently.

“Who Are You?” – The Who


The premise for this classic song came from Pete Townshend winning a 7-figure settlement in the late 1970s, which made him feel horrible, because he devoted a lot of time and energy to an endeavor that only resulted in a check. He drowned his sorrows in booze and ran into Steve Jones and Paul Cook of the Sex Pistols at a local pub. He ranted at them, saying that the Who were finished, that the Pistols needed to take over and “finish the job” … whatever that meant. He then dramatically ripped up his check and stomped on it several times. Jones and Cook looked perplexed and expressed their sorrow about a possible break-up of the Who, to which Townshend snarled “I’m disappointed in you!” and staggered off into the night. He passed out in a shop doorway and was awakened by a patrol man who told Townshend, “As a special treat, if you can get up and walk away, you can sleep in your own bed tonight.” Townshend made it home, passed out, and the next morning wrote “Who Are You?”

The version in this video is different than the version most people know. There’s some nice footage of the band, including Keith Moon who would soon pass away, goofing around and having a great time in the studio.

“Baba O’ Reilly” – The Who (from Spike Lee’s “Summer of Sam”) 1999


The bravura montage from one of Spike Lee’s best, and most underrated films “Summer of Sam.”  This is the sequence where Adrien Brody’s character plays his guitar along to the Who’s “Baba O’Reilly” juxtaposed with clips of the craziness from his character’s neighborhood, along with the rest of NYC (including the Son of Sam murdering more people), during the summer of 1977.  One of the best films of the 1990s and one that is sadly ignored / forgotten.  Co-written by Michael Imperioli, Christopher Molisanti from “The Sopranos.”  Due to graphic violence and language, not safe for work.

“Bell Boy” – The Who


The best song from what I would describe as the British “Catcher in the Rye”. This is the song where our protagonist Jimmy discovers his ass-kicking hero, Ace Face, is actually (gulp) a bellboy who licks the boots of people Jimmy despises.

This is the final straw for Jimmy and leads to the ambiguous finale where Jimmy either dies or becomes an adult (which in Jimmy’s mind is the same thing). Yes, on one level this is quite silly once you’ve become an adult and see it from the other side, but when you’re not quite a grownup, sometimes this s–t really seems like life and death. To Pete Townshend’s credit (and Franc Roddam’s, who directed the 1979 film version), he takes Jimmy’s issues seriously without actually supporting them. The Criterion Collection released the film version on Blu-Ray in August 2012 with all the usual bells and whistles. From what I’ve read, it was quite a cultural phenomenon in Britain back in the late 1970s. Johnny Rotten almost got the lead role, and while he would have been interesting, I’m much happier they went with Phil Daniels. A great flick.

“Bad Timing: A Sensual Obsession” (1980) dir. Nicolas Roeg


I can’t imagine a worse “date movie” than Nicolas Roeg’s psychotic 1980 masterpiece “Bad Timing: A Sensual Obsession.”  OK, maybe “Cruising,” “A Serbian Film,” or “Irreversible” would be worse … WAAAY worse.   But seriously, I don’t want you to underestimate how seriously f–ked up “Bad Timing” is.  Art Garfunkel and Theresa Russell probably deliver their best-ever acting performances as a mutually destructive couple from hell.  Russell’s character is the stereotypical slutty “crazy woman,” and Russell does play the part very well.  Garfunkel plays an unctuous, controlling, co-dependent psychiatrist scumbag who, we later learn, may actually be more deranged than Russell.  And, of course, there’s Harvey Keitel (the patron saint of f–ked-up cinema) playing a Viennese detective interrogating Garfunkel’s character about Russell’s suicide attempt, trying to play mind games with someone who is a master of the art.  A complex, well-acted, well-written, and well-directed journey into relationship hell.   It also has a great use of music, from Tom Waits to Billie Holiday to Keith Jarrett to the Who.

Here’s Roeg’s effective use of the Who’s “Who Are You” during a couple of crucial scenes:

It was released with an X-rating in the United States, due to nudity, sex, language, and extremely disturbing subject matter.  The Criterion Collection had the good taste to release it on DVD in the U.S. and you can watch it for free on Netflix streaming.  See it with someone you love.

“Her Love Falls Like Rain” – Willie Nile


From the 2009 album “House of a Thousand Guitars,” is a lovely ballad by Willie Nile.  Nile is an immensely talented singer-songwriter who always seemed on the verge of breaking big, but never did due to various circumstances.   He recorded some albums in the early 1980s for Arista with members of the Patti Smith Group as backup musicians.  Pete Townsend was such a fan, he hired Nile to open some dates for the Who back in the 1980s.  Among his fans and backing musicians over the years: Bruce Springsteen, Richard Thompson, Loudon Wainwright III, Roger McGuinn, and many others.  A vastly terrific and underrated talent.