Running full circle with Pete Townshend's 'Drowned'



There always seem to be these dead moments in the day. For a minute, whatever chaos or general annoying noise that seems to be constantly buzzing in the background goes silent for a moment, and any duties or requirements are by the wayside for just a blip.

It’s usually around then that I’ll turn to music. And in another quiet fraction of time, I felt a gap and the need to fill it with something, either brand new or familiar; to fill the space and spur some kind of motivation for whatever comes next. As I do more often than not, I turned to Pete Townshend for the next kick.

I usually feel some kind of a lull after finishing off a big project. With something major cleared out of the inbox, there’s a weight lifted and that feeling of “what’s next” that will linger until something distracts me enough to the point that I can move on. Recently, I started to wrap up a long piece on Pearl Jam’s Vitalogy that will appear in this space soon enough. But that process of writing, editing, re-writing and finally designing and preparing all the online goodies that accompany it is obviously time consuming. So when it was over, I had the feeling that I was now just sitting on my hands waiting for the next project to come along.

So I started zipping up and down my library and remembered Townshend, a subject who is close to the heart of Vitalogy, at least in spirit, and gave “Drowned’ from his Oceanic Concerts live album another few listens. And I remembered how, not very long ago, I leaned on that song like no other, listening to it constantly in a period of ridiculous upheaval. I wasn’t writing nearly as much as I should have been between 2008 and 2010, leaving all the various blogs and notebooks mostly untouched and letting all my thoughts fester and whither inside.

During that time, while moving across the country and putting all the pieces of my life together, I started leaning on Townshend and the Who more than ever. While I was living out of boxes, the Who’s Thirty Years of Maximum R&B box set held permanent residence on my car’s passenger seat. Quadrophenia and The Who By Numbers were fixtures inside of my headphones. And Townshend’s various acoustic performances through the years punctuated all this, filling the gaps, helping me get to sleep and inspiring me to pick up a pen and scribble between the lines more than I had been.

“Drowned,” of course, is a central piece of the Quadrophenia storyline, whose central character is lost within himself and looking for solace anywhere he can find it, whether it’s in pills or girls or the ocean. The first two don’t work out, of course, and the third leaves him stranded on a rock literally without a paddle. It’s not the most uplifting story when it’s dissected and analyzed. But there’s a message of hope on top of hope strewn throughout, and that sense is never greater on the album than on “Drowned,” when he’s calling to be washed over and accepted by a greater force.

I still think “Drowned” could well be his greatest song. It’s a key part of one of my favorite albums, and his acoustic versions are practically flawless. When I’m sitting around the apartment strumming on a guitar, it’s the song I play more than any other. And when I listen to it, I can think about how radically different my life is now than it was five years ago, and how I’m in a much better place now than I was then. I hardly know the 27-year-old version of myself anymore. I’m still getting to know the 32-year-old me as it is.

But if nothing else, I know we have “Drowned” in common. Then, it was a song I turned to when I didn’t have anywhere else to go. Today, it’s an old friend that instills a sense of calm and order, and the ability to handle whatever might come next.

May 28, 2014

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