Just an ‘80s Girl ... Loving a ‘60s Band
By Sherry Lucas
Their sound seduced her from the start. Liz Martin (now Brister) was 16, wedged in-between two guy friends in the tiny back seat of a Honda Civic hatchback, headed to Arkansas’ Big Piney Creek for some floating fun.
“They put ‘Tommy’ into the eight-track tape player … and that’s when I was hooked.” The Who’s sweeping rock opera, beginning to end, rocked her world.
“That was definitely the moment for me.”
Was she even born when the English rock band formed in London in 1964? “I was born. But, I was born — in 1964,” she says. Perhaps that shared birth year is a factor in a band love so strong it spurred trips to see The Who live countless times. Countless because Brister quit counting at concert No. 30 and her ticket stub collection isn’t sure-fire complete. Best guesstimate: 37.
Growing up in North Little Rock, she was generally aware of The Who’s hits, but “Tommy” started a journey that still won’t quit. She wouldn’t see them live until two years later.
A yellowed Dallas newspaper clipping heralds the concert: Cotton Bowl, Dec. 4, 1982. “I believe it was The Who’s ‘final tour’ —1982,” she says, plucking a weathered ticket stub from a pile of Who memories. The reverie starts, of vinyl records, of MTV’s early days and videos of The Who playing songs from “Face Dances” and the then-new “It’s Hard” — “so awesome.”
“I had to go see them!” Her parents said no. But she sneaked out of the house, jumped in a car with friends and took off to Dallas anyway. Once she was a safe distance away, she called home so her folks wouldn’t worry, “but I just couldn’t take no for an answer. I had to go see my band.” A cute photo in her 1983 high school yearbook shows her nestled under a Union Jack with her Who buddies — a staged homage to “The Kids Are Alright.”
Turns out, that “final tour” of The Who wasn’t a hard quit after all. The 25th anniversary tour put the band back out there and Brister back in the audience, again at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, in 1989.
Funds were tight and travel tougher early on, but in later years, she’d hit several shows in the same area, or even go to the same show two nights. “That helped get my numbers up,” she says of a count that also includes seeing band members Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey in different settings over the years. Concert travel for The Who took her to Dallas and Atlanta, sure, but also to Chicago many times, California plenty, Grand Rapids, last time out, and more. She may go with a group to Wisconsin, and Atlanta, too, this fall.
Related artwork — limited edition print of “The Who by Numbers” album cover art by John Entwistle, autographed favorite Pete Townshend album, 1960s billboard poster, a friend’s fun drawing of her and husband Bill at a favorite show — frames her fandom on a wall at home. Sadly, she lost her collection of The Who albums, and more, in an apartment fire after she graduated from college. Everything was moving toward CDs by then; she replaced some albums over the years, but not all.
At the start of this journey, she was an ‘80s girl, loving a ’60s band and “kind of a guy’s band” at that. Why The Who? The theatrical aspect of their music, the drama, the lyrics all tapped into her passions — growing up a dancer, and loving theater, music and literature. This was art, sprinkled with rebellion, loud and large. “It took the things I loved to a whole new level.” It also had a lot to do with who she married, she says, “because Bill was from the ‘60s and he loved all the same bands!”
She’s convinced that rock ’n’ roll made her a better person. It opened her mind, she says, nudged her to examine her values and gave her courage to be a little different. “I think it helped me be more compassionate toward people who are different, or didn’t fit in, or were dealing with the angst of the teenage years.
“That, to me, is part of why I love The Who. It helped me understand and embrace that it’s OK to be different. It’s OK to think about things that are bigger than yourself,” and things outside her bubble in the deep South.
Favorite live show memory? A 1999 benefit concert for Maryville Academy at House of Blues Chicago, general admission and limited to 1,000 people. “The Who were at the very top of their game.” At 6 a.m. the day of the show, she looked out her hotel window to see people already lining up at the club’s door. “I told Bill, ‘Omigod! I’ve gotta go downstairs and get in line! I want to be in the front!” She flew downstairs to do it. They stood there all day (or, in Bill’s version, she laughs, he stood in line all day for her, while she dashed off to get her makeup done, get dressed, etc.)
“It was like ‘Live at Leeds,’” The Who’s first live album, she says, with a spot enviably near the stage. “I’m up close and personal with my favorite band, that I’ve spent way too much money and way too much time on my whole life, and it’s like I’ve finally reached this moment where it was just like a private concert for me,” with Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle (who died in 2002) and Zak Starkey (Ringo Starr’s son) on the stage. “It was amazing!” — so close Townshend handed her a guitar pick. “That was the best!”
There are other perks. Friends, knit together by Who fandom, have become lifelong, such as Neil Rogers, who she’d met in the House of Blues Chicago line. “Now we go to shows together.” It’s been a family affair, too, with Bill (“I made him a Who fan whether he wanted to be or not”), but also concerts with her stepdaughter Natalie Russell, stepson Wes Brister, and kids James and Zach. Her sons didn’t really “get” The Who growing up, she says, but when the band headlined Jazz Fest 2015, she convinced them to go, “I’ve got to see The Who with my children — just one time.” They loved it.
Now at concerts, she loves spotting a young teenager, like she was decades ago, discovering The Who anew. “The music is ageless. It was great then. It’s great now.”