By Salina Christmas
I used to listen to this song a lot while driving up and down the hills of the Chilterns, and when driving back from night shift at ASDA Wal-Mart, where I used to stack shelves for two years while taking a break from journalism to study web design and development in 2001.
Back then, we didn’t have Spotify, and YouTube did not really explode until years later. I borrowed a CD of an album by The Who from the local library and copied it on my cassette tape. Today, I nodded along to ‘Water’ on YouTube while writing my essay on anthropology and psychiatry. The song somehow aptly describes, among other things, the tensions of the English countryside I once inhabited for three years, a beautiful, quiet, pastoral place caught in between the suburban upheavals of Luton, the parochialism of Dunstable and Leighton Buzzard, and the demands of Greater London. It was a semi-rural experience quite different from that of the North Wales pastoralism I went through some time ago while living in Clwyd.
The Welsh experience – my Welsh experience – was more to do with the inner turmoils of a seemingly calm village, with an overtone of melancholy, a bit like ‘Wuthering Heights’. Bedfordshire was something else. Bedfordshire boils. It does not simmer.
“The poor people on the farms get it so rough. Truck drivers drive like the devil. The River Thames is running dry. We need water, good water,” sings Roger Daltrey, giving us an account of the relief badly needed, before grabbing us with this hook,”…And maybe somebody’s daughter.”
In those days, they knew how to say things differently about having a boner. If one intends to read the song that way. Regardless of how the Violent Femmes add it up, or how the Kings of Leon get consumed by what is to transpire, or how The Who blister at the sight of someone’s daughter – and what pretext they use, the narrative tells of the lack of fulfilment. Singing along to Roger Daltrey while speeding through the Chilterns in my second-hand car allowed for me to be both the participant and the observer of an uncomfortable feeling re-enacted through ‘Water’, but with the aesthetic distance of rock and roll keeping me out of harm’s way.
Reading: TJ Scheff. 1979. Catharsis in Healing, Ritual, and Drama.