Passion, anger, self-righteousness, humility, equivocation. It’s all in here. Unsurprisingly this late period Pete Townshend/Who song says more about the author than the subject. Its target is moralising prelates; its visual embodiment is a pope (written pre-Pope Francis). However 'A Man in a Purple Dress' is full of contempt for figures of high orthodoxy in any monotheistic context. More importantly the anger is timeless, focused, articulate; the older Daltrey delivers a vocal that’s emotionally intelligent, mannered and sincere. Townshend accompanies him on acoustic guitar. Nothing more, nothing less. The song is complete.
Unplugged but wired, circa 2016 Photo © La Stampa
Townshend isn’t saying that for a man to be wearing a long purple tunic is inherently absurd, more that it compounds the inherent risibility of those presented as infallible, or at the very least those who would have us believe they’re wise, moral and well-informed when they preach. Of course Townshend knew when he handed down these lyrical judgments to Daltrey to try to embody, that he hadn’t been above dispensing moral and political lessons to his followers for a few decades either. Toward the end of the song, Townshend, via Daltrey, notes that he too dresses up for ‘grand awards’, and that at least those apparently embodying religious certainty aren’t weighed down by moral equivocation (or ‘astride the fence’). That comes with middle aged agnosticism, presumably. Listening to it today, 15 years on from when it was released, I get an immediacy and a power, a righteous rage that could rightfully be addressed to any public figure who tries to dispense moral authority from within the confines of morally compromised power structures. Take another bow, Pete.
‘A Man in a Purple Dress’ is on The Who album ‘Endless Wire’ (2006)
|A late period classic, released 2006. Cover artwork © Polydor/Universal|