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Thursday, November 18, 2021

A Man in a Purple Dress

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


Neil Partrick said...

This comment was sent from a friend in Saudi Arabia: "Hi. Read the blog
You and the song speak for me. Wish there was a talented singer around who will have the gall to challenge the robed men around us. Not to belittle your struggle or the pain they gave your generation. They have ruled my world all my 70 years
Being here. Your piece deserves to be read again and again. Thanks

Amanda BB said...

That's a great review & makes we wanna return to the track. I have that album but coz it's on CD I don't play it. I shall now. Thanks! Love the whole idea of the blog for the more obscure tracks that are important to you.

Neil Partrick said...

A friend, Russell, tried but failed to post this comment, so I’m doing it on his behalf. He writes: “ Nice succinct review! I listened to the song afterwards to hear what you were referring to. Are you mostly/only interested in the poetry of music (you didn’t discuss it’s instruments/composition etc)? Or do you dig instrumentals too? 😘”

Neil Partrick said...

Many thanks for your comments. I’m probably more ambivalent about men in purple dresses than Pete Townsend but love his focused morally outraged attack, which I think connects to all those in leadership or authority positions who exploit their power but preach (their) virtue. Really glad that you all liked the review. I am interested in, and can love, instrumental music but I probably find it harder to review or, in general, to get quite so emotionally exercised about it.