Pete Townshend: Who, He? (and Us)
Pete Townshend is writing his memoirs. Or rather, he’s blogging them.
This differs from a decade ago, when Townshend signed with Little Brown to write his autobiography. Work commenced, but the book wasn’t finished. So now, Pete’s blogging his memoirs – on one of two blogs he’s launched in the last week or so to replace his online diaries. He can explain:
The backbone is complete, all the research is in place. And yet, because my creative and professional life is still so active, I feel I will never catch up with the present unless I retire simply to write. To retire, simply to write, when I am already a writer, presents a contradiction. So rather than endlessly write, I am going to publish.
I think this is brave and interesting, continued evidence of Townshend’s rare open mind, even as he cranks out another whopper of a Who tour at age 62. It’s a performance artist’s call.
It’s interesting that Townshend has two seperate Blogspot homes – one with comments (his memoirs) and the other without (his diaries). The diaires are a fan’s treasure trove. Today for instance, Townshend looks back at his legendary home studio rig – built at a time when the local Guitar Center didn’t sell a digital set-up for less than two hundred bucks that can essentially do much the same thing. Gearheads will swoon (look at the racks, look at the gorgeous analogue racks!) but I was more interested in Pete’s post yesterday on Britney Spears:
Dedicated Man In A Purple Dress to Britney in Long Beach. I said, ‘Let’s not be too quick to judge’. Roger said ‘Britney? Britney who?’ Like, Roger! Pullease…… read the paper.
Just heard she’s gone back into rehab. Pray for the babe. This is a tough business when you have a down period – she sometimes has over one hundred cars following her, every one with a camera geek in it.
The memoirs blog invites readers to participate in telling the story, like Townshend did with his fictional The Boy Who Heard Music a year or so ago. Not much there yet, but the rock star muses about writing about the past in the present tense; of creating an artist’s autobriography when the artist himself is still very much working. The best bit is this short sketch from 1969:
I parked my car in the Wardour Street underground car park next to the Intrepid Fox pub. I walked past the Marquee Club towards Brewer Street, and looked up at the beautiful big half-moon windows of my old apartment on the top floor at the corner. I felt comfortable in Soho because I had once lived there; I felt comfortable because the Marquee Club was where the Who finally proved themselves at our residency there at the start of our career five years earlier in 1964. This wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t Soho, this was my home, my manor. And yet as I turned the corner down Old Compton Street towards Frith Street my heart began to pump. I reminded myself, in a familiar mantra, this is futile. To feel fear is pointless. There is nothing to fear. I am a man now. No one can hurt me any more. In thirty minutes time The Who were to play their new rock opera Tommy to the press at Ronnie ScottÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Jazz Club, our first Live performance before the critics. As I crossed Dean Street I imagined I heard a voice shouting Ã¢â‚¬ËœJudasÃ¢â‚¬â„¢. Did I fancy myself to be Bob Dylan? I realized someone was shouting Ã¢â‚¬ËœTrousersÃ¢â‚¬â„¢, one of my nicknames used by insiders. I looked towards the voice and saw a small group of men I knew to be a travelling party of fans of the band from the Marquee days, led as ever by a bombastic music journalist, already a little drunk, who I had always regarded as an ally. He would not catch my eye. I did not want them to join me on the last steps of my journey, carrying my guitar, on my way to face an inquisition of sorts. I didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t want them to catch any scent of fear; fear I could not allow myself to feel. One of them spotted me and ran to catch up with me. Breathless, smelling of alcohol, he asked me how I felt. I said I felt all right. He told me not to worry, even if everyone was saying that Tommy was sick, it was controversial, a little controversy never hurt anyone in show business.
I’m a blatant fan of Pete and the Who; he’s provided some of the soundtrack for my life. But online, he’s a peer. Another blogger. A sometime artist, sometime businessman trying to tell a story. And he’s interested in the conversation. So I posted these comments:
Fascinating what you say about writing every day – how for a working writer, an “autobiography” is never done. You’re still on what Richard Thompson calls the “wall of death” every day…yet to put a finite quality to it – to say – “this is it” is so very hard.
I think the hard-assed question to ask yourself is “what’s innit for me?” and go from there. Presidents and PMs always worry about legacy. Artists? Some, to a degree. So the story of your life becomes, in itself really, more art. Doesn’t it.
We can only help a bit, sharpen a bit perhaps, yell back at you from beyond the orchestra pit.
And, of course, memory is maleable – what you say “now” about “then” can’t help but be influenced by the moment.
I’m very much interested in seeing how you do this.