Pete Townshend: Who, He? (and Us)

Pete TownshendPete 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 wasn’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 Scott’s Jazz Club, our first Live performance before the critics. As I crossed Dean Street I imagined I heard a voice shouting ‘Judas’. Did I fancy myself to be Bob Dylan? I realized someone was shouting ‘Trousers’, 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 didn’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.

Comments 8

  • Thanks for always keeping up with Pete Townshend, Tom! It’s just great that you do.

    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.

    I loved that.

  • Oooh, Viscount. Those look cool. I might have to get the “Aja” one. One of my very favorite albums. It’s an “Aja” sort of morning, actually. Think I’ll put it on.

  • I don’t have it but I just ordered it – which reminds me, I really should put an amazon store on here to try and cover some expenses and also to make it easy for those who want to read about something and grab the book or DVD…

  • Tom – you have to get it! It is really good. Intimate performances and insights by Pete. Some great archival footage.

    Blue – same goes for you and Aja – those two are in top form – they are two of the coolest geeks in the world.

  • I have just ordered the Who’s Next Classic Album Series myself.

    The Classic Album Series DVD’s are pure genus. The “Dark Side of the Moon” was the best. I’d also highly recommend “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”. A lot of Gus Dudgeon sitting behind a gorgeous SSL console playing back original multi-track takes of those great songs. Elton, Bernie, and Davey Johnston talk at length about the bands song writing and recording process that will amaze anyone. The whole two albums a year discussion I found amazing(remember when bands made two records in a year?). Because of the spectacle Elton has become in the last 20 years, Yellow Brick Road is often overlooked as the masterpiece that it is. Hearing “Harmony”, “Roy Rogers”, Seen That Movie Too”, etc… in it’s parsed out pieces only solidifies how incredible the record is. All those beautiful sounds created organically. I don;t think today it’s even possible. It makes a great Classic Album Series.

    I’d also recommend the Nirvana “Nevermind” episode. You can tell by the look on his face that Butch Vig still can’t quite figure out how he captured such volume and tone onto tape. Vig also let’s you hear how powerful a singer Cobain actually was.

    I’ll say this about Townsend: the dude was smart to keep all those old Neve preamp channel strips. I’d kill to have just one. It’s criminal to display those luscious blue and grey knobs in front of us like that. It’s what a friend of mine refers to as “Gear Porn”.

  • Tony:
    Yellowbrick Road I don’t see that one listed with the “Classic Album” series, but I have a special edition of the CD (SACD version) that included a documentary DVD. I wonder if they are one and the same.

    I also discovered that there is one The Band, The Band, which I would like to see as well.

    There is also a documentary floating around titled The Making of Sgt. Pepper but it isn’t commercially available. I think it was aired on The Disney Channel some years ago. It was great.

  • Tony:

    Okay, I just came across the YBR and it looks like it might be the same one. In my original comment, I forgot to mention that I’d seen Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life which was good, but left me wishing it was better.

    Netflix has most of them, but The Band is not currently available.

  • mr.townsend i wonder how can bad rap and horrible hip hop able to make the charts well i heard page his going to release is secert riff i wonder anyway there 4 major events i want to do please email me or im me cause i want to bring the world on its knees we shall shake things up a bit hahaha bush will hate me