Who Are You?
In recent weeks, this blog has experienced a significant (i.e. double digit) influx of followers. Which is nice except that I now feel obligated to update it on a more frequent basis than I’ve managed in the past. Oh the perils of being Mr. Popular!
Never mind. The solution is obvious. I’m just going to have to be less discerning about what I pontificate upon and assume that, if it matters to me, it must matter to someone else. Otherwise I’m just not going to have enough material to make it look like I actually give a tinker’s cuss about this here blog.
So, in that spirit, here’s something of a brain dump regarding Pete Townshend, the Who’s legendary guitarist.
I’ve recently finished reading his rather excellent autobiography ‘Who I Am’, a book that falls into the ‘hard to put down’ category. The main thing I took away from it was that Pete is in his own way every bit as eccentric as Keith Moon was. Which is not to say that he’s barking mad or anything. Just that he plays by his own rules.
Anyway, the book inevitably put me in mind of one night in Hounslow when I bumped into Mr. Townshend. It was in a pub called the Red Lion, which I believe (perhaps erroneously) has now been demolished in favour of a car park.
At the time, I wasn’t a big Who fan and didn’t know anyone who was. Punk rock was at its height and the Who hadn’t released anything for a couple of years. I was at that age when two years seems like a very long time and I’d assumed the Who were a spent force. Perhaps, like Herman’s Hermits and Freddy and the Dereamers, they did they odd gig at holiday camps for the sake of nostalgic mums and dads trying to regain their youth, but otherwise they seemed to have disappeared from sight.
A few months later, the Who released their film ‘The Kids are Alright’, a documentary about the life and times of the Who. And then along came ‘Quadrophenia’ and it finally got through to me that the band weren’t washed up at all. They could still kick arse, fill stadiums and sell records. So that told me, didn’t it?
But the point is, when I met Pete, I wasn’t exactly overawed. After all, this was just weeks after I’d bumped into the wonderful Polly Styrene (of X-Ray Spex fame) in the Marquee Club and bought her a drink (rum and black if memory serves).
Pete had just started the Eel Pie Rock Club (which disappointingly gets no mention his autobiography) and was using the Red Lion as its base. My brother and I, keen rock fans, went along every week for the few weeks it was at the Red Lion.
One night, the Simon Townshend Band were playing (Simon being Pete’s brother). I recall the musicianship was of a high standard but it wasn’t really my cup of tea. Too progressive for my punkish tastes.
As part of the show, the band set off a couple of smoke bombs. Now that’s a great idea if you’re playing the Hammersmith Odeon or Shea Stadium. Not so great, however, in a badly-ventilated room the size of a church hall. The room was suddenly full of chalk dust, which called for a quick exit to the bar next door where Pete Townshend was sitting on a bar stool nursing a drink.
He was chatting to someone who I seem to recall was the bass guitarist from Supertramp (a band even further from my radar than the Who).
Pete asked how we were finding the show. We enthused about there being a decent rock venue on our doorstep and expressed our hope that long may it remain so. (It didn’t, but that’s life.)
Pete and I chatted about the rock scene, which at the time was dominated by the punk and new wave bands. I was pleasantly surprised by Pete’s knowledge of what was going down with us kids and by his lack of resentment towards those who had seemingly usurped his crown and dumped him in the dustbin of history. Other rockers of his era were quite vitriolic in their condemnation of what they saw as ‘not real music’ but Pete seemed to see it as a good thing. (In his autobiography, he mentions that bands like the Clash and the Sex Pistols made him realise that the Who needed to up their game.)
Frankly, my short encounter with Pete Townshend made little impression on me at the time. I don’t think I even mentioned it at work the next day. To me, Pete was just some old geezer (nearly 30 for goodness’ sakes!) I’d bumped into at the bar. He was down to Earth and pleasant but not someone I could at that time get excited about meeting.
When I mentioned the matter to my brother the other day, he ha no recollection of it whatsoever. So he’d clearly been even more under-whelmed than I’d been (although incipient senility might also be a factor).
Seeing ‘The Kids are Alright’ at its premiere in Twickenham started me on the path of becoming a Who fan. At first my enthuiasm was luke warm – more a grudging respect really – but over the years its gotten warmer and warmer and is now hot enough to boil an egg.
They say you should never meet your heroes. I say you should – but not before you’re ready to. That way you might at least think of asking for an autograph.