Pete Townshend: The Endless Writer

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.

Why should we wish John Lennon were still with us? (See yesterday’s post.) Well, for one thing, maybe at this stage in his life – he would have been 66 years old – he’d have set about writing his memoirs, offering us, with the benefit of insight and hindsight, a proper personal perspective on what it was like to be at the eye of the storm in the late 20th Century.

And maybe, like his peer Pete Townshend, he would have fallen in love with the Web, started a blog, and published excerpts from those memoirs, online, for free digestion and distribution. The lengthy paragraph at the top of this post is from the prologue to Townshend’s autobiography, which may have read differently when he first posted it a few weeks ago. It turns out that, in the time it took me to discover this online publication, he has already reacted to public comments and decided to further condense his excerpts. But, understanding that you can’t put your stuff out there without expecting people to take, he writes, “If you have made copies of earlier postings I have no objection to their distribution among interested readers. This is after all an unashamed promotion for a forthcoming book. It all adds to the soup.”

Pete Townshend 2007: “To retire, simply to write, when I am already a writer, presents a contradiction.”

Townshend’s current activity is astonishing, of great relief to everyone my age who freaks out that our generation’s Buzzcocks are being used to promote the American Association of Retired Persons. Not content with blogging furiously, writing, recording and touring the new Who album, Endless Wire, and partaking in his girlfriend Rachel Fuller’s In The Attic online TV show, the 61-year old has finally figured out, with the help of the web, how to realize the core of his Lifehouse project.

In April we plan the launch of the Lifehouse Method website. This is a site you will go and visit, log on, and after entering some simple facts about yourself, and doing some simple tasks, will receive your very own, exclusive and unique piece of music. One third of the copyright in this piece will belong to you. If by some miracle it got used for a TV commercial for Coca-Cola you would be able to buy yourself a new hybrid biodegradable car.

This last sentence may a comment on how much of his own Who music has been used to sell cars and computers in the last few years; it may be a comment on how “punk groups” like The Clash and The Jam have licensed their songs in recent years to Jaguar and Cadillac respectively. Then again, it may just be straight up talking: brave is the songwriter these days who vows not to sell his music for TV commercials when everyone around him would do so in a heartbeat.

So, as he says, it all adds to the soup. I posted part of my novel Hedonism online before it was published; my friend McCutcheon has been doing the same with his Burnt Novel. It’s part and parcel of the process these days, like when bands would do John Peel sessions to publicly demo some new songs. Townshend, in particular, understands that the need to communicate in the present is more important than the need to get everything perfect for the future.

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. To retire, simply to write, when I am already a writer, presents a contradiction. So rather than endlessly write, I am going to publish.


Previously at iJamming!: DVD Review: The U.S. Vs. John Lennon, Everybody’s Older Nowadays, The Who Re-Viewed Parts 1-10, From the Jamming! Magazine Archives: Pete Townshend Interview, 1985
Archive of Keith Moon/Who posts
In The Pub:
The Jam’s ‘Start’ Now Shilling Cadillacs

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September 2022