“The Pete Townshend Page #5”

February 24, 2010 at 10:21 am (Music, Pete Townshend, Reviews & Articles)

More from the pen of Townshend. Written for Melody Maker, Dec. 12, 1970…

 

IS ROCK DEAD?

England and America have ways of describing the coming doom for Rock, or pop if you like.

In American magazines it is often that you see articles bemoaning the demise of some or other old time rock act, or complaining that the newer rock people headed by the Beatles and Stones are declining even more rapidly than their original heroes.

The reason people are so quick to become disgusted with the leading edge of Rock whenever it loses its sharpness, is because of what always appears to fill the gap it leaves. Someone once said to me that they became a John Mayall fan afresh, each time nothing else was happening that was exciting in music, You could always rely on him to he there playing good music when others were going up and down like yo yos. Normally one has to put up with Bobby Vee or ageing singing comedians.

Recently American papers, have run full scale articles which run like obituaries. Talk of, “The lack of excitement in the air,” and the “Mere human-ness” of the Stones. Obviously time has a lot to do with it. Unless one hides, like Dylan does, a Rock Star is not likely to keep all his original mystical power when people know him and his hang ups as well as the kid next door.

CHEMISTRY

But there is a chemistry remaining, after the glitter has faded, which indicates that there is, and was, more to Rock than screaming kids and “House full” at the Liverpool Empire. That chemistry has remained for the last three years in my opinion. It’s that long since I was tempted to scream with delight at a concert, at one of my heroes (Jimi Hendrix on stage). Since the Stones stopped stage work, and the Beatles finalised their own public efforts at Shea, the onus of focus has been on records and interviews.

Magazines like Rolling Stone, Fusion, Crawdaddy, Melody Maker, and others with hip format and enough staff to deal with Rock without becoming mere diaries have run interview after interview with Rock heroes. Rather than go to see the man, we stroll up to the record shop, buy his album and read his words in the paper.

Rolling Stone once ran an interview with myself, or rather my oratorio, through eleven pages of their paper. At the time I figured it would be one of the best things that ever happened to me. Read it today, and you’ll see that most of the early excitement and feedback that was happening as we worked on Tommy was dissipated in that article. I had said so much of what I had wanted to say in Tommy, in print, and thus made it harder to say musically and get off on it.

One of the most incredible things about the sixties Rock was the fact that it took itself seriously enough to spread itself through eleven pages. How many kids actually bought a record because of the good sense made by the guy who made it? More like; “buy it because he’s a bastard.”

Deep Purple have done far far better smashing guitars (and loving it) than bashing their musical heads against the elite musical analysts that make up the album market today. The Move and ourselves used similar tactics, you’ll remember. But we’re still here today, many others aren’t. 

Some of the things that happened in the sixties are so heavy that I’m sure in ten years all of the present Rock hierarchy will remember the sixties with tears in their eyes. Hendrix, The Cream, The Band, Zeppelin, Crosby Stills and Nash, Woodstock, Shea Stadium, Albert Hall, Saville Theatre, Isle of Wight, Kinks, Cocker, Small Faces, Dave Dee Dozy Beaky Mick Tich? Was it that incredible?

Good bands abounding, and plenty of them pop biased with their eyes on the singles market, but aren’t all of them old men? Wasn’t Jimmy Page a session man before he became a teenie idol? Wasn’t Clapton wearing ivy league jackets and crewcuts before he played blues with Mayall? Weren’t The Band backing Dylan, rather badly, before their own mind blowing appearance? Rock is AIMED at young people, it hopes to tell them about themselves, it hopes to gather up the excitement of being young and frustrated and glorify it. It doesn’t usually mean that because the hunter gets his prey he becomes hunted himself, but you have heard of Karma? They’ll get you in the end. Rock is self destructive by its very nature.

HAPPY

A band like the WHO, for example, are only happy when they are reaching and stimulating a young audience. Like the Faces, we started fairly young and made good, our audience has grown with us. But a lot of them have found solace in an aspect of life that we can’t get off on. We have to be exploding, moving, smashing things, too loud, lairy, hairy, over intellectual even. It’s got to the point that we realise that even though five years ago we sang, “Hope I die before I get old,” today we say, “We didn’t mean it.” We did mean it. We didn’t care about ourselves or our future. We didn’t care about ourselves or our futures. We didn’t really even care about one another. We were hoping to screw the system, screw the older generation, screw the hippies, screw the Rockers screw the record business, screw the Beatles and screw ourselves. We’ve been most successful on the last account. I think that speaks for a lot of the groups in the sixties.

We didn’t really want to end up yabbering in pop papers about our hangups, we wanted to die in plane crashes or get torn to pieces by a crowd of screaming girls.It all began to change when Paul sang, “When I’m sixty four” SlXTY-FOUR? Of course, there is such a thing as living till old age, there is such a thing as leaving the rat race and settling down. See Paul himself – see Dylan.

In the seventies is there a different mood? My arse there is! The best new bands like Free for example sound incredibly 1965. Their sound is inspired so it seems by all the music that inspired the Stones and the Small Faces and ourselves. Elton John, who I must say has my approval, is also an incorrigible rocker. Leaping all over the stage like Steve Marriott yet making records that speak of the most fantastic nostalgia and feeling. But there are not half enough Frees and Elton Johns, Far too many are at first content with a rapid up and down pop 30 existence. Making a hit record and then finding it almost impossible to be taken seriously. When they are first in the charts they are apparently happy, but in the end the emptiness of a life focused on single sales is clear.

Dave Dee etc, The Trems, Fairweather Low, Love Affair, Mann, and so on all have suffered from top thirty boredom. Their fans were happy enough with them as they were. But the key is that their fans were looking at music from a different angle than their heroes. While little girls were comparing Steve Ellis’s angelic features to their favourite teddy bear he was at home listening to Cream albums and imagining himself as a kind of Leonard Cohen or James Taylor figure. In 1971 there is going to be a change. Rock musicians like ourselves are going to have to admit we are pigeon holed by our own past, and newer groups are going to have to realise that it’s bands like Free and Elton John that they have to whip, not White Plains, however much the fans may insist that they will “love you even when you’re not in the charts.” Bloody liars they are. If you want to cause something new to happen in music it has to be made to happen, and it has to be new.

Rock is far from dead. Far far from dead. If life in the Who is anything to go by it’s just started. I hate to use such a zoot expression but its “own up time.” Technology has advanced to a state where sound can be produced that is practically celestial – where a concert can sound as good as a recording or better, where machines are available that can invent sounds that the ear and brain have never heard before. When you boil it down, there is only one medium that can make use of it all, that can reflect the explosive media-saturated frustration that will be our millstone in ten years. Rock. Rock is music, but with a difference. It’s music WITHOUT A PAST. Once we become aware that Rock does have a past, that there is history, that there is an up and down, we have to close our eyes and look ahead. Something new is waiting. And we won’t see it if we are still asking questions like is rock dead? Burn this paper.

THOU SHALT NOT MULTI-TRACK

For those of you who were interested by my moans about TV miming, here is an excerpt from what looks like it might become a continuing saga.

Don Smith, a young and untypically together Musicians Union organiser read my grievances last month and we talked about it at his office. It seems that he is keen to get a better empathy going with group musicians, but he has the impression that groups that don’t use any outside musicians on their records are in the minority. Try FREE, MOODY BLUES, LED ZEPPELIN, PAUL McCARTNEY, TRAFFIC, FAIRPORT CONVENTION, FACES, CREAM, JETHRO TULL etc., etbloodycetera.

No, the point is that when the decision was made to ban TV miming and the use of backing tracks not made especially for the TV shows the decision was made with complete disregard of the fact that most of the popular rock albums and singles made in this country are made by groups, not solo artists.

By making rules to protect the cosseted session men in London they make it technically possible to blacklist group musicians from different bands that wish to appear with one another on TV. They can play with a group of their buddies on their record only if they appear on television too to plug it.

Don Smith is a clearly considerate man, but all the consideration and good will in the world does not alter the fact that even multi-tracking is against Union rules. Multi-tracking is common procedure in recording these days, but to protect a few starving session men from having to sell their Rolls’s it has been made an offence for a Union member to multi-track, i.e.: The whole of Paul McCartney’s album was made in defiance of the Union. In fact, every time someone multi-tracks they are supposed to send a letter to the Union asking permission! All you Union members with Revox’s better flog ’em, and learn to read and write music. That’s the only way you should really be able to end up with more than one instrument.

Also, all you studios making cheap demos for up and coming musicians should realise, only one track per instrumentalist thus making it impossible for -a hard up composer to make a decent demo without a £300 recording session.

Don Smith says that now that the wheels have been put in motion the only way that the rules could be modified so that session men remain protected without groups like ourselves suffering is to put forward a motion for change in the rules and get musicians throughout the country (there have to be a good number in each region) to get out to their branch meeting and vote on it.

Anyone that would be willing to vote for a motion relaxing the backing track and multi-tracking rules applied to TV and recording today should write to me c/o T.V Miming Question, Track Records, 70 Old Compton Street, W.1. If enough people get out to their branch meeting and vote the motion through, we’ll see more music on the box, see more music in the charts and hopefully, see more pop on television. I’m sure that we’ll hear better sound.

Or just send a postcard with your name and address, M.U. number and region. We’ll tell you when to put on top hat and tails and go to vote If you happen to be free.

Pete Townshend

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