“The Pete Townshend Page #7”

February 26, 2010 at 4:31 pm (Music, Pete Townshend, Reviews & Articles)

In 1970 and ’71, Pete Townshend wrote periodically for Melody Maker. This is #7 in the series, from Feb. 13, 1971. He could have had a career as a rock critic…



Change. Is it really possible to change anything with music, or to even ease society into a position where what they listen to can change what they feel? Rock is capable of doing amazing things.

I speak only for myself, and as a listener not a musician when I say that. I have felt my whole state of mind go through incredible metamorphoses listening to the music of the Stones, Sergeant Pepper, Big Pink, King Crimson and hundreds of other recording entities that have fully used the power available to them as Rock musicians.

I’m not talking of power in the ordinary sense, I’m talking of the power of impact. The fact that a man doesn’t ever have to meet the President of the United States to know how much power he has illustrates the difference. When you listen to really good Rock you do meet the men with the power, good Rock comes right out and states its claim to fame. If you are bothering to think about who made the sounds, you are usually already stung.

I don’t imagine writing about it will change anything. Many sincere people try though. But I don’t read 0Z for example. nor IT, they send me Friends hut I only look at the dirty pictures. Apart from the fact that they’re all good papers they are trying to change things by worrying people. By taking people DOWN to realising how low they are. The papers give the impression that the men behind them are worried about life in this society, paranoiac about politics, usually very stoned God bless ’em and don’t like suburbans like me.

In the States the Panthers distributed leaflets at some of our gigs telling people bow much they didn’t like us making money out of our music, how much they were aroused by my argument with Abbie Hoffman at Woodstock.

It didn’t change me though. The irony is that we are behind them as a whole, but can’t help reacting as individuals to other individuals. The ethics are so broad.

In the States Hoffman and his friends went through hell, and I admire men like Richard Neville who edits OZ, for standing up against what is really an unnecessary purge the hierarchy are aiming at him. But I wouldn’t go through it. The only time I am spurred to action is when I feel that I can change the world through Rock, via the Who, via music. We want to change people by taking them UP.

On the McGuinness Flint album there is a song, dedicated to Big Boy Arthur Crudup, Elvis’ hero. It’s called “Let It Ride.” Seems to me that’s what it’s all about. When Big Boy sings you are his slave. No doubt about it, but you don’t care, you dig it, and when he lets you go you feel sad, not happy.

I think Elvis probably learnt how to make the Rock world his slaves by listening to Big Boy Arthur Crudup. That’s Rock power, an easy power, and probably the only power in this world that is rarely misused.

Spiro Agnew would disagree, so would anyone else who didn’t understand how anything less that Beethoven could be regarded with relish.

Let it ride, hit it right or wrong and don’t worry about anything. But don’t lose interest either.

I think the frustration young people usually feel with ageing politicians is down to the fact that they too, in their years of learning only how to compromise, let a lot ride. It outwardly reeks of disinterest but I don’t think it is, necessarily.

Caroline Coon was talking in the MM about what she does. I think I could tell her one thing she could afford to stop doing — stop allowing the paranoia of those she helps, and those that SHOULD be helping, leaking into her own life. Don’t worry, be happy love. You can really do it, if you know that like Release you are contributing to a changing aspect of society.

It’s the politics that hurt I think. Funnily enough Rock has the same techniques as politics in a way. It can face up to trouble without giving a hint that it really is affected, and exhibits carefree attitudes on the surface, or maybe even deep down inside, at the same time it is CHANGING things. Usually for the better, unlike most political change.

It really doesn’t seem to be worth doing anything to me unless it can either do something for Rock or do something for its audience. The Who’s coming performances and film work at the Young Vic will do both. Nothing, can’t happen. Basically what we do could change our audience, our music, our status and even the way we walk. If it all doesn’t change anything else it will change me. That can’t be bad.

The Young Vic is a newly-built theatre in the same street as the Old Vic. It was built especially to cater for young audiences, and the mood it puts across is one of adventure.

Frank Dunlop, the adrenalin behind the place knows the limitations of regular theatre. We are beginning to feel the limitations of regular Rock. Frank was originally interested in doing a production of Tommy. It was when we were discussing this possibility that we both realised that it couldn’t do what we wanted it to do. We wanted it to attract both Rock audiences, and the regular Young Vic theatre audience, but also break new ground, bring in totally new faces, young faces perhaps. Most important it had to freshen up the idea of audience.

Tommy might have been capable of doing that but we (The Who) didn’t really have enough energy to carry Tommy any further. We wanted something new, while we’re about it it might as well meet our needs and aims more fully.

The aim is change. A change of life style for the band, a change of focus for our audience and a change in the balance of power that Rock wields. The music we play has to be tomorrow’s, the things we say have to be today, and the reason for bothering is yesterday. The idea is to make the first real superstar. The first real star who can really stand and say that he deserves the name. The star would be us all.

The Young Vic becomes the “Life House,” the Who become musicians and the audience become part of a fantasy. We have invented the fantasy in our minds, the ideal, and now we want to make it happen for real. We want to hear the music we have dreamed about, see the harmony we have experienced temporarily in Rock, become permanent, and feel the things we are doing CHANGE the face of Rock and then maybe even people.

There is a story connected with each person that will walk into the Life House, but for now we have made one up for them, until we know the real one. We have music that will stimulate them to stay with us through lengthy marathon concerts, and perhaps even boring filming. We have sounds ready that will push us a lot further than we have ever gone before, but what the results will he is still unknown.

Our hero is Bobby, the mystic-cum-roadie that puts all the fantasies in our heads into action, and gets results. He speaks for me now…

“Music and vibration are at the basis of all. They pervade everything, even human consciousness is reflected by music. Atoms are, at their simplest, vibrations between positive and negative. Even the most subtle vibrations detectable can affect us as ESP, or “vibes.”

“Man must let go his control over music as art, or media fodder and allow it freedom. Allow it to become the mirror of a mass rather than the tool of an individual. Natural balance is the key. I will make music that will start off this process, my compositions will not be my thoughts, however, they will be the thoughts of others, the thoughts of the young, and the thoughts of the masses. Each man will become a piece of music, he will hear it for himself, see every aspect of his life reflected in terms of those around him, in terms of the Infinite Scheme. When he becomes aware of the natural harmony that exists between himself as a man and himself as part of creation he will find it simple to adjust and LIVE in harmony.”

Serious chap this Bobby. He is a Superstar no less. He goes on to say…

“We can live in harmony only when Nature is allowed to incorporate us into her symphony. Listen hard, for your note is here. It might be a chord, or a dischord. Maybe a hiss or a pulse. High or low; sharp or soft, fast or slow. One thing is certain. If it is truly your own note, your own song, it will fit into the scheme. Mine will fit yours, and yours will fit his, his will fit others. You are what you are, and where you are, because that is what IS.”

“To realise the harmony, that RIGHTNESS about your own note; even your own life, however you feel it could be improved by change, it has to be revealed. It can only be revealed by your own efforts.”

The efforts of the super roadie and their astonishing outcome can be watched, and augmented by your own efforts at the Young Vic. I’ll tell you when.

When the Saints come marching in the Who will he doing a gig at the Young Vic and miss out on the big day. But then so will the men down the sewers. Someone has to clean up.

Pete Townshend


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