“The Pete Townshend Page #9”

February 28, 2010 at 9:37 pm (Music, Pete Townshend, Reviews & Articles)

The last in a series of articles that Townshend wrote for Melody Maker in the early ’70s. Written April 14, 1971…



Any interviewer with any self respect will always begin his question and answer game with “How do audiences abroad compare with our own?” Well, how do you all compare with American audiences, and why do groups apparently prefer to work over in the States for long stretches?

There are so many differences between kids in the North and South, even within Britain, you would think perhaps that there are enough Rock lovers to go around. It makes it a lot easier to understand how refreshing it is to discover a new and hungry audience abroad, when you realise that despite the variety here at home, working more than once a week can land you up at everyone’s local hall once every few months.

That can’t work. A group can’t be expected to change its act more than once every six months. It takes about six weeks to do it properly, and usually audiences still want to hear all the oldies. I roared with laughter when I read that Ten Years After had gone off the road to revise their act, then gone hack on the road doing exactly the same set. It looks like it could happen to us.

The main reason that a group makes its first groping steps to America is usually a thirst for glamour. Money too. Unless you are top all the time you can’t make enough to live on, in a group over here. Lots of groups are done it for love, playing on half paid-for gear, and eating in transport cafes and out of baked bean cans.

America is the beckoning dream where, if you’re English, you get cheered for half an hour after your act because they love your accent. The Beatles did it, here and there. I imagine that a lot of groups sit and wonder, just as we did, why their hits in England didn’t automatically sell in the States. Americans are famous for their lavish spending on European goods, but they always insist on seeing what it is they are buying. They want to inspect the merchandise So over we go.


The first trip to the States of any major English act is always treated as a group’s big next step. They wave happily from the top steps of a VC 10 and set off to make their fortune. A couple of months later, after the most gruelling and exhausting work they have probably ever done in their lives, they return triumphantly home and start to tell lies. “It was great!” “We made thousands!” It went terribly, and they lost thousands.

A terrible indignity to have to suffer, particularly if your angry fans start making meat of your lies and tell you off for deserting them for money alone. Leaving debts abroad is a drag. When a group gets back and does do well, finally, it does maybe three or four tours paying off old debts and getting in the black. So why do they still insist on going?

It pays in the end, of course. The Faces are proving that yet again for the British contingent. But look at another aspect of the Rock scene which has its worldwide variations. Failure. In this country Thunderclap Newman had a number one hit with their first record, it took everyone unawares, but with the highest ideals in mind they went on to make an album which very few people bought over here. That is a kind of failure.

It’s not too hard to bear because in my opinion (I produced it, so my opinion isn’t worth much) it’s a bloody good album. An incredible first album. So now we sit around with our heads together determinedly attempting to hum up a number one song. It seems to be the only way — in England.

In the States it’s a totally different story. Not only did they not have a number one hit with their first record, “Something In The Air,” but neither did they with any of the others. Big deal, you say, but you have to talk to the kids in the streets to get the feeling that exists around them in the States. They aren’t a big group, they aren’t a small group. They aren’t a group group. They are a myth. They make records, that when reviewed in a batch, have a mysterious and dreamlike quality about them. They have an album which, on the strength of the myth, and a lot of Atlantic plugging is beginning to sell. It will probably sell many more after their second album emerges. That is usually the way.

If they took a walk together in the street over here, they would arrive home feeling like it was all over. If they took a walk in the street in New York; they would feel like it was all beginning. I know, the WHO did that very thing about three years ago.

How come the British scene produces so many good musicians and bands, when it’s too small to make really big stars out of more than a few of them? Apart from the musicians who play what they want to play without aspirations of fame and glory, there is of course the chance of chart success. There are always twenty records in the top twenty; twenty different songs by twenty different people. All year round. There is a chance for everyone, in a way. The record has to be a certain type of record, and the BBC has to be favourable, but it is the simple ambition of many a pop star to get in the charts. Us included. Being a smaller scene than the US pop industry, gives the individual an advantage in a way. He stands to gain less if be makes it, but he stands a good chance of making it, if he is good.


No matter how good he is though, and this is the tragedy, the British scene cannot sustain him forever. Even Cliff and Hank, seemingly British to the core, with no US success to speak of, have audiences of considerable size in Japan, Spain, Israel and Europe. The Trems are huge in South America, the Marmalade in Thailand. It has to be. There just ain’t enough good vibes and lolly to feed the sweet aspirations of all our talent. We have too much talent, and not enough audience.

About those chaps who play for the joy of playing alone, and don’t really care about the bread? Ironically they usually make it big and end up owning huge mansions and six Ferraris. Even the Rock world respects ethnic sincerity. It shows its respect by buying albums.

To get down to the really big differences, you have to start looking less at charts and tours and more at people. America is a country with hang-ups. The general national trait seems to be one of sticking to one’s guns. Doing it the way you think it should be done, and expecting the rest of the people to follow suit. This is a life style maintained by the young as well as the old.


As a writer America is where I am. It’s where I write about. it’s where the hunger is. If you like, my home in London is really a country residence away from the hassle and trouble of the city I am writing about, away from the people I am writing for. I can stand back from the riots and earthquakes and make observations. Then when I feel able, fly over and stand on a stage and speak my piece. I met Steve Marriott for the first time for ages In New York last week. He said that my last words to him, almost two years ago when he moved out to the country, were “Dropout!”

There are advantages for the Americans. of course. Britain is a country where Elvis can remain a myth. It’s a country that loves Tom Paxton more than his own neighbours did. It’s a country that knows more about the American blues heritage, and its history, than even some of the old bluesmen themselves. A country where you can play the good old Albert Hall and make your name even if no one has ever heard of you. Make your name here, mates: but don’t expect to make anything else.

Whether it be your favourite British band going over there or your favourite American band coming over here; American audiences are paying the fare. The bands keep coming though, and we keep going. There must be something about us they like. There’s definitely something likeable about them.


Pete Townshend

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President Obama’s Weekly Address (Feb. 27, 2010)

February 28, 2010 at 8:37 am (Life & Politics)

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David Fricke – “The Savage Rose: A Lifelong Fan” (2001)

February 28, 2010 at 6:26 am (David Fricke, Music, Reviews & Articles)

This February 2001 preface to the book “The Savage Rose Story” by David Fricke talks about his lifelong love of this Danish psych band, and how Lester Bangs turned him on to them. Their album In the Plain has many excellent examples of psych madness…

It was the late, great rock critic Lester Bangs who made me a lifelong fan of the Savage Rose. He did it with a review of In the Plain, that ran in the October 18, 1969 issue of Rolling Stone. On page 42, to be exact.

“This is a rather peculiar album,” Bangs said before rolling out a set of juicy metaphors in praise of the singular electricity of the band’s powerhouse singer Anisette: “Grace Slick at 78 RPM”; “Minnie Mouse on a belladonna jag.” He also wrote about organ notes “pouring like star drifts down from vast black skies” and made flattering comparisons to old Bela Lugosi movie scores and the 1960s doo-wop exotica of Rosie and the Originals. “This group isn’t coming on in a blaze of glory,” Bangs signed off. “They are working very hard at the incredibly difficult process of learning to sing their own song.”

I knew what he meant when I heard In the Plain. The Savage Rose were a band of rare beauty and courage – formed in Denmark, singing in English but rapidly inventing their own rock & roll tongue, a new soul born of psychedelia, Beatlemania, Harlem gospel and European art song. In Anisette, the Savage Rose possessed an extraordinary instrument of confession and jubilation, a mighty R&B angel packed into a slender stick of hellfire. There was rich drama, too, in the group’s exquisite keyboard interplay, the avant-garage tension of their riffs and rhythms and the dynamic songwriting of Thomas and Anders Koppel.

I still shake with awe and relish when I listen to In the Plain – to the exuberant salvation song “Ride My Mountain” or the bittersweet gypsy dance “Evening’s Child.” I also think about what might have been. The Savage Rose seemed ripe for big things in America then. They shared the stage with Jethro Tull and James Brown at the 1969 Newport Jazz Festival; the albums Your Daily Gift and Refugee were underground sensations here. In his 1971 Rolling Stone review of Refugee, Lester Bangs cited it, alongside Who’s Next, as a reason to keep believing in the magic and life force of rock & roll.

I feel the same way about the Savage Rose music that has followed: the bluesy 1972 diamond, Babylon; the explosive title song of 1973’s Wild Child; the band’s powerful Danish-language reading of Thomas Koppel’s ballet score, Dødens Triumf (Triumph of Death); the 1984 set of acoustic political-action songs, Vi Kæmper For at Sejre (We Struggle for Victory). And I find sweet irony in the fact that while the Savage Rose are now remembered in America mostly as an acid-rock curio, a colorful echo of Europe’s hippie renaissance, Thomas and Anisette currently live in Los Angeles, where they are writing and recording some of the finest music of their lives. The Savage Rose are not prisoners of history – because they never stopped making it.

Lester Bangs died in 1982. I never got to thank him for turning me on to the Savage Rose. But a few years after his death, I found a worn, apparently well-loved first edition of The Savage Rose, the band’s Danish 1968 debut, in a used-record store in Greenwich Village. On the back cover, written in blue ink, was the name of the original owner: “Bangs.” That album now sits on my record shelf, right next to my original 1969 copy of In the Plain. I think he would appreciate that.

David Fricke


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