New Music Express -

Pete Townshend's Back Pages by Pete Townshend

It took a bit of courage to sit and start this article as I said precisely nothing to the press (other than through lyrics) for close to two years. I have approached it by just sitting at a typewriter and writing.

Today, reading through it before sending it in for publication, there is much I am tempted to add or expand on. There is a strong temptation to bring everything up to date, but then The Who's last tour did that. The future, of course, is an open book.

The sections in italics are merely pieces of writing that I have found that I wrote during the months I cover in the article. I often sit at a typewriter and knock out stream-of- consciousness stuff, it helps clear the head, but often brings forth ideas for songs and so on.

They were written sometimes on scraps of paper at dead of night, sometimes at the lunch table with the kids on my lap, sometimes in hotel rooms while filming or performing.

Due to the fact that they were never written to be published, they are somewhat obscure, but they are minimally edited and therefore telling of state of mind and degree of intoxicated desperation.

I used to be a highly talkative person to the rock press, and have missed my contact with the writers I spent time with. Silence, however, is habit-forming and I am glad to be able to look back objectively to such an emotional period of my life with the band, and try to say it right.

What I never expected was such sympathy and understanding from writers whom I continually put off when they asked for interviews or even just a chat. I have lost contact with many journalist friends because I have been scared to speak.

It's not important; this article helps bring things up to date. Perhaps in the future I can get used to working my jaws again instead of my fingers. Fingers that would be better occupied playing guitar or tickling children.

 

1 February 1977

I have to look.

I have to go further:

Things as they are should be acceptable, but not when I feel this burning inside.

I must learn to accept things the way they are.

I take the rough with the smooth, and I take the high life offered me with delight, but become obsessive.

I have reached a point of departure.

Not from the people around me I love, but from other things that I am so attached to that I can no longer clearly understand them. Like a cripple's hunchback, my possessions are on my shoulders; heavy but out of sight.

Let me be clear; someone said, "I can't see the wood for the trees."

I say I can't see the path for the walking.

I don't object to walking, mind you. I enjoy the ups and downs. I pay, and I pray.

I met a man the other day who had given up everything and gone on the road. He was full of a kind of "light". But how long will it last?

When the thrill of the discovery of life's real value is found, realised, and then digested, what remains?

More life. More experience. More ilusion.

What is important to me? I would have thought it was obvious. I love my wife, my children, my work, and the people it pleases, my Master; my home, the fields in the morning air; the fish in the river; the faces of strangers". All this is good. But what now? What now?

 

Yesterday was Meher Baba's "Amatithi". Followers of this great master to whom I remain committed celebrate this anniversary of his passing in 1969. I saw a film of his entombment in the afternoon and felt a most powerful feeling of his presence throughout the whole day.

It is incredible to me, as I'm sure it is to so many witnesses of my day-to-day behaviour, that I still feel so moved by Meher Baba's words, photographs and films.

After following him for nearly nine years, I have fallen deeply into the rhythm of focusing all my reflections on life through a lens formed of experiences I have had under his spiritual umbrella.

If I try to imagine where my head was two years ago, I come up with a rather strange vision. Paranoia does not adequately describe the feelings I had. I suppose we all in The Who were to a degree paranoiac toward one another, but my trouble was also manifestly spiritual. I felt I had let myself down morally and artistically.

 

I have to look.

Perhaps if I leave everything behind and let go.

But what the hell will THAT achieve? I don't feel like running away from life. I LOVE life.

Perhaps though I only love it because it is good to me. I don't know.

Of course! THAT is the key. I love life because it is good to me. So perhaps the key is to chase nightmares, to find trouble, to dare life to show me something more horrifying than my imagination can conceive.

I'll chase nightmares. I'1l search out storms!

Life. listen to me...

I'm going to test you…

 

'Quadrophenia' (The Who's last major album with a contrived theme, released in 1973) tried to describe the utopian secrets of the eternal youth of each Who member. We get our life extensions from our audience. When there's an audience there's salvation.

Mixed up in 'Quadrophenia' was a study of the divine desperation that is at the root of every punk's scream for blood and vengeance. I can elaborate on that.

It is a really fantastic conceit on the part of the Establishment to imagine that any particular fragment of society itself is ever the true subject of a rock'n'roll song. Even in the famous folk-oriented political songs of the very early '60s there was something higher, a thread of upward groping for truth that came through. The definition of rock'n'roll lays here for me. If it screams for truth rather than help, if it stands up and admits something is wrong but doesn't insist on blood, then it's rock'n'roll.

We shed our own blood – we don't need to shed anyone else's.

 

I'm sure I invented punk rock, and yet it's left me behind. Damage, damage, damage. It's a great way to shake society's value system. It makes others disown their children. It makes schoolteachers puke.

High rise blocks and slums in Glasgow. I don't need to have lived in them to know the facts. I see the faces beaming up at me as I destroy my £500 guitar. Why should they, poor bastards, dig that?

They enjoy the destruction because they despise phoney values; the heavy price on the scrap of timber called a musical instrument. It's so far beyond their reach it might as well not exist.

The crucifixion is what these people stand for. They humiliate themselves and their peers and care nothing for any accolade. They are true stars.

I am with them. I want nothing more than to go with them to their desperate hell, because that loneliness they suffer is soon to be over. Deep inside they know. I prayed for it, and yet it's too late for me to truly participate.

Just let me... WATCH.

 

On the last tour of the States and Canada we did with The Who in the fall of '76, a lot of things came to a glorious head in Toronto, the last show of the tour. The road crew had thrown a party for us. It was the first party I had been to for five years which meant anything to me. I suddenly realised that behind every Who show are people who care as much as, or more than, we do. It enabled me, talking to the individuals who help get the show together, to remember that audiences care too.

If ever I sit in an audience, one of the things that make it enjoyable for me is that I spend a lot of energy WILLING it to be the best thing I have ever seen. Ask any Who fan if they care how well The Who are playing in any particular tour, on any single date. The Who's response to the audience energy is vital.

So two years ago, when I felt down, when I felt empty, tired and defeated, the audience of Who freaks carried on regardless. At the time I was very bitter about this.

I remember at Madison Square Garden, having come out of total seclusion in my studio after preparing mind- bending and complex tracks for the Tommy film, that when my drunken legs gave way under me as I tried to do a basic cliché leap and shuffle, a few loving fans got up a chant: "Jump! Jump! Jump!" Brings tears to your eyes doesn't it? It did mine anyway. Such loyalty.

 

As the general rule of the day in showbusiness was, "When in or out of trouble - drink", I drank some more.

Drinking around The Who is the greatest thing gutter-level life can offer. The bawdiness of the humour, the sheer decadence of the amount put away, the incredible release of violent outbursts against innocent hotel room sofas: all these parameters can get a body through a lot of trouble. The fault lies in the fact that at the end of the orgy the real cancer still lies untackled deep in the heart.

When The Who were recording 'The Who By Numbers', Keith's courageous attempts to head off his alcoholism moved me to stop drinking too. The results were quite interesting. My hair started to fallout.

Another remarkable side effect was that I carried on drinking without my knowledge. This story can only carry credence if we are to believe the observations of the people around us when we were recording – they were probably twice as drunk as me. Apparently, at the end of one session – which I had gotten through by pulling incessantly at a total of about 20 cans of Coke – I wished everyone goodnight, walked up to the makeshift bar set up on an amplifier flight case at the back of the studio and drank a bottle of vodka. I don't remember doing that.

I got very scared by memory blackouts…As scared as I ever been on bad LSD trips eight years before. Once, in the back of my own car, I sort of "came to". Keith and John were with me, we were probably going to a club, but although I knew who they were, I didn't recognise either my car or my driver, who had been working for me for about two months. The shock that hit me as the pieces fell into place was even more frightening than the black holes in my head I felt as the memory lapse began. Eight drug-free years and yet still this mental demise.

On another occasion, at the "thank you" concert we gave the extras in the Tommy film in Portsmouth, I signed several managerial and recording contracts in a complete black fog. The only event I remember is quietly screaming for help deep inside as I asked John Entwistle if it had ever happened to him.

 

I decided on a voyage. On a ship, or even a raft, anything. I would be alone. Me and my thoughts versus the world of so-called reality.

The sea was calm when I set off, those I left behind waved goodbye as though for the last time. I laughed actually. I suppose it was rather unkind, but I hoped their morbid tears were portentous in a way. I don't really want to win again but I expect I will.

The waves crashed around me. The weather was very, very bad. But green-faced though I was, I felt inside this was an adventure. As my little craft was tossed about by the greenfoam-topped crests, I laughed between gulps for air: I choked as I smiled between spewing grimaces. I felt warm in the breast of the storm; compassionate enough to make me know it cared about me so much it could scare me.

 

After the total downward spiral I underwent during the making of Tommy, and after living with the fear of further humiliation of the Madison Square Garden variety, I did a few interviews with the London-based rock press.

I blurted out my fears, my depressions and woe, blaming the group, to a couple of writers whose sympathies were, to put it mildly, a little to the left-wing of rock journalism.

The results were catastrophic in print. Roger was understandably outraged, and retaliated in his own interviews published a few weeks later.

"I knocked Townshend out with one punch." I think I was already dead before the punch connected.

I feel now, though we were both, to an extent, manipulated by a skilful and opportunist reporting chain, that the derision handed out to me by Roger for my weaknesses and indulgence did me a lot of good.

It hurt me at the time, but when you're so far down, so the saying goes, even the gutter looks like up. I had, after all, been derisive of Roger many times in print.

Roger went on to work on another Ken Russell film, Lisztomania, which I managed to avoid. I got my head down to try to write a bit for the coming album ('The Who By Numbers').

It was hard for me to admit that I knew as I was actually composing that what was happening to me was an exorcism. Suicide notes tend to flush out the trouble felt by the potential ledge-jumpers, revealing the fact that once the truth is out, there's no need to leap.

Recording the album seemed to take me nowhere. Roger was angry with the world at the time; Keith seemed impetuous as ever, on the wagon one minute, off it the next. John was obviously gathering strength throughout the whole period; the great thing about it being he seemed to know we were going to need him in the coming year more than ever before.

 

After we finished recording in August '75 we had a month off. I decided to try to get some spiritual energy from friends in the USA. For a few years I had toyed with the idea of opening a London house dedicated to Meher Baba. In the eight years I had followed him I had donated only coppers to the work of the various foundations set up around the world to carry out the Master's wishes, and decided it was about time I put myself on the line. The Who as a group had set up a strong charitable trust of its own which appeased to an extent the feeling I had that Meher Baba would rather have seen me give to the poor than to the establishment yet another so-called 'spiritual centre'.

My family, and in particular my wife, had suffered a lot from my pathetic behaviour of the earlier year, but they would naturally be by my side on any trip other than Who tours. So they came with me, or rather I went with them, to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where Meher Baba had set up a retreat in the '50s. I intended to travel on after a couple of weeks to spend a full month living under the wing of Murshida Duce in California.

Murshida Duce is the appointed head of the Sufi movement in the States as reoriented under Meher Baba's directives. She is used to recognising and helping initiates with emotional problems and had compassionately invited me to come anytime to be with her family when she had visited England in October '74.

I was genuinely not prepared for the unfolding that transpired in that six weeks. My mind was clouded with the idea of trying to run a 'Centre' for Avatar Meher Baba; the difficulties I would have trying to deal with people's whims and complaints; but most of all with the hypocrisy of trying to do such a contentiously idealistic thing while enjoying the kind of life I had been living.

 

Before I left England I had written Roger a note telling him that I felt there had been a lot of unnecessary strife between us, and that I hoped I could earn his respect again.

From New York, on the first leg of our trip to Carolina, I wrote to him again. I told him I would support him in whatever he did. It felt a strange thing to say.

 

In life there is always a time to write. A time when windows fly open and girls call your name in a whisper in your inner ear: A time when complete, savage life stories are discussed primly on television programmes about paperbacks. A time when children play peacefully for hours and in spending the quietude constructively in conversation we remember; in isolation, how poorly we treat our friends with lack of attention.

If it is really possible to believe that what has happened has happened, then what cannot be? If a man can reach and touch and take and win, why can't God be reachable within?

 

I had always been the helmsman of The Who. Roger and the others always had plenty to say in the group's affairs, but because I wrote the majority of the songs they were inexorably tied up by my feelings and directions.

A good friend of mine in New York gave me some advice when I tried to explain that I felt the problems in The Who were mainly about me and Roger, not the managerial and contractual problems that seemed so cancerous. I was compelled quite simply: "Let Roger win."

The statement is not as cruel or flippant as it sounds. This person knew The Who and its history and cared about all of us deeply. What was offered as advice was that I should demonstrate to Roger that I meant what I said in my letters by not hanging on to past grievances or differences. Most of all, though, I should bow to the changing status quo within the group that had been created by the fans' new identification with Roger as the frontman of The Who, rather than me as its mouthpiece.

John and Keith are probably chewing my photo right now. I know what always irritates them is when a journalist describes them as "Pete Townshend's puppets". If The Who has been a tyranny in the past, it's been a rule by runaway horse. Roger has always seen The Who in a more objective light than me; his more active role in its creative direction has brought me closer to Keith and John than ever before, as well as to himself.

 

I set off in August 1975 to Myrtle Beach. As my wife, my two little daughters and a few friends who travelled with us crossed the threshold onto Meher Baba's home ground, we were all staggered at the impact of the Love that literally filled the air.

 

Wake up! Wake up!

A drinker? This one drinks like a Gemini should.

All today and none tomorrow.

In her sleep her beauty is profound because it reveals that beauty springs from spiritual innocence.

The moment it becomes distorted, blame only aggressive impurity that has touched the heart.

The sullied acrid smoke in this case, though I have to date made hardly a dent in the perfection of my love's crystal profile, is sparked by me and thoughtless action.

How can it affect her? Is that lust?

It affects her because I love her and cherish her; she in her integrity is not in control of her own destiny. She has chosen that I should take the wheel and collides with whatever I encounter.

 

When you hold out an empty cup to God, and demand that He fill it with wine, He

fills it faster than you can ever drink. Then you know that the fault lies in your own incapacity to receive His infinite Love, rather than His capacity to give it.

This is what I felt was happening. Even my youngest daughter Aminta, three years old, became starry-eyed with the atmosphere that poured from the trees. I wouldn't say that the warm reception given us by the residents of the Myrtle Beach retreat was not enjoyed and appreciated, but it paled in comparison to the welcome we felt in the buzzing dragonflies, the distant sound of the ocean, and the massaging humidity of the warm afternoon.

We spent an unbelievable ten days. The sun shone, the children enjoyed themselves, we relaxed and relished rejuvenation at the Master's command. My fears that I would not be strong enough to see through the imminent testing rehearsals and tour with The Who receded.

Despite the strength I felt growing within me, I felt exhausted by Myrtle Beach. God's endlessly present Love isn't to be taken lightly. It's great to be forgiven, but it hurts to admit you were wrong in the first place. I realised that I would not be reaping such fantastic emotional and mental rewards had I not been in pretty bad shape; a condition I had no-one to blame for but myself.

We travelled then to California.

 

I look out through your bloodshot eyes and I ask you, does this really matter?

I am here, and I wait constantly as your hair falls over the typewriter keys. I don't want to die!

Death is not all what I expect, I want surrender; surely that is simple enough.

I am suffocating in your love...help me somebody!

I am drowning!

They say that to drown in the depths is really to ascend.

Beloved God, why do you bring me close to tears?

Because I am your own heart, you might well be bored with me. I am you.

And have known, and lived, and died with you…for a billion years.

 

In California we were well looked after, taken into the bosom of the Sufi family there, provided with a furnished house, picnics, swimming pool. outings to State parks, camping trips to the Sierras and all kinds of straight-laced relaxation.

You are probably as mystified as I am as to where the spiritually beneficial work was being done, but spirit was what was needed, and spirit was what I got, even if it didn't fit preconceived notions.

Murshida Duce is a remarkable woman.

I am not a Sufi initiate, but her spontaneous help in my life has always touched me.

I felt it extraordinary that she was comfortable with me. She is a rather grand lady in her later years, more accustomed, I used to think, in her own youth to formal dinners and cocktail parties for her husband's work as an oil man in the '40s and '50s. In fact she is not so easily pigeonholed.

Meher Baba's older devotees are in tune with today, and understand that all the outbursts of youth, the subsequent depressions of middle age, the experimentation with drugs, the violence and the generation gap are based in spiritual desperation, not the more fashionable diagnoses rooted in society.

On arrival in California I went for a talk with her, to gossip, to bring her up to date on events at home, to ask her advice about the colour of the walls at the newly planned Baba house in London. Instead, to my amazement, I sat and poured out my very soul. She sat and listened as I told her every grisly detail. The paranoia, the drunken orgies, the financial chaos, the indulgent self-analysis, and of course the dreamy hopes for the future.

Without batting an eyelid she listened to stuff that was making me recoil myself, then went on to talk a little about her own youth, her life with her husband, the trouble some of her students were having at the time. In short, she got me right in perspective.

At the end of this month with her, we packed our bags, said our farewells and headed home – my wife and the kids to school, me to rehearsals with the band. Keith later told me I had walked into the rehearsal hall smiling. He related this because he had found it remarkable.

Something positive had happened to me. Back in England I got hold of a building for the London Meher Baba house, and one morning, early, sat thinking about the past year. Having taken energy, freely given, from just about every source I could lay my hands on, being strong again, and feeling fairly certain that I could now rock'n'roll right into my grave, I decided that I could dare ask for just one more directive.

I raised my eyes to the heavens and asked the old man, "What conclusions do I draw from all this, Baba? Where do I put this love you've given me?

The answer came out of the sky, in a voice that was in a fantastic sense audible: "KEEP PLAYING THE GUITAR WITH THE WHO UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE."

 

Where am I and what am I? I kneel at the foot of a picture of my Master; I plead forgiveness, but in dreams I gloat. The superb and beautiful creatures that have lain at my feet. What am I? I look in the mirror and don't see much. Am I purely a fraud? Fall in all you cynics, but how about your own admirers?

The people that I observe fall at my feet, but why? I think I know. The ego floods away from me like the crutch snatched from a cripple. But the feeling is not bad; they love me for what I could be, not for what I am. When I screamed for God to smash me down, I didn't expect for a minute that he really would.

 

It's now 6.00 am. I thought about taking an early walk by the river, but it's freezing outside. Fresh snow is falling.

They say another Ice Age is looming up in the distance, that the sea will flood continents, that earthquakes will split the world in two.

Yet I can't help but feel strangely optimistic.

 

Transcribed by

Brian Cady