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For twenty nine years I have been entangled in this thing
called The Lifehouse. I blamed the frustration it caused me on its innate simplicity and
my innate verbosity; one cancelled out the other. The story contained ideas that were once
regarded as overly ambitious. I felt like a jungle explorer who had stumbled upon an Inca
temple of solid gold and become impeded by roots and vines in a knot of undergrowth, only
yards from civilisation. One day I would emerge crying aloud that Id discovered
something marvellous, but would be patted off the head and indulged in my triumphant
ranting. The package you hold in your hands today is the result of this awkward, though
not particularly heroic, journey. I have come to the end of a creative adventure in which
I struggled as much to overcome my own impatience as obstacles in my path. I present you
now with a finished play a collection of music that the idea has inspired, a history of
the project, and a graphical response to the very deepest spiritual notions underlying it.
In 1971 I wrote a film script of Lifehouse for Universal Pictures. It was never realised
as a film, or any kind of theatrical narrative drama. I have often found myself telling
and retelling the story of Lifehouse, usually in conversation with interested journalists.
Because the story itself is about a highly technological media corrupted by myopic
conglomerates, many writers - working for the media Man - have identified with
my phobias about the future.
Briefly, the story of Lifehouse as It was presented to The Who in
A self-sufficient drop-out family group farming in a remote part of Scotland decide to
return South to investigate rumours of a subversive concert event that promises to shake
and wake up apathetic, fearful British society Ray is married to Sally, they hope to link
up with their daughter Mary who has run away from home to attend the concert. They travel
through the scarred wasteland of middle England in a motor caravan, running an air-
conditioner they hope will protect them from pollution. They listen, furtively to old rock
records which they call Trad. Up to this time they have survived as farmers,
tolerated by the governments who are glad to buy most of their produce. Those who have
remained in urban areas suffer repressive curfews and are more-or-less forced to survive
in special suits, like space-suits, to avoid the extremes of pollution that the government
These suits are interconnected in a universal grid, a little like the modern Internet, but
combined with gas-company pipelines and cable TV company wiring. The grid is operated by
an imperious media conglomerate headed by a dictatorial figure called Jumbo who appears to
be more powerful than the government who first appointed him. The grid delivers its
clients food, medicine and sleeping gas. But it also keeps them entertained with
lavish programming so highly compressed that the subject can live out
thousands of virtual lifetimes in a short space of time. The effect of this dense exposure
to the myriad dreamlike experiences provided by the controllers of the grid is that
certain subjects begin to fall apart emotionally. Either they believe they have become
spiritually advanced, or they feel suffocated by what feels like the shallowness of the
programming, or its repetitiveness. A vital side-issue is that the producers
responsible for the programming have ended up concentrating almost entirely on the
story-driven narrative form. ignoring all the arts unrestrained by plot as too
complex and unpredictable, especially music. Effectively, these arts appear to he banned.
In fact. they are merely proscribed, ignored, forgotten. no longer of use.
A young composer called Bobby hacks into the grid and offers a
festival-like music concert-called The Lifehouse-which he hopes will impel the audience to
throw off their suits (which are in fact no longer necessary for physical survival) and
attend in person. Come to the Lifehouse, your song is here.
The family arrive at the concert venue early and take part in an
experiment Bobby conducts in which each participant is both blueprint and inspiration for
a unique piece of music or song which will feature largely in the first event to be hacked
onto the grid.
When the day of the concert arrives a small army force gathers to try to
stop the show. They are prevented from entering for a while, the concert begins, and
indeed many of those watching at home are inspired to leave their suits. But
eventually the army break in. As they do so, Bobbys musical experiment reaches its
zenith and everyone in the building, dancing in a huge dervish circle, suddenly
disappears. It emerges that many of the audience at home, participating in their suits,
have also disappeared.
There is no dramatic corollary I didnt try to explain where they may
have gone, or whether they were meant to he dead or alive. I simply wanted to demonstrate
my belief that music could set the soul free, from both the restrictions of the body, and
also the isolating impediments and encumbrances of the modern world.
60s rock achieved so much in its first seven years, a period that to
me now seems such a short space of time. My expectations of the rock form, The Who group,
its managers and myself, were huge. During the development of Lifehouse, my Svengali-like
manager Kit Lambert suffered a massive spiritual demise and took refuge variously in the
gloom of a famously cursed palazzo in Venice or the headiness of a Central Park hotel in
Manhattan. While this was happening, the emotional distance of the otherwise encouraging
Hollywood establishment confused me. I had written the script, which Universal Pictures
had read and apparently understood: they had promised me two million dollars. Then there
was silence. I came up against my first real brick wall since I had started writing and
acting as spokesman for The Who and many in their audience. Until then I had felt
omnipotent. I hope not arrogantly. But that wall that rise up between me and my Lifehouse
film stood up to every energetic idea I threw at it. I could not work out what to do.
Had I been working in theatre I believe I would have been encouraged to
carry on, instructed that dramatic ideas need to be work-shopped and nurtured, not simply
tossed onto paper and then talked, hyped (or sung) into being by the author. Chris Stamp,
Kits management partner in the period Tommy was recorded, remembers a truly
synergetic and symbiotic process of creativity then, something that for various reasons
failed to happen when I presented Lifehouse to The Who. I should say quickly that the hand
members and everyone involved were immensely supportive. The music Id written with
the script was excellent, and there was a lot of it. And not everyone found the story
Frank Dunlop was director of the brand new Young Vic theatre at the time,
and through our meeting at AD8, a gay restaurant in Kensington frequented by Rudolph
Nureyev, I became a customer. I give this snapshot not to deepen the impression that I
enjoyed a bisexual life with ballet dancers, but rather to show that I moved in exalted
circles of wildly wilfull, imaginative and creative people, and when I spoke to anyone
about Lifehouse socially, they were encouraging and enthused. Frank and I had been
introduced by Kit Lambert who told me we would all three together develop the script
Id written. We never did, and for a while I wondered why. Recently Frank explained
that behind my back Kit had confused him, saying my idea was unworkable, that Frank should
go through the motions, then let it fade and move on to the more important project, a
movie of Tommy which Kit hoped to direct as his first feature. Frank did not let the
project drop. He arranged a regular weekly concert at the Young Vic, and held a
press-conference during which I explained the general idea.
Tremendous confusion followed. I had planned to conduct rather simple
experiments during these concerts producing pieces of music for some loyal audience
members, In this experiment my most earnest champion was the late Tim Souster
composer-in-residence at Cambridge University and electronic music performer. He
introduced me to Karl-Heinz Stockhausen and members of the BBC Radiophonics workshop. I
had no hope of producing anything like the expansive music I had envisioned and attempted
to describe in my fiction, but certain people around me believed that was my target.
Whispers of madnessfluttered backstage like moths eating at the very fabric of
my project. In order to get The Who into the film, I figured I would make them look as
though they were really making the musical part of the experiment work: documentary film
of our concerts would later be incorporated into the action of the film, so the concert
(the one at which Bobbys audience disappears) would be a genuine one, not a lash-up
by some megalomaniacal film-director. The press conference was the beginning of the end. I
was portrayed by some as confused when I was merely tired, and by some as arrogant when I
was merely deeply committed to the idea that the story would work, that the almost
omnipotent Who could pull it off.
With no money from Universal, and (mysteriously for me) no creative help
from Kit Lambert, within a few weeks our experiments had dwindled into trips
to the local pub and over-loud short concerts of our early hits for anyone who showed up
at the Young Vic. One of these unadvertised and thus poorly attended concerts (of which I
remember only two) was recorded and produced a reasonably good live tape. Eventually
exhausted and disillusioned, I abandoned the idea of making a film, and when Kit invited
me to New York to start working on a straightforward recording at the Record Plant, a
wonderful new studio there, I jumped at it.
When I got to New York I found that Kit had changed, and not entirely
because he had became a heroin user. I realised later he had been deeply hurt by my
failure to see how desperately he wanted to produce and direct a movie of Tommy and I had
blocked him, fearing I would lose my mentor and friend to Hollywood. I lost him anyway. At
the time, in New York I was still obsessed with my own problems and was unaware of all
this. He had completely lost all affection for me and began calling me not
Pete, but Townshend, or
Pete Townshend. The recordings we made in New York were very good, but I left
the druggy scene as soon as I could. The brilliant recording finally made by Glyn Johns
was knocked off quickly in London when we all finally got back. It was entitled
Whos Next, and the story of Lifehouse wasnt even mentioned on the
sleeve. Several songs vital to the plot were left off - Pure and Easy
being especially important.
After twenty years, I became obsessed with telling the story behind my
failure to complete what was a genuinely good idea for the first genuine rock musical
film. The obsession to do this was greater than the desire to complete the original film
itself, and led to Psychoderelict, my last solo album of 1993
Briefly, the story of Psychoderelict as it was
performed by me in 1993
In Psychoderelict, Ray High, a reclusive rock star (not entirely
dissimilar to the fellow parodied in Private Eyes Celeb cartoon strip), during
a serious emotional crash. and from a place of extreme isolation, rediscovers an aborted
project from his past which brings him hope. The story is set in the world of rock
celebrity excess, but is actually about a different kind of self-abuse to that most
commonly associated with that world. Ray High has cut himself off from every high.
He allows himself no fixes, there is no love in his life, no fans, no music, no present,
no recovers nor rehabilitation, lust a kind of apologetic tipsiness that allows him to
survive petulantly. at a distance from his old friends and family. Only a few voices
penetrate his existence. One is that of Rastus, an old road-manager who is trying to get
Ray back on the road. Another is Ruth Streeting, an acerbic journalist, once a fan
herself, hut today more powerful than Ray. Another is Rosalind, a new fan of that
uncertain age between childhood and the rest, who sends Ray a salacious photo and revives
him from his gloom. I should quickly say that Ray Highs experience does not entirely
reflect my own. (Incidentally, the name Ray high was concocted as an amalgam of two rock
contemporaries of whom Im most fond, Ray Davies and Nick Lowe).
Rays forgotten project from the past is of course based on
Lifehouse. Ray is cajoled by Rastus, manipulated by Ruth Streeting and intoxicated by
Rosalind (for whom he writes a hit song) and manages to get his version of Lifehouse -
called Gridlife- on stage. It is a tremendous success, but he remains a little
jaded, and yet nostalgic. I tried to deliver a double irony: Ray prefers to look back to a
time when he was still able to look ahead. The play closes as he begins to forget his
recent success, pores over new letters and pictures from new fans, and resentfully bemoans
his great, lost hippy days of the 70s.
I wrote some quite beautiful songs for Psychoderelict, and as
I listened to them on the finished CD, I realised I had been more deeply wounded by the
failure of Lifehouse than I had been previously able to admit. My problem was not simply
one of failure to let go of the idea, or an unwillingness to accept defeat. I had been, in
a sense, humiliated and broken by its non- appearance as a drama. It is, as you have read,
quite simple. What was once seen to be incomprehensible was the background setting of the
play: a world in which entertainment and global information and communication become
dangerously intertwined. In fact, in my first draft, I came up with my own version of
Virtual Reality as a device by which I could immerse the creatures of my story
in total isolation. just as I had with the sensually-deprived Tommy. That idea is not hard
for us to grasp today; it is framed by the more practical and elegant term
In the 2-CD radio play contained in this package, the definitive version
of Lifehouse, my writer Jeff Young, producer/director Kate Rowland and I decided not to
try to further predict any problem with the current march of technology; and ignore common
phobias about it all. After all, in the current climate, to describe the future is to
describe tomorrow, possibly even some daft science fiction writers yesterday. Here
we speak not of grids. or the virtual reality experience suits of my 1971 story, but
of tele, hackers, pirates and of course
web-sites. In his latest book Ray Kurzweil, who invented the repeatable
triggered digital recordings (called samples) so beloved of modern composers, predicts
that within twenty years a wise and benign cyborg
will be walking down Oxford Street with arms remind me that thirty years ago with arms
outspread entreating us all to follow him My contemporaries I had had a chance to
build and future phobia in the 1971 Lifehouse was that we contribute to a better world. We
would owe it all to someone like Rupert Murdoch (who was still in Australia in 1971 I
think). In a time when rock concerts occasionally did catch fire especially those by thee
Who, the real heroes of the l971 Lifehouse were the audience, the people who showed
up at the Big Show. There was a real sense of danger there. The philosophy was: Better to
congregate, dance, worship and possibly die than to live in a bubble.
Here in the 1999 BBC play the hero of the story-another Ray - is a rather simple man
who remembers to voices from his childhood. One is his own childlike voice of around nine
or ten years old, imagining the future, delighting in the certainty that we would all one
day blow ourselves to bits. The other is an imaginary from that childhood, a kind of
Uncle-In-Overalls who replaces the emotionally distant, war-ravaged father who can only
recommend to the kid that he sits and quietly watches the newly-acquired miracle of a tiny
grey-screened tele. The Ray character during creative sessions with Jeff Young and
Kate Rowland. We suddenly realised we must accept that my phantom presence in the
story was more forcefully felt than I intended. I occasionally spoke in these
creative meetings of the tragedy of my time, and the moral cowardice of
my generation. There has been no great bomb since that last one dropped on Japan, but
there has been a steady erosion of what is natural. As my art school mentor Gustav Metzger
says, nature has been replaced by environment we no longer know the true
values of natural life and art. We are slowly destroying ourselves in an
auto-destructivesociety. My adolescent guitar smashing and early nihilistic
lyrics returned during these latest house discussions not to haunt or taunt but to remind
me that thirty years ago with my contemporaries I had a chance to build and contribute to
a better world. Had I done that? Tragically, I realised I had not. I had merely been a
skilful and loquacious pop-artist.
My contact with my audience has always been unconscious, but processed and analyzed.
I've always known where I've just come from, placing great emphasis on understanding the
journey itself, rarely planning properly where I would end up next. It is a childlike way
to work, well suited to the life of a writer of pop songs. Not so useful for books I
remembered that when I gathered my collection of prose writing, Horse s Neck,
my editor Robert McCrum urged me to accept that my readers would always come to my writing
believing they knew me inside out, and that if I pretend to be able to deceive them with
my fictions. I would fail. He was right. Thus it was that fiction mixed with or perfumed
by experience became autobiogritphical prose, even though many of the
stereotypical rock n roll events that I described had never happened. With Roberts
good advice in mind, and extrapolated into Lifehouse, we decided that we must let
littlePete speak. When we did, we found a captivating fellow full of suburban
bomb-site spunk and really bright ideas. We called him Rayboy, and he
was most brilliantly recreated for me by Jeff Young who recorded my childhood memories
Rayboy was, however, something of a pessimist. In our play the adult Ray grows tip tailing
to realise his dreams and visions. I have of course realised many of my own childhood
dreams, and I feel today that the few that are unrealised are within my grasp, or within
my scope. But Ray and Rayboy are still very much of me. Perhaps they are also of my
audience and childhood friends: all those West Londoners anti Carnaby Street immigrants
from Ireland or the Caribbean who sometimes turned to me and said that I had a knack of
putting into words what they could party-dance away, but found hard to otherwise express.
It turned out that what I was best at
putting into words for them was the frustration that they could not put anything into
What is probably important to say now is that when you hear this play on the radio, the
music will not change your understanding of the story. It will enhance your appreciation
of it. Kale Rowland is especially good at using music in drama. But what the many
descriptions of music in the play offer are gentle realisations of some of
the New Age Millennial notions argued by the plays protagonists. These may appear to
be rather cosmic ideas, but I implicitly believe in them. In Lifehouse, music itself is a
fundamental and rudimentary principle, almost a functional character. To a musician like
me, music is what is inside us all, it represents expericnce, emotion arid
spiritual potential. I have invested my leading characters with this belief.
To go even further, I have always hoped that the Lifehouse concert referred to in this
play can happen in reality. I imagine a celebratory gathering at which a large number of
individuals hear modest compositions or songs created specifically for them. In a finale,
all those pieces could be combined, perhaps with creative and engaging images of each
subject. I believe the result would have enormous impact and significance. I recently
wrote a proposal to a friend of mine who owns a computer company that might have agreed to
sponsor some events of this kind. For my purposes here, I shall call the company
THRESHOLD to THE LIFE HOUSE
From vision to reality:
In 1971, as the follow-up to his hugely successful rock-opera
Tommy, Pete Townshend wrote The Life House
for The Who. The Life House was drafted by Pete Townshend as a film script. The film
project stalled, but the legendary album Who's Next, was acclaimed by many of The Who's
finest. Songs like Won't Get Fooled Again, Behind Blue Eyes and Baba O'Riley, have become
part of the vertebrae of rock radio. A subsequent re-write brought forth Who Are You and
Join Together. This year, 5 December 1999, the definitive story behind the famous
songs will finally be told when the BBC broadcast in the United Kingdom a radio play by
Pete as part as their Millennium Drama series.
In the first draft of the play was a fictional scene that, at the
time, seemed almost inconceivable in reality, In the finale of the film members of an
audience attending a concert provided personal data to composers working with powerful
computers, and heard the results. Ever single piece of music was then combined, and
a mathematical-yet wonderfully creative-metaphor for the universality of the human
spirit was demonstrated.
Thirty years on, as the Millennium dawns, Threshold Computers, in association with Pete
Townshend, are going to make this fictional scene happen. Threshold to The Life House will
give everyone a chance to hear a piece of music specifically composed for them by Pete and
his team. Indeed, their piece of music will be unique and special, produced using special
computer programmes, based on data produced from questionaire accessed on the web, and
perhaps even from DNA extracted from a hair of each participant. Pete will, in some cases,
involve himself more deeply with participants, and develop lyrics or poetry to complement
certain pieces of music.
On a date (yet to be set) in the future, an event will be held at
which many of the pieces of music will be heard in public for the first time. Impudently,
there will also be an attempt to realise Pete's 1971 vision for The Who's 'lost' movie
project, and every single piece produced in the exercise will be combined and broadcast
world-wide.We could hear the Music of the Spheres, or a busy night on Broadway. Pete
believes we will hear the ocean.
Threshold Computers make buying and working with computers easier
for people. Now they are making it easier for people to step into their own creative
Threshold to The Life House
But this is perhaps just my composers megalomaniacal dream. Such visions must be
realised rather than described. That much I have learned on my Lifehouse journey which
pauses here. Thus I move quickly onto the reality You are holding a CD package containing
all the music inspired by the Lifehouse story over the last twenty nine years. A limited
edition of 2001 (called The Lifehouse Method) will contain a unique code and a free ticket
to the as yet unscheduled Lifehouse Concert. This is an excerpt from the brief I am giving
to my software designers.
* The Method package
will other access to music generation software.
* Each 'Method'
package will contain a signed certificate from me with a unique code.
* This code will
unlock a deeper area of software.
* The software should
be available in all computer formats and can be distributed and 'shared', used without the
* The code, when
entered, will bring up a special data-entry page which will lead the user through a
process that produces a one-off, unique piece of music, that contains a unique lyric
generated by lyric motifs by me.
* Users of the
'Method' can take their completed unique composition to the PT web-site, and expect to
have their music developed further as the software is deepened. This process might unfold
over a period of months or years.
* The end-aim is that
many buyers of the 'Method' will attend a concert in future at which their piece of music
is 'premiered' and contrapuntally or fractally combined with other pieces.
* Attendance at this
concert is free to every purchaser of the 'Method' package whether they take
part in the experiment or not.
The Lifehouse logo, with its straight line
base and circle is derived from a
in mathematical and artistic principle known
as 'The Golden Mean'. It is expressed as a
series of geometrically related shapes, all
related to one another by specific ratios.
However, ' The Lifehouse' is of course more
than an abstract idea today. It is more than
a logo, or an icon more indeed than a
delightful animation. 'The Lifehouse' is a
place, an event, and-it is to be sincerely
hoped one day in the future-a building.
The evolution and transformation of the
Lifehouse symbol into an architect's first
vision of a building is the latest
serendipitous miracle or coincidence (that
is of course all part of the plan) that is
project continues to offer.
The Lifehouse building will be a rotunda, a
large round building where music is heard
and performed. Around the main building
will be other smaller round buildings
topped by a significant tower. In these
smaller buildings there will be workshops
and dressing rooms, music labs and
This animation can be viewed properly at
www.petetownshend.co.uk . But here you
can see a vision and dream of the future, a
building designed specifically for the
production and performance of
experimental music produced in co-
operation with, and at the specific
commission of the audience.
So I still have this crazy urge to make the fiction real. If you don't wish to come to
my Lifehouse party; or enjoy the fine art of 'The Method', you can be content with the
cheaper 'Chronicles'. You can enjoy the story; the story behind the story and wait for the
next chapter which I hope will be some down-to-earth concerts, possibly a Broadway musical
(most likely based on Psychoderelict) and perhaps a feature film. Of course my next
chapter should really be an air conditioned motor-caravan on its way South, but I am
enjoying my work too much at the present to a take a holiday.
This entire package addresses the necessity for human beings to congregate regularly in
order to share their emotions, and their responses to the spiritual challenges of art,
great and small.
Townshend, December 1999
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