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The Punk Meets the Godmother: Pete Townshend Looks Back

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I spent the last three days of March talking about punk rock with Chris Stamp. I'm sure I invented it, and yet it's left me behind. If anything was ever a refutation of time, my constant self-inflicted adolescence must be.

Chris told me the punk crowds banged their heads through ceilings, swore at one another, and if a fight broke out (though "breaking out" is hardly the term to use in this context), one became the aggressor, one the victim. The crowd was one, the fighters played out roles.

Damage, damage, damage. It's a great way to shake society's value system. It makes mothers disown their children. It makes schoolteachers puke.

High-rise blocks and slums in GlasgowI 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 phony values; the heavy price on the scrap of tin called a musical instrument. It is 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. These stars are true stars; they are part of an audience of stars.

And on the dance floor broken glass,
The bloody faces slowly pass,
The numbered seats in empty rows;
It all belongs to me you know
*

Where am I in space that I should care so much about the lonely souls in tiny square bedrooms a hundred feet up in air in cities all over the world?

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. I feel like an engineer.

Just let me . . . watch.

Photos: The Who's 10 Greatest Songs

When I sit and listen to "The Punk Meets the Godfather" on Quadrophenia, I come closer to defining my state three years ago. I was the Godfather. (When I met two of the Sex Pistols recently, I was in an appropriately raging, explosive mood, but I recognized their hungry, triumph-pursuant expressions and began to preach.)

In '73 and '74, I was the aging daddy of punk rock. I was bearing a standard I could barely hold up anymore. My cheeks were stuffed, not with cotton wool in the Brando-Mafioso image, but with the scores of uppers I had taken with a sneer and failed to swallow.

On the Who's tour of the U.S. and Canada 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 threw a party for us, and it was the first party I had been to for at least five years which meant anything to me. I don't go to a lot of parties, but I'm glad that I made this one. I suddenly realized that behind every Who show are people who care as much as, or more than, we do. Talking to the individuals who help get the show together enabled me to remember that audiences care, too.

When I sit in an audience, one of the things that makes it enjoyable is the energy I spend willing it to be the best thing I have ever seen. I get to see some great concerts that way. Ask any Who fan if they care how well we are playing on any single date. The Who don't count as much as people might imagine, but as performers their response to the audience's 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 our concerts at Madison Square Garden, having come out of total seclusion in my studio after preparing mind-bending and complex tracks for the Tommy film. When my drunken legs gave way under me, as I tried to do a basic cliche 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!

This man had consumed time in a way that only God Himself could ever hold a candle to, but had he learned anything? He belongs to God, as we all do. Deny that He is, then, God's folly and what do you do? You refute God Himself.

That argument is for cozy firesides. No, this was God's work. The devil is, after all, only a figment of God's imagination. And so this remarkable fool believed himself to be a figment of a figment. A dream within a dream. He believed he had an imagination that could not be shaken by the actual imagination that brought forth his very own being!

Such impudence.

Such unwitting humor.

Life could easily continue the provision of sideshows in this one's circus. Perhaps his endless dream could be shattered this time.

Maybe this little man's time had really come.

The general rule of the day in show business was, "When in or out of trouble – drink," so I drank some more. Drinking around the Who is the greatest thing gutter-level life can offer. The bawdiness of the humor, the sheer decadence of the amount put away, the incredible emotional release of violent outbursts against innocent hotel-room sofas; all these count to get a body through a lot of trouble. But 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. I stopped overnight. The results were interesting. My hair started to fall out. 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 I. Apparently, at the end of one session which I had gotten through by pulling incessantly at a total of about twenty cans of Coke, I wished everyone good night, walked up to a makeshift bar and drank a bottle of vodka. I just don't remember doing that.

I got very scared by memory blackouts, as scared as I had ever been on bad LSD trips eight years before. Once in July 1974 – just after the Tommy filming – I sort of "came to" in the back of my own car. Keith and John were with me (we were probably going to a club), but although I knew who they were, I didn't recognize 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 as the memory lapses began. Eight drug-free years and still this mental demise.

On another occasion, at the "thank you" concert we gave in Portsmouth, England, for the extras in the Tommy film, I signed several managerial and recording contracts in a complete 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. (The fact that I'd signed the contracts didn't come home to me until we were actually in the middle of a legal wrangle some months later.)

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