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The Punk Meets the Godmother: Pete Townshend Looks Back

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My family (particularly of course my wife, who as a matter of personal policy tries to avoid the aspects of the music world that I still find exciting) had suffered a lot from my pathetic behavior of the previous 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 during the Fifties. 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 recognizing and helping her initiates with emotional problems and had invited me to come to be with her and her family when she had visited England in October '74.

I was genuinely unprepared for the unfolding that transpired in that six weeks. My mind was clouded with the idea of trying to run a "center" for Avatar Meher Baba; with 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.

Paris: George V Hôtel, May 1975.

I came to in a kind of trance. The woman with me is my wife; she is quite uniquely beautiful. Her profile is serene and encouraging. I look down at myself and I'm dressed rather peculiarly. My face is hairless and my jacket waisted with a 15-inch inverted pleat at the back. My shoes are scratched and worn. My collar feels too tight. I glance in the mirror as we walk to the restaurant. Is that the so-called "me"?

Children? Where are the children? I was sure that I would have beautiful, sparkling children. Where are they?

We walk into the long, elegant room and wait to be seated. The head waiter acknowledges our hand gestures in French. It is Paris.

The woman is smiling with an exhilarated jubilance to fit a queen. I glance along the room at nearby tables. They are all staring at her, entranced. The head waiter suggests we drink Beaujolais Villages, slightly chilled. It costs nothingthere are wines on the menu that cost $100but he suggests this simple fare. When it is delivered, we understand. The warmth of perfection that accompanies such instants is unmeasurable. The way the silken cloth clings to her body, revealing not only the perfection of her form, but also the eccentricities; the faults (if it is possible to call them that).

We eat, the food is superb; why is everything so right? Is Paris really a dream? In our room, the blinds are wound down, the sparkling white sheets revealed in a triangle.

How does this fit in? I remember dingy dance halls, fish and chips and little cheap cars that break down miles from home.

I stare into the future. Nothing that I have ever dreamed of has failed me. So I stare knowing that what I see will be. It's not clairvoyance so much as fatal determination, and yet know that one day my luck must inevitably run out.

What am I doing with this superb woman? What am I doing?

In early August, 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 (he was on the road promoting his new album, Ride a Rock Horse). I told him I would support him in whatever he did. I felt it a strange thing to say.

I had always been the helmsman of the Who. Roger – and Keith, John and our management as well – always had plenty to say in the group's affairs. But because I wrote the majority of songs, they were inexorably tied up in my feelings, emotions and directions. I took the band over when they asked me to write for them in 1964 in order to pass the Decca audition, and used them as a mouthpiece, hitting out at anyone who tried to have a say in what the group said (mainly Roger) and then grumbling when they didn't appreciate my dictatorship. Roger often sang songs I'd written that he didn't care for with complete commitment, and I took him for granted. I said what I wanted to say, often ignoring or being terribly patronizing about the rest of the group's suggestions, then sulked when they didn't worship me for making life financially viable. (Kit Lambert went through the same process; he did great work for the Who, not realizing that we were satisfied that he should be thanked, credited and presumably made to feel quite happy by his royalty check each month.)

In New York, a good friend of mine gave me some advice. I tried to explain that I felt the problems in the Who were mainly about me and Roger, not the myriad business problems that seemed so manifestly cancerous. I was counseled quite simply: "Let Roger win."

The statement isn't as cruel or flippant as it sounds. This person knew the Who and its history and cared about all of us deeply. The advice meant that I should demonstrate to Roger that my letters were sincere by not hanging on to past grievances or differences. Most of all, I should bow to the changing status quo within the group, created by the fans' new identification with Roger as front man, rather than with me as its mouthpiece.

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

Were it not for the recently resolved legal dispute between the Who and its old management team – Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp – I would probably ramble on about it all at great length. Let it just be said, perhaps because I am a Taurus, perhaps because I am sentimental, that I had resisted Roger for many years in his justifiable revolution against our managers. That had never helped our relationship one iota. (Incidentally, the group's subsequent split with Pete Rudge's New York-based Sir Productions was an amicable one, but again Rudge and I found time to cry in our beer over lost partnerships. We had often shared a cell after the frequent Who hotel debacles.) As for Kit and Chris, my feelings now can be summed up concisely: I miss them.

Against this backdrop of good intentions, I set off in August 1975 to Myrtle Beach. As our party (my wife, my two little daughters and a few friends who traveled with us) crossed the threshold onto Meher Baba's home ground, we were all staggered by the impact of the love that literally filled the air.

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Song Stories

“Nightshift”

The Commodores | 1984

The year after soul legends Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson died, songwriter Dennis Lambert asked members of the Commodores to give him a tape of ideas. "And the one from Walter Orange has this wonderful bass line," said co-writer Franne Golde. "Plus the lyric, 'Marvin, he was a friend of mine' ... Within 10 minutes, we had decided it should be something like a modern R&B version of 'Rock 'n' Roll Heaven,' and I just said, 'Nightshift.'" This tribute to the recently deceased musicians was the band's only hit without Lionel Richie, who had left for a solo career.

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