The Punk Meets the Godmother: Pete Townshend Looks Back

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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 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.

June 20th, 1977.

The editors have asked what I feel precipitated this crisis. Caring too much? Is it possible? I have read that stars and punk people take themselves too seriously. I am both star and punk, therefore I take myself so seriously that I actually believe I matter to the world. I matter firstly to my family, then to the group and its fans, then to the few who have the conviction that Meher Baba is the True Avatar. In that order. I get serious when Pete Townshend disrupts this scheme of priorities as an individual; when his neuroses and paranoia break up the matter-of-fact interpretation of the scheme's direction.

Keith Moon once sat in a hotel bed in Boston after dying on the stage in front of 10,000 or so kids, and said, quite simply, "I've let you down." Not, "I've let the Who down," not "I've let down the people." He'd let us down.

My crisis was caused by no one and nothing. It cost me nothing; it gives me everything. It was never precipitated because precipitation is a slow process. Rock & roll is fast. There was no waiting for time to take its course, or for me to weigh up whether I was doing right or wrong. Rock & roll always tries to do right. Rock & roll always aims high and offers itself up as the tinderwood to the fire that will burn away the crap in this world. Rock & roll uses up people, music and talent, even genius, like balsa in a roaring inferno. The fire burns brightly even when the fuel supply gets low, because there is always someone ready to give everything in a last-ditch attempt to gain fame. The right is that it tries, the wrong is that it often fails.

My crisis was simply that I felt I was failing rock & roll. And for me this was a crime. For in doing this, I was failing friends and family, history, the future and, most important of all, I was failing God. No one less could have invented this sublime music.

Editor's note

Pete Townshend has just completed an album with Ronnie Lane, formerly bass player with the Faces. Rough Mix is the closest Pete feels he will get to a solo album for many years, as he is now working on new material for the next Who album. Rough Mix was recently released by MCA.

Townshend has also appeared on and supervised a limited-edition album produced by Meher Baba Oceanic, the English Baba group he refers to in the article. With Love contains three tracks by Pete of a distinctly unusual approach, and others by Lane, Billy Nicholls, Medicine Head and Pete Banks.

This story is from the November 17th, 1977 issue of Rolling Stone.

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