After taping VH1 Honors: The Who, Pete Townshend e-mailed Rolling Stone’s Jenny Eliscu with a post-mortem discussing his own performance, his desire to smash plastic Rock Band instruments and the advice he gave Eddie Vedder a few years ago. Here’s the message:
Despite my smiley face, I was on guard on the red carpet and didn’t say much although the New York Times guy caught me off guard with the best question of my life, delivered almost dead-pan: “WHY DON’T YOU JUST DO WHAT ROGER WANTS?” For a split second I tried to answer.
The show felt clunky to me because I find it hard to mix work and pleasure, and so much of it was about mixing with people and accepting their good wishes. I tend to shut myself away before and after shows, it’s about making the best of the very little I have left to give the audience. Trying to increase the force of the water by closing down the valve on the hose, so to speak. I thought Roger sounded good. He’s been keeping himself active, doing small shows, and it showed.
It always takes me 20 minutes or so to loosen up. This was our first show for a year or so, so I was rusty on guitar. I felt like I was holding a spade (shovel). I dreamed last night of trying to play the show with a guitar actually covered in soil. I have been playing piano since last July, and only acoustic guitar (on the sofa while watching episodes of Medium or Boston Legal as my way of remembering America). Electric guitar and arm-swinging is not what I do between dog-walks and arthritis.
You probably know that VH1 Rock Honors was originally floated as an idea to help sell Viacom’s Rock Band. My son and his buddies did play with Rock Band around Christmas, until I lent it to the much younger son of Rachel’s drummer. I never tried it. I thought I’d probably end up smashing it.
I did have an idea for a stunt — if Viacom is VH1, and they own Rock Band, what about giving me a plastic guitar to smash on the show? Even better, what about giving me five hundred thousand plastic guitars to smash on the show? Maybe I could drive over them in a Monster Truck? I kept it to myself, as I knew they’d be happy to give me one, but not half a million. Then I thought, hey, I don’t want to smash plastic guitars, I want to smash the X-Box computers, the DVD drives, the expensive bit made of wire and metal. And you know, I really do. When I get home I’m going to do it. Who hasn’t smashed a computer at some point in their life? It’s where the Pete Townshend smashing thing becomes normal life, and not “…how could he?” We’ve all done it, bashed our plastic keyboard in frustration and out popped the letter “k.” $1,000 later, new computer, all is well, the old one we try to pass off on some project for poor people or some guy we know who can “fix anything.” Throw it in the fucking Hudson. No one wants it except the Stasi. It was built in 2007. This is Jetsons’ time we live in. Imagine, soon it will be 2011. That is most definitely going to be a Jetsons’ year. Even oil will be plastic in 2011 and marketed by Viacom. And available only in grey, pink or orange.
In the end, I enjoyed it. I only heard Pearl Jam from my trailer-dressing room, and it sounded amazing. Eddie seems to be very shiny these days. To think he nearly quit in 1993 and went back to some surfing beach. Lucky he came to speak to Uncle Pete. I told him — submit.
It’s not appropriate for me to come up with ideas about who I want to sing my songs, I have enough trouble serving Roger. I was grateful to have three great bands like Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam and Flaming Lips on the show. Sweet as it all is, Adam Sandler and Jack Black parodying the Who is as interesting to me as a plastic guitar you can’t really smash. Even so, their affection for me and the Who is tangible, and that’s a relief. Parody with affection is a form of love and regard, unlike satire. I feel lucky in that respect.
I think when I said on a blog that the Who was a glorified Who cover band I was trying to make people laugh. Much as I am now. Some people take me too literally. Just think how small I will feel when Arianna Huffington calls me a dope for my prediction that Viacom oil will only be available in three colours. Seriously, the covers thing happens in a good way I think when the audience truly take total possession of a part of your work. Those songs that seem to belong entirely to them, and not at any level at all to me or Roger any more, are the ones that feel best to play. They are the most famous — “Baba O’Riley,” (made more famous by a million YouTube viewings of Blue Man Group playing drums covered in paint than any other use); the CSI songs; “The Seeker” used in American Beauty (a naked girl covered in rose petals is hard to shake off). So, those particular songs do not feel like we are covering them, it feels like we are miming to a backing track that is the audience itself. That must be the apotheosis of my craft. Function flying high over form and my earliest artistic endeavour and pretensions.
How to keep the legacy going? Check the same Website blog. I’m quite obviously lost.
I’m hoping Ricky Gervais will hire me for his future comedy brainstorming sessions. He’d better. I’m losing the gift of irony.
For complete coverage of VH1 Rock Honors, check out rocknrolldiary.com.