Another Rock Star, Another Memoir

Arp 188 and the Tadpole's Tail
Arp 188 and the Tadpole’s Tail
Image Credit: Hubble Legacy Archive, ESA, NASA;

The Literary Man

Pete Townshend has long been associated with the rock band, The Who. In fact, along with Roger Daltry, Keith Moon and John Entwistle, he helped form the band way back in 1964, when the quartet first started playing British nightclubs. Today, The Who is generally recognized as one of the holy trinity of British Rock bands. The other two would be of course the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. The Who were one of the top rock bands of the sixties and seventies until two tragic events signaled the beginning of the end for this musical quartet. These were the death of Keith Moon in 1978 and a Cincinnati concert in 1979, where eleven fans were killed. As a result, by the early eighties, the band called, The Who, was breaking up. In July of 1983, Pete Townshend took on a job at Faber and Faber Books as an editor, thus completing the breakup of The Who.

Pete Townshend performing in Hamburg in 1972
Pete Townshend performing in Hamburg in 1972

Townshend’s Literary Accomplishments

As major songwriter and wordsmith, for one of the most popular live bands, ever to come onto the rock scene, Pete Townshend has earned his place in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and also in the general popular culture of the sixties and seventies. Nowhere are his literary talents more evident than with the rock opera, “Tommy”, a musical creation in which Townshend had the dominant roll.

On a strictly literary note, Townshend should  be noted for a series of three articles that he wrote for Rolling Stone Magazine. These appeared between 1970 and 1977; and were mostly about The Who. Also in 1977 Townshend started Eel Pie Publishing, which featured children’s books, music books and a London bookstore called The Magic Bus. Townshend has also published a book of his own short stories, called Horses Neck (19850) along with several scripts for short films and plays.

The Who in Chicago in 1975
The Who, original line up, performing in Chicago. Left to right: Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle, Keith Moon, Pete Townshend. from Wikipedia, photo by Jim Summaria

Who I Am

Just this fall (October 2012) Pete Townshend has released yet another memoir/autobiography by yet another wealthy and over-sexed Rock & Roll superstar. Is it worth reading? I can’t tell you because I haven’t read the book. but is has been on the NY Times Bestseller list for at least several weeks, since its release.  However, given Townshend’s longtime association with writing and his stint as an acquisitions editor, this book might dig deeper into the mindset of one of the world’s premier rock musicians. Early reviews, such as this one at LitKicks, tend to indicate that Pete Townshend has penned a first-rate intra-perspective book on his own personal journey through life.

Pete Townshend Today
Pete Townshend playing in Philadelphia in 2008 with the Who, from Wikipedia, photo by Kubackeck

Remembering John Lennon

John Lennon rehearses Give Peace A Chance by Roy Kerwood, courtesy of Wikipedia
John Lennon rehearses Give Peace A Chance by Roy Kerwood, courtesy of Wikipedia

Yesterday marked the thirtieth anniversary of John Lennon’s death, or assassination, as some people like to call the tragic event. I missed the hour long CNN special that was broadcast over the weekend airwaves, but did get a chance to see Chris Mathews jump  into the subject with both feet on “Hardball”.

As usual Chris was his old, brassy self, as he put together a rousing tribute to the fascinating personality that has been sometimes called the true songwriting genius behind the Beatles. Leaving this little bit of controversy aside, Chris tackled full-heartedly the emergence of the Beatles at a time, when the country was mourning the death of JFK and in desperate need of an uplifting event. And according to Mr. Mathews that uplifting event came in the form of four mop-topped musicians from Liverpool, England.

The JFK event was an interesting analogy that definitely caught my ear and gave me something to think about, especially since I am old enough to remember both the JFK assassination and the release of the first pair of Beatle songs (She Loves You & I Wanna Hold Your Hand) in America just a few weeks later.  Whether the two events are related or not, I don’t know, but they are without a doubt important cultural happenings that occurred in close proximity.

The other interesting point that Chris brought up was the distinct, yet sometimes discrete, anarchistic and revolutionary tone of the Beatles, in general, and more specifically the funny and irreverent attitude of John Lennon.  All in all, Chris’s presentation was a fascinating read on a stormy time in history.

Moreover, through the backward gaze of time, the Beatles stand out not so much for their musical accomplishments (which were many), but for the fact that we got to see all four band members as distinct individuals. No major musical group since that point in time has ever the matched what the Beatles did in the mid-sixties. The Rolling Stones were overshadowed by Mick Jagger, the Police by a bass player named Sting, The Band, featured Robbie Robertson, and Diana Ross was the big name to survive the breakup of the Supremes, but the Beatles remained the “Fab Four”. John Lennon came closest to eclipsing the Beatles as a single performer, but he never really succeeded in that regard and it is quite possible that he was just being himself during the years after the Beatles broke up.

Montreal-Skyscape
View of Montreal, the city where John and Yoko Lennon recorded "Give Peace a Chance".