…Before I Get Old, For The Love Of Pete.
“The things they do seem awful cold / Hope I die before I get old.” These words from “My Generation” were written by Peter Dennis Blandford Townshend, who is 65 years old today.
On May 19th, 1945, in the Chiswick, London area, a sax player named Cliff Townshend and his singer wife Betty had a little boy and named him Peter. By the age of 11 the boy had become enchanted with rock and roll, via the juke box film, Rock Around the Clock, starring Bill Haley and the Comets.
A year later he was bashing out tunes by Bo Diddley, Link Wray, John Lee Hooker and The Shadows on a cheap nylon string acoustic his granny gave him for Christmas. Where there’s a will there’s a way, however, and by the time 16 year old Peter went to Art College (in nearby Ealing) he had already formed a few bands, including a Dixieland jazz outfit (as was the fashion in late 50s early 60s Britain) with his schoolmate John Entwistle, eventually forming a skiffle combo with pal Roger Daltrey and another mate named Doug Sandom, called The Detours. After Sandom was sacked in favour of madman drummer Keith Moon they became a Mod inclined dance band, The High Numbers who would of course change their name to The Who after being discovered by the management team of Chris Stamp and Kit Lambert.
All of that is merely the backdrop for what was a revolution in rock. Quite honestly, The Who changed everything. They may not have meant to do it but they revolutionized the power chord, setting the template for progressives in the field from Rush to Todd Rundgren, and they invented Power Pop on songs like “Pictures Of Lily” or “I Can’t Explain.”
But for me, long before punk and the next wave of power pop, The Who represented the repressed sexual energy and artistic passion of a young man. I’m sure women could relate, but there’s no denying that Pete’s form of rock, articulate, emotionally direct and fragile while at once bombastic, aggressive and menacing, was like ripping open my teenage heart and spilling all manner of gooey confusion all over the strings of my out-of-tune imitation Les Paul.
If I wanted to play as cool as Pete, I also wanted to find a singer who could sing like Roger. Roger is Pete’s secret weapon, the street kid who can put the boot in to Pete’s Eel Pie poetry. Pete singing Pete is a very different affair than Roger singing Pete, and a song like “Baba O’Reilly” illustrates the contrast perfectly. The main body of the song puts the man in manifesto with mic swinging Roger decrying the teenage wasteland all around him. The middle section, however, belongs to Pete. His solo vocal, frail and careworn speaks to the underlying sensitivities often obscured by Daltrey’s bluster.
Pete’s solo stuff was even cool.
Yep, Roger may be the balls of the Who, Keith was the heart, John was the blood, but Peter’s the soul and spirit. Keith didn’t make it to old. John didn’t make it to older. Peter and Roger are still here, and they’re still The Who.
Happy Birthday Pete, glad you didn’t die before you got old.