Happy Birthday to Pete Townshend, who turns 78 today (May 19th)!!! Townshend, who is the primary creative force behind the Who, wrote nearly all of the band's music and has been responsible for crafting the stories and themes behind such rock classics as Tommy, Who's Next, and Quadrophenia.
Back in March, Townshend released his first new solo single in 29 years. The acoustic-based track, titled, “Can't Outrun The Truth,” was written by Townshend's wife and frequent collaborator, Rachel Fuller, produced by Charlie Pepper, and engineered by Townshend's brother-in-law, Jon Astley. The track originally appeared in the 2020 Jude Law film, The Hat. All proceeds will benefit the Teenage Cancer Trust.
April saw the release of Pete Townshend and Ann-Margret's new take on the Everly Brothers' 1957 top two rock classic, “Bye Bye Love.” The track, which also features country legend T.G. Sheppard, is but one of the singer's star-studded team-ups featured on her new album, Born To Be Wild.
A while ago, we asked Pete Townshend why he needs grand concepts such as Tommy, Quadrophenia, and the recent Wire And Glass mini-opera, behind most of his work: “I just write. I'm just a songwriter, y'know, that's what I do. Which is why it's very important for me to have some kind of concept to hold me down, some kind of concept to give my work shape, focus, and direction. Because I don't feel that the Who ever had a clear brief (on what to write for them), ever, ever, ever, ever.”
With Tommy becoming such a mainstay of not only the Who's career — but of all of classic rock radio — Townshend was asked about the reason for the album's continued relevance: “I think it’s only really relevant today, in as much as it was relevant to start with. It’s a fairly simple childlike fairytale. And what makes it work today, I think is its naivety. It’s not all naive, it’s not innocent. It has fantastic simplicity.”
Amazingly, 2020 marked the 40th anniversary of Pete Townshend's first fully realized solo album, 1980's Empty Glass. His early-'80s solo work, created while writing, recording, and touring the globe with the Who, admittedly left him physically and emotionally fried. He told us he takes umbrage at all the Who fans that felt as though he hoarded his best material for himself, rather than give to the Who: “This was a mistake that I ever embarked on a solo career. I understand that now. I shouldn’t have done it. But, y’know, to be honest, that type of Who fan-ism, it irritates me. Because what it’s actually doing is, it’s so easy to make these comments after the fact. Everything is easy in hindsight. Y’know, what was actually going on at the time was that I was trying to satisfy my own peculiar creative urge. My unique creative urge, which wasn’t classic ‘Rough Boy’ Who stuff.”
Townshend explained that in addition to making his autobiography, Who I Am, a good read, the truthfulness needed to ring true to his life: “I had to write the truth as I saw it and I remembered it. Now that's a very strange truth, because everybody's memory is different and then I knew that there would be arguments with my friend Barney (Richard Barnes) later on, when he said, 'That didn't happen this way' or 'That didn't happen that way.' I'm getting a bit of that now with old friends who say, 'No, that's not what happened.' And I said, 'Listen, I have to tell my story my way.' But this was an honest. . . for me, it had to be what I believed to be the truth.”
He says that he makes no apologies for veering away from rock music to dabble in theater, films and novels: “Y'know, some of those people that still to this day regard me as being pretentious because I aspire to live my life as an artist rather than a 'cash is king' rock n' roll performer. If that's pretentious, so be it.”
During Pete Townshend's recent appearance on NPR, he shed light on the meaning behind “All This Music Will Fade” — the lead track from the Who's latest album: “Since the '60s it's become more and more basic, more and more simple. Music is often what's borrowed, what is often stolen, what is often echoed, what is often repeated — particularly in our business. So, it's kind of absurd for somebody to pop out of the woodwork and accuse, let's say, somebody like Ed Sheeran — whose music is not exactly (Arnold) Schoenberg — of ripping off some earlier song. It just happens. We only have this limited language to deal with.”
Although he's always made a point of discerning between being a creative artist and a performer, Pete Townshend admitted to the PBS News Hour, that despite the fact that he does his job amazingly well — it doesn't mean that he actually enjoys it: “I don't feel excited. I feel I'm there to do a job. There's no thrill. Indeed, I would say I don't like it much. I do it as a job, and I find it in credibly easy. So easy — I don't even have to think about it.”
Roger Daltrey recently explained that both on and off the stage, he and Pete Townshend remain brothers in arms to the end: “It's never been low, it's always been very close, but like every good, close relationship, you're gonna have your little spats. And that's what builds your character and your strength. And we're probably closer today and having more fun. . . What's so wonderful about — we've been together nearly 60 years now — Pete and I — in a professional relationship.”