Happy Birthday to Pete Townshend, who turns 76 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.
Recently released is the “Super-Deluxe Edition” of The Who Sell Out in a massive box set, with a total of 112 tracks over five discs. The collection includes never-before-heard outtakes and Townshend demos — along with a heaping dose of replica memorabilia from the era.
The Who’s most recent studio set, titled WHO, was released on December 6th, 2019 and entered the Billboard 200 at Number two behind Roddy Ricch‘s chart-topping Please Excuse Me For Being Antisocial.
WHO hit the UK charts at Number Three — and still marks the Who’s best charting album in the States since 1978’s Who Are You — which also peaked at Number Two. An updated version of the album is now out featuring a remix of the song, “Beads On One String,” and a seven-track bonus disc culled from the band’s February 14th, 2020 gig at the 2,000-capacity Pryzm in Kingston-Upon-Thames, England. The show marked the smallest venue the band had played in over 40 years.
In 2019, Pete Townshend published his first novel, titled The Age Of Anxiety. TheWho.com posted: “The Age Of Anxiety is a great rock novel, but that is one of the less important things about it. The narrator is a brilliant creation — cultured, witty and unreliable. The novel captures the craziness of the music business and displays Pete Townshend’s sly sense of humour and sharp ear for dialogue. First conceived as an opera, The Age Of Anxiety deals with mythic and operatic themes including a maze, divine madness and long-lost children. Hallucinations and soundscapes haunt this novel, which on one level is an extended meditation on manic genius and the dark art of creativity.”
Townshend went on to write, “Ten years ago I decided to create a magnum opus that would combine opera, art installation and novel. Suddenly here I am with a completed novel ready to publish. I am an avid reader and have really enjoyed writing it. I am also happy to say the majority of the music is composed, ready to be polished up for release and performance. It’s tremendously exciting.”
In April 2018, Townshend reissued his 1972 solo debut, Who Came First, with the new 45th anniversary version featuring a bonus disc including “eight previously unreleased tracks, new edits, alternative versions and live performances.” Who Came First has been remastered by Townshend’s brother-in-law and the Who’s recording engineer Jon Astley using the original master tapes. Included in the eight-panel digi-pak are new sleeve notes provided by Townshend himself, the original poster from the 1972 release and a 24-page booklet which contains rare images of guru Meher Baba and Townshend in his recording studio. The cover photo of Townshend, taken by Roger Daltrey‘s cousin Graham Hughes — who also shot the cover of the Who’s Quadrophenia — has been updated for the release.
Who Came First, which was originally released on October 1st, 1972, is made up of multi-track one-man band demos, nearly all of which were intended for the Who. Among the key tracks featured on the set — which was reissued in 1992 with six bonus tracks — are “Let’s See Action,” “The Seeker,” “Pure And Easy,” “Sheraton Gibson,” and “Time Is Passing,” among others. The album was first compiled to combat pirated versions of Townshend’s tribute albums to Meher Baba, titled, Happy Birthday and I Am.
In 2017 it was revealed that Townshend married his companion of over 20 years, singer-songwriter-musician Rachel Fuller. Fuller appeared on the British radio program, English Harbor Radio, and while talking about many other things, discussed the fact that she and Townshend took the plunge back in December 2016 during a civil ceremony, which “took about eight minutes” in front of only two people. The marriage marks the second for the Who guitarist and the first for Fuller, who was 43 at the time.
2015 saw the release of Townshend’s latest project, Classical Quadrophenia. The new “symphonized” version of the legendary rock opera was orchestrated by Rachel Fuller. The album — which also features Townshend on vocals — is a showcase for operatic tenor Alfie Boe singing Roger Daltrey’s original parts with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the London Oriana Choir conducted by Robert Ziegler. The revamped Quadrophenia premiered on July 5th, 2015 at London’s Royal Albert Hall starring Townshend, Boe, along with the famed orchestra and choir.
In the fall of 2017, Townshend appeared with Boe and Billy Idol for a string of Classic Quadrophenia dates in Lenox, Massachusetts; Rosemont, Illinois; Manhattan, and Los Angeles only.
In 2016, Townshend revealed to Rolling Stone that he was slowly sifting through his database of demos and figuring out what needs to be done with them. Although he has released three separate volumes of Scoop demo collections over the years, nearly every work he’s created has a self made home studio recording of the tune — and in later instances it was simply used as the backing for the final track. Most recently, the older demos have found homes on the box sets for My Generation, Tommy, and Quadrophenia, but now he’s looking at them beyond their role as “bonus material.”
In 2012, Townshend published his long awaited autobiography, titled, Who I Am, to critical acclaim. Earlier that year, Townshend signed an exclusive, new publishing deal with Spirit Music Group to administer and promote his past and future songwriting catalogue. The pact also includes a long-term publishing agreement for Townshend’s upcoming projects, including new songs composed for potential solo and Who releases.
That same year Townshend and his wife of 43 years, Karen Astley, were granted a preliminary divorce in London’s High Court. The couple had been separated since 1994 and has three adult children — Emma, Aminta, and Joseph. Townshend has been romantically linked with second wife Rachel Fuller since 1996.
In 2006, after a 24-year-wait, Townshend wrote and produced the Who’s comeback album Endless Wire. Despite the album hitting Number Seven in the U.S. charts, Townshend has stated that he felt the album fell short of his commercial expectations, and complained that none of the songs garnered the level of airplay he had come to expect with previous Who projects.
A while ago, we asked 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 new 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.”