Pete Townshend and the Auto-destructive art of guitar-smashing
04.10.2014
07:33 am

Topics:
Art
Pop Culture

Tags:
The Who
Pete Townshend
Gustav Metzger

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Pete Townshend said it was an accident the first time he smashed his guitar. He was playing with The Who in a small cramped room at the Railway Hotel in Harrow, west London. The ceiling was damp with condensation, the room smoky, a smell of sweat and stale beer. The Who were playing “Smokestack Lightning,” “I’m a Man,” and “Road Runner” when:

I scrape the howling Rickenbacker guitar up and down my microphone stand, then flip the special switch I recently fitted so the guitar sputters and sprays the front row with bullets of sound. I violently thrust my guitar into the air—and feel a terrible shudder as the sound goes from a roar to a rattling growl; I look up to see my guitar’s broken head as I pull it away from the hole I’ve punched in the low ceiling.  It is at this moment that I make a split-second decision—and in a mad frenzy I thrust the damaged guitar up into the ceiling over and over again. What had been a clean break becomes a splinter mess. I hold the guitar up to the crowd triumphantly. I haven’t smashed it: I’ve sculpted it for them. I throw the shattered guitar carelessly to the ground, pick up my brand-new Rickenbacker twelve-string and continue the show….

This is Townshend recounting the first time he smashed a guitar in his autobiography Who I Am. It’s an event that Rolling Stone magazine considered so important that it was included in their list of “50 Moments That Changed Rock & Roll.”

When The Who played the Railway Hotel the following week, the audience expected Townshend to give a repeat performance of his guitar smashing. He didn’t. The next time Townshend smashed his guitar was at the Olympia Ballroom, Reading, in April 1965. This time it was done as a piece of self-promotion. The Who’s manager Kit Lambert had “invited Virginia Ironside (Daily Mail) and writer Nik Cohn along to this gig and briefed Pete to create an impression by smashing his £400 Rickenbacker, despite the expense.”

This he duly did, and Keith joined in by smashing his drums. However, Lambert had been waylaid in the bar with the journalists when this grand spectacle occurred and was reportedly horrified to find he had been taken at his word.

It wasn’t until 1966 that Townshend’s trademark guitar-smashing regularly became part of The Who’s performance right up to a concert at the Yokohama Stadium, Tokyo, Japan, where he smashed a gold Fender Eric Clapton Stratocaster.
 

 
Over the years, Townshend has given various reasons as to why he first smashed his guitar in September 1964. He has claimed he deliberately did it because he “was determined to get the precious event noticed by the audience.”

Pete: I proceeded to make a big thing of breaking the guitar. I bounced all over the stage with it and I threw the bits on the stage and I picked up my spare guitar and carried on as though I really had meant to do it.

And he has also said it was “really meaningless”:

“I’ve often gone on the stage with a guitar and said, ‘Tonight, I’m not going to smash a guitar, and I don’t give a shit.’ And I’ve gone on, and every time I’ve done it. Basically, it’s a gesture that happens on the spur of the moment. It’s a performance, it’s an act, it’s an instant, and it’s really meaningless.”

“I thought, ‘It’s broken’” said Townshend. “‘Might as well finish it off.’”

But in his autobiography, Townshend ties his guitar-smashing into a more political act:

I had no idea what the first smashing of my guitar would lead to, but I had a good idea where it all came from. ... I was brought up in a period when war still cast shadows, though in my life the weather changed so rapidly it was impossible to know what was in store. War had been a real threat or a fact for three generations of my family…

I wasn’t trying to play beautiful music, I was confronting my audience with the awful, visceral sound of what we all knew was the single abso lute of our frail existence—one day an aeroplane would carry the bomb that would destroy us all in a flash. It could happen at any time. The Cuban Crisis less than two years before had proved that.  On stage I stood on the tips of my toes, arms outstretched, swooping like a plane. As I raised the stuttering guitar above my head, I felt I was holding up the bloodied standard of endless centuries of mindless war. Explosions. Trenches. Bodies. The eerie screaming of the wind.”

All this from one smashed guitar?
 

 
It’s undoubtedly good copy, and gives the young Townshend’s actions considerable cultural cachet, as The Who at this time were still little more than a pop band singing songs about white boy angst—music for young white working class kids who thought they were missing out on something, but weren’t quite sure what. By 1965, there was nothing particularly new about their music or their obsessions with girls, dancing, or their generation. But the association with Mods, and Townshend’s guitar-smashing gave the band an edge, which counterculture figures like Mick Farren would later see as making Townsend and The Who revolutionary figures offering a kind of leadership in the fight against a police state.

In the early sixties, Townshend had been a student at Ealing College of Art, where he attended classes given by the auto-destructive artist Gustav Metzger. In his autobiography, Townshend says he was “Encouraged too by the work of Gustav Metzger, the pioneer of auto-destructive art, I secretly planned to completely destroy my guitar if the moment seemed right.”

So, who is Gustav Metzger and what was his “auto-destructive art”?

Find out after the jump…

Written by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
‘Lazy Fat People,’ a Pete Townshend youth anthem even more cutting than ‘My Generation’
11.15.2013
07:54 am

Topics:
Music

Tags:
The Who
Pete Townshend
The Barron Knights

The Lazy Fat
 
Unlikely as it may seem, around 1966 Pete Townshend penned a harsh little ditty dividing the world up into the “lazy fat” and the “beautiful young,” warning that the lazy fat are complacent, unperturbed, obsessed with money—and will eventually win out over the beautiful young.

Lazy and fat they are, they are.
And because they are all the same..
They laugh and exclaim
“The young are so funny”

They burn in the sun, the sun
And though painfully pink, when it rains
They always complain
“We all paid our money.”

Oh! The lazy fat people
Are a terrible sight to see.
And the lazy fat people will
Get the better of you and me…….

Lazy and fat they are, they are.
Their children diet till thin
To leave more for them
“To save us some money.”

Oh! The lazy fat people will
Try to sit on you and me
If we dont watch out theyll
Get the better of you and me.

How to tell the young from the
Lazy fat is easy to do…..

LAZY FAT ARE PINK (them) AND THE
BEAUTIFUL YOUNG ARE BLUE (you)

Obviously, this song, called “Lazy Fat People,” was never released as a Who single, although Pete did lay down a demo recording of it. He offered it to Episode Six, a band that at the time contained the core of what would become Deep Purple, in the form of Roger Glover and Ian Gillan, but they passed on it. Townshend then offered it to The Barron Knights, who said yes—their version appeared as a single in 1967.

The Barron Knights were an interesting group—hell, they are an interesting group, they’re still active. They spent some time in Hamburg, like the Beatles did. Bill Wyman saw them in 1961 using an electric bass, an instrument he had never seen before, and the gig inspired him to take it up. The Barron Knights were one of the few groups to tour with both the Beatles and the Stones. The Barron Knights appear to have had a facetious streak, which made “Lazy Fat People” ideal for them, and they seem to have been irreducibly British in comparison to the Beatles and the Stones. Much later, in 1978, they reworked a song about the Smurfs so that it was about a group of British bank robbers.

The Barron Knights’ version of “Lazy Fat People” is a bit laddish, using a muted trumpet for the interstitial musical sections. In Townshend’s acoustic demo, he appears to have used a slide whistle for those parts, and considering how blockheaded the lyrics are, his version is really quite sweet.

Barron Knights version:

 
Pete Townshend demo:

 

Written by Martin Schneider | Discussion
The Who: Perform the best live version of ‘Tommy’ at Tanglewood 1970

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The Who give one of the best live performances of Tommy at Tanglewood, Lenox, Massachusetts, July 7th, 1970.

If anyone wants to know what The Who were like at their best, then they need only take a look at the talent, passion and energy of these 4 exceptional, young musicians, who together make this an incredible and unforgettable concert.

Track Listing

01.“Heaven and Hell”
02. “I Can’t Explain”
03. “Water”
04. “I Don’t Even Know Myself”
05. “Young Man Blues”
06. “Overture”
07. “It’s a Boy”
08. “1921”
09. “Amazing Journey”
10. “Sparks”
11. “Eyesight to the Blind”
12. “Christmas”
13. “The Acid Queen”
14. “Pinball Wizard”
15. “Do You Think It’s Alright?”
16. “Fiddle About”
17. “Tommy Can You Hear Me?”
18. “There’s a Doctor”
19. “Go to the Mirror!”
20. “Smash the Mirror”
21. “Miracle Cure”
22. “I’m Free”
23. “Tommy’s Holiday Camp”
24. “We’re Not Gonna Take It”
25. “See Me, Feel Me”
26. “My Generation”
 

 

Written by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
YouTube frees BBC’s Ziggy Stardust & Quadrophenia docs from futile UK-only restriction

David & Pete
“Jesus, darling—when do you reckon they’ll learn?”

As good as the BBC is at making authoritative and expertly styled documentaries on virtually everything, it seems bizarrely in denial of the YouTube age.

As with its programs on punk, reggae, synthesizers, and krautrock, the Beeb’s rights department seems strangely bent on keeping its pop history lessons imprisoned in its UK-only iPlayer nick, even while kind YouTube uploaders like LisbonExpress and Syden2 hook up the colonies with the good-good.

Ah well. Here’s the BBC’s doc on David Bowie’s creation of his Ziggy Stardust persona…
 

 
After the jump, the Beeb doc on how Pete Townshend & the Who made Quadrophenia…

Written by Ron Nachmann | Discussion
Call out the instigators: Thunderclap Newman, one-hit wonders


 
Although their passionate, anthemic ode to flower power, “Something in the Air” has been used countless times in films and television commercials, Thunderclap Newman, the group behind this classic song remain unfairly obscure.

Thunderclap Newman were formed in early 1969 when Pete Townshend and Who producer Kit Lambert brought together fifteen-year-old guitarist Jimmy McCulloch and jazz pianist Andy “Thunderclap” Newman to form a three-piece group to play the songs of former Who roadie (and Townshend’s sometime chauffeur) John “Speedy” Keen. Townshend originally planned to work with each of the musicians separately, but since he was concurrently working on his rock opera Tommy at the time, Lambert suggested that a group be formed instead. Newman, Keen and McCullough all met for the first time at the inaugural recording session for “Something in the Air” at Townshend’s home studio. Townshend produced the single and played bass guitar under the pseudonym “Bijou Drains.”

“Something In The Air” was written by Keen for the soundtrack of The Magic Christian film with Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr. The original title was “Revolution” but that had to be changed due to the Beatles’s song of that same name. By the end of 1969 it was a gold record.

The group recorded an album, Hollywood Dream, again with Townshend in the producer’s chair. It’s a stone classic, there’s not a single weak song on it, but since the band never really had anything in common with one another, after a year of touring Europe supporting Deep Purple and Leon Russell, they just broke up.

Jimmy McCulloch went on to play guitar with Paul McCartney and Wings. His debut with Wings was “Junior’s Farm,” a great showcase for his talents. In concert with Wings, McCulloch would switch to bass when Macca sat down at the piano or played an acoustic guitar. He left Wings in 1977 (good timing!) to play with a reformed version of the Small Faces. McCulloch died of heart failure caused by a heroin overdose in 1979, apparently seated upright in a chair (“America’s Funnyman,” Neil Hamburger told me this, btw. He would know).

“Speedy” Keen had one more hit single, “Y’know Wot I Mean?” and went on to work as a producer with Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers on L.A.M.F. in 1977 (their only studio album) and Motörhead’s debut album before leaving the music industry. He died in 2002. Andy Newman formed a new version of Thunderclap Newman in 2010 and plays Hollywood Dream from start to finish in his set.
 

Written by Richard Metzger | Discussion
Who’s Next? Scot Halpin the drummer who filled in for Keith Moon in 1973

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It’s a Boy’s Own Adventure Story moment. You’re at a concert with your best pal, watching your favorite band, when the drummer collapses on stage. The call goes out, “Is there a drummer in the house?” Next thing you know, your buddy has pushed you into the spotlight and there you are playing the drums with your heroes.

Well this is kind of how it went for Scot Halpin when he turned up to see his favorite band The Who open their Quadrophenia tour at the 14,000 seater Cow Palace in Daly City, San Francisco, in November 1973. Halpin and his companion arrived 12 hours before the concert began to ensure they would have good seats. They found seats up near the front of the stage, which was fortuitous for both Halpin and the band, as an hour into the gig, drummer Keith Moon passed out and was carted off stage.

The house lights came up, and a thirty minute intermission followed, while Moon was revived backstage with “a cold shower”. The Who returned to the stage, and started performing, but once again Moon collapsed - this time for good. It later transpired that Moon the Loon had ingested massive quantities of animal tranquilizers, which he had washed down with his usual bottle or two of brandy. His three band mates, Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend and John Entwistle carried on, performing their next number “See Me, Feel Me”, with Daltrey filling-in for Keith’s drums on tambourine, before Townshend asked the audience:

“Can anybody play the drums? I mean someone good!”

It was at this moment Halpin’s companion started yelling at the stage crew that his friend could play. What he omitted to say, was that Halpin was slightly out of practice, as it was nearly a year since he had played. What happened next surprised both band and audience, and has become the stuff of legend, when concert promoter, Bill Graham approached Halpin and pulled him up onto the stage.

“Graham just looked at me and said, ‘Can you do it?’ And I said ‘Yes,“‘straight out. Townshend and Daltrey look around and they’re as surprised as I am, because Graham put me up there.”

A roadie then gave Halpin a shot of Moon’s brandy.

“Then I got really focused, and Townshend said to me, ‘I’m going to lead you. I’m going to cue you.’”

Townshend introduced him as “Scot”, and went straight into a couple of Blues standards, “Smoke Stack Lightning” and “Spoonful”. Halpin acquitted himself, kept good time and followed Townhend’s lead. Next up was The Who’s “Naked Eye”, which proved far more tricksy with its contrasting tempos. However, Halpin kept his cool and managed a steady beat throughout.

It was the band’s last number and Halpin deservedly then took his bow alongside Townshend, Daltrey and Entwistle. Backstage the band thanked:

...the skinny kid from the audience for stepping to the plate but didn’t hang around long after the show.

“They were very angry with Keith and sort of fighting among themselves,” Halpin said. “It was the opening date on their ‘Quadrophenia’ tour, and they were saying, ‘Why couldn’t he wait until after the show (if he wanted to get high)?”

Daltry, who’d begun drinking Jack Daniels from the bottle at that point, told the substitute they’d pay him $1,000 for his efforts, and a roadie gave him a tour jacket on the spot. “Then everyone split,” Halpin said. “My friend and I both had long drives ahead of us, so we loaded up on all the free food that was put out for the band, and we both headed for home.”

In the meantime, someone stole the tour jacket that Halpin had just received as a gift.

Halpin received favorable mention in the next day’s Chronicle review. He received a nice letter from the band but no money - not that it mattered.

However, the event was commemorated by Rolling Stone magazine, when they honored Halpin with “Pick-Up Player of the Year 1973.”  Interviewed at the time, Halpin praised The Who’s stamina, saying:

“I only played three numbers and I was dead.”

Halpin went onto graduate from San Francisco University, and became composer-in-residence at the Headlands Centre for the Arts, in Sausalito, California. He also played with a number of bands including The Sponges, Funhouse, Folklore, Snake Doctor and Plank Road and also managed a punk rock nightclub before moving to Bloomington, Indiana, in 1995 to become a visual artist.

Halpin died in February 2008, less than a week after his birthday, he was 54.
 

 
More of Scot Halpin and The Who, plus bonus clip, after the jump…
 
With thanks to Heather Harris for suggesting this story!
 

Written by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
A Whole Scene Going: TV Show Featuring The Who, 1965. Super Rare

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Here’s something quite rare; the pilot of A Whole Scene Going, a show for teens that aired on British tv in 1965. This episode features fashion predictions for 1966, advice for young lovers from Lulu, a segment on the up and coming skateboard craze, footage of The Who, and an interview with a very cynical, sarcastic and witty Pete Townshend.
 

 

Written by Marc Campbell | Discussion