Wednesday, November 14, 2012

I Can't Explain, But Maybe Someone Can

For me, the two most shocking revelations in Pete Townshend's newly released memoir "Who I Am" are a) what little regard he and the band have for "The Who Sell Out" and b) the complete absence of any discussion about "Who Came First," Townshend's first solo album.

This is not going to be a review of the book, which I have just about finished. But some things are just gnawing at me. Throughout, Pete gives great detail about songs and songwriting, early covers the band had been playing as The Detours, each album as it had been prepped and released, and then, for reasons unknown, he begins to discuss his excitement over a deal for his "first solo album 'Empty Glass'." Why? What happened to "Who Came First," arguably his best solo release?

Now I did say I was just about through, so unless he decides to bring it up during the last chunk of pages I haven't read, this matter is puzzling. It's as if it doesn't exist. A fantastic album, with many songs written for and about Meher Baba, someone Townshend gushes over for many pages, dismissed. I don't get it.

Less surprising I guess, is the disregard for "The Who Sell Out." Townshend mentions more than once his love for "I Can See For Miles," as well as the fun the band had creating the jingles that appear on this record. And while it makes sense that "The Who Sell Out" would be perceived as an oddity at the time, I wonder if Townshend is aware of the cult status "The Who Sell Out" has gained over all these years. I would think that he must be and that after the pages of unfavorable critique about its content and performance, he would at the very least, make mention of that fact. He doesn't.

In related news, Todd Rundgren just performed two shows in Amsterdam with the Metropole Orkest, and one of the songs he pulled out was "Fade Away," from 1978's "The Hermit Of Mink Hollow."  Two facts about this tune: a) it has never been performed live before and b) it has always been one of my three favorite Rundgren ballads. Absolutely beautiful and heartfelt. Here's that version from a few days ago.

I guess I wonder occasionally just how aware musicians are of their fans.

The Who have just begun their 40th Anniversary tour of "Quadrophenia." This is, to my estimation, the 5th time this double album has been presented live in its entirety.  As for Rundgren, for years he had been stuck in the mire of boring setlists, with barely a change. Then, with the first live performance of "A Wizard/A True Star" in its entirety back in 2010, Todd suddenly became revitalized, performing songs from deep in his catalogue, as well as taking other full albums on the road. It only took 40+ years of touring, but it has been worth the wait.

With the Stones poised to perform a few shows to celebrate their 50th, would fans prefer to hear the usual set of hits or a farewell party of rarely played gems? From what I've read, Keef seems to think "Satisfaction," "Brown Sugar," "It's Only Rock & Roll" and "Jumping Jack Flash" are all must plays. He's not wrong, though I'd give up all four for one "I Got The Blues." But just what is it that keeps artists from delving deeper into their catalogues? Do the Stones look back and think "Aftermath" really sucks? Is Townshend aware of just how many Who fans would pay to see "The Who Sell Out" performed live? And Todd, what made you avoid "Fade Away" for 35 years?


HippieGirl21 said...

I'm a Stones fan and even I don't know why they don't play different songs. All's I know is, if tickets for the Stones are going to be close to $400+, I'm not going. Mick needs to knock the tix prices down a few hundred. So that actual WORKING CLASS people can go, you know, the ones who love their music, but work a 9-5 job?

wardo said...

Sell Out was a concept that happened as a way to try and make money. To his mind it's "just a collection of songs", none of which he liked as much as "I Can See For Miles".

I agree on the lack of mention for Who Came First. As it was a label idea to stem the bootlegging of the Baba albums, maybe he didn't think much of it. It's a shame, because I've always found his demo process fascinating, and I'd love more documentation of what was recorded when. I'm probably more of a Townshend fan than a Who fan, if that's possible.

cmealha said...

What a special treat the Todd cut is. Also one of my favorite and possible the most overlooked gem of his carrer. If I'm not mistaken you have Dave Hermann play this for me during a particular down time in my life. Thank you for both.

DD said...

Oddly, I JUST picked up the book "Won't Get Fooled Again" by Richie Unterberger and in the introduction he says that while all the interviews Townshend did in the early 70's, were "a goldmine of information they are also in some senses false trails." He goes on to say that Pete "has flip-flopped his opinions on innumerable occasions, not least in his estimation of songs that most people regard as masterpieces."

But I agree, it's frustrating and disappointing when artists we love simply shrug off the work that we would consider high points in their career. "Sell Out" is one I would have like to hear him discuss candidly. Oh, well.

Rush is a band who I have heard do pay attention to message boards and "set list" petitions by fans on-line. While they won't play everything people want, they are certainly aware of what the fans like and might expect to hear.

A walk in the woods said...

It's an ongoing question... why, oh why, do so many big acts play the same songs year after year, even decade after decade? I mean, if for no other reason than selfishness, wouldn't they want to mix it up to not be, essentialy, acting out the same play every night for 20 years?

The only reasons I can think of are:
a) overly mercantile managers who say "Dis is what da people really want! The hits!"
b) laziness. I guess it's easier to play something your fingers easily remember, or words you know, than dip into back-catalogue surprises.
c) the easy feedback that, say, Van Morrison inexplicably gets when he plays "Have I Told You Lately?" at so many shows. Maybe he likes that ego boost of women going "woo-ooo" with their glass of wine in hand... instead of the blank stares he'd earn from casual fans by playing "Who Drove That Red Sports Car?"
d) trying to make it memorable for someone who will only see them on this one night. Avoiding the "I saw Dylan and he didn't even play Rolling Stone!" thing.

But still, yeah... I mean, I saw The Who recently and why they still have to play "Won't Get Fooled Again" instead of even songs right next to it on the same damn album, I don't know. He doesn't even have to get "obscure" - just play "Getting In Tune" instead, just once!

Albert said...

OK..tried this this morning via phone...a no go...try again:mega-stars(I'll say mostly the British ones cuz I like them best anyway) have a penchant for a benign cat and mouse disdain for the very fan base that got them there...not all, but quite a want obscure gems, they give you a greatest hits want the big stuff,they give you music you have to wiki just to get a's part-arrogance, part-jade but guess what: we always come back because we LIKE it....Pete not mentioning Who Came First, feh..maybe he just doesn't like the way it plays...his perogative...I like it no matter how he may ignore it in a book...that's what counts...Sell-Out?...there's that benign game our heroes play on our Lennon saying Cry Baby Cry is crap for example....almost like saying stop deifying me I'm not that perfect...perogative...won't change what I like...again that's all that counts...

Albert said... brief(thankfully) long as the music keeps coming, as long as I'm nourished, I don't care what they think about me or their own work...just keep it good, keep it coming and with 25 bucks and a slap in the face we have a deal....

William Repsher said...

I'm just over halfway through, and realizing that Townshend was/is totally nuts. A great recording artist, no doubt, but totally nuts. If you were to take every bizarre instance he had of spiritual awareness, and replaced the words "Meher Baba" with the words "Jesus Christ" ... there'd be a lot more people willing to call him totally nuts.

It's a strange read. Keith Moon dies ... and it's a few paragraphs. About a dozen people die at one of their concerts ... and it just sort of happens and passes. It's like he's cataloging his life in this book, and not attributing any great weight or merit to incidents, we know, were huge deals at the time. Whereas some weird vision he had of Meher Baba will be cited as some massive turning point in his life, despite the fact that nothing concrete or relevant seems to flow or develop from the vision. It's just Pete being Pete, i.e., totally nuts.

The good news is he's not half the horse's ass Rod Stewart became after he got world famous.

Anonymous said...

I was very disappointed in the Townshend tome. He gives pages to Psychoderelict yet ignores Who Came First. You are so right.
What really irked me was while reading about the making of Tommy, the book has a footnote telling us if we want to read more about the sessions go to Why bother buying the book?
I was hoping for great tales and insights into the music,
but it was like reading a memoir of a troubled man. If you didn't know better, you wouldn't think he was considered one of the greatest songwriters.


Sal Nunziato said...

There is a point the Pete book, maybe 150 pages in, where it suddenly stops reading like a memoir and begins to feel like a large collection of diary entries. I found that more irksome than the actual content. He mentions he started writing the book in 1996 andyet it feels hastily slapped together.

buzzbabyjesus said...

When Guns N Roses opened for the Stones they wanted to do "Salt Of The Earth" with everybody on stage.
Someone had to go out and buy a cassette(!)copy of "Beggars Banquet" because no one in the Stones remembered it.

buzzbabyjesus said...

As for Pete, he is definitely nuts, but all I can say is a gift isn't free. The larger it is, and Pete is heavily gifted, the greater the cost. Ironic given this post that Todd made an album called "The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect", which was tongue and cheek, but like all stereotypes, there is a germ of truth otherwise it wouldn't exist.

A guy called Tak said...

The main reason why Pete did not write certain things - he did not actually write this book - he merely talked about his life/memoir and some ghost writer put them in words and asshole editor edited it.
Most of the autobiographies have been done like that.
I have a friend who ghostwrote Vanna White's book! lol

Regarding Todd's latest performance - thanx Sal.
Great found.

soundsource said...

good post