The life of a musician often comprises tumult, insanity, substance abuse, and plenty of joy. Pete Townshend's story is no exception. In his autobiography Who I Am, The Who guitarist outlines - with candor, humor, and insight - his wild life in the studio, on the road, and at home.
He takes readers through his struggles with alcohol and anger, talks openly about his bisexuality, and shares his encounters with some of the biggest figures and events in rock history. Enjoy this collection of crazy Pete Townshend stories, pulled from the pages of Who I Am.
He Didn't Find Keith Moon's Infamous Birthday Party Funny
When Keith Moon decided to celebrate his 20th birthday at a Holiday Inn, he did it the only way he knew how: with raucous debauchery. The incident went down in music infamy and epitomizes rock-and-roll excess. Townshend offers his perspective on the proceedings:
By the time I reached the party room, the cake was all over the floor, the walls, and Keith's face. In the swimming pool, a Lincoln Continental balanced precariously, half in and half out. Later I heard Keith had released its brake and it had rolled in.
I was trying to get Keith back to his room (he was raging by this time) when a young man approached, asking for his autograph; Keith threw a lamp at him, hitting him on the head. Keith then managed to knock out his own teeth, and it was only because he was hidden away at the dentist that he wasn't arrested.
The Who were banned from Holiday Inns for life.
While fans and most associated with the party view the incident as comical, Townshend thought it decidedly unpleasant. "How amusing it has been to spend my life pretending it was amusing," he writes, adding later that he thought Moon "was such a tw*t sometimes."
He Was Nearly Deported For Kicking An NYPD Officer In The Groin
The altercation occurred at the Fillmore East in New York City in May 1969, during the first of a three-night engagement. Townshend writes:
In the middle of a storming set, a man appeared center stage, tore the mike from Roger's hands, and started speaking to the audience. He didn't ask us to stop performing. In fact, he didn't address us at all. One minute we were at work, and the next minute he was there, speaking to the audience - my audience.
Roger tried to get the microphone back, but the man pushed him away. In the middle of a heavy guitar solo, I ran over to boot his arse with a flying double-kick, but as I approached he turned to face me, and my Doc Martens connected with his balls.
He doubled up, and a couple of [Fillmore club owner] Bill Graham's men ran on stage and walked him off. We continued to play. Only later did I discover I had kicked an off-duty officer in the Tactical Police Force, who was trying to clear the theater calmly because a fire had broken out in the store next door.
Police arrested Townshend, though he made bail the next day. Still, the matter became politically charged, and he received threats about his visa being revoked. The Who went on with their US shows, and as time passed, the heat of the incident wore off. A judge ultimately dropped the charges to a misdemeanor, and Townshend paid a $75 penalty.
For his part, Townshend apologized profusely to the officer, explaining the adrenaline from the show and his "aggressive" stage persona prompted the attack. Townshend also felt the Fillmore staff should have done more to warn the band about the fire, rather than send a man unannounced on stage, which only caused confusion.
A Race To Help A Friend In Need Led To A Drunken Auto Accident
Townshend and Eric Clapton enjoyed a lengthy friendship which began during Clapton's days with The Yardbirds. But like many rock-and-roll artists in the 1960s and '70s, Clapton began using heroin regularly, a drug he shared with then-girlfriend Alice Ormsby-Gore.
Their addiction became so detrimental that in 1972, mutual friends Bob Pridden and his girlfriend Mia (no last name provided) enlisted Townshend to drive to Clapton's estate home and assess the situation. Townshend agreed, and they set out in his Porsche in the pouring rain. But Townshend himself was battling his alcohol addiction at the time, and this combined with the dicey weather conditions made for a terrifying near-death experience:
Slightly drunk and proudly touting my Porsche's perfect road-holding in all conditions, I lost control of the car on a wet country lane and nearly killed us all. We ended up between two trees, but had miraculously missed both. We arrived at Eric's house at 11:30. I didn't see the irony in a drunk showing up to offer assistance to a junkie.
Townshend eventually orchestrated a benefit concert, which involved himself; Clapton; Ronnie Wood; Steve Winwood; and Jim Capaldi, drummer for Traffic, hoping to reach Clapton through music and performance. Following the show, Clapton did seek help and slowly overcame his addiction. Sadly, his partner in love and drugs, Ormsby-Gore, did not follow in Clapton's footsteps and died of an overdose in 1995.
His First Encounter With Roger Daltrey Nearly Ended In An Altercation
You might believe all bands emerge out of initial friendships and a mutual love of music, but this is not always the case. The relationship between Townshend and The Who singer Roger Daltrey exemplifies this rock-and-roll misconception.
While Townshend and bassist John Entwistle were school chums in their early teens, his relationship to Daltrey was far more business-oriented than friendly. In fact, their first encounter nearly resulted in blows between the future bandmates. Townshend writes:
I'd first met him after he won a playground fight with a Chinese boy. I'd witnessed the fight, and I'd thought Roger's tactics were dirty. When I'd shouted as much, he had come over and forced me to retract.
Not long after this, the school expelled Daltrey for smoking, and Townshend only saw him in passing around town, carrying around a guitar. Accordingly, it came as a shock when Daltrey returned to the school grounds and approached Townshend:
A few boys looked over at us with interest, curious to see whether Roger still bore me any ill will. He simply informed me that John [Entwistle] had told him I played guitar pretty well, and if an opportunity came up to join his band, was I interested? I was stunned.
Roger's band, the Detours, was a party band... [He] ruled the Detours with a characteristically iron hand. Judging by the faces of those around me, just the fact of Roger speaking to me meant that my life could very well change.
Townshend did accept Daltrey's offer, and his life did indeed change. But the tension between the two remained, both throughout the brief tenure of the Detours and on into The Who. Still, Townshend notes that he and Daltrey "developed a grudging respect for one another that would last a lifetime."
Later in their career, Townshend came to view Daltrey not only as a dependable co-worker, but as a genuine friend. In a letter to his longtime collaborator in 1999, Townshend writes:
[W]hat we have today is more than we thought possible. What makes me proud is that whether or not we make another great record, whether or not we knock them dead in some new way, we are loving friends today. That is our example as men to those who trusted us with their dreams. We've come through. I'm proud of both of us.