Emma Townshend: Pete's daughter looks back.. LONG

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Emma Townshend: Pete's daughter looks back.. LONG

Postby mutant_dan » Mon Jun 18, 2007 7:56 am

http://arts.independent.co.uk/music/fea ... 653172.ece

Pete Townshend's daughter looks back on her extraordinary childhood
As the Who prepare to headline Glastonbury next Sunday, Pete Townshend's
daughter Emma looks back on her extraordinary childhood in the shadow of one
of the world's greatest rock'n'roll bands - starting with the day she went
to Woodstock in a carry-cot
Published: 17 June 2007
In the last year of the 1960s my parents, still little more than teenagers,
packed up their bags and headed off to the States to spend another summer
living in America, while my dad was touring. Two years before, in June 1967,
they had done the same thing. That year, their destination had been Chicago
and then on to Monterey Pop. Monterey had been the first real rock festival:
up till then only folky acts such as Bob Dylan had managed to get on the
bills at jazz festivals such as Newport. But Dylan got into all that famous
trouble when he played electric guitar at Newport, and so amplified music
had to find another home.


"Oh, Monterey was lovely," my mum remembers, smiling nostalgically about a
day of meeting people who would become lifelong friends. "Yes, well, she had
a very nice time," recalls my dad, later and separately, putting on a
comically cross voice. "She'd just had her hair cut into this short, short
perm, and she looked like Betty Boop. Everyone kept coming up and asking me,
'Hey, where's Betty Boop? Where's Betty Boop?' No one was interested in me,
they just wanted to find her."


But in 1969 my parents were heading for Woodstock. And this time, they took
a new baby with them: me, in a carry-cot. They weren't the only people
taking a baby. My friend Justin Kreutzmann was also born that summer, and
his dad, one of the Grateful Dead's two drummers, can be seen clearly in the
movie footage climbing out of a helicopter with Jerry Garcia; slung
conscientiously over one shoulder is Justin's diaper bag.


Monterey Pop had been held in a mellow Californian June at the height of
flower power, with only 200,000 visitors. Woodstock was a chaotic half a
million, in a boiling hot August, with resentments brewing between those who
had lawfully bought tickets and those who had torn down fences, eventually
forcing festival organisers to make it free. "It was bad," says my mum. "We
set off thinking it was going to be nice, like Monterey, but with a baby.
But even the traffic made you feel like it was chaotic and awful. It was
already clear it was going to be a nightmare, because everyone was in such a
panic. And there was this terrible, out-of-control atmosphere in the
backstage area. Everyone walking round saying 'You better go back, or you're
going to get stuck here.'"


My parents were left with a dilemma. "We thought that because you were such
a little baby that I should go back, so I went back to the hotel," says my
mum. "And actually then I had quite a nice time. Quite a few people had just
stayed at the hotel, and the bad things seemed to happen somewhere else.
Someone got electrocuted who climbed up on the fence, I think. Next morning
in the hotel the money all seemed to have disappeared, and I don't know
whether anyone got paid. Rumours were running around that someone had run
off with it."


My dad's experience was even less happy. The bill was so long on the
Saturday that the Who didn't go on until three o'clock in the morning, after
both the Grateful Dead and Creedence Clearwater Revival, which you'd have
imagined would have mellowed out any crowd. However the Grateful Dead had
been mildly electrocuted every time they touched their guitars, which nobody
took as a good sign. Still, the Who managed to play a 24-song set. "It just
felt so different once you have a child," my father says, ruefully. "It was
just nasty."


Woodstock ended up being a significant moment in our family life, because
from then on my mum stayed at home in England with us, and my dad went away
on his own. My sister and I learned to read, we got fed muesli and home-made
fishfingers, and developed pangs of longing for the extremely forbidden
sliced white bread. We lived this very predictable, organised life at home,
and dad went away and came back, with no regularity, no pattern, no
predictability.


People always seemed surprised when I tell them that we lived in this
relatively normal way. My friend Justin comments on growing up amongst the
Grateful Dead: "Everyone has an image of what it must have been like, they
just assume they know, because the Grateful Dead were this hippie band, that
it would be really caring and sharing, really San Francisco." Everyone
thinks they can imagine what your childhood was, because they've heard
stories about people throwing televisions out of windows. But no one ever
threw a television out of the window, although my dad did once threaten to
when I refused to come and eat dinner before the Generation Game had
finished. My mum drove us to piano lessons and helped us plant our first
seeds. And dad's greatest excesses at home were generally concerned with
enthusiastically supporting our slightly wilder fantasies, which were
usually to do with gerbils getting to live in doll-houses, like the Two Bad
Mice in Beatrix Potter.


I also hassled my dad continually to take me to the British Museum, because
I'd become obsessed with Egyptian mummies. About six months into my non-stop
barrage, he finally caved in and took me one quiet weekend morning. He
remembers that I sat down, happily copying down labels of Shabtis, the
little sculptures they buried with the dead, and drawing out the
hieroglyphics contained in the cartouches: the circles which tell you the
important names associated with the pieces. He sat there, "bored to death",
he says. He got to the point where he was seeing things moving in the cases.
Then this woman started buttonholing him. "What are you doing to this poor
child? This is the most boring room in the British Museum! I can't believe
you," she said. "What a bloody horrible person you are, making your child
sit there and do that on this beautiful day. God, you make me sick." There
was no convincing this woman that, in fact, the child had forced the parent
to the British Museum after months of nagging.


Most important of all, we never, ever missed school. My mum was training to
be a teacher by the time I was five, and education was always seen as the
most important thing. "Oh my God, really?" says Justin Kreutzmann, when I
tell him this. "Jesus, we would get a phonecall from the manager halfway
through the school term saying 'Your dad is in New York City holding people
out of hotel room windows, you have to come here and make him feel normal
again,' and school would be totally forgotten, we'd just pack up and go and
be with him." But then perhaps Justin's childhood was more real. Perhaps
mine was a carefully constructed (omega) fake thing that hid all of the
misery and anger somewhere else. Can there be rock'n'roll without that
stuff?


One certainty is that from the time I was born there was always music going
on. To spend more time at home, my dad built a studio in the house. One of
my earliest memories is the feeling of black-plastic studio cabling under
bare feet. And immediately, even as a really tiny child, I wanted to join
in. "I didn't really want you to have piano lessons," Dad says now. "I used
to love the little weird tunes you used to make up. And then some
well-meaning person taught you both to play 'Chopsticks' and it was like
torture."


Some of the music I loved came from my mum, too. Her dad had written music
for film and television programmes such as The Saint and Kenneth Clark's
Civilisation. She had run off to art school and developed a taste for Marvin
Gaye and Smokey Robinson. She was very organised, and made tapes before we
set off on summer holiday, buying three or four new albums so that we had
something to listen to in whatever isolated spot we ended up.


At the grand age of 29, she developed an almost incurable passion for Bruce
Springsteen, resulting in the boiling hot summer of 1976 now being
inseparably associated in my mind with "Born to Run", which we played over
and over on a little cassette player. Finally, when I was 10, she committed
the ultimate maternal disloyalty by actually leaving us in England over
Independence Day weekend to go and see Bruce play at home in Meadowlands,
New Jersey.


My father, on the other hand, would have some oddly un-rock'n'roll musical
enthusiasms. In 1975, the house was filled with the sound of Abba. "'SOS' is
the best pop song ever written," he will still insist. "It has all those
Swedish folk elements that tap into whatever elemental musical self we
have." Another time, he came back from Tower Records with 11 boxes of
records. In the boxes, there were no less than three copies of "Off the
Wall", Michael Jackson's first solo album. Exactly why did you buy three, I
asked him? "Well, it was so good! I just kept thinking I had to be sure to
pick up a copy, and I was in a rush, I couldn't remember what I had already
got, but I thought, well if I get more than one, I can give it to people as
a gift."


And so to the first job I ever had: putting all of my dad's records into
alphabetical order. But he wanted them in categories too; the blues records
were all to stay together, and the same went for the heavy operas, in box
sets of six immaculate pieces of vinyl. I was about eight, I think, not
equipped with much useful knowledge for the job. Doing it, I learned about
who went where, and began to be able to tell something useful from the
cover. Blues records had heavy-looking, sad covers; jazz seemed to have a
lighter, breezier feel. But what to do with Charlie Mingus, or Miles Davis?
I got the enormous sum of £10 for the whole job, which whiled away a few
weekends. Over the course of the next few years, some of these names became
real musical presences for me. Talking Heads, Joni Mitchell, Ray Charles. I
began to be able to identify the sound of whole record labels: Motown,
Atlantic records, East Memphis.


Of my four grandparents, three were professional musicians, who had all been
in armed forces entertainment during the war. There are fantastically
glamorous photos of my dad's parents, he a saxophonist and she a singer,
lounging on sofas. Sunday lunch discussions concerned royalty payments,
orchestration fees, and a secret new process being developed by computer
boffins at an American naval college in New Hampshire, called "sampling."


My favourite A&R man was also my dad's: Mo Ostin, who ran Warner Bros. He
already had on his label Rickie Lee Jones, Tom Waits, Randy Newman; now he
signed a little-known, tiny, dark-eyed genius from Minneapolis. Prince
turned out album after album, and we received them with total joy,
marvelling as each one got better and better and better. I distinctly
remember being in Venice and listening to Parade. I said to Dad, "I don't
understand how it would be possible to make music any better than this." He
was struggling for words: "He's not just a genius!" he spluttered, "He's a
quantum genius!" We both stared at the grey sky, feeling both exhilarated by
the art and completely depressed.


And my dad's record collection became a source of the greatest pleasure to
me. All of Aretha Franklin, all of Stevie Wonder, quirkier things like the
B-52s and Stephen Sondheim. But it wasn't entirely a childhood of music. We
spent a lot of hours sailing little boats around the coast of Cornwall;
there was a weekly trip across the bay from the cottage where we stayed, to
get the NME, which came back in a waterproof bag so that it would be
pristine on return.


As a family we also spent a lot of time following the spiritual teacher
Meher Baba, who my parents, and all their friends, had become interested in.
The Who song "Baba O'Riley" now appears most regularly on the titles of CSI
New York, but was originally written in connection with the Indian guru,
whose smiling face was prominently displayed in most houses I visited as a
child. Meher Baba's teachings, touched with Sufism, were inspiring to this
generation of seekers.


We went as a family to meet the Murshida, leader of the Sufism Reoriented
movement in California, and spent the long, hot summer of the bicentennial
year living in Walnut Creek, San Francisco, finding out what it was like to
be suburban American kids, running from one backyard to the next. We were
still small enough to climb into other people's houses through the cat flaps
(though maybe they were enormous American super-size catflaps). As far as
spiritual indoctrination went, we went to yoga classes, learnt about
reincarnation, went camping in the mountains and drank out of streams; it
was very, very gentle. You'd be hard-pressed to see it as anything cultish;
it was less My Life in Orange and rather more The Big Lebowski.


Once I was in my teenage years, my dad and I also spent an uncountable
number of hours watching Inspector Morse. Those two quiet hours on the sofa,
the pace of it, suited the slight awkwardness you might get between a
teenager and a dad. The sharing of something you both know you really love,
without necessarily having to have any kind of conversation.


Having a famous person for a dad didn't seem especially remarkable at
school. When I was about eight, my friend Samantha's mum was on TV in a
Benny Hill movie and (omega) I thought that was 100 per cent more impressive
than my dad being in a band. And then when I got to secondary school, the
atmosphere was set by the headmistress, who was considerably more impressed
by properly establishment parents such as John Mortimer and Woodrow Wyatt
(The News of the World's "Voice of Reason") than she was by my apparently
louche father.


I don't think it was very important to me that other people saw my dad as
famous; to me, he was just my dad. Who is really that impressed by what
their dad does? I don't know - I was interested in it; but it was hard for
me to see the person who would carefully make very, very thin toast, and
other little snacks for me when I was ill, as being anything other than my
dad. As a teenager, it was probably more significant just that both my
parents were not very much older than me. When I was 14, my dad was only 38.
They still went to parties and bought records. I knew that they'd taken
drugs. It doesn't leave much room for rebellious teenage acts when your
parents have done it all before you. Saffy from Absolutely Fabulous is so
funny because we can all see how that cool-parent, square-child dynamic
could come about. But sometimes having him as a dad coloured things:
occasionally, I would be reminded it was always the first thing anyone knew
about me. At university, I ended up at a college with a great choral musical
tradition, and it was a relief to hang out with classical musicians, who
might have been impressed if my dad had been Stockhausen, but, frankly, not
some guy from a rock band.


Nowadays, my relationship with my dad is still often measured out in the
back-and-forth lending of Kurt Wallander mysteries and conversations about
Inspector Lynley. "Did you guess the end of that?" I longed for the Fred
Vargas detective novels, that appeared originally in French, to be
translated so that I could share their weird sense of humour with him: what
a delight when the first one appeared.


And I have several times found him in a dressing room before a show, totally
engrossed in a Patricia Cornwell novel; she is responsible for developing
our love of the slightly gruesome to a new level. Dad became an armchair
expert on forensics. I like the fact that I know that he would watch CSI
religiously, even if he had no connection with it. "I watch all of them," he
happily relates. "I watch the repeats even. And I get to meet the people in
the cast. They come and meet up at shows," he says laughing. "I got to meet
Horatio Kane."


And other books go back and forth between us, too. My dad and I have a
shared passion for Paul Auster and Michael Chabon. He finds books for me
that I haven't seen anywhere else: a collected non-fiction of Jorge Luis
Borges, an amazing biography of Herman Melville.


It was a good moment for me when I finally began to be able to repay the
favour of all the great music he had introduced me to. Two years ago, I gave
my brother Joe Illinois, a Sufjan Stevens album . Joe played it to Dad, and
he ended up really loving that. We never imagined we'd be able to sing along
as a family to the lines "Abraham Lincoln was the Great Emancipator", but we
found that we could. (But I never succeeded in getting my dad to like
Radiohead; Kid A made me excited to be alive, excited about the
possibilities of an art form that I have such an interest in, excited that
it's still possible to change things.)


I have seen the Who play a lot of times, but I'm sure there are thousands of
people in the world who've seen them more times than me. I have spent quite
a few gigs lying on the sofa backstage reading a book, generally using my
other hand to spoon M&Ms into my mouth; the book often, but not always,
Agatha Christie. Lately, since my friend Jo's dad died suddenly, I've been
much more worried about the finite nature of things; and consequently about
actually seeing the show. If people talk to me through even one of the
songs, these days I really mind, as if they are stealing my time, my
precious moments. I wonder if Jade Jagger feels like this. She and her dad
have that sort of feline confidence that makes you think they will probably
go on forever.


In 2007, the Who finally play Glastonbury. Daltrey and Townshend will take
to the festival stage, all these years later, after all those births and
deaths. People say Glastonbury has changed, that now it's full of City boys,
that it's full of the kind of people who are organised enough to
pre-register for tickets and then get online at exactly the right moment to
purchase. That's to say, not hippies. But people go to festivals for the
same reasons as they always did - looking for a moment they'll remember for
the rest of their lives.


Two years ago, Coldplay were last on the bill on Sunday night, and I
listened to them on Radio 1 in the car, having driven home, sitting outside
my house and looking up at the same stars. You could hear the size of the
crowd at Glastonbury: fields and fields of people all sitting outside in the
night sky. They were all singing along to "Fix You". Hundreds of thousands
of people, all accompanying Chris Martin, knowing all the words whether they
actually liked the song or not. You can get swept away by that at a
festival, and find yourself hoarse after singing along to something you
previously thought was very, very cheesy. The next day I spoke to my friend
Tim Vigon, who manages the Zutons and the Streets. "Oh my God, it's my
ambition to manage a band that goes on last at Glastonbury. I was sitting on
the sofa watching Coldplay and I was just consumed with jealousy. Listening
to that noise of them all singing: everybody singing your song. As the sun
is going down."


That noise of everybody singing your song. The rush of that. I know a Who
crowd will always go mental for "My Generation", but the song that I find
the most perfect, as night falls, is "Baba O'Riley". It is the perfect song
for a big crowd in a field. The whole song reminds me of being tiny, when my
dad was in his home studio working out a lot of the weird streams of noise
that appear on the song. I can remember hearing these very first synthesised
patterns floating up from downstairs, and the strange garbled music of a
huge rewinding 24-track tape player that lived for a while on the landing
outside my bedroom, squeezed in next to the washing machine.


When Roger Daltrey starts singing, the first line is plaintive: "Out here in
the fields". The tune stays anchored on just a few notes, lifting and
falling. The melody is suspended above the huge chords of the song, giving
it a strange touch of melancholy. This May, I have spent a lot of time
driving through the English countryside, and although in the past I have
mostly heard this song in darkness at rock concerts, it somehow seemed this
summer to connect to the cow parsley and the red campion filling the lanes,
the pylons and oak trees running next to the motorway. There is something
pastoral about the song.


And now I know why. For most of my life, I have only known snatches of
lyrics from "Baba O'Riley": "We don't need to be forgiven." But it turns out
to be a song about farming for a living, finding forage in the lanes and
hedges, after some sort of disaster. However, the point at which people
really throw their hearts into singing along is the famous refrain, "Teenage
wasteland, it's only teenage wasteland". And the crowd sings the word
"wasteland" with such fury, so fiercely, knowing what a wasteland teenage
years can be; but at the same time with a kind of savage joy.


What does it mean, that this is the bit people go crazy for? Well, I don't
think you will find short stories about modern city life in the Who's music,
as you might get from Joni Mitchell. I don't think you will find the drama
and sadness of love affairs, as you would from Abba, or the sticky sexual
stuff you get from Prince. What you get is a whole crowd of people who were
all teenagers once, for whom that song brings back all the feeling of it.
The sense of it being May or June - the sap rising, the flowers budding, the
birds courting. The wild sense of wanting to try everything. The raw sense
of heartbreak when it happens for the first time, when you don't understand
how anyone could ever have survived the pain. The way the tune rises and
then falls, to a more adult, anchored place, suggests the journey that
teenagers all make.


But, for the moment, while you are yelling your head off, out in the middle
of a field somewhere, you are getting back all of what you've lost; all the
fierceness and foolishness of being 17, all over again, as if it had never
been gone. s
mutant_dan
Bobby
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Postby dancing mantis » Tue Jun 19, 2007 8:04 am

Very cool. Thanks for sharing that.
dancing mantis
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