Lex Neon on Pete Townshend (The Who)

The music of Pete Townshend, solo and with the Who, is very “crucial” to Lex.  He considers Pete’s music to be the foundation for him “being a real, honest-to-goodness guitarist.” So Happy birthday, Pete, who celebrates another one on May 19!

Yes, it’s true.  When I was 3 years old, I smashed my first toy guitar to pieces emulating Pete Townshend on television.  It’s also true that 10 years later, I broke some kid’s nose at school because he made rather rude comment about Townshend’s nose.

See, I used to spend my time in junior high school (especially during P.E.) reading books and magazines about rock music.  I couldn’t be bothered with shooting hoops, passing a football, or any of those things.  I found sports to be boring and chauvinistic.  (Sidebar: I hated dressing for P.E.  This probably had something to do with puberty giving me the physique of a very tall Lou Costello.)  All I needed was rock and roll to save my bored 13 year-old mind, and I was okay with that.

I bought a great Who compilation of their early singles called Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy, primarily for a song I had heard on radio called “Pinball Wizard.”  Not only did the album contain the song I wanted, but it also had songs that I never heard before, like “I Can’t Explain,” “Happy Jack,” “My Generation,” and “Pictures of Lily.”  The songs and sounds fascinated me, and freed me.  That album also turned me into a Who freak of the first degree.  It wasn’t Michael Jackson’s Thriller, which was the big album at that time, and I was glad.  After a few months, I was sick of Michael Jackson’s music, fashion, and hype.  For me, the Who were the perfect antidote for all of that stuff.

Anywho, I was sitting on a bench, reading up on the history of my new favorite band, a book called The Who in Their Own Words by Steve Clark, 1980.  Three guys (all seniors at my school), started giving me a hard time.  One of them ripped my new Who book out of my hands.  “Hey, whatcha readin’?”  Of course, I was was mostly afraid of the words that would follow that question.  “The Who?  What is this shit?  Why do you listen to ‘white-boy’ music?”  The first senior then throws my book to one of his colleagues.  At this point, I was fairly pissed.  The taunts continued.

“You gotta be kidding me.  You like this crap?”

Wait, did he just call Who music “crap?”

The second guy tossed my book to the third senior, a pretty big dufus, who fumbled, dropped, and damaged my book.  After picking it up, he points to Pete Townshend’s picture on the cover and says, “Damn.  Look at this guy’s big-ass nose.”  For whatever reason, that remark about my new hero detonated something inside my head.  I snapped.

And so, it was on.  

I walked over to the guy who slandered my hero, and connected with an absolutely breath-taking blow right between his eyes.  Once again, my newly prized book fell to the ground.  I pressed the bottom of my foot onto his head and mashed it against the hot schoolyard. “You’re buying me a new book, asshole.”  I looked over to see his friends running off in two different directions.  I felt my heart pounding from the intense anger that I felt at that moment as his blood ran red on the hot ground.  (Yet another sidebar:  I hate violence, and never looked for schoolyard fights.  The last thing I needed was “heat” from my mom about the subject of fighting.)

The sight the school aide that stopped the ruckus was like a needle scratching its way across the surface of a record.  “Big Dufus” and I were hauled off to the Principal’s office, where we were interrogated about the situation.  The other boy said not a word.  My response, when asked about my role in the fight, was to look at the floor and say, “You better call my mom, or I’m gonna kick this kid’s ass right in front of you.  He owes me, and I definitely owe him back.”  Poor choice of language on my part.

In my mom’s presence (and in front of the principal himself), I told her about the whole event.  I told her that I saved a lot of allowances and lunch money for that Who book.  I told her that I sent away to England to have that book, and it took a long time for me to have it in my possession.  I told her that I would never apologize for breaking the kid’s nose.  I was pissed, and I wasn’t going to cower in her presence.

I won’t bore you with the details of the insane ass-whoopin’ I got as a result, but I will tell you that I got suspended for two days and wasn’t allowed to participate in our school’s Spring music programs.  On the flip side, I also got my first acoustic guitar and a gigantic Who songbook from mom a week later.  Little did I know, at the time, that her gift would keep me away from fighting, gangs, jail, and bad people who did nothing but stupid things.

So, Happy birthday, Pete!  Thanks for giving me the courage to stand up for my convictions and heroes.  Thanks for saving my ears from Thriller with your great music.  And thanks for giving me an early clue about the direction I would take with smashing that toy guitar.

(Lex Neon is the musical mastermind behind the music of indie sunshine pop / rock band Poppermost.  For more info, go to http://www.poppermost.com/)

Note: The date listed on the album shown below is for the remastered version. The original was released October 30, 1971.

Currently listening :
Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy
By The Who
Release date: 1996-04-24

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