Music and smut from Jefferson, providing a soundtrack to One Life, Take Two.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Rough Boys

Pete Townshend

His guitar chimed from windmills. His reverberations ended in destruction. He wrote head bangers for the drunk drummer and opera for the pretty boy singer, all the while reserving the sensitive bits for himself.

When I was in high school, he was asked if perhaps his lyrics were too literate for rock and roll. “If my lyrics make you look up words like ‘recriminations’ and ‘fester,’” I recall him saying, “then all’s well.”

He had me at “Magic Bus.”

Pete Townshend’s first solo album, “Who Came First,” was acoustic and primarily directed to spirituality, reflecting the teachings of guru-to-rockers Meher Baba. When I was in high school, that eight track guided me home under many starry nights as I learned to drive drunk.

Then came “Empty Glass,” when I was eighteen. The album’s title referred to Townshend’s new sobriety and being clean. Much was made of its technical ingenuity. In “Rough Boys,” for example, Townshend plays bass, melody and chords at the same time. Ponder that as you watch his fingers fly at the end of the song.

Music aside, I was utterly stumped by “Rough Boys.” It seemed that in becoming clean, he was coming clean.

I asked my friend Peabo what he made of it. He suggested that Pete was making fun of punks and gays for being so concerned with uniformity. Pete was singing in the voice of a dirty old man (Townhsend was thirty-eight at the time) who couldn’t tell punks from queers and didn’t care.

That made sense to me. Still, I noticed that these eighties queer/punks looked a lot like the sixties Mods and Rockers of Townshend’s youth, as poignantly eulogized in “Quadrophenia.”

If nothing else, Townshend—at the center of seventies rock—crafted art from a sustained eye for male cultures.

Secretly, the song got me hot. Come over here. I want to bite and kiss you. Not a word is spoken. Make noise. I want to buy you leather.

Gonna get inside you.

There was speculation that with this song, Townshend was coming out as bisexual or gay. He let such speculation ride without much comment. A decade and change later, in an interview, he copped to a couple of experiences with men in the sixties. There you have it, some fans said. Townshend is a fag. No way, others argued. He’s always been with women. He's got kids. He’s straight.

I was impressed that he generally remained above the fray. His sexuality was his own, and as others spilled tabloid ink in trying to discern his preferences, he maintained a decorously private public life.

That got me hot.

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