Absolutely nothing to do with China--oh wait, something the Who's Pete Townshend said about rock and politics did resonate with me and my thinking about the Chinese rock scene--but I took good notes as this massively iconic figure presented the keynote to the SXSW Conference and Music Festival, and thought I'd share some of what he said.
The Who has iong ranked among my favorite bands, and as much as I love Roger Daltrey's voice, loved the late Keith Moon's drumming, and adored the more recently late John Entwhistle's bass lines, it was Townshend who of course was always the sould of the band. For me, they're the band that produced for me ranks as the most perfect album (Who's Next, though Quadrophenia is up there among my all-time loves too) and best rock song ("Won't Get Fooled Again") to date.
So naturally I was thrilled to hear Townshend speak. He was lucid, as expected, and funny, at time way out there in space, especially when talking about his new project, which will formally launch with a webcast news conference on April 25. That project, which he calls "The Method," was based on the rather abstract concept originally behind Who's Next: that seminal album was originally written as another rock opera in the vein of Tommy called Lifehouse, but the concept-album idea was scrapped. (See the Wikipedia article on Who's Next for the whole story.)
"The Method," which will be Web-based, will supposedly allow subscribers to sit for a musical "portrait," based on inputs (physical? verbal? it's not enitrely clearr) supplied by the subscriber. The result is a unique piece of music corresponding to the subscriber. Townshend says he came up with the idea back during the creation of Lifehouse but "in 1971 there were no computers powerful enough to do what I wanted." He was told, "Nice idea--but you should get treatment. That came later. [audience laughs]."
In his own words, as nearly as I was able to transcribe:
You come to the Website and we give you a piece of music. You own a third of the copyright. This music is elaborated; we bring it all together, and play it in a big event. We gather and share our music together. My idea is that it might sound terrible, like a plane going by, or the gentle undulations of the sea.
On the Punk Rock revolution, he had this to say:
Punk triggered something. It vented something that was there, that needed to be vented. There was nothing wrong with the Electric Light Orchestra. There was nothing wrong with Ian Anderson's [sic] Yes. I was shopping the other day and heard some music, and said, "What an interesting blend of folk and classical--and it was fucking Yes."
Oh, and this is what made me think of Beijing rock, where a political/dissident patina gets painted onto so much music as a marketing ploy, or out of juvenile, misguided iconoclasm:
I didn't know what politics was when I was a kid. If we're going to make [rock music] political, let's make it fucking political.
Hallelujah, brother Pete. I have no objection per se to politics in rock music: I just want rock musicians to acknowledge that most political issues we confront just aren't that simple. For me, 99.99% of the time, reducing any issue to rhyming verses and a repeating chorus is just bullshit sloganeering that doesn't contribute to intelligent discussion. If I had a choice between allowing the ideas of rock musicans or, say, college professors to influence my political thinking, the choice for me wouldn't be a tough one.