“Are you Lefsetz?”
First rule of meeting famous people…
Never introduce yourself. It never goes well. They’re caught off guard, they usually have no idea who you are, and even if they do they’re flummoxed, you have to start explaining yourself, it never ends up good. What you’ve got to do is wait for someone to introduce you. And sometimes the opportunity never arises. And believe me, I don’t want to be introduced to anybody who does not know me. Then I’m just another fan, gushing. And sure, we all like to hear positive feedback.
But there’s a hierarchy.
I went to the wrong bathroom. I saw Pete Townshend’s name next door. And Roger Daltrey’s too. So I did my business and on the way out I ran into Simon Townshend, who’d retweeted what I had to say about the new Who song “All This Music Must Fade.” So I figured I’d go for it, at least we were in the inner sanctum.
Simon had no idea who I was.
So, to show I was not a nobody, I asked him which guitar he was playing last night, the one that looked like an SG, but only had one pickup. He said it was a Les Paul Junior. Explained what that was. And then testified about his blonde ’68 Telecaster, and then I made my exit, somewhat gracefully, back out to the terrace, backstage.
Yes, I was backstage.
You see this was the benefit for the Teenage Cancer Trust. Roger Daltrey’s charity that Pete contributes to. They do it every year. At a house in the Palisades. Four acts. Tonight it was Kenny Loggins, Pink, Foo Fighters and the Who.
And it was five thousand bucks.
That’s right, for a good cause.
And I expected hitters. You know, oldsters. Who else could drop this kind of cash?
Thirty and fortysomethings. That’s who comprised the audience. Threw me for a loop. You know, the skinny women with their sport-jacketed men. No one came dressed down.
This is how the elite live.
This is not the music business. You can’t find a thousand people with this kind of cash, not on their own. Oh, maybe their company might buy a table for the City of Hope, but chances are it’s much less per person. As for digging into your own pocket…isn’t that what expense accounts are for?
Sure, it’s a good cause. But how much money do you make?
And Kenny Loggins was playing, quite well, and almost no one was paying attention. You see it was more about being there, hanging out, getting a story to tell, than salivating at the stars.
This was the Fyre Festival crew.
You know, you wondered who all these youngsters were, willing to drop four figures to hang with influencers?
Well, they’re the people I went to college with. You know, the strivers. Who got good grades in high school to get into a good college where they excelled to get into a good graduate school and now they’re comfortable, but I didn’t expect them to be THIS comfortable!
Bummed me out.
I knew nobody and didn’t fit in.
Now do you know the odds of going to a party in L.A. and not knowing anybody? Essentially zilch. Hell, you’re probably gonna run into somebody you know at Gelson’s, or Whole Foods. But now I’m at a music-dominated evening and there’s not a soul I know?
After fressing on some shrimp, the pickins’ were really fine, after filling up, I sat down on a couch, alone. I didn’t worry about looking like a loser, no one knew who I was.
Except for the guy who checked me in, he read the Letter.
But the valet parker?
They steered me away. My car was dirty, it’s fourteen years old, there was no way I was going to this party, but I was.
And when you get that many people in one small space cell service goes down the drain. Unless you bring in a portable unit, good luck connecting.
So I’m sitting there. Looking at my watch. Was I really gonna sit alone for three hours to see the Who?
Now I was invited by the director of the organization. But I saw no hierarchy.
And as I was sinking I thought…I’ll text Tom, the LD, no way he’s here, when is he gonna arrive?
Eventually Tom texts back that he is there, backstage.
But the connection is so spotty, this conversation takes more than half an hour. Tom asks if I’ve got my laminate from the previous evening, my all access pass. I actually saved it, and a couple of years back I threw all of ’em out, I’m a hoarder, it was a breakthrough, and to tell you the truth I don’t really miss them, but I am saving the all access pass to the Stones, and am gonna save this one to the Who too. They’re badges of honor, that I’ve ascended to the mountaintop, gotten inside.
Well, not at this event. I could not convince the bouncer to let me past the velvet rope. Even though he was letting punters through because he’d gotten some signal via his earpiece. He was a beefy guy. You never want to rush by one of these guys, they’re there to serve and enforce, as in picking up your ass and throwing it across the room. Yup, I’ve seen that. Actually, I’ve experienced it. But that’s another story…
But finally Tom comes up with another pass and now I’m hanging backstage, with my people.
On the other side of the rope I didn’t connect, but here I fit in fine.
The best conversation was with Perry Farrell, who looked like a million bucks. He knew who I was, Geiger mentioned my name. Perry told me about taking a Greyhound bus from Florida to Los Angeles at 23, he had to make it, he knew he was gonna make it.
And I was having a fine time with people completely different from those on the other side of the stage. And that felt good. Communicating. With those I knew and those I didn’t.
But then, before the Foos went on, to my left, I saw Pete Townshend talking to a man and two women.
But there was no way in hell I was gonna go up to him, no way.
But Pete sauntered over to me and uttered the words at the top of this screed.
I told Pete I was, Lefsetz that is. Whereupon he said he read what I wrote about “All This Music Must Fade,” and thanked me for it, and then said he does read me from time to time, and he agrees with me sometimes, but other times…
And he looked in my eyes and nearly sneered.
But he’d approached me, so I had license to continue the conversation, which I did.
And then Pete got all serious, direct, real.
He told me about the time Leonard Bernstein gave him props. Spread his arms wide, told Pete how great he was. This was the guy who wrote “West Side Story,” it meant so much to Pete.
Just like Pete asking me if I was Lefsetz did to me.
And since cell coverage was so damn bad, I told him I’d written about last night’s show at the Bowl but he probably hadn’t seen it, but Pete said no, he’d read it.
That’s the reach that means so much to me.
And now we’re talking. About what Pete’s reading, about what it’s like getting older, how to maintain perspective, how to move forward. And I’m walking a razor’s edge, I don’t want to burden him, but I don’t want to unnecessarily back off either.
But then Pete pulled away and I got back into it with Bill and…
It was all right.
By time the Who came on, a good percentage of the people had left. About half, maybe sixty percent.
But those remaining, most of them really wanted to see the Who.
Now it’s kinda hard to explain. It was kinda like being in the garage, it was kinda like being at a high school dance, maybe a battle of the bands, the Who, the real Who, were mere feet away, doing their arena show, their stadium show, for a couple of hundred people. And it’s not like they were trying to convince us, close us, instead they were just mowing us down. As if Paul McCartney opened your front door and started playing “Yesterday,” not even acknowledging you. But the Beatles never hit you over the head, bulldozed you.
But the Who did, and still do.
But the set list was not the same as last night.
You know you can go to setlist.fm and see what everybody plays? Most big acts don’t even change it from show to show, but I don’t want to know, I want to be surprised.
And I was, when they played “The Seeker.”
I’m looking for me
You’re looking for you
We’re looking at each other
And we don’t know what to do
“The Seeker” was the follow-up to “Tommy.” It was a two-sided single, the flip side was “Join Together,” with its Jew’s harp intro, imploring us to follow along, join the band, go down the road together.
But “The Seeker” was something else. It was a commentary on the times. Too sophisticated for Top Forty, “The Seeker” got some FM airplay, but was not a hit. Next came “Who’s Next.” But by that point, FM ruled.
Now I never owned the single. But “The Seeker” was included in Rykodisc’s CD release of Pete Townshend’s “Who Came First?” And that’s when I got really into it.
I asked Bobby Dylan
I asked the Beatles
I asked Timothy Leary
But he couldn’t help me either
Pete was rejecting all the gurus, he was thinking for himself, he was looking, but he did not want to get fooled again.
And tonight was Roger’s evening. In a smaller environment, looser and noisier, he could let go, not have to play to the nosebleeds, just be the same guy he ever was.
And the truth is they raised almost four million for the Teen Cancer Trust. Costs were low, just about ten percent, which is pretty damn good.
But the highlight of the fundraising, the peak, which touched and titillated us all, was the performance by Ken.
Bill told me backstage. That some guy paid $250,000 to play drums on one song.
Now that’s another element of the band, Zach Starkey. He doesn’t nod his head like his dad, he stays focused, he leans in, nobody could be Keith Moon, but Zach is the right drummer for this band.
So they have to unwind Zach. Take off his in-ear monitors. They put headphones on Ken and he sits on the stool…
He’s a nerd with glasses. Wearing a printed shirt. A bit beyond pudgy.
And Pete is not giving him the benefit of the doubt. He says it’s an experiment, it’s worth the money, but he isn’t expecting much.
So Simon starts strumming his acoustic. Pete’s on one of his red Stratocasters. They’re playing “Pinball Wizard.”
And Ken is just sitting behind the kit, doing nothing, looking incompetent and afraid.
And he touches a cymbal, but that’s it.
And then, nearly a minute into it, Pete turns around and nods, and Ken WAILS!
They didn’t want to be nerds, they wanted to be baseball players, they wanted to be musicians, but they took the straight path, and their dreams never died.
Ken is pounding, hitting the various skins, it’s positively riveting. This guy knows what he’s doing!
And at the end of the song, Pete gives him space to solo, to flourish.
And then it’s done.
And the assembled multitude starts chanting “KEN! KEN! KEN!
But this was the end.
Now Pete doesn’t talk like a rock star, he’s not worried about charisma, his on stage patter is like you’re sitting with him in a booth in a bar. It’s conversational, with an edge baked in. But when he picks up that guitar, when Roger twirls that mic, when Zach pounds those drums…I’d say it’s akin to a freight train, but it’s more powerful than that, more emotional than that, a spike is driven right through your heart and then Pete and the band run right over you, and don’t look back.
The call me the seeker
I’ve been searching low and high
I won’t get to get what I’m after
Til the day I die
That’s what I realize, we’ve all got our dreams, our destinations, as I said, there’s a hierarchy. For Pete, it was Bernstein, for me it was Pete himself. And the closer you get, the more you know, you realize it’s all about the individual, you yourself. You’re in charge of your destiny. And I hope you don’t hew to the straight and narrow, that you try your best to find your one true direction, because everything your parents ever told you is true. Yup, life goes by real fast, before you notice, it’s more than half way over.
As Jackson Browne so eloquently put it in “Fountain of Sorrow”:
And while the future’s there for anyone to change, still you know it seems
It would be easier sometimes to change the past
You get stuck in a rut, it’s comfortable.
But you don’t want to feel too comfortable in this life, as Chuck Yeager said, you want to push the envelope.
I’m just one or two years and a couple of changes behind you
In my lessons at love’s pain and heartache school
Yup, I’m just a couple of years and a couple of changes behind Pete Townshend, still hanging on for the lessons.
And Pete’s from damp dank England.
Whereas Jackson Browne is from sunny L.A.
But tonight, at the edge of the continent, by the ocean, we all came together. We threw off our chains. We followed the music and we found what we were looking for…
That’s the power of music. It may not be able to move mountains, but it can raise a whole bunch of money for charity. Because we all want to get closer to that flame.
First comes love, sex, relationships.
And then comes music. Music works when you’re together and also when you’re apart. It speaks to you, it gets through to you.
So I must ask, who are you?
I really wanna know.
But not as much as you want to know yourself.