Monday, 19 January 2009

Pete Townshend: Sound and Fury, Signifying Plenty

If we're talking Things rather than People, then I can't think of much that brings me more joy in this world than Pete Townshend's guitar-playing (taken in tandem, of course, with his imperishable songwriting and, on occasion, his plaintive/urgent vocals, on those occasions when he's not letting Roger Daltrey be his full-throated interpreter.)
In terms of the guitar alone, it's all about his dynamism and his artistry, isn't it? Re. the former - a few weeks back I had a really enjoyable chat with the musician-turned-filmmaker Simon Fellowes - about film and music, as it happens - during which he revealed that he had attended the Oo's famous Charlton FC stadium gig of 1976, and he and his mates were already feeling fairly excited before the band hit the stage, at which point Pete, in the act of striking the opening chords of the first number, slid to the front of the stages on his knees...
The artistry? The other night I finally watched the authorised Who documentary Amazing Journey, given to me as a birthday gift by my wife in 2007, and it was all very fine, along with a bonus DVD offering the expected extras, but the gems on that second disc to my eye are four mini-films devoted to each band member. The ones on Townshend, Moon and Entwistle offer brilliant musical analysis, and really confirm my feeling about the stunning redundancy of most rock ‘n’ roll journalism - a form that still abounds and yet hardly deserves to exist. No sort of writing about rock music by non-musicians can properly instruct a sincere pilgrim on the true nature of the creative decision-making behind musical composition and performance. But good audiovisual documentary-making certainly can.
For instance: I’m not a massive U2 fan, though I certainly like ‘em; and The Edge’s distinctive guitar stylings aren’t among my favourite sounds; but I must say he’s brilliant on the Amazing Journey films in terms of his comments on (and impromptu demonstrations of) the flamenco influence in Townshend’s acoustic playing. As for the electric side of business, both The Edge and Pete’s brother Simon are also highly insightful about Pete's signature ‘crash chord’, and Simon also offers a useful illustration of his brother's distinctive dropping of 'the third' from regular chords. What documentary film can add to all this, and so set the seal on the excellence of the lesson, is by cutting to the subject in action, and the filmmakers do this well. I should do likewise, in the spirit of underlining that Pete hasn't lost it, in fact in some ways he's getting better.

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