December 8, 2021

2003-01-27 – The Morning Call

2003 01 27 The_Morning_Call_Mon__Jan_27__2003_

Who’s Townshend is a good man in a bad business


say that
he only
the site
once if he
had done
so many
times... .”

lOMON | I wish he had not
done it. I believe that his motives
were good, but I never thought I
would see the day when Pete
Townshend would have to say:
“I am not a pedophile.”

Let me tell you a story about
The Who. It was in the late
19705, a decade after their first
flush of fame, and Pete Townsh-
end had been off the road for
almost three years fighting his
drink and drug demons. So they
were getting back out in public
in a tentative way, doing unadver—
tised gigs in small venues in the
less fashionable parts of London.

I heard about the one at the
Sundowner up in Edmonton at
the last minute, and frankly I’d
never been that far north in Lon-
don before. Two more tube
stops, and you’d be in Scotland.
And like always, they gave value
for money, playing the whole
canon, from “My Generation" to
“Won’t Get Fooled Again.” One
hour, two hours, three, and all
500 people packed into the ven-
ue are uneasy, looking at their
watches, because we’re a long
way from home, and the last
underground train is going now,
and lots of us don’t even have
taxi fare. But they’re still playing,
and nobody leaves.

So finally The Who leave the
stage, close to midnight, and we
all spill out into the winter dark

wondering how the hell we’re
going to get home. And there,
lined up outside the theater are a
dozen chartered buses with signs
in their windows for all the dif-
ferent boroughs of London. It
took a while, but they got us all
home, right to our doors.

I am not a person who admits
easily to having heroes, but if I
were, Pete Townshend would be
one of them. Certainly my only
musician hero, and not just be-
cause The Who were the best
rock band in history: the first
who played it loud enough to
make your ears bleed, the first
who broke out of the simple
guitars-and-love-song pattern of
early rock’n’roll first synthesis-
ers, first intelligent lyrics, first
(and still best) rock opera — and
the one band that always gave
full measure, no matter how
rich, famous and stoned they
got. Townshend himself, for all
the early dramatics about smash-
ing guitars on stage, always gave
the impression of being an intel-
ligent, serious, even moral man,
in a trade that is not exactly
drowning in those qualities.

Now he is under suspicion for
downloading child pornography
from an American Internet por—
tal that gave access to thousands
of kiddie-porn Web sites, mostly
in Russia or Indonesia. 50 are
about 7,000 other people in Brit-

ain whose credit card details
were found when investigators
in Texas broke into the site.
About 1,300 homes in Britain
have been raided, and among
those arrested already are a
judge, magistrates, hospital con-
sultants and a deputy headmas-
ter, along with around 50 police-

This was all happening very
quietly, so that other suspects
would not re-format their hard
drives before the police
knocked, but then somebody
slipped the word to the Daily
Mail in London that Pete Town-
shend’s name had turned up
among the 7,000.

Only hours after the Mail hit
the streets, Townshend called a
press conference to explain that
he had only visited the site once.
as research for a campaign he
was working on against child
abuse. Some of the research
would be incorporated in a book
he is writing about his own child-
hood, for he was convinced that
he had been sexually abused
himself around the age of 5,
when he was staying with a men-
tally ill grandmother. “I cannot
remember clearly what hap-
pened, but my creative work
tends to throw up nasty shad-
ows. particularly in ‘Tommy’,"
he said. And the mob who love
to see the rich and famous

Associated Press

Pete Townshend performing

brought low went: “Yeah, right!”
It was a very stupid thing to
do, but if you look at Pete Town-
shend’s past, the explanation is
credible. His rock opera “Tom-
my,” written over 30 years ago,
was all about child abuse at a
time when the topic was not
fashionable. The scene in which

the “deaf, dumb and blind kid” is
left alone to be groped by his
drunken Uncle Ernie (“Fiddle
about, fiddle about”) is the first
time that the sexual abuse of
children actually comes up in
mainstream English-language
popular art.

Townshend wouldn’t say that
he only entered the site once if
he actually had done so many
times, because he knows that the
police already have the credit
card records. The police might
never even have contacted
Townshend if the Mail had not
run its story, for they are clearlx
exercising some judgment abom
which of the visitors to the site
were actually users of child por-
nography: they haven’t arrestei
all 7,000 people on the list. But
once Townshend’s name was
public, they could not avoid
arresting him.

Now he’ll probably have to
wade through the whole long
nausea of a trial, though he is
still likely to be found innocent
in the end. It’s a miserable busi—
ness, and I wish-he hadn’t done.
it — though not as much as he
does, I’m sure. But this is a good
man in a bad time and place, nr it
a bad man.

Gwynne Dyer is a London-based inde-
pendent journalist whose articles qr
published in 45 countries.