lucio menegon | music•noise•art

How I Met Pete Townshend (part I)

The Set-up

It is 1993. I have just moved from New York City to San Francisco. I’ve found a nice little studio apartment on the second story of a nondescript beige/pink building on Jackson Street – between Nob Hill and Chinatown – a steal at $550. There are parrots in the tree branches outside my window. They are loud. There is a very strange large, bald man who lives upstairs and tells me about his experiments with acid in the 60’s. They involve lying naked in bed for a week in a fetal position. His exaggerated speech, gestures and facial expressions remind me of the father of the voodoo woman who helps Johnny Angel find the “Dark Prince” in the movie “Angel Heart”.

I don’t have a job, the girl I chased halfway across the country doesn’t seem that interested anymore and I’m desperately looking for something to latch onto. I’ve come to realize that every long term friend I’ve ever had is three thousand miles away. I exist in a world full of acquaintances.

I seem to have time for many things. I do some useless temp work for Charles Schwab. There, I make a lot of long distance phone calls, steal computer diskettes, pens and everything else that isn’t nailed down. My car gets many parking tickets. I now take buses and walk alot. I peruse bookstores. In one such place, I find a used copy of Anthony RobbinsPersonal Power. How many times have I seen those late night 30 minute info-documentaries with this charismatic gent emphatically pitching his way for everyone to get their shit together? Well, I ain’t paying 300 bucks for the tapes, but I will pay $6 for the book.

I read the first three chapters. It basically says, “decide what you are going to do today and then go out and do it – especially if you have no idea how to.” Fair enough.


* * *

In 1993, Pete Townshend put out the reco
rd Psychoderelict and was doing his first ever solo tour to support it. The night before in Berkeley I had attended the first of two sold out shows and was happy to have been able to see him in the relatively intimate 3000 seat Berkeley Community Theater. It was a very good show. I go to bed feeling inspired. I awake the next morning and the Personal Power question stares me in the face:

“What are you going to do today?” Hmmm….I am going to meet Pete Townshend!

I’ll thank him for his work, let him know how big an inspiration he has been and have him sign my favorite guitar – a TV-yellow Gibson Les Paul Special.

Pretty tall order. So, how to go about it? -> part ii

How I Met Pete Townshend (part II)

The Plan

…Well, I figure the best bet is to go back over to Berkeley and catch Pete at sound check before the second show – somewhere between 3:00 and 5:00 pm. I climb into my 1989 Toyota 4Runner (ahh, a gem that got away – the last year it came with a removable top and the first year with a V6) and head over the Bay Bridge to the far away land of Berkeley, California.

I’m headed up what turns out to be Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley – not far from my intended destination, but I am completely lost and, of course, listening to The Who. As the last strains of Who’s Next taper off, the tape pops out of the deck and 1989 technology kicks in hard as the “auto-radio” function does it’s thing. Lo and behold, there’s Pete’s voice. Ahh! I’ve got him!

I spot a phone booth, abruptly pull over, search madly through the phone book and find the address of KFOG 104.5 FM in San Francisco. I write down the address (nice of me not to tear out the page, right?) and head back the way I came.

As I re-cross the Bay Bridge, I realize how incredibly beautiful it is here! Not a cloud in the sky – a perfect blue gradient from the white of the horizon to the deepest blue overhead. The rusty red spires of the Golden Gate bridge jut out over the horizon to my right. The San Francisco skyline is up ahead. I notice that most of the buildings in San Francisco are white – it is a very white city (not just the population). If you’re from here you might not notice that, but I can tell you that New York City is much more of a grey/dark brown…anyway, I fly through traffic listening to Pete talk about music and think, “Don’t you get off the air, fucker!” He sings a song from Psychoderelict (an interesting concept record but, unfortunately, one that contains very few tracks that qualify as a “song”). His voice is shot and he doesn’t sound great, but I’m not complaining. As long as he keeps talking.

It is now rush hour. Cars are just about everywhere and I’m in downtown SF. I make an inspired, lucky left turn and end up just a few blocks from my destination. I spot a long black limo double-parked up ahead. This is it! The parking goddess is with me and I nab a spot just a block away…

I rush over to the limo and start knocking on the rearmost window. The black mirror facade rolls down and an English gent’s long face appears in its place. He asks politely what I might want. I tell him I would like to speak to Pete. He replies, “He’s still inside, you’ll need to talk to his manager over there.” I look over and standing on the sidewalk, having a smoke is Pete’s manager, who has been keeping and eye on all this. He is nice enough when I repeat the question and tells me to wait for Pete to come out. I ask him if Pete might sign my guitar. He informs me that “Pete doesn’t sign guitars.”

I am standing on the sidewalk in front of a glass enclosed lobby with a clear view through to the silver elevator door not 25 feet way from me. There is a black canvas soft guitar case slung over my right shoulder. In it is my favorite guitar. The one I use the most. A Gibson “TV-yellow” Les Paul Special named “Mean Mr. Mustard.” There’s a pin on the strap that says “Thunders lives!” (I got the pin while Johnny Thunders was still alive). I stand there for a long time. I begin to realize that this is actually going to happen…What to say! “Hello Pete! Uhh, Hi Pete, uhh…”

After a few minutes or so of this, I spot a middle aged man running up the street. He stops in front of me and breathlessly asks if Pete has come out yet. Perhaps he thinks I’m Pete’s manager. In his hand, he reverently holds a small, white paper napkin. Apparently, he seeks an autograph. I inform him that Pete hasn’t yet materialized, but that he can wait in front of me.

We wait some more.

And then suddenly, there he is.

Pete pushes through the glass doors and seems in a bit of a hurry. Looking perfectly English in a grey tweed coat he approaches us and quickly, but politely, signs the napkin of the fellow in front of me. He then looks at me standing there with a smile and a guitar over my shoulder. Since I ask for (and seemingly offer) nothing, his demeanor changes in a most subtle way. His weight shifts backward and he pauses as if to say, “right then…” -> part iii

How I met Pete Townshend (part III)

The Conversation

Shit! What do I say? I was silent for a few moments as I was a bit distracted by Pete’s gaze. He has very intense blue eyes. They search. He is obviously interested in people. Behind Blue Eyes and all that.

I finally started in by thanking Pete for his inspiration. That he was one of the main reasons I picked up the guitar in the first place and continue to this day. That perhaps my parents were not so much in debt to him as I was since they’ve never really understood the whole process to begin with. I have no idea why I said that. It just came out. No comment from Pete.

I told him about seeing The Who in NYC at Madison Square Garden in the fall of 1979. How when the the bright white lights lit up the crowd during Won’t Get Fooled Again there was a certain 16 year old boy standing on a railing above the crowd, his arms stretched toward the ceiling in ecstasy – just about 50 feet from stage left at eye level – when Pete Townshend had suddenly pointed at him. He grinned and mentioned that he “vaguely remembered those shows” (Pete was quite a drinker in those days).

I told him that I had seen the show last night in Berkeley, which had prompted me to seek him out today and that I very much enjoyed the reach of his new work. That it was important he was still taking risks, however they might be received. He very much appreciated that.

I then mentioned that I too was a musician playing original music and doing all I could toward that end – the same as he. At this, I asked him, “Would you sign my favorite guitar?”

He did not hesitate with his answer, “Sure.”

A sharpie pen was produced and the guitar signed, just below the tailpiece where it would be rather safe from wear and tear.

Until now, Pete’s entourage had stayed respectfully away, but was starting to shuffle a bit. As Pete made a turn to leave, I thanked him again and said,

“Hey Pete, keep on pushing.”

He turned back and said,

“I intend to.”

*** *** ***

It has been over ten years now and I don’t play the guitar as much as I really love my Telecasters. I still use it for recording and take it out whenever I feel like jacking up some power chords or some blues – anything that needs real punch or a fat tone. It always feels right.

A friend asked recently if I ever worried about losing the guitar.

I believe my response was, “It doesn’t really matter because I’ll always have the story.”

“my Gibson family” circa 2021