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ROCK OPERA WIZARD

PETE TOWNSHEND CRANKS IT UP

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Good thing Pete Townshend didn’t die before he got old-at least before he made it to age 48. That little pop opera he wrote with the Who back in 1969 is a Broadway sensation; his new solo album, PsychoDerelict-your basic semi- autobiographical radio play-cum-concept album-is the most alive he has sounded in years; he has an eight-city U.S. tour this summer; he may finally get around to finishing Lifehouse, the legendary follow-up to Tommy whose demos pop up on the new album. And he just accepted the Tony for Best Original Musical Score for The Who’s Tommy. Townshend in a tux? Tommy on Broadway? It’s not so ironic. ”Tommy’s often described as a ’60s British rock opera, but in fact it was always an American musical,” says Townshend, who has shed his rock rebelliousness for quiet, sober living in London. ”It was written by a band faced with extinction in the American music field because they had concentrated mainly on pop ideas and pop imagery when Cream and Hendrix were going in a completely different direction. It also happens to serve the three main principles of Broadway: roots, commonality, and entertainment.” How does he respond to critics who have objected to the rewritten ending, in which Tommy returns to his family and forgives them? ”I’m kind of alarmed to see the interpretation that this automatically means I’m in favor of fundamental American family values,” he says. ”I’m not against them, but I do think the reason Tommy goes home is not entirely wholesome. He isn’t going back just to forgive, but also to exact slow, tortuous revenge. ‘Cause, you know, if there’s gonna be a Tommy Part II, it will be what Tommy does to Uncle Ernie.” So all that’s left is to unplug like all his peers and release the acoustic Townshend.”I already did that, at the (1981) second Amnesty International concert in London,” he grumbles. ”I invented Unplugged-ness-it belongs to me. I can do what I f — -ing like with it. I’m glad that Eric (Clapton) has sold millions of albums, but if I hear that bossa nova bongo version of ‘Layla’ again, I think I’ll scream.”

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