When they finally get around to building the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Pete Townshend’s plaque will say ”Rock Star.” Which is just fine with him—though the founder of the Who would prefer they include a footnote that reads ”Publisher and Author” as well.
The man who provided some of rock’s greatest bombast also quietly ran a bookstore and a publishing house in London during the ’70s and ’80s and wrote a collection of short stories, Horse’s Neck, in 1985. And since 1983, he has worked as an editor at Faber & Faber in London.
”One of the things about my ‘literary thing’ is that it’s not a cap that I wear; it is something that I do,” explains Townshend. ”I ran a bookshop for three and a half years. I know about bookselling, I know about ordering, I know about mail order, I know about wrapping them up, I know about reading them before you recommend them, I know about Christmas, I know about what women want to read! I’ve done that stuff.”
Okay, Pete, we believe you. The proof is currently on display in The Who’s Tommy: The Musical (Pantheon, $40), a lavish volume featuring 150 photos and the entire libretto of the hit Broadway musical. The book also contains a CD single of Townshend performing ”I Believe My Own Eyes,” his new song from the show. ”The book’s function is partly souvenir,” says Townshend, who wrote most of the Who’s original 1969 album and (with director Des McAnuff) the current Broadway adaptation. ”But it’s also partly a way of allowing people to analyze what the show is doing that’s distinct from any other rock & roll event—and to decide whether or not you even believe that (it) is a rock & roll event.”
While Townshend takes pride in his literary pursuits, he also appreciates the book world’s relatively genteel habits, compared with rock’s rough-and- tumble theatrics. ”I think performance is the most difficult thing, because there’s no chairman of the board saying, ‘You did good work.’ There’s just an accountant saying, ‘We gave you a million dollars, and you sold six f—ing records!'”