Meeting Pete Townshend – Part II

If you missed Part I last week, here’s a quick link.

And now, Part II…

Caught back up with the gang at their hotel around 9:45 and we were on the road to the Windy City at 10:25.  I flittered between conversation, listening to cell phone calls (wishing I could make a few myself but wanting to concentrate on the drive), worrying about what I’d say to Pete tonight, worrying about the very tight timeline, and worrying about the safety of my passengers on this drive.  I announced at some point that Midwesterners generally don’t use turn signals and like to brake for no apparent reason.  I know it’s like that everywhere, but we had a couple of close calls that drove my point home.  I was not amused at their stupidity and lack of consideration on the road.  The one guy damn near caused an accident by trying to change lanes into my passenger door.

We quickly dropped my friend off and luckily there’s a gas station close to his place.  Killed two birds with one stone.  It was shortly after 2pm, and this was the first time we’d stopped since getting in the car.  Another quick stop at my place in Madison so I could get things for Pete and Rachel to sign.  I remember announcing “welcome to the great state of Illinois” when we crossed the border, and then calling for a “personal and practical needs break” (which consisted of a quick sprint to get the blood moving again and a trip to the bathroom) near Rockford.  After that I went into my zone and started deep breaths to calm my frazzled nerves over the traffic snarl we hit.  Crap.  I need another half hour to pull this off and get us there on time.  What more could we do?  The stops were minimal on the way down, and I drove over the speed limit on the highway.

We made it though.  One friend ran to secure a place in line.  I told the other one that I needed a moment (or two) to somehow compose myself.  It wasn’t going well for me at that point.  I barely got the car parallel parked, and normally can do that with my eyes closed.  I forgot my stuff to sign in the back seat as we walked away.  Then I doubled back.  I forgot to plug the meter.  Doubled back again.  My heart started to drop slow motion style into the pit of my stomach.  I figured I was lost, much like Roger Daltrey’s voice in St. Paul.  Cheesy comparison from a cheesehead, but true.

How wrong I was.  I calmed down from the combination of a blast of cold Midwestern air, great conversation and support on the walk to Martyrs, Other chat friends were in the house, good seats on Rachel’s side (kind of weird to say) that were snagged prior to me getting in the door (thanks to whoever did THAT), a handshake from Jon from the Michigan show (along with “Hey man, good to see you again – you were in Rapids just a head-bobbin’ next to me”), and an overwhelming sense of imminent Pete Townshend aura.

I had been in a tin can with four wheels for the better part of 6.5 hours, so I stood as much as possible.  An announcement was made that Pete and Rachel would be out to work their way around the room.  A line was forming and they were cut off by the back area, and it looked like I’d need to go to them.  Great.  Another line where I have nothing but time to churn this over…and over…and over.  I asked a chat friend to come with me and be my photographer and moral support.  She kept reminding me that it would all be worth it.  She was right!

So we’re in line chatting, just waiting to get to the man.  Rick Nielsen from Cheap Trick appears, not more than 5 feet from us.  A handful of guys behind us ask for a quick picture and Rick is cordial.  He’s cordial while I’m standing there with my mouth hanging open!  I’m trying to form words to ask my friend to snap a shot with the two of us.  Nothing comes out and now I’m tongue tied in front of Rick Nielsen.  Just stopped near Rockford where Cheap Trick was formed, but that didn’t count as good karma.  There would be no picture of Rick and Chris, just a memory of me freezing.  My immediate thought was that I was going to freeze up by Pete and blow it.  Things were easier at Barnes & Noble – you were moved through pretty fast so there wasn’t much time to do more than a hello/thank you/pic/handshake.  Tonight Pete was there in the moment, chatting it up with a number of the people in front of me.  I got a couple of great shots of Pete and various chat friends, and one of Pete by himself that I truly love.

I felt that I needed to choose between an intricate question, a simple heartfelt statement, or some way that Pete could mess with me and joke around.  He had already kind of messed with me the night before so that was out.  The question – what do you ask him?  My mind was blank.  There are so many songs have one line that I wanted to ask him about.  There are so many songs that I wanted to ask about in full.  Could I be original and not cliché like so many interviewers?  “Hey Pete, glad you didn’t die before you got old – duhh.”  I decided that there was no proper way to ask about just one thing and pull it off to my liking, nor adequately sum up the past 25 years.  I went the heartfelt route, but pulled out my ace-in-the-hole.  My “Who The Fuck” bootleg LP!

I’ll now digress…

I bought this LP in high school shortly after getting my driver’s license.  I went with a friend to a Milwaukee record convention, held the Woodstock bootleg momentarily, and bought WTF as I hadn’t heard many of the versions of the songs.  I never did get that Woodstock bootleg at any of the conventions, although those days were good to me in terms of collecting.  I have a picture of me holding up WTF with a shit-eating grin shortly after the purchase.  Those were the days!

To rewind just a touch further, my original Who album purchase was in 1981.  I was closing out my 25th year following the band, and am not stating that to brag.  Some have more years, some have less.  It was just another moment in time in the life of this Who fan.  I have no idea what year I originally heard their music, but it was in the 70’s.  My mom saved some 45’s my older brothers were throwing out; stuff like early Stones, Yardbirds, Beatles, Kinks, and…yup, you guessed it – The Who.  I played DJ in my room and then grew up to become one.  I wanted to play THOSE songs on the radio.

I begged my mom to stay up and watch The Who’s movie “The Kids Are Alright” late one night during a PBS pledge drive.  She let me see the movie, and that led me to my first album purchase, and that led me to Who knows what.  I spent half my freshman and sophomore years stuffed into my own locker, abused by upperclassmen.  I found more and more solace in the music, in walkman headphones on school buses (to block out the in-your-face adolescent posturing), and in my room late at night.  I jumped around to Live at Leeds.  Hell, I jumped around and did airband to everything!  I begged my friends to do Who numbers when we got to airband on the weekend.  I strutted my stuff and was in my element.  When I ran out of studio purchases, bootlegs came next.  I picked up Jai Baba For Pete’s Sake, Stampede, This Is For Them, and the aforementioned Who The Fuck?, just to name a few.  Now it’s all on me to take WTF and talk to Pete.

My turn arrived and I walked up surprisingly well for having butterflies.  I reminded myself to speak from the heart and something will HAVE to come out.

Chris:  Hi Pete, was in front of you in St. Paul last night and wanted to say I had a great time and that I’m really sorry to hear about Roger, but I really did enjoy the show. (Scrunch that sentence together and say it really fast, because that’s how it came out – I then told myself to slow down)

Pete:  Oh well, what are you gonna do?

Chris:  (Handing him the LP) This is The High Numbers presenting Who The Fuck and 19 other spiffy tunes!

Pete just gave that sly smile and signed away.

Chris:  While I’m here I just wanted to show you a picture of me as a much younger man, and what it was like when I purchased this album.

Pete grabs the photo and signs it across the top!  Rock on – I never asked, and was totally shocked!

Chris:  I wanted to mention that I saw you last night at Barnes & Noble, but it all happened so fast that I didn’t really get to tell you…

…tell you that there are no words to adequately express how much your music and presence has impacted my life.  I can’t sum it up, so I just am going to give you a very heartfelt thank you for everything.  It all means so much…

I’m started to fade here and my friend was readying for a picture.

Pete:  C’mere…

He grabs me around the shoulder and pulls me in, hence the shock on my face in that picture.

Chris:  Thank you Pete.

Big handshake and we’re off to hang with Rachel.  I remember her calling herself a nerd, dork, or geek.  I said, “no, no no – no you’re not.”  I think my friend told Rachel that we were the geeks.  I was out of body at that point and don’t recall much, other than really fumbling with the marker and posing with Rachel.

When I get to wherever/whatever comes after this life and if I’m told I can only pick one moment out of this incredible now 35 year Who journey to remember, you’ll know the answer.

We went back to the table, and ordered a pizza.  I ran out and plugged the meter with change.  I literally ran like mods and rockers to a fight.  I didn’t come down for weeks after that one moment in time.  I took a lot of Who moments over a lot of years to get there, and do it properly.  Everything led me there, starting with the stack of 45’s in the 1970’s my mom saved for me.  I don’t expect Pete to remember this one moment out of meeting thousands of fans over the years, but I will always remember.  Thank you Pete.

There was a show that night too, although I didn’t really notice.  Just kidding!  Just a wonderful time and I strongly suggested in the chat group that people check out any ITA gigs that might be added to the tour.  There were so many great singers and songs, and again, our vantage point was great.  I mean, to see Pete Townshend in a little club?!!!  Rachel was fantastic and sounded (in her words) just fucking brilliant!  I loved the stage banter all night long.  Alexi Murdoch and Joe Purdi both really hit me in the heart with their lyrics and vocals.  Simon Townshend – amazing!  Mikey – really dug his set too!  Rachel teased us with talk of a Joni Mitchell song toward the end, but it didn’t matter.  She could sing anything at that point and I’d be happy.  Pete and Joe bowled me over with their version of Bye Bye Love.  I was on the edge of my seat for half the night, and completely laid out and comfortable for the rest.  It was a good feeling.

Unfortuntaly all good things come to an end, and we were rushed out of the club almost immediately following the show.  I spoke with a guy on the way out that had said hi to us earlier, and got chairs to sit straight out from our table.  When I told him I was from Madison, he said that his family comes up this way all the time from Chicago.  He mentioned Baraboo and I started laughing.  “I saw Dave Mason there, I have a good friend that lives just outside of town, and we just drove through today on the way down from St. Paul,” I told him.  Things were beginning to come full circle.  He asked if I was going to Columbus for the final show on this leg.  “Nope, headed home – I’m knackered.”

I bid a quick farewell to the internet chat crowd.  Then I snapped a couple of final pics of the Martyrs exterior before walking back to my car.  I spent the first twenty miles or so in relative silence, with no music.  It gave me a chance to start processing the whole experience.  I arrived home in Madison around 1:00 a.m.  Home at last, yet the story doesn’t end there.

I didn’t sleep right away when I got home from Chicago.  I cried on the couch, tears of joy over the whole experience.  I thought of Pete singing Cry If You Want in St. Paul and how it hit me then.  I didn’t need permission to cry – I was going to if I wanted to – and I certainly did want to.

I went to see my parents on Sunday afternoon after I slept a ton.  I thanked my Mom for their support of my Who love.  I really thanked Mom for saving those 45’s from the garbage all those years ago; the place this amazing journey started.

Looking back almost ten years makes me realize how wonderful these shows and interactions were – not just with Pete and Rachel, but with friends and family.  I was very fortunate and love having these memories.  Most of what happened can never be repeated.  In a way I’m actually grateful for that.

Tour Mileage Counter:

Madison to Des Moines and back – 309 each way, 618 total

Madison to Chicago and back – 152 miles, 304 total

Madison to Grand Rapids and back – 330 each way, 660 total

Madison to St. Paul and back – 274 each way, 548 total

Madison to Chicago and back for ITA – 148 miles, 296 total

Grand total of 2426 miles – all by car.

Chris and Pete

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