2. Early Years of The Who
3. Drawbacks in Mod Activity
5. With Meher Baba Devotees
6. Alcohol and Keith Moon
7. Fall into Drugs and Rehabilitation
8. Meher Baba Oceanic in Context
9. Termination of Meher Baba Oceanic
10. The Elite and Outsiders
According to the general consensus of opinion, Pete Townshend was one of the most dynamic performers in rock music during the 1960s and 1970s. His sense of affiliation with Meher Baba has sometimes aroused scepticism and incredulity, but is acknowledged in the present article. This factor provides complexities not always recognised in standard portrayals. Townshend himself has acknowledged discrepancies between aspects of his former behaviour and his commitment to a spiritual ideal. This may conceivably make his biography more interesting, rather than less so.
The recent autobiography of rock star Pete Townshend is promoted as "the most eagerly awaited music memoir of the century." The expectation is evidently one of commercial success. In the acknowledgments, Townshend writes that his American publisher "has been forthright and meticulous, keeping me alert to the fact that he and I both want this book to entertain, but also to convince" (Who I Am, p. 509). So entertainment and conviction are evidently priorities. Outside the popular media however, entertainment writing is considered questionable. Conviction is an issue relating to accurate contents. In much of what follows, I accept the truth of Townshend's narrative, but there are omissions discernible.
Townshend's performer group known as The Who became famous in the mid-1960s with such songs as My Generation. Fans generally regarded that song as an anthem of juvenile liberation, reflecting defiance of authority, and complete with the refrain of "I hope I die before I get old." Pete Townshend was the songwriter here, as in many other instances.
A particular feature of Who concerts is controversial. The composer and his three superstar colleagues favoured a violent stage act, in which Pete customarily smashed his guitar. Other expensive equipment was also at risk. Fans accepted all damages, but critics were offended by the violent scenario. The endpapers of Who I Am depict the hero, now an old man, in the evocative act of guitar-smashing. Evidently the publishers award a strong entertainment value to this feature. Critics say that the identity factor (who I am) should be able to disarm long-standing negative reflections.
The author of Who I Am is often explicit in his narration. Some reviewers have listed shocking statements, including Townshend's remark that Mick Jagger was the only man he had "ever seriously wanted" a sexual relationship with (Who I Am, p. 88). Critics say that the entertainment factor is being calculated via such references. In what follows below, I will avoid many of the entertainments (including four letter words that offend some readers).
Unless otherwise specified, all references below are to the pagination in Townshend, Who I Am (London: HarperCollins, 2012).
2. Early Years of The Who
Born in West London in 1945, Pete Townshend had a family background of musical performance. His father was a saxophonist in a Royal Air Force dance band; his mother was a singer. During his late teens, he enrolled at Ealing Art College, wishing to become a sculptor. However, he dropped out because of some complications. "I was also becoming a recreational drug user, smoking [marijuana, alias cannabis] several times a week" (p. 57). He joined Roger Daltrey's line-up called The Detours, a pop group in the early 1960s, sharing the same milieu as The Rolling Stones and The Kinks.
Roger Daltrey (born 1944) was originally "a brash street fighter from working-class Shepherd's Bush," (1) and became a guitarist. Townshend says that "Roger swaggered up in his Teddy Boy outfit, his hair combed into a grand quiff, trousers so tight they had zips in the seams" (p. 43). Daltrey took a job as a sheet-metal worker, and had the repute of being very capable with his fists. "Even a nasty drunk knew better than to provoke him" (p. 47). In 1964, The Detours changed their name to The Who. In the long-term, Daltrey was the only member of this rock group who avoided addiction to hard drugs. (2)
The horizons of these and other performers were not intellectual. Nevertheless, Townshend was evidently conjuring with a Mod version of art, music, and society. The Mods and Rockers scenario in 1960s subculture has often puzzled people in other countries, and even in Britain. A Townshend definition could be helpful: "Mods were into fashion, R & B [rhythm and blues], motor scooters and showing off the latest dance moves, where Rockers tended towards machismo, exemplified by Marlon Brando's motorcycle gang leader in The Wild One" (p. 51).
The vogue for rhythm and blues was believed to be liberating. The accompanying resort to marijuana (cannabis) assisted bohemian recklessness. An issue for critics has always been that of distinguishing inspiration and meaning from the routine lyrics of desire and indulgence. The pop/rock scene was not geared to profundity.
Townshend proved innovative, devising means of increasing his guitar sound. He preferred "powerful, slab chords" and acquired an amplifier system which "was so loud it shook most of the small halls in which we performed" (p. 69). All he needed now were some captivating lyrics. The Who were in sufficient demand to support The Beatles, whose "audience was almost entirely young girls who seemed lost in their own fantasy world while the music played" (p. 73). I did myself attend a Beatles concert in 1964, during which it was almost impossible to hear what was being sung, the music being drowned by incessant female screams verging on hysteria. The Who went in the opposite direction, so that a few years later, the front row spectators might reel back in pain at the sheer volume of sound devised by maestro Peter Townshend.
Three members of The Who resorted to pep pills during a visit to Sweden and Denmark in 1965. This Mod extravagance caused "constant, mindless chattering" on the part of Townshend, drummer Keith Moon (1946-1978), and bass guitarist John Entwistle. Vocalist Roger Daltrey eventually complained, but was challenged on this point by the defiant Moon. Daltrey responded with fists, and Moon's nose then showed blood (p. 84).
In the summer of 1965, Townshend composed My Generation, a song which cemented the fame of The Who. He now clarifies what the generation divide amounted to. He did react to the wealthy establishment in Belgravia ("women in fur coats"), but he pinpoints the factor of class rather than age group. "Most of the young people around me in this affluent area of London were working on transforming themselves into the ruling class, the Establishment of the future" (p. 83). He does have a point in this updated reflection. The problem being that pop music is rarely an adequate communicator of sufficient detail on social/political issues. Such lines (in the same song) as "Why don't you all fade away" could so easily be considered aggressive. "Hope I die before I get old" is another well known line that could evoke confusions.
In 1966, the performance of The Who became "a parody of auto-destruction complete with smoke and flashes" (p. 98). Townshend was very much a key participant. His ritual of smashing a guitar had been operative since 1964. He was influenced in this direction by Art School lecturer Gustav Metzger, "the auto-destructive artist whose ideas first inspired me." However, Metzger himself explained that the copyist (Townshend) was not following the rules, meaning that "I was supposed to boycott the new commercial pop form itself." Townshend agreed. "The gimmicks had overtaken me" (p. 115). Nevertheless, the "art" gimmicks continued.
There was another visible problem in the behaviour of Keith Moon, who showed signs of being out of control. On one occasion, "Keith ran to the front of stage with a whip and a blonde actress in a leather outfit" (p. 98). The emerging adventures of Moon can defy classification. He could politely be described as a severe case of delinquent behaviour. Addicted to alcohol and drugs, Keith Moon delighted in promiscuity. His violence did not stop at destroying his drum kit. For instance, Moon would throw objects out of windows, sabotage toilets, and play all sorts of mischievous pranks on those around him. His antic of eating flowers was relatively tame. His close associate John Entwistle was decorous on stage, but also partial to drugs, and perhaps equally promiscuous at times. So was "my generation" really moving in the right direction? Subsequent events tend to confirm a negative judgment.
3. Drawbacks in Mod Activity
In 1967, Townshend was introduced to LSD ("acid"), although he did not continue usage of the danger drug; instead, he became a convert to the anti-drug messages of Meher Baba (). Accordingly, he ceased his habitual use of marijuana in 1968; that abstinence was not common. This was at the period when Beatle Paul McCartney appeared on television advocating the legalisation of marijuana (cannabis). Mick Jagger and Keith Richards became the subject of a police investigation for possessing drugs (pp. 120ff., 109). The confusion created by drugs strongly persists today.
Jimi Hendrix (1942-1970) was a drug and alcohol victim who went to an early death. "He was a shaman, and it looked as if a glittering coloured light emanated from the ends of his long, elegant fingers as he played" (p. 108). This tribute from Pete Townshend is accompanied by the detail that Hendrix set his guitar on fire, which evidently gratified the destruction complex of the Who guitarist (p. 119). This event occurred at the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967, shortly after The Who "blasted through a clumsy set, ending by smashing our gear" (ibid). Ravi Shankar, the famous Indian musician and master of the sitar, "was apparently very upset to see me break my guitar" (ibid). At a later date, Townshend reported: "Hendrix was a psychological mess of a man.... He was in such tragically bad condition physically and I remember thanking God as I walked on stage that I was healthy" (Giuliano, Behind Blue Eyes, pp. 94-95).
Famous at that time was the hippy scene at Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco, an LSD environment celebrated in 1967 for "peace and love." Townshend was more realistic. He informs that the hippies "to watch out for were the many Vietnam veterans, attracted by the promise of easy sex; they were often badly damaged by their wartime experiences, and despite the mellowing drugs they took they could be pretty hostile" (Who I Am, p. 118).
A landmark feature of this period was the ubiqitous Beatles album Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967). Townshend was an enthusiast, and brackets this creation with a Beach Boys album. "Neither album made any deep political or social comment, but ideas were not what mattered. Listening to music had become a drug in itself" (p. 123). Fans (who often smoked cannabis) imagined all sorts of pseudo-meanings in the Beatles trophy, including Keith Moon, who became convinced that he was referred to in one of the topical songs. "He played it constantly, and his ego began to get out of control" (p. 123).
The sleeve of Sergeant Pepper is well known for including Aleister Crowley in the deceptive cast. (3) The massive confusions about occultism were furthered by many badly informed writers and their fans in showbiz. At large, the period has been called a revival of the occult, and several centuries will probably be required to eliminate the misinformation that now abounds, providing that due education actually wins in the end.
"[Aleister Crowley] went to fantastic lengths to be stimulated.... he needed perverse stimuli - human excreta, menstrual blood, and especially drugs - to make the message come through. He could never get enough stimulation. He soon found himself living the myth of the anti-hero, the rebel who pushes every taboo aside. His axiom of behaviour was: on no account be normal or live within your own skin. Every five minutes he thought of himself as someone different.... he would never admit to any failing. " (4)
In 1967, The Who went to America on a tour alongside Herman's Hermits. The young British pop star Herman became famous via the adolescent ditty "something tells me I'm into something good." At a motel, Herman "had sex with a pretty young fan and her pretty young mother at the same time" (p.123). The Who "gazed in stupefaction" (p. 124) when the two women emerged from his room. The My Generation were not demonstrating perfect standards of conduct. Keith Moon also took the lack of rules too far.
At a Holiday Inn (in Flint, Michigan) on that same American tour, Moon felt in the mood for a birthday party. He rolled a car into the swimming pool. Townshend reports that "by the time I reached the party room the cake was all over the floor, the walls and Keith's face" (p. 128). Moon went into a rage; efforts were made to take him back to his own room. The sturdy drummer threw a lamp at an autograph-seeker, who was hit on the head. Moon "then managed to knock out his own teeth," and had to visit the dentist. Perhaps not surprisingly, The Who were banned for life from Holiday Inns.
The version of Townshend is an understatement. When he was already drunk, Moon commenced the celebration by blowing up the toilet of his hotel room with a stick of dynamite. Different descriptions of the event are on record. Moon resorted to dynamite in the wake of his earlier sabotages with cherry bombs (which he would also throw into elevators). These extremist actions date back to 1965. A biographer has stated that no toilet in a hotel or changing room was safe from the attentions of Keith Moon. He liked to reduce toilets to dust. He frequently persuaded John Entwistle into participating, as the latter publicly confessed many years later. Alcohol was evidently the key relating factor.
The extremist behaviour helps to explain how Moon "set off an oversized theatrical charge of gunpowder, blowing up the entire band" (p. 129). This feat occurred in America during a television filming at Gold Star Studios, in front of film stars. Townshend was a victim in that "my hair caught fire and my hearing was never the same." In the words of a well known song, just talking about my generation.
Pete Townshend married Karen Astley in May 1968. "Some musicians in pop and rock, even those on the sidelines, have numbered their sexual conquests in figures that defy the imagination. My priority was being faithful to Karen, but that left me feeling somehow left out" (p. 168).
In August 1969, The Who played at the Woodstock Festival, occurring at Bethel, near New York. This event gained global fame via a film made of the proceedings. "Everyone who performed at Woodstock enjoyed mythic status once the film was released" (p. 181). The Who gained more celebrity in America than most of the competitors, and their income was thereafter closely linked with that country. Ironically, Townshend was averse to the festival setting, which was a creation of the psychedelic hippy trend.
As The Who entourage drove along the muddy road to this concert, Moon and Entwistle were "behaving strangely" after getting high on drugs. Their tendency was shared by most of the audience. Fantasies about this event were prodigious. Townshend provides a realistic account of some features. "The scene greeting us at the backstage area of the festival was horrific" (p. 178). The parking area was thick mud, and there were no dressing rooms. They went to a tent for refreshments, where "I helped myself, and realised within minutes the water had been spiked with acid [LSD]."
Townshend was pleased to see a photo of Meher Baba placed high on a telegraph pole. He interpreted this as a sign that everything would be OK. The judgment proved facile. Townshend was soon shocked to see a young man, evidently on a drug high, shin up the same pole some thirty feet. "As he touched the photo he screamed and fell backwards, landing on top of the ambulance; the telegraph pole was in fact a power line." The badly injured victim was unconscious, and attended by paramedics. Townshend then went to investigate the first aid tent, and received another shock. "There were cots of patients everywhere, mainly young people on bad [LSD] trips, some injured, but mostly kids suffering from bouts of terror" (pp. 178-9).
Outside he saw the faces of Moon and Entwistle looking out from the back window of a station wagon. He afterwards learned that they were both engaging in extremist sexual actions with female admirers. Their sordid form of indulgence is no recommendation for exploitive drug scene occurrences.
The narrator walked on the edge of the main field where most of the Woodstock Festival audience were present. He saw naked dancers and drug dealers bearing "trays of readymade joints," their wares including LSD. Some drugged youths would demand "money or drugs, threatening violence, then laughing and running away" (p. 179). Townshend further comments that one of the performer groups "must have been doing cocaine" rather than LSD. He adds that the ill-fated Janis Joplin (1943-1970) was not at her best, probably due to the long delay, and also the amount of alcohol and heroin that she had consumed while waiting (the official cause of her death the following year was heroin overdose).
Welcome to the new age hell. "Just talking about my generation." (5)
5. With Meher Baba Devotees
Pete Townshend did not converge at this period with all the fashionable trends. He said that he did not like the hippy centre at Haight-Ashbury, the drug activist Timothy Leary, and nor the Woodstock Festival. He repudiated the hippy idea of an alternative society, which was based on drug usage. In a mood of strong discontent, he attacked an activist who grabbed hold of a microphone on the Woodstock stage. Townshend deemed this an unwarranted intrusion.
Onstage at Woodstock, The Who performed a new song called See me, feel me. The film clip became internationally famous. Daltrey was thereafter an iconic image of the bare-chested rocker (the word mod died out), while long-haired Townshend jumped about in his white boiler suit, playing a vibrant guitar. These two Londoners became a standard for rock stamina, alongside Mick Jagger and some others.
The new song was part of the Tommy rock opera, recently released on an album that achieved much acclaim, selling ten million copies. The composer was Pete Townshend. The meaning of this "opera" was not always clear to audiences. Ostensibly the story of a boy who becomes deaf, dumb, and blind, the theme has been described as autobiographical by Townshend himself. The inspiration of Meher Baba is strongly associated with some components of Tommy. Townshend became a committed non-drug devotee of Meher Baba in 1968, a development queried by the incredulous Daltrey and others. However, Daltrey was pleased to perform the vocals for Tommy, which gave his own act a new dimension. When Townshend and Daltrey sang See me, feel me at Woodstock, there were probably very few who clearly understood what some of the lines implied. The composer later said that when he wrote this song, he felt that he was talking to Meher Baba (Giuliano, Behind Blue Eyes, p. 4).
"Following you, I climb the mountain
I get excitement at your feet
Right behind you, I see the millions
On you, I see the glory
From you, I get opinions
From you, I get the story."
In November 1970, an article by Townshend appeared in Rolling Stone. This was entitled "In Love with Meher Baba," and supplied some information about his transition to a different outlook. Here Townshend relays a significant statement of Meher Baba: "Drugs are harmful mentally, spiritually and physically."
Meher Baba (1894-1969) had died in India the previous year. Of Irani Zoroastrian birth, he was the only Indian mystic to make a pointed denial of the drug craze afflicting Western countries during the 1960s. Western devotees of the 1960s found that he was difficult to access, living at an ashram in reclusive conditions, and avoiding publicity of the kind generally associated with gurus. His last mass darshan occurred at Poona (Pune) in 1965, but that was for Eastern followers, not for Westerners.
Pete Townshend had not met Meher Baba, and nor engaged in any form of correspondence with him. The rock star first heard of Meher Baba in the autumn of 1967, when a new devotee referred him to Charles Purdom's book The God-Man (1964). Townshend became a follower. Purdom had since died, but the rock star was in contact with numerous other Western devotees of Meher Baba, primarily the younger generation in America, who greatly outnumbered the British contingent. Townshend was clearly influenced by devotee ideas and cliches, as these had emerged by the late 1960s. He uses the phrase "Don't Worry, Be Happy" (much celebrated in California). He also employs the innovative expression "Baba's umbrella," a Western idiom of the post-Purdom era. He refers to devotees as "Baba lovers."
In America, Townshend encountered many devotees in the big cities, meaning primarily Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Detroit, Chicago, and Philadelphia. He conveys the impression that San Francisco was the main scene of action for young devotees. They treated him as a "Baba Celebrity," despite the fact that his fame was not achieved by any spiritual effort (as he himself emphasised). These people favoured a "Baba hug," and Townshend followed suit. This improvisation was unknown in England during the mid-1960s. He also encountered Sufism Reoriented, an organisation led by Murshida Ivy O. Duce, a senior American devotee of Meher Baba who gained more fame than most of the other followers.
The superstar refers to "hundreds of semihearsay stories" about Meher Baba in devotee circles (a number of these reports gained very loose transmission in the passage between different countries). Many of the other young devotees had likewise not met Meher Baba, whose last years were basically lived in a form of seclusion. Townshend does indicate that Meher Baba set high standards and referred to subjects not generally comprehended or assimilated. Of the devotees in general, he says: "They see the obvious sense and logic in Baba's words, and yet can hardly ever put the realisations into action."
Townshend was honest in some personal reflections. In the same article, he remarks that "I am my own worst enemy," meaning in such situations as "doing the exact opposite of what I feel intuitively I should really do."
6. Alcohol and Keith Moon
The Who album Live at Leeds (1970) has been called by fans the greatest live album in rock history. On concert platforms, Pete Townshend was more energetic than most other guitarists. The dramatic "windmill" movement of his guitar arm was accompanied by leaps of four feet above the ground. Guitars were very disposable, each costing hundreds of pounds. In referring to the outset of the 1970s, Townshend makes an evocative statement:
"My characteristic stance on stage - the leaping, windmilling and wrecking of guitars - was by now a purely physical display of macho swagger, yet at a psychic level the Angry Yobbo, or hooligan, had seared himself into my soul." (Who I Am, p. 194)
In 1970 he began to experience "regular manic-depressive episodes" (p. 210). To calm himself down, he drank alcohol. After one concert, Townshend wandered into the audience, got into a fight, and then drove home at a dangerous speed. He got lost, and indeed lost consciousness (p. 210). The problem is attributed to exhaustion. The following year, "I was still experiencing manic-depressive anxiety attacks, hearing voices and music, seeing visions; the only medication that helped was alcohol" (p. 213).
The "medication" which Townshend prescribed for himself was probably not conducive to a basic problem that he mentions rather briefly: "My spiritual longings, and continuing attachment to Meher Baba, were constantly under siege by all-too-worldly ambitions, undermined by residual scepticism and ambivalence, and challenged by my sexual yearnings" (p. 192).
Townshend had composed the "rock opera" Tommy, which became famous and successful as a film. He also developed a strong capacity to drink brandy even while on stage. Moon and Entwistle were both alcoholics and users of cocaine, and also opted for the complication of mandrax (a sedative drug which became popular, but was dangerous in overdose; mandrax and variants were often used to enhance sexual activity). In contrast, Daltrey "smoked a little grass [cannabis], and occasionally drank alcohol" (p. 224). In a 1970 interview, Townshend had said: "I believe rock can do anything, it's the ultimate vehicle for everything" (p. 236). This belief can be regarded as misleading.
In 1973, Townshend devoted much industry to recording Quadrophenia with The Who. The focus for this activity was their expensive new Ramport studio in Battersea, which cost £330,000. "I drank Rémy Martin by the pint" (p. 248). That means heavy alcohol. He and Daltrey disagreed over something, and Pete lashed out with the neck of his guitar. In self-defence, Roger responded by knocking out the attacker. Townshend attributes his own aggression to "mainly exhaustion and frustration, not booze" (p. 252).
In November 1973, at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, Keith Moon "collapsed on stage after taking three elephant tranquilliser tablets" (p. 255). The potentially fatal ingestion was a consequence of Moon's hedonistic outlook. He pursued all sensations, including strong tranquillisers; nothing should be denied him. The following month, Moon held a party at a new luxury hotel suite in Montreal. Townshend was involved in the resulting mayhem, started by Moon. A sofa was thrown out of the window into the elegant courtyard gardens. Everything in the room was destroyed. That demolition job resulted in all the party being put in jail until the damages were paid; Roger Daltrey was also jailed, but he had not attended the violent event (pp. 256-7).
Even this dramatic occurrence is an understatement. "Moon the Loon" (as he became known) had adopted a lifestyle of destruction (perhaps influenced to some extent by the Townshend "art" demonstrations on stage). Moon ravaged hotel rooms and the homes of friends. Throwing furniture out of high windows was too tame for him; he set fire to some buildings. Many thousands of pounds figured on the repair bills, indeed about half a million dollars in America (according to estimate). His mood was often triggered by drugs and alcohol. As a consequence of his extremism, The Who were banned from hotel chains throughout the world; it is reported that none of the hotels in New York would host them. (6)
In 1974, Townshend was enlisted by rock star Eric Clapton on a mission to separate Beatle George Harrison (1943-2001) from his wife. The domestic plan of action is of less interest here than Townshend's ideological encounter with Harrison, with whom he talked for two hours in friendship. These two superstars were both inseparably associated with Eastern religion. Harrison was happy to talk about Indian mysticism, and also his use of cocaine. "I found it hard to follow his reasoning that in a world of illusion nothing mattered, not wealth or fame, drug abuse or heavy drinking, nothing but love for God" (p. 265). Yet Townshend says that "his [Harrison's] spiritual commitment was absolute" (p. 266).
In both India and the West, the Vedantic doctrine of maya (illusion) has often provided a very superficial excuse for the avoidance of due responsibility. Harrison became committed to the Hare Krishna tradition. He was a very wealthy man, living in a mansion, but was unusual among superstars for his commendable identification with gardening. Resort to cocaine is no proof of wisdom.
Roger Daltrey had now acquired a twin-engined Jet Ranger helicopter, having "become ostentatiously rich" (p. 277). Keith Moon was seen to be jealous. In 1975, Moon was arrested in Scotland after being "brutally rude to the ground staff" at an airport (p. 281). The unpredictable drummer is said to have been frustrated over the millions spent on stage resources that would earn him nothing personally. "The Who were the first stage act in the world to employ high-powered lasers for dramatic lighting effects" (p. 280).
In 1977, Pete Townshend discovered that he possessed one million and three hundred thousand dollars on high interest deposit in a New York bank (p. 300). In his various deliberations about, and frictions with, The Who, he asked the deceased Meher Baba (d. 1969) what to do. He immediately heard a voice say: "Go back to The Who until further notice" (p. 278). Townshend adds that this was not what he hoped to hear. He certainly did go back, despite the gulf between himself and Daltrey, and the big problem represented by Moon.
An issue pertains as to whether a discarnate entity is available to supplicants in the everyday world. Devotee beliefs about Meher Baba and other gurus are not convincing elsewhere. Some say that if Meher Baba really were disposed to contact believers in this manner, then he would have imparted to Townshend a strong caution about the rock star's addiction to alcohol.
Moon soon became "half-dead from alcohol-related exhaustion and the sedatives he was taking" (p. 306). His performance as a drummer was becoming uneven to the extent that "recording was almost impossible." As a compensation, Moon had started to wear "a huge fur coat," and invented a story that Hollywood had agreed to cast him as the next James Bond (pp. 304-5). Townshend afterwards visited Moon in Malibu, California, where the latter was "drinking very hard." The visitor made the mistake of drinking with the arch-addict, and says he could not keep up, which suggests that the Who drummer had gone into the further reaches of consumption. A setback is stated. "Instead of helping him, I got caught up in his great parade, and almost forgot why I'd gone over to see him in the first place" (p. 308).
Moon afterwards returned to London in 1978, living in a flat opposite the Playboy Club. His basic tactic appears to have been "juggling doctors to create confusion and to get the most medication he could, especially to relieve the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal" (p. 308). Keith Moon died in September; he had overdosed with medication. His reckless addictions, occurring over many years, had finally caught up with him. He was only thirty-two years old.
7. Fall into Drugs and Rehabilitation
The effect on Townshend was acute. "The incredibly charged emotions around Keith's death made me lose all logic" (p. 309). He was very worried about his deficient hearing, and had formerly resolved not to tour with The Who, despite pressure from Roger Daltrey to do so. Yet now Townshend urged Daltrey and Entwistle to undertake a new tour, and found a replacement drummer. The new Who quartet performed their first concert in May 1979, in London.
The ensemble moved on to Cannes and Scotland. In Edinburgh, Townshend "got spectacularly drunk at a nightclub," blanking out. Female attentions resulted in his body being "covered in bruises, scratches, love-bites and teethmarks" (p. 314). When The Who subsequently toured America, he was drinking on stage, and "at my parties at the Navarro there were lots of beautiful girls" (p. 316). His wife Karen was the subject of some laments that she did not love him anymore, though "maybe a little," to use her own words. "Karen was getting sick of me, my selfishness, my overwork, my drinking" (p. 313). He tried to obtain the advice of a senior Indian devotee of Meher Baba, namely Adi K. Irani, when the latter visited London. It is not stated whether the alcohol problem was mentioned; this factor could obviously make a difference to assessment. Adi commented that even a little love (from Karen) was enough (p. 315). He probably needed to say rather more than that. Haphazard guidance from the Meher Baba contingent was not enough to prevent the unstable rock star from alcoholic surfeit and hitting cocaine. (7)
The superstar made many mistakes at this period. "Our shows were becoming incendiary and unpredictable, and he [manager of The Who] often described my stage persona during this period as 'malevolent' " (p. 323). Townshend was offered cocaine, and proved compliant. "I seemed to be operating with a completely new rule book: there was no point in trying to control my life" (p. 326).
After a concert in Switzerland, he suffered extreme withdrawal symptoms, and then told his manager (Bill Curbishley) that he needed cocaine. The manager "just gazed at me like the wreck I'd become, and ignored me; he must have had dozens of such run-ins with Keith [Moon] in recent years" (p. 330). Townshend had now slipped to the same level as the disintegrating Moon.
Only part of the downfall is described in Who I Am (a much edited work, the original manuscript being twice as long). Another account is more detailed (Giuliano, Behind Blue Eyes, 1996, pp. 184ff.). The new year of 1980 is here described as the beginning of a two year "big blast." Townshend's wife Karen would not accept his disruptive drinking at home, and so he drank elsewhere. He moved into a flat on King's Road, and frequented trendy nightclubs, an activity involving disposable girlfriends. He came to the conclusion that "I'm actually missing out because I don't use drugs." Having ample money, he supplied himself and "about fifty other people" with cocaine; the hangers-on followed him around the London club scene. His newly favoured drug adversely affected his performance on stage. In California, he would "wander off into private jams at the end of numbers, leaving Daltrey standing bewildered."
Adding an amphetamine to his diet in large quantities, Townshend became a backstage spectacle, "blathering nonstop to anyone within hearing distance until early in the morning" (Giuliano, p. 189). During a flight from New York to London, he was "a one-man show of lunacy, lunging at stewardesses who passed, standing up in the aisle to make impromptu speeches.... before dipping into someone's meal, chewing on a wad of food, and then spitting it out at surrounding passengers" (Giuliano, p. 189). After several weeks of disconcerting behaviour, his old friend Richard Barnes confronted him in a dressing room, but to no avail. Townshend "gnawed at the side of his mouth and mumbled how he was in control and knew what he was doing."
The rock star had more lucid moments in which he would say: "I'm very heavily into Meher Baba, but I also drink like a fish. I'm not the most honest person in the world" (Giuliano, p. 189). There is certainly honesty in such statements as: "I'd often wake up in the morning with a roomful of girls I'd never seen before, simply because I had been so drunk the night before" (Giuliano, p. 191).
At a London concert in February 1981, "an already thoroughly drunk Townshend consumed a monstrous four bottles of brandy onstage" (ibid., p. 192). This feat has also been described in terms of four pints of brandy. It certainly makes beer-drinking seem like a lemonade spree. Tanked up with liquor, the guitarist moved into improvised solos that did not fit the occasion. In response, Daltrey slammed down two microphones, and stormed off the stage, with Entwistle and Kenney Jones following. The objectors refused to come back for an encore.
By mid-1981, Pete Townshend was in debt for £1 million. In September, while drinking at a night club, someone gave him heroin. He passed out, and the giant bouncer placed him in his chauffeured car waiting outside. His lips were blue, and he had stopped breathing. The victim of excess was taken to a Chelsea hospital and connected to a life support machine, which resuscitated him. He was wearing a suit in which every pocket was stuffed with drugs. Townshend attributed his condition to alcohol poisoning from brandy (in his autobiography, he says that he had overdosed on cocaine).
He continued in his self-destructive career, and was told that heavy cocaine use was destroying his voice. Following the advice of a doctor, he retreated to a cabin on the Thames for gardening, rowing, and writing. This gesture of sanity eliminated his drug use and reduced the alcohol intake. However, Townshend soon reverted to the artificial London lifestyle and the disease of nightclubs. The key to living had again been lost.
Giuliano describes the rock star as an addict of heroin at this period, smoking that substance, originally unaware that his cocaine waterpipe had been laced with heroin. In addition, Townshend had a very compulsive mood for alcohol. He was suffering "terrifying shakes." His doctor told him to row on the Thames for three hours every day, or else he would die. The addict did not want the exercise, and spent five days at an alcoholism clinic in November. Townshend stopped drinking, but still consumed cocaine and heroin. His addiction was hydra-headed. His doctor had to prescribe a strong tranquilliser to reduce alcohol craving. This had been the plight of Keith Moon.
Townshend consumed the full prescription of Ativan tablets all at once, and procured additional tablets from a dealer. He was also still smoking heroin in secret. His condition became so critical that he was actually given a heroin prescription in order to avoid the far more dangerous Ativan. At Christmas he visited his parents, but could not fool his father with the tale of sobriety. Pete Townshend was "haggard and thin, the ravages of narcotics edged in his face" (Giuliano, p. 198). A doctor said that the victim looked as if he had been in a concentration camp.
The account in Who I Am seems rather casual by comparison. Townshend here says that he did not use a huge amount of cocaine himself, that he still preferred brandy, and that he "often slept with the bottle in my arms cuddled like a baby" (p. 330). He says that in his home at Cleeve, "I chatted to the devil himself," and the odour was nauseating (p. 354). The next morning he called his doctor, who prescribed him Ativan (and sleeping pills) as mentioned above. He does not mention the Christmas visit to his parents, but says that as Christmas (of 1981) approached, he began freebasing cocaine in New York, where he "spent the entire time cooking up cocaine with Wall Street traders" (p. 355).
In this instance, a rehabilitation did occur. In early 1982, Townshend went to California for a month of neuroelectric therapy, which produced a beneficial effect, switching off addiction. The full psychological process was more complex. Five years of psychotherapy followed, with much analysis of memories. "I was troubled a little by anxiety attacks" (Who I Am, p. 366). Townshend reportedly unlocked intense anger at both the music industry and himself. "I'd created this new hierarchy of rock as something so powerful and important while at the same time I wasn't producing anything worthwhile" (Giuliano. p. 200). He even compared himself to Hitler in the role he had played by the late 1970s.
Pete Townshend is on record as saying: "I'm talking about an industry that feeds on the frustration, the insecurity and desolation of the young. They don't care whether the stuff they sell is wholesome, whether it's true, helpful, or whether it has a function. All they care is if it sells" (Giuliano, p. 200).
Townshend went back to his wife for some years, and became an editor at the London publishing house of Faber, who published his book Horse's Neck (1985). He continued his musical career, and commendably supported a number of charities, especially in relation to survivors of abuse and addiction. His autobiography denies the allegations made against him in 2003, concerning a purported interest in child pornography on the web. He supplies details that negate the allegations (Who I Am, pp. 482ff.).
While Townshend survived the cocaine and alcohol damage, John Entwistle did not. In 2002, the latter died from a heart attack induced by cocaine. Entwistle had been taking heart medication, but continued to drink the occasional glass of brandy, and secretively resorted to cocaine. His death occurred in a Las Vegas hotel room; he was forty-seven years old. Townshend refers to the "occasionally crazy behaviour" of his colleague (pp. 477ff.).
8. Meher Baba Oceanic in Context
Pete Townshend became known for a failed project of the 1970s called Meher Baba Oceanic, which is almost completely missing from his autobiography. Much of the space he gives to this subject (pp. 289ff.), merely describes how he purchased the boathouse on the Thames, which he converted into the Oceanic Centre. This Centre at Twickenham was opened in 1976. Townshend awarded a priority on those premises to filming, video editing, and recording sessions. There was no link with earlier "Meher Baba Centres," although he did emphasise the importance of "close disciples" he had heard about, and some of whom he had met.
The early Townshend solo album Who Came First (1972) signalled his affinity with Meher Baba (1894-1969), evident at a glance via the photographs appearing on the sleeve, including two large colour images of Meher Baba at Meherazad ashram (from the film Beyond Words). Townshend's boiler suit was here adorned with a devotee badge. The songs notably featured a rendition of Meher Baba's Parvardigar prayer. In general, pictorial and verbal significances of the album seem to have been lost upon many of the listeners, despite the sense of profundity often associated with this creation.
That same year, an interview with Townshend appeared in an Indian devotional magazine, evidencing his strong partisan orientation to Meher Baba, and his firm resolve to avoid drug use. His various statements included: "I must serve then, my Master Meher Baba.... Serving Baba is not praying from a remote chapel.... It is living one's life true to the only philosophy worthy of the name, the philosophy of the Master" (N. Anzar, "Pete Townshend Superstar," Glow Quarterly vol 7 no. 1:23-8, Feb. 1972, pp. 26-7).
In the same article, Townshend said: "No seducer on earth could persuade me to become a victim of the cyclic paranoia caused by drugs, disguising my karma so skilfully, ever again" (Anzar, p. 24 col. 2). A year later (January 1973), on the night of a concert, Townshend "took a small puff of my first marijuana in more than five years" (Who I Am, p. 244). The seducer was a rock musician. The erratic karma was also further disguised at that time by "amyl nitrate in liquid form," another temptation proffered by a musician. A heavy reliance on brandy soaked the karma during the 1970s, and the guard was down against cocaine addiction at the end of that decade.
In the autobiography Who I Am, Townshend makes a fair number of references to Meher Baba, mostly fleeting, but with an underlying impression conveyed of some basic personal interest. He was a follower of Meher Baba from 1968 onwards (having previously been a flying saucer enthusiast). Baba's anti-drug message exerted a strong influence upon him. In early 1968, while in California, Townshend started to cease smoking marijuana (cannabis), formerly a favoured habit. "Meher Baba had counted marijuana among those drugs he wished sincere followers to stop abusing" (pp. 144-5). Townshend had by then ingested LSD four times (pp. 105, 121-2), but did not revert to that hallucinogenic substance. Meher Baba was very firmly against the use of LSD.
A passage in Who I Am can be misleading. Townshend describes how, when he visited the Meher Baba Centre at Myrtle Beach (South Carolina), he had a vision in which he was the physical lover of Meher Baba (pp. 226-7). This vision (or hallucination) does not reflect the real life entity of Meher Baba, who was against all promiscuity. The latter was the Irani equivalent of a Trappist monk, observing strict celibacy and silence; however, his teaching was very different to Christianity. That teaching is far removed from contemporary license.
Townshend very briefly describes Meher Baba, saying he was "born of Persian parents" (p. 139), which means Zoroastrian ancestry in this instance, an understated factor in the Meher Baba movement (his father was Sheriar Mundegar Irani). Townshend remarks that he "found the story hard to fathom" of how the figurehead "became God-realised" at the hands of the old woman Hazrat Babajan. This is an honest comment; such events are not generally analysed in sufficient detail. The narrator also refers to Meher Baba making "dozens of trips to the West" (p. 139) from 1931. This is an exaggeration; in fact, there were ten visits during the 1930s, and three in the 1950s. Meher Baba observed silence, and unlike many gurus, was not generally available to visitors, a primary reason why Townshend and many other new wave devotees never met him.
The account by Townshend reveals a heavy dependence upon the version of Delia DeLeon (1901-1993), a senior British devotee who lived in London, and whom he regarded as a mentor. Townshend relays a basic misconception which influenced many other enquirers also. "Until 1967 Delia had been holding together a group of followers who called themselves lovers of the Master, with occasional gatherings at the Poetry Society, many of whose members were despairing of politics in the 1930s" (p. 140). That is a very misleading report, and one reflecting the 1970s contraction of events by young devotees who accepted DeLeon as an authority.
Very briefly, gatherings at the Poetry Society (in a hired room) did not date back to the 1930s (when other events were in process), and DeLeon was not solely responsible for maintaining those gatherings. Her influence in the London group did not become predominant until the late 1960s. Furthermore, the eccentric tag of "lovers" was a late development reflecting Indian and American influence, and did not gain general use in England until 1967-68. For many years, the British devotees in London called themselves the Friends of Meher Baba.
The present writer was one of those who attended monthly meetings in a hired room at the Poetry Society (Earl's Court Square) during 1965-6. The new wave of young devotees was not then in evidence, and the terminology used was very different. DeLeon was then an unofficial third in the rank of leaders, although she liked to give the impression that she had a special prominence. The acknowledged leader was Charles Purdom, an English intellectual and author with a lecturing ability, who gave talks. DeLeon (a former actress) had no such ability, and did not write books. An influential entity was Meher Baba's brother Adi S. Irani, resident in London, and who had developed a strong (if unspoken) sense of rivalry with DeLeon. The latter herself complained to me in 1966 that she had never been invited to Adi's home during the ten years he had lived in England.
I was attentive to several Eastern devotees, who later evaporated. There were Parsis and Iranis, Hindus, and one Muslim (and his family). Most were Westernised, although a senior man with a turban asserted by way of greeting: "I am Muslim!" This was the first time I had ever talked with a Muslim, and I was very pleased to do so. Hushang Ali Patel was an Indian Muslim, and had been a devotee of Zoroastrian-born Meher Baba for many years; he was a close friend of the Hindu devotee Inder Sain, a scientist who had graduated at London University. The elimination of religious barriers was impressive. Yet some of the Asians were resentful of the British tendency to assume airs of prowess. A very private assessment of DeLeon came from an Indian critic (in the 1960s), expressing the complaint that she had not achieved what Meher Baba had delegated her to do many years before, and that she was reluctant to empty her purse. DeLeon customarily asserted that she was one of Baba's "nearest and dearest," a statement that did not always meet with a ready acceptance.
There were also divisions amongst the British devotees. For instance, I asked Delia DeLeon about Ann Powell (d. 1965) after the latter's death; Ann had encountered Meher Baba the same year (1931) as Delia. The adamant reply came: "Oh, but she would not have fitted in with us!" The "us" here was a reference to the elite status of Kimco, a small group of English middle class women who followed Meher Baba during the 1930s and after. The working class Powell ("Welsh Ann") certainly did fit in with Will and Mary Backett at Old Oak Cottage, near Sevenoaks, being their closest friend and confidante until the end. Ann passed on to me various reminiscences, included in an unpublished book. See also Shepherd, Investigating the Sai Baba Movement, 2005, pp. 253ff.
"Very few people knew that she [Powell] served 'Kimco' as a domestic servant during the early 1930's; they treated her as inferior, assuming that their more privileged and affluent middle-class background meant that they were more 'elect' " (Shepherd, Meher Baba, an Iranian Liberal, 1988, p. 276). The book cited here was suppressed by the Myrtle Beach Centre, strongly associated with Kimco; the Centre personnel resisted any possible criticism of authority figures. The class divide has thus been endorsed in an American "new religious movement," despite the rhetoric about love and democracy.
Ann Powell was effectively cut out of the annals by Kimco biases. This Welsh woman was unassuming, and never preened herself, unlike certain other devotees. "Fred Marks conveyed to me in 1965 that she (Powell) was very similar in disposition to the Backetts, whom he had known very well since the 1940s, being a weekly visitor to Old Oak Cottage" (Investigating the Sai Baba Movement, p. 226). "I can vouch for the fact that Powell was totally self-effacing in her attitude.... Her approach was intuitive; she used very little devotional terminology" (Meher Baba, an Iranian Liberal, pp. 276, 293). Indeed, her diction lacked the heavy accents found in some Backett phraseology; Ann was different to Will and Mary in this respect.
The Backetts were commemorated in an article appearing in The Awakener, written by Kitty Davy (another member of Kimco, who moved to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina). Davy would not have written that souvenir unless Meher Baba had requested her to do so. The Davy article Thirty Years in the Service of Meher Baba (1963) is a relevant source, but substantially incomplete, and with some important factors completely missing, including Ann Powell. "Davy had not been part of their milieu after the 1937 sojourn at Nasik, and only some basic details are covered in her article" (Investigating the Sai Baba Movement, p. 227). "In [Will] Backett's eyes, Delia was superficial in many ways, and a person who was not sufficiently one-pointed" (ibid., p. 254). Friction with DeLeon even made him ill (ibid., pp. 256-7). Will Backett "learnt that devotion does not necessarily produce wisdom, and can even cause illness" (ibid., p. 257).
Will Backett (d. 1963) and his wife Mary were the real backbone of the British contingent of Meher Baba devotees. Formerly affiliates of the Inayat Khan Sufi movement, they transferred allegiance to Meher Baba after meeting him in London. He visited their home in 1933. They lived a very simple and committed life at their rural cottage in Kent; Mary (d. 1962) wore distinctive garb and used a spinning wheel to make her own clothes. Their home became the unofficial centre for many British followers over three decades. They moved to Acton, London, in 1951; in their new home, they were also hosts to diverse Asian devotees, who rated them highly. Their modest five room Acton bungalow was the only British "center of information about Meher Baba" listed in The Awakener (an American journal on Meher Baba) during the 1950s. The Davy article described this domestic venue as "the meeting house for East and West" until 1962.
In contrast, Delia DeLeon lived in Richmond, being relatively inaccessible, and effectively cut off from the Asian devotees (although during the 1960s, her address was listed in The Awakener). A routine monthly meeting in a hired room, at the imposing Poetry Society edifice, was her idea of dynamic activity. That large room featured a fireplace, with grand nineteenth century decor, typical of the British Empire period.
"Powell's [private] assessment of DeLeon was less flattering than the latter would have wished. According to Powell, it was not DeLeon whom Baba had honoured but the Backetts" (Investigating the Sai Baba Movement, p. 228). A related conclusion is that "the intrinsic history of some sects has been obscured by those in assertive roles" (ibid.). Of course, the book here quoted was suppressed on Wikipedia by the converging Sathya Sai Baba and Meher Baba sectaries (and trolls). The doubtful Wikipedia moral is: never tell what really happened, the legends being preferred instead by devotees and cultists.
I discovered that Fred Marks (d. 1985), a former schoolteacher, had contracted a psychological complex in relation to a theme of DeLeon. The Kimco version of events emphasised the priority of devotees who had met Meher Baba in the 1930s. In one of my first conversations with him (and I had many), Fred was evasive about the time he had become a follower, saying that he was not far behind Kitty Davy and the others. He transpired to be a 1940s tyro who had met the master in 1952, and was thus over twenty years behind Davy. The latter had tended to acquire an aura of prestige, due to her residence at the Myrtle Beach Centre. Fred felt at a similar disadvantage to Charles Purdom (1883-1965), although the latter did not present himself as an elite entity, and was admirably sober in this respect. Also in his favour, Purdom "did not exaggerate, and was sceptical of the devotional tendency to distort facts" (Investigating the Sai Baba Movement, p. 246).
Purdom had called Jean Adriel's book Avatar (1947) "a highly coloured personal account." His own tone of reporting in The God-Man (1964) was distinctly impersonal, and in a category apart from devotionalist literature. A man of varied talents, Purdom had not always seen eye to eye with the views of Kimco in the 1930s; whatever their merits, those women gained a reputation for frivolity. I watched Purdom chat amicably with DeLeon, but this was a man who had remained aloof from all the other devotees for seventeen years after he had first met Meher Baba in 1931. Purdom was markedly independent; he cannot be called a devotee in the usual sense of the word.
In 1965, Purdom contributed an address on Ramakrishna of Dakshineswar (d. 1886), read out by Mollie Eve in his absence due to illness. I attended on that occasion; the talk was well informed, and also liberal. "There was not the slightest bias against another 'movement' in this paper" (Meher Baba, an Iranian Liberal, pp. 191, 256; see also Investigating the Sai Baba Movement, p. 246). Such an inclusive gesture could not have occurred a few years later, when the new Meher Baba Association (led by DeLeon) adopted an insular programme. All other spiritual entities were then considered so inferior that reference to them was scarcely legitimate. Even Meher Baba's own "masters" were considered a tiresome distraction by some segregationists.
Purdom's independent outlook clashed with some themes favoured by Don Stevens and Ivy Duce, the American exegetes of Sufism Reoriented. There were frictions between that "Meher Baba" satellite and the devotee movement at large, but Purdom was an extra factor. He did not adhere to the standard devotional doctrine of the avatar, and tended to favour a modified version. After Purdom's death, and when the new American wave changed the London group in the late 1960s, Stevens became an exponent (in London) of Meher Baba's Discourses. His interpretations were accepted as canonical by the Meher Baba Association. Yet Purdom would have been in some disagreement. The Stevens version was accompanied by a mood of religious insularity, converging with Adi K. Irani's proselytising approach in India and abroad. Critics said that the Sufism of Stevens was inseparable from the avatar theme of the devotional movement.
The Hindu Inder Sain (alias Sen) was a 1940s convert in India, and one of the very few attendees at the 1950s London meetings who could hold ground in an argument with Purdom. Sain had a degree in physics and could be voluble. He respected Purdom, but diverged. His response to DeLeon was not enthusiastic; he said in private that "some devotees say they will give their heads for Meher Baba, but they will not give their money."
Sain himself sent all his wages to the ashram, retaining only what he needed for basic expenses. His professional income as a designer in electronics was donated "to help maintain Meherazad ashram in India as Baba had wished" (Meher Baba, an Iranian Liberal, p. 292). No other person in that category is on record, insofar as I am aware. He moved away from London in the late 1950s, living in Nottingham, where he conducted group meetings in friendship with Hushang A. Patel, the Muslim whose family (including six daughters) were also attendees. This Hindu-Muslim alliance was a totally independent phenomenon from the British Friends in London. DeLeon's claim of being the "nearest and dearest" was not accepted by the Asian innovators.
The major opponent of Sain transpired to be Meher Baba's brother Adi S. Irani (Adi Junior), resident in London from 1956. They knew each other well, and Inder would regularly visit Adi's home. Inder was a teetotaller, but Adi liked to drink alcohol. Adi was envious when Inder established a group in Cambridge. Adi maintained a persona as the ambassador of Meher Baba, and demanded recognition accordingly. In contrast, Inder did not claim any importance, maintaining that he was an ordinary man. As the years passed, he demonstrated a tendency to self-effacement (and abasement) which surpassed even the low profile of working class Ann Powell. While Adi Junior was an authoritarian, Inder was increasingly a mystic. Inder was eventually denounced by Adi, and distorted stories gained circulation. He was even mistaken for an alien rival guru by devotee gossip in America. In reality, he continued to live as a scientist and adherent of Meher Baba, far removed from the guru zone.
By the time Pete Townshend became a prestigious devotee, many earlier members of the London group (Friends of Meher Baba) had died or vacated the scene. Adi S. Irani and many others are a complete blank in the Townshend version. Adi S. Irani (Adi Junior) receded from the limelight when the rock star acquired profile as the protégé of DeLeon. Adi told me in 1973 that he was averse to the new influences strongly associated with DeLeon and Townshend. Neo-hippy terminology had become fashionable, such as "Baba's love game" and "Baba's umbrella." Some relevant details have appeared. (8) Another curiosity was the "Baba hug," an American improvisation favoured by Townshend.
In the early 1970s, I made a few visits to the new Meher Baba Association in London (at Eccleston Square, Victoria), and observed substantial differences to the format of meetings in earlier years. The tone of mawkish sentiment and avatar cliche was offputting. "Beloved Baba" was promoted by devotees who had little interest in historical detail. I requested a meeting with a young luminary of poetic tendency; I spent much of the time listening to his version of priorities, which I found reductionist (without declaring this reservation). He did not even know what had happened at the "London group" in earlier years. It was a waste of time trying to say anything different to the prevailing sense of expertise. I was not a critic of Meher Baba, but increasingly averse to devotee dogmas and blindspots.
At one of these meetings, Pete Townshend himself was present. He showed a film about the Meherabad tomb (of Meher Baba), which he had visited, and gave a running commentary. I concluded that his interest in Meher Baba was quite genuine, if bounded by standard devotional concepts acquired from DeLeon and others. I was not introduced to him, and never sought autographs. I merely observed on that occasion. I never saw Townshend again; that was the sole occasion of proximity.
The rock star was then a benefactor of the Meher Baba Association, as the group was now known, providing their venue. It was obvious that English and American devotees fawned on him, regarding him as a great celebrity. However, Townshend had guarded against the elevation, saying: "Some younger ones look to me as some kind of spiritually together superstar adviser, to be hugged carefully and regarded with awe. In fact, worldly success and spiritual advancement are totally unconnected" (Giuliano, Behind Blue Eyes, p. 119).
9. Termination of Meher Baba Oceanic
The short-lived phase of Meher Baba Oceanic is not memorable for any positive outcome. An American author, who had some experience of the new Centre, records that Oceanic fell into "a hopeless tailspin shortly after the grand and auspicious opening" (Giuliano, Behind Blue Eyes, p. 144). Furthermore, the same writer states that "by early 1977, although he still paid lip service to Baba's philosophy, Pete was finding it very difficult to adhere to the strict lifestyle" (ibid., p. 146). This reflection is attended by the detail that, subsequently, Townshend's "enthusiasm for all things [Meher] Baba faded" (ibid.).
The premises of Oceanic became a studio for Townshend's personal career in the early 1980s (the name Meher Baba being dropped, although the Oceanic tag was retained). His best friend (and annalist of The Who), namely Richard Barnes, refers to Townshend's constant changes of plan at Meher Baba Oceanic in the vintage period, and adds:
"Pete was like a rich kid with too many toys. The place was supposed to be an English Baba centre, but apart from Pete's secretary, it was, for the first year or so, full of Americans. Many were very sycophantic, and I fully expected one day to see the photographs of Baba on the walls replaced by those of Pete.... I was staggered at the stupidity of some of the people Pete had given key jobs.... The whole place seemed to be a reflection of his own confused state of mind at that time." (9)
In his autobiography, Townshend describes how in October 1976, after a concert, he had a sexual encounter with a girl in Toronto. "The sex was purely carnal.... I was a hard man, a rocker, strutting the next day through the airport in high-heeled Frye boots that elevated me to six foot three" (Who I Am, p. 295). He dreaded returning home to London, in the face of diverse pressures from the music world, the Meher Baba contingent, and his wife Karen. Townshend then makes an ambiguous disclosure:
"Of course I had set myself up for failure; I could never be the right kind of Meher Baba follower, not if I continued to work in rock. Yet rock was where I was meant to be; it was the place where I had to take on board whatever spiritual lesson it was I had been put on the planet to learn." (Who I Am, pp. 295-6)
One year after the episode in Toronto, the rocker was still acting as leader of the flock at Meher Baba Oceanic. He had effectively become a presiding sectarian authority figure, despite the underlying wane in his enthusiasm. He has since placed himself in the more appropriate context (of rock music) just cited. "Rock was where I was meant to be." However, disagreement can occur as to the educational value of the rocker career. Townshend writes that by the end of the 1970s, "there was no hiding the fact [that] Karen was getting sick of me, my selfishness, my overwork, my drinking" (p. 313). Some of his friends tried to justify his conduct, but Townshend makes the commendable admission that "Karen had grown up, whereas I was having difficulty doing so, in or out of rock" (p. 313). His honesty on such points is refreshing.
When Meher Baba Oceanic terminated, many British devotees were uncertain of what was happening. These people eventually grasped that Townshend had receded. "We have nothing to do with him now," was one statement made in private by a devotee leader to an enquirer. The phase of cocaine addiction () finished his repute amongst devotees. However, Townshend was subsequently known to maintain his respect for Meher Baba, evidenced by an introduction he wrote in 1990 for a devotional book by Delia DeLeon. He there stated: "Meher Baba is the personification of pure love at a magnitude and power unimagined since the advent of Jesus."
10. The Elite and Outsiders
The 1970 article of Townshend in Rolling Stone () was an enthusiastic declaration of commitment to the Meher Baba movement. The rock star here emerged as a devotee. Townshend referred more reservedly to the pop star Melanie, who was at first very interested in Meher Baba, but subsequently "became thoroughly repulsed by overly gushing Baba lovers." Townshend phrased the matter carefully. "Perhaps, and I didn't go into it with her at length, it seemed to be too sore a point to labour, she saw hypocrisy in their eyes."
The implication of Melanie was that devotees talked about love, but squabbled among themselves, and assembled in Meher Baba Centres like ministers of the Church. "She could be right," Townshend conceded, but making clear that he favoured the partisans rather than the critic. Could there be any truth in the contention of love exemplars (or "lovers") striking a discrepant note? Were the ministers necessarily correct in their judgments and tactics?
Townshend's autobiography omits an event which he long ago dismissed as irrelevant. My mother (Jean Shepherd; author name Kate Thomas) requested a meeting with him for the purpose of rectifying misrepresentations of herself which had been perpetuated by devotees for over a decade (she had even been mistaken for another woman). This was in 1977, after Townshend had opened the centre he called Meher Baba Oceanic (commencing in July 1976). She had visited that centre, and believed Townshend to be sincere. She afterwards presented him with an unpublished manuscript concerning 1960s events, and wished to explain related matters.
In November 1977, she met with a very cold reception when she journeyed to Oceanic from her home in Cambridge. Townshend proved very resistant, and dismissed her case. He had perused the manuscript, he said, but rejected the contents. He assumed the air of an anti-delusion expert, which meant that he had to protect his flock at Oceanic against anything different to what close disciples (of Meher Baba) said.
One refrain of Townshend was that a number of the young devotees at Oceanic (mainly Americans) were ex-drug addicts who were still subject to hallucinations. He wrongly equated some of my mother's reporting with psychedelic experiences, which he was in the habit of refuting. She had never taken drugs, and strongly disagreed with drug use. She was far more of a purist than he was, and also totally against alcohol consumption. The assessment by Pete Townshend (then a budding alcoholic) was extremely confused. His opinion was influenced by the narrow perspective of Delia DeLeon and the rather more dogmatic attitude of Adi K. Irani (Adi Senior), an arch-devotee and missionary who had visited Oceanic as a VIP. I have referred to this matter elsewhere.
Townshend prohibited the anti-drug petitioner from attending Oceanic (other than the briefest of visits, which she declined; she was not concerned with attending Oceanic, but in rectifying misrepresentations). His overbearing tactic was one of conformity with official doctrine. He had no interest in a marginalised and suppressed point of view. Meher Baba was the avatar, Delia was a great disciple, and Pete was the virtual messiah of rock, now conducting a Centre of such universal importance that thorough investigation of background details was totally irrelevant.
Jean Shepherd had hoped to discuss further matters not described in her manuscript, but the dismissive leader of Meher Baba Oceanic was not interested (his expensive priorities were filming and recording sessions). One prospective subject was my own case history, which Townshend despatched to oblivion.
There is a relevant qualification to make here. My mother was still concerned about these matters, but I was not. At the age of sixteen, I had discovered the screening process that authority figures will further in a religious context, and I had retained independence accordingly. I never visited Oceanic, not finding the project sufficiently attractive. Films, videos, and recording sessions were not my sector of action, and I found the sloganism of devotees mawkish and repellent, whether or not they worshipped Townshend more than Meher Baba. Instead, I moved into a wide study compass, writing manuscripts and notebooks in a very different kind of project.
While still connected with the Meher Baba movement, in 1966 I had been drawn into a major breach represented by two of the Asian devotees, one of these being Adi Junior (Baba's brother). My mother had supported the underdog, and was reviled by Adi, who projected calumnies. I sided with my mother, knowing what Adi Junior was doing. This situation (only very partially known elsewhere) was commented upon by Meher Baba in different messages, and misconceived by ashram staff in India. See Misrepresentation (and Update). Adi himself later admitted that he and his sister Mani were responsible for a "ban" they carried out against my mother and myself. Townshend did not want to hear any details, not being in contact with Adi Junior, who actually took my mother's side against him. Adi Junior unsuccessfully petitioned Oceanic in her favour; he knew very well that he had created hostile lore about her in former years. Adi Junior was now seriously ill, and aware that the role of "spiritual master," which he had formerly anticipated for himself, was a delusion.
Since that time, the Meher Baba movement in America has harboured tendencies to misrepresentation in my direction, based on faulty reports originating with Adi Junior (who eventually suggested that the movement had gone wrong in the West). The Indian devotees are far less insular than the American conservatives, who have been represented (however indirectly) by aggressive and distorting Wikipedia trolls. See Wikipedia Anomalies and Wikipedia Biases (and Problems). In 1988, the leading Indian devotee Eruch B. Jessawala (10) prudently informed in a letter that there was no "ban" on me, in contradiction to screening attitudes found at the Myrtle Beach Meher Baba Centre. (11) I have discovered that the American devotees do not all think the same way, and the liberals should perhaps speak up louder.
During the late 1970s, Pete Townshend preferred the anarchy of punk rock (12) to the correction of errors circulating in the Meher Baba movement (as requested by Jean Shepherd). Townshend even styled himself as a punk, evidently relishing associations of that word. One of his new relatives in the punk scene was Sid Vicious, a Sex Pistols guitarist, heroin addict, violent headbasher, and masochist who slashed himself with a razor. Vicious met an early death in 1979 through overdose.
A commentator describes the punk craze in terms of "restless, sneering anarchists pointing their rapid-fire, guitar-slashing, brazen, raunchy rock guns against all that was safe and conventional. They were getting attention too, as evidenced by the Sex Pistols' 1977 number-one anthem Anarchy in the UK" (Giuliano, Behind Blue Eyes, p. 157). This enormously commercial "street" anarchy was furthered by the capitalist industry transmitting pop/rock music to the public. One may query the statement of Townshend that "divine desperation is at the root of every punk's scream for blood and vengeance" (ibid.).
Townshend himself became very much a part of the music establishment, and continued his career in an industry that gave him prominent megastar status and attendant economic benefits. Meanwhile, the punk anarchists of the late 1970s discernibly contributed to increasing symptoms of social aggression in Britain, escalating in crime, and visible by 2000 in such disconcerting manifestations as the widespread scenario of yobs carrying knives. Dangerous edged weapons were in evidence to such an extent that the British police force often expressed despair. In July 2008, the British Crime Survey indicated that knife attacks occurred once every four minutes in a country that was formerly law-abiding (see citizen sociology).
Kevin R. D. Shepherd
January 2013 (last modified August 2016)
(1) Geoffrey Giuliano, Behind Blue Eyes: A Life of Pete Townshend (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1996), p. 19. Daltrey was born in East Acton. When he was twelve, his family moved to a more middle class area in Acton, where he was unable to integrate with his new classmates, "who jeered at his cockney accent and abrasive streetwise manner" (ibid.). As a consequence, he was a rebel at Acton Grammar. See also Andy Neill and Matt Kent, The Who 1958-1978: Anyway Anyhow Anywhere (London: Virgin, 2005), pp. 10-11, stating that Daltrey's disruptive behaviour at Acton Grammar caused him to be expelled at the age of fifteen; he then became an electrician's mate on a building site. He made his own accoustic guitar. A feature difficult to avoid in subsequent events was the long-term friction between Daltrey and Townshend. To some extent, this conflict arose from different social backgrounds. "To the rough-cut Roger, Pete was decidedly middle-class, the son of two prominent [musical] artists, the soft, privileged student who'd never done a lick of hard labour in his life" (Giuliano, p. 33). Although Townshend did take part-time jobs as a milkman and a butcher's boy, "that could hardly compare with Daltrey's grinding day job as a sheet metal worker making cabinets for scientific instruments" (ibid.). Furthermore, the gap widened when Townshend was introduced to marijuana by his American flatmate, an event which is said to have alienated Daltrey, who was a beer-drinker in local pubs (ibid., pp. 34-5).
(2) In recent years, Roger Daltrey has claimed that he never dabbled with heavy drugs, remaining clear of addiction problems. He has described the other three members of The Who as "lunatics," in respect of their status as alcoholics, and implying their tendency to strong drugs (Townshend for a limited period only). These details appeared in a British newspaper in 2011. The relevant quotation is: "I was in a band with three alcoholics and someone had to be straight; they were three lunatics." This article also states that Daltrey "was famously thrown out of the band for a week for physically attacking [Keith] Moon, who was providing drugs for the others." Many years later, in 2006, Roger Daltrey was awarded the CBE for services to music and charity, and in 2012 he received an honorary degree from Middlesex University in recognition of his contributions to music.
(3) The inclusion was observed in Gary Valentine Lachman, Turn Off Your Mind: The Mystic Sixties and the Dark Side of the Aqe of Aquarius (London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 2001), p. 7, stating that "Crowley's face appears among the culture heroes the Beatles made famous on the cover [of Sergeant Pepper]... along with C. G. Jung, Edgar Allan Poe and Aldous Huxley." Indian gurus were also represented, in addition to showbiz. The point is made by Lachman that "a few years earlier, talk of astral travel, past lives and third eyes would have met with mod, amphetamine scorn" (ibid.).
(4) John Symonds, The King of the Shadow Realm (London: Duckworth, 1989), p. viii. One of Crowley's favoured names for himself was the Beast 666. Symonds appropriately states that his subject "was totally unintegrated." Crowley's violence is indicated in a line from his Hymn to Pan: "And I rave; and I rape and I rip and I rend."
(5) Townshend was duly cynical of hippy beliefs at the Woodstock Festival; a fantastic new era was supposedly signified by the muddy field laced with LSD. See Mark Ian Wilkerson, Amazing Journey: The Life of Pete Townshend (2006), pp. 131ff. It is here stated that the unfortunate man who ascended the telegraph pole was high on LSD and broke his back. Wilkerson also covers the Isle of Wight festival which occurred soon after, when The Who topped the bill with Bob Dylan, who was making his first stage appearance for several years. Dylan avoided the Woodstock Festival, which was notorious as a drug venue for hippies. Residents of the town of Woodstock reacted to the proposed event in their locality, and the so-called Woodstock Festival had to be held sixty miles from Woodstock at Yasgur's farm near Bethel. The local police officer at Woodstock did not even know exactly where Bethel was located; nevertheless, he had to deal with thouands of hippies who passed through his town. See Howard Sounes, Down The Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan (New York: Grove Press, 2001), pp. 248ff., informing: "There was a sharp increase in drug trading in the town [Woodstock], from marijuana to heroin." Woodstock was an easy bus ride from New York, and hippies liked to gather there. A group of businessmen had "decided to stage a music festival that capitalised on Woodstock's notoriety" (ibid., p. 248). The new music festivals were "an opportunity to make huge profits" (ibid., p. 249). Dylan lived near Woodstock but was comparatively conventional at that time, and reacted to the hippy trend. However, in 1964 he had disastrously influenced the Beatles by introducing them to strong marijuana (ibid., pp. 161-2).
(6) Much information about Keith Moon can be found in Tony Fletcher, Moon: The Life and Death of a Rock Legend (New York: HarperCollins, 2000; British title Dear Boy: The Life of Keith Moon, third edn 2005). There were some fans who believed that Moon would never hurt anyone, but Fletcher points out that Moon's domestic behaviour "was rarely gentlemanly and often physical" (p. xii). In public, Moon could be humorous, and "he sneered at the dominant British stiff upper lip, while appropriating it so effectively as to delete his working class background at will" (ibid., p. x). Keith Moon's rather edged verbal talent meant that he "never met an important person he could not cut down to size with an instant one-liner" (ibid.). The underlying problem, however, was "an almost unparalleled intake of alcohol and drugs" (ibid.). This was possibly the reason why "the higher his income, the greater his debts" (ibid.); his spending excesses included many sportscars. A basic deficiency appears to have been Moon's lack of special interests or hobbies (apart from explosives); if left to himself, he would simply watch television. His stimulus for action was so often the drugs and alcohol mix. See further Dougal Butler, Full Moon: The Amazing Rock and Roll Life of Keith Moon (London: Faber Finds, 2012). This is a reprint of Moon the Loon (1981), written by Moon's roadie and personal assistant. It is evident that cocaine was a strong feature of Moon's final years. He had started his violence when mixing the tablet drugs drynamil and mandrax with alcohol. Drynamil was a favoured mod resort in the 1960s, with an effect similar to amphetamine if taken in a strong dose. In the alcoholic case of Keith Moon, the cocktail results were very hazardous, extending to dynamite and gas guns.
(7) The present writer had correspondence with Adi K. Irani (Adi Senior) during my mid-teens. He was a veteran devotee of Meher Baba, and acted as the latter's secretary from the 1950s. He lived a celibate life, and his major indulgence was the automobile featuring in his secretarial career. He did not live at the ashram, but in private quarters at Ahmednagar. He could be officious, and had a pronounced habit of describing himself as Baba's "disciple and secretary." It was this man who confused my mother with another British woman in events dating to 1964. Furthermore, Adi K. Irani had no comprehension of the subsequent situation two years later, in which I found myself the victim of opposition from his namesake Adi S. Irani (Adi Junior), a man with far more worldly experience; Adi Junior hated my mother for supporting another Asian devotee against his preferred eminence as "Baba's ambassador" in England. Adi Junior was Meher Baba's brother resident in London. Pete Townshend never mentions him or other significant figures in the Meher Baba sector, instead referring mainly to Adi Senior, Delia DeLeon, and Ivy O. Duce. Cf. the critical remarks about Adi Senior in Shepherd, Meher Baba, an Iranian Liberal (Cambridge: Anthropographia, 1988), pp. 221-2. Any criticism of elite disciples is resisted within the Meher Baba movement, and I am a writer outside that zone. For the devotionalist view, see Adi K. Irani, Just To Love Him: Talks and Essays About Meher Baba (Myrtle Beach, SC: Sheriar Press, 1985), which is a collection of public talks featuring the avatar theme.
(8) Shepherd, Investigating the Sai Baba Movement: A Clarification of Misrepresented Saints and Opportunism (Dorchester: Citizen Initiative, 2005), pp. 246, 249ff., 253-60, and including the statement: "The new recruits did not consider historical details to be important. It was 'love and obedience' that were celebrated, even though Meher Baba was dead and no longer gave instructions. Fantasy was the substitute. The new wave [of young devotees] had been taught by DeLeon that Baba had given her a special place as a kind of apostolic heroine, which is how the new recruits regarded her" (ibid., p 251). Cf. Delia DeLeon, The Ocean of Love: My Life with Meher Baba (Myrtle Beach, SC: Sheriar Press, 1991), and featuring an introduction by Pete Townshend, pp. xiv-xv, which affirms that "Meher Baba is the personification of pure love at a magnitude and power unimagined since the advent of Jesus" (p. xv). Townshend also figures in the closing pages of the book. According to DeLeon, attendance at the Poetry Society meetings "became less and less" during the 1960s, apart from the "Christmas Social" and Baba's birthday event (in February). This is at odds with my own experience. Attendance was irregular, but could sometimes swell. When I took two extant photos of that group in September 1966, there were twenty-four people in evidence before me, only two of them children. DeLeon refers to a meeting in the summer of 1967 when only four people were present. By that time, the Asians had largely lost interest in the routine meetings, and others did not attend. I remember one Hindu in 1966 being annoyed with the protocol about certain relics on view; he told me to disregard those (British devotees) in charge, and to inspect the relics at my convenience. I remember being surprised by the strength of his feeling on that point. DeLeon was pleased when four young British newcomers appeared at the sparse 1967 meeting she refers to (ibid., p. 199), including Michael McInnerney, who introduced Townshend to Meher Baba that same year (showing him a book by Purdom). The subsequent influx of young devotees was not without drawbacks. "I found that they all had had drug experiences - heroin, pot, LSD - and most of them had very little sense of time" (ibid., p. 200). DeLeon enthusiastically records how the opening of Meher Baba Oceanic in July 1976 was a ten day event of "music, drama, films, and food" (ibid., p. 213). The sense of reliance on Townshend is obvious. Hundreds of American and British devotees attended (along with Adi K. Irani from India). Only "about twenty-five" of them had met Meher Baba. A special message was received from the Meherazad ashram, including the words: "Our dear Pete, in his love for Beloved Baba, has played a major role in constructing Meher Baba Oceanic. It is now for you all to help make it Baba's Home, where you can gather and work in His Love" (ibid., pp. 214-15). All was not well, however. The Meher Baba Association had to close the centre at Eccleston Square in 1979 "because of a lack of funds," and "Pete kindly offered us the use of Oceanic for our weekly meetings" (ibid., p. 215). The information quickly follows that "Oceanic was very expensive to run, and through this and other problems Pete was forced to close it as a Baba center in 1981" (ibid.). There is no further explanation given as to why Meher Baba Oceanic closed down; the known facts elsewhere provide a strong contrast to the inadequate devotional literature. I can add here that I met DeLeon again in 1973, and talked with her for some hours at her home, gaining further information about Meher Baba, and inspecting her extensive photograph collection for the second time (Meher Baba, an Iranian Liberal, p. 293). She certainly was helpful with information, although her cast of interpretation was questionable on a fair number of points. She made much of her letters from Meher Baba in the 1930s, which were transcribed by F. H. Dadachanji (Investigating the Sai Baba Movement, p. 213). The young devotees I encountered at that period were disappointing, being averse to detailed analysis and content with simple devotional themes.
(9) Giuliano, Behind Blue Eyes: A Life of Pete Townshend (1996), pp. 144-5. Barnes further says of Meher Baba Oceanic that "the whole place was deadly amateurish but with the budgets of professionals." Townshend created "a number of companies under the banner of 'Eel Pie Ltd.' " There were evidently some people who took advantage of his enterprise, even to the extent of spending "all day in a company car looking for a box of staples" (ibid., p. 144). Barnes adds that "mountains of expensive technology" contributed to a situation "far removed from having any real feeling of love surrounding it." The recording studio did not fit the ideal of a Baba Centre. This account has some weight, because Richard Barnes was an early associate of Townshend, was partial to Meher Baba, and was closely informed of events at Oceanic. See also Barnes, The Who: Maximum R & B (Twickenham: Eel Pie Publishing, 1982; new edn, 2004). For a longer book, see Dave Marsh, Before I Get Old: The Story of The Who (St. Martin's Press, 1983).
(10) I had formerly been in correspondence with Eruch (a Parsi) during my youth, starting in 1965 when I sent him a complex question about a rather obscure point in Meher Baba's book God Speaks: The Theme of Creation and Its Purpose (1955). Eruch had been the transcriber of the contents, and responded with a due clarification. On God Speaks, see Shepherd, Meher Baba, an Iranian Liberal (Cambridge: Anthropographia, 1988), Part Two (pp. 66-126), and referring to Eruch on pages 79-80. Eruch was the author of certain (edited) books, including That's How It Was: Stories of Life with Meher Baba (Myrtle Beach, SC: Sheriar Foundation, 1995). In general, Eruch was far more factual in his approach than Adi K. Irani, although he did subscribe to the devotionalist approach.
(11) Details were included in Kate Thomas, The Destiny Challenge (Forres: New Frequency Press, 1992), pp. 141ff. An exception to the "Myrtle Beach blockade" is evident in Ward Parks, ed., Meher Baba's Early Messages to the West: The 1932-1935 Western Tours (Myrtle Beach, South Carolina: Sheriar Foundation, 2009), pp. 223-4, where two notes acknowledge the contribution in my Meher Baba, an Iranian Liberal (1988), and with regard to the well known critics Paul Brunton and Rom Landau. That same book is also listed by Parks in his bibliography (p. 418). This more progressive attitude might eventually countermand the Wikipedia trolls who hinder due assessment of their favoured subject, i.e., Meher Baba.
(12) Giuliano, Behind Blue Eyes, p. 157, and informing: "Whilst other bands were intimidated by the arrival of the punks, Townshend was rejuvenated by that sincerest form of flattery, their often blatant imitation of the Who. He took it as a validation of what he and the band [The Who] stood for." Townshend even said "I want nothing more than to go with them to their desperate hell, because that loneliness they suffer is soon to be over" (ibid., p. 158). The fate of drug addict Sid Vicious is particularly unenviable. Much the same can be said for Keith Moon, despite certain differences between those two unfortunates. In 1980, two writers for the New Musical Express "compared Keith Moon to gutter bum Sid Vicious and said the world was better off without him" (ibid., p. 186). Townshend reacted to that comment with an "acerbic" song.
Copyright © 2016 Kevin R.D. Shepherd. All Rights Reserved. Uploaded January 2013, last modified August 2016.