The Who is a band I’ve always loved. As a kid, I first heard them on the classic rock radio stations. All the hits everybody knows. When I’d save my allowance to buy an album, I was always pleasantly surprised by the other tracks on the record. Always the sign of a good band, when you can like the “b sides” (a term that the young folks won’t understand).
I was about 11 when The Who was releasing the “Face Dances” album. It would be the first without drummer Keith Moon, who was a legend. Nothing more fun than watching videos of that guy jumping around behind the kit. Although I was a bit disappointed when I saved the money to buy that album, I still enjoyed it. Especially the art work on the cover – various faces of the band members painted and drawn in different ways.
It was around the same time that I snuck into an R rated movie called “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” The writer of that film (Cameron Crowe) was a local San Diego guy, so the movie was a bit bigger here in San Diego.
Since he used to write for Rolling Stone (a movie about him was made called “Almost Famous”)…he’s a big music lover and great at picking just the right songs in his movies. He used The Who a lot in “Jerry Maguire.”
There weren’t any Who songs used in Fast Times, but he had my favorite picture of Pete Townshend on the wall in one scene. Famous photographer Annie Lebowitz had taken it. Townshend looked sullen, and his hand was against his face, with blood running down it. I had no idea if the blood was real, but had read a book years ago about the biggest disasters that happened to various bands on stage. One involved a guy getting electrocuted and dying during a rain storm. With Townshend, he was doing his famous windmill swing while playing his axe, and a guitar string caught his thumb nail and ripped it off. He passed out from the pain. And that photo reminded me of that moment, although with Lebowitz, you never know if she just staged the blood. After all, she made The Blues Brothers paint their faces blue (which John Belushi hated), and she had Whoopi Goldberg lay in a bathtub filled with milk for a photo. Either way, the photo is awesome. She has another of Who singer Roger Daltrey up to his neck in the ocean, which would be nice signed, but…I’m getting ahead of myself.
One day when I was working on-air at a classic rock radio station, I mentioned loving that photo. Well, there was a listener that was a pretty bad tweaker, always calling me when I was on-air to try and stump me with trivia. He once brought me a Jimmy Page painting. It was beautiful. I had it in my office for a month, before he showed up at the station one time demanding it back, because he had a person that wanted to buy it and he “really needed the money badly.”
Yet when I told this story, he came up to the station two days later and brought me a framed copy of the Townshend shot. Aw, the perks of being a person that talks on the radio!
My quest to get a signed Who piece was…well, very very frustrating. I bought an early album signed by the band, but it cost me thousands of dollars. A few years later, I questioned the authenticity.
When the play Tommy was first written and performed as a stage play in the early ‘90s, Townshend was coming to town to do a press conference about it. Each reporter would get 10 minutes with him afterwards to ask questions. I brought that Lebowitz photo, and my favorite Who album – Who’s Next.
And ya know what happened? I couldn’t find the venue where the press conference was taking place. I drove around aimlessly, before heading home (this was years before cell phones or GPS, etc). When the play opened a month later, the entire band was coming to the opening. Me and a few friends went, and stood near the entrance with items we wanted signed. The three Who members showed up, each with their own limos. We had been forced to stand across the street by security, but we figured they’d come over. Well, they didn’t. But you know why? None of us said anything. We didn’t think to yell, “Hey Roger, can you sign my album?”
With so many people in tuxedos for opening night, it just felt goofy to yell out to them. So, we watched as they walked in, without a single person getting an item signed.
I was pleasantly surprised to find out Townshend was in town a week later to see the play, and I drove up that afternoon. A bunch of collectors from L.A. had gotten the word and drove down. I showed up a bit late, and there was a crowd of 25. They all saw Townshend get out of a black Mercedes that was at the bottom of the hill (which was roped off). About 20 minutes later he walked into his car and was driving away. My friend and I turned to walk away, until we saw that he stopped his car. Right in the middle of the crowd, and said, “I’ll sign for ya, but just one-a-piece.”
I was running full speed, half a mile across the parking lot, to get back over there. I asked him a few questions, but he didn’t answer. He just kept signing. When I leaned over to my friend and whispered, “I don’t think he heard me,” he snapped, “I bloody heard you!”
Weird that he didn’t want to answer my question about his solo album, but hey – he signed my Who’s Next. Instead of running back to my car, I was skipping, on cloud nine. I was just wondering…who’s next to sign my album?
It might’ve been a year later when bassist John Entwhistle came to town. He was going to be at a record store, and for $5 you could get a signed photo. Can’t beat that price. I paid it, and instead had him sign my Who’s Next and Who Are You albums. What bugged me is that I couldn’t find the Who By Numbers album in my collection. You see, he had drawn the dot-to-dot that graces the cover.
Nothing worse then not being able to find an item that would be perfect with an autograph across it. Yet years later when Entwhistle died after some cocaine in Las Vegas before a show, my friend yelled into the phone, “Why didn’t I go with you that day?! Now I’ll never get my chance to meet the Ox.”
When The Who came to town and played the stadium, there was no way we could get close to them. We didn’t try. But years later, singer Roger Daltrey did a solo show. My friend paid the $550 for the meet-and-greet. He didn’t want to take my item backstage, though. He had a Woodstock piece he was trying to complete, and a few albums himself. He said Daltrey signed everything for everybody, and didn’t have a limit on the items he’d sign. I was so ticked!
Before that same show, I went to the sound check to try and get Daltrey. I was dating a woman at the time, and we had just adopted a dog at the shelter. We were always good about walking him, and after waiting 30 minutes at the venue by the beach, we decided to walk the dog near the beach. We did that, and came back. He still hadn’t shown up. There were 8 other fans waiting. My girlfriend said, “I don’t want to wait here all day. Let’s go get something to eat across the street, and we’ll come back after that.”
We did that, and five minutes after we left, he showed up. He told the fans, “I’ll sign two items for each of you.”
I was out of luck. And to this day, I still don’t have his signature on those albums.
But back to my favorite Townshend picture. Annie Lebowitz came to one of the local colleges for a speaking engagement. I showed up and waited out front. When she was walking in, I asked her to sign the photo. We talked a little about some of her classic shots, and she signed my picture. Now the hard part. I needed Townshend to sign it.
As luck would have it, I met a friend of a friend at a party. He did a little bit of work with the band, and said he might be able to get it signed. He sent it to somebody he works with in England.
Every few months I’d ask about the picture, always getting a different story. Last month, it had been three years since I saw it, when the guy called and said, “My friend should be meeting with Townshend in the next few days. There are 50 things there for him to sign, and he’ll get to your picture.”
I got an email the next day, with the photo. Townshend had signed it! Now…I needed to get it back here to the States.
I agreed to pay for the postage. Since the picture was big, and it was framed – I was told an amount in British pounds. It came out to $135. Yikes! That’s more than you’d spend on an autographed 8x10 of Townshend. I bought a solo album of Townshend’s from RR Auctions years ago for $100. Now I’m paying more than that for postage. But hey – it’s one of my all-time favorite rock ‘n roll photographs.
It came in the mail the other day. A Christmas gift for myself.