The Who have a rich rock opera history, having created successful pieces like Tommy and Quadrophenia. Guitarist Pete Townshend had planned to add to that list with a project titled "Floss," but what began as a musical evolved into his first novel, The Age of Anxiety.
“I didn’t have a desire to write fiction,” Townshend explained in an interview with Rolling Stone. “I wanted something that would allow me to go off in a number of different directions. It’s a multi-stranded story that touches on a number of different things which I feel will help me to produce interesting projects that rise out of it.”
The novel's storyline focuses on Walter, a rock star who sells his band’s music to Ford for millions and promptly leaves the industry behind. Townshend admitted he had reservations about making music a central theme in his book, given the reaction he naturally expected.
“I didn’t particularly want to write a book about music,” he confessed. “I didn’t want to write a book about where the tagline would be, ‘Pete Townshend’s new book — sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll.’ They would have said that if I had written a book about fucking landscape gardening. ‘Sex and drugs and landscape gardening!'
“But in fact the book is about music and it is about sex. There are people in this book that actually have sex. Now isn’t that bizarre? And it’s about rock 'n' roll. So, hey, sex and rock 'n' roll? Where are the drugs? The drugs are there too! Because, let's face it, everyone in the world has sex. Everyone knows what rock 'n' roll is. And everybody takes drugs. Everybody! There are no exceptions, though there might be a few Buddhist priests that don’t.”
On the subject of sex, The Age of Anxiety gets dark. When a drug-fueled night leads a character named Floss to accuse one of her associates of rape, questions of memory and accountability come to light.
“This isn’t about celebrities or powerful men having sex with younger women,” the guitarist notes, alluding to Hollywood’s #MeToo movement. “It’s about rape, at least that’s one of the strands, and the insinuation of rape. It’s about the possibility of it when people are at a wedding, they take drugs, they get smashed and they have sex. Who is responsible if both people are smashed?”
Townshend is no stranger to sexual-related controversy. In 2003 he was arrested for using his credit card to access a child pornography website. Police confiscated all of his computers and found no trace of illicit material on any of them, seemingly supporting the rocker’s defense that he’d accessed the site while researching British banks' potential involvement in pedophile rings. “It will never go away,” Townshend said of the scandal. “And I don’t feel completely vindicated because people look at headlines and don’t bother to read Wikipedia. If you read Wikipedia, you’ll see how it unfolded and I was, in a sense, vindicated.”
Still, he prefers to look ahead. With The Age of Anxiety in stores now and the Who’s new album Who out in December, Townshend is as busy as ever. “I’m coming up to 75 years old. This is a crock way to earn a living,” the guitarist joked of his demanding rock star life. “I might as well go live on an oil rig. It’s no fun.”
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