I Caught Pete Townshend's Guitar

I was in Heaven. My hideously painful crush on Esther was finally getting some wonderfully tangible relief and hope. It was April 1970 and I had slept out for two nights to the immediate south of the marquee of the Fillmore East to get tickets for the Who's Final Performance of "Tommy" at the absurdly ostentatious and downright silly venue, The Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center. Bill Graham was organizing and promoting the show for the management of The Met. Consequently, the tickets were going on sale at the Fillmore East's box office on the Monday morning of whatever week that was in early April.

I arrived on Saturday evening while people were leaving the early show of that weekend's performance. I don't recall who was on the bill that night, but I remember saying hello to John Genzale as he walked into the late show. John was to become Johnny Thunders in the New York Dolls two years later. Anyway, I found I was third on line behind two blithering idiots who, amazingly enough, knew almost nothing about The Who.

"We usually like, sleep out for Dead tickets like, y'know, all the time and we thought, like, hey, why not for The Who, too, y'know. I mean, like, they're pretty cool, right!" It was infuriating. The Grateful Dead and their hippie fans were, to my mind, the antitheses of the Who and their hipper-than-hip fans. What were they doing here ahead of me?

But, just as I'd long known that AA113 was the front row on-the-aisle seat in front of Pete Townshend's mic stand at the Fillmore, I'd done my homework and knew, in advance, exactly what seat to request for both the matinee (a matinee!?) and "late show" (that started at 7pm!) for The Met shows. Virtually every other person on line, and by Sunday afternoon there was almost a hundred of us, were indeed, true Who loonies. I knew about two-thirds of them. It was a Who party on the filthy streets of the East Village. While the area is funky-chic-gentrified these days, back then, it was one block from the Bowery's actual skid row and three blocks from the Hell's Angels' headquarters... more on one of them later. Bad sad scary people hassled us dopey Who freaks constantly for the full two days, although less so as our numbers grew. Someone had brought a guitar, and on Sunday night, I treated everyone to the entire "Tommy." Yep, at 17, I knew how to play the whole dang album. I still know "Pinball Wizard" (gorgeous intro included)... and... uh... that song that Jack Nicholson sings in Ken Russell's cartoon version. Oh, and "Christmas," "Acid Queen" and "See Me, Feel Me Up..."

Anyway, weeks earlier, I'd decided that I would screw up the courage to ask Esther (imagine Cher with Twiggy's haircut... stunning and all legs) to go to the matinee with me. Around 6a.m. on Monday, Bill Graham opened the Fillmore East up to everyone on line and served free coffee and donuts while showing cartoons on the Joshua's Light Show screen. Can you imagine? His staff gave out numbers so everyone got to keep their place in line, as it were, while relaxing, munching and watching Bugs Bunny.

Because I was third on line, I never had to bother with donuts and cooling my heels in the Orchestra section. When the box office opened, bang, I got the exact seat I wanted for myself for both shows and the seat next to me for the matinee. I got home, filthy, exhausted, but totally psyched. I took a deep breath, called Esther, told her how I'd just spent the weekend, and asked her if she wanted to sit in the front row with me on June 7th. Now, Esther had been playing hard-to-get with me for more than three years, but, no dummy, she agreed. Her answer yes sent me into thankful ecstasy.

About eight weeks later, Sunday, June 7th, 1970... and... it was Show Time. I was, of course, still living at home in Brooklyn. Esther arrived at my house on time and boldly announced that she'd dropped a tab of acid about 20 minutes earlier and was just starting to feel the effects. Not to be outdone, or appear a loser, I quickly went upstairs and found the half-joint I'd had hidden for over a month. The half-joint laced with angel dust! I took three tokes up in my room while Esther started to giggle and off we went to the subway. We'd gotten about half a block from my house and I realized I could barely put one foot in front of the other. "Esther, we've got to take a cab. I can't walk." She sagely giggled some more. I vividly recall that as we drove to Manhattan, the windows of the cab seemed to be little movie screens with the outside world 2-D flat.

Somehow, I was able to negotiate the paying-the-cab-driver (where did I get the money for a cab, anyway?) and Esther and I then staggered towards the rear of Lincoln Center where the Met stood, looking waaay too grown-up-fancy, the Met, that is, not us. We must've looked like idiots. When we walked in, I burst out laughing. All the ushers from the Fillmore East were there dressed in actual tuxedos, augmenting the clearly-mind-blown staff of the Met. We sort of floated down the right aisle to our seats. I was instantly dismayed and deeply disappointed. There was a damn orchestra pit! I hadn't thought of that! The first row was a good 25 feet from the lip of the stage. The front row was like being in the 8th or 9th row at the Fillmore East. Dang! Dang! Dang! But, Esther immediately distracted me though with a deep French kiss of thanks as soon as we sat down. Wwwwwow! We were completely blasted... and thoroughly enjoying ourselves and each other.

There was no opening act, and within 10 minutes of sitting down, the lights dimmed, the crowd roared, and Bill Graham came out of the wings, and as he always did at a Who show, solemnly intoned with his deep voice-of-authority..."Ladies and gentlemen... John Entwistle... Keith Moon... Roger Daltrey... Peter Townshend... Please welcome, The Who..."

The deep red curtains opened to reveal three Hiwatt stacks on either side of Moon's enormous drum kit (the Fillmore shows were merely two stacks each). The Who walked out onstage. Uh Oh... Pete was scowling, obviously furious! With obvious contempt, he spit on the stage.

Pete angrily shouted something to a roadie and booom!, off they went into John's superb "Heaven & Hell." If you don't know this song, you are missing one of the greatest tunes in The Who's entire catalog. In my opinion, probably the best song Entwistle ever wrote. Amazingly, and, believe me, I remember all of this like video tape, the moment they started playing, the angel dust...just...disappeared. I was suddenly totally fine, totally lucid, and stoned on....The Who.

Now, as a true Who freak knows, you were always in for a great show if Pete was pissed off. But, he was angrier that I'd ever seen him in the 20 or so shows I'd been to before. They went into "Young Man Blues" and Pete's solo consisted of smashing E chords... and nothing else! I mean, literally, E E E EE EEE E EEE E E E EEEEEEEEEEE E E EE E EEEE E E EEEEE EE E E E EE EEE E... He was playing the Met as if it was the Marquee Club on a shitty rainy Maximum R&B Tuesday night and no one had shown up... six years earlier. I was just swooning with visceral Who pleasure. Moon and Entwistle soon figured out that they had to provide the music and flew off into terrain that I've never heard on any recording... foookin' JAZZ. And Pete just kept bashing EE E EEEEEEE E E EEEE EE E E E E E E E E EEEE E EE ... It seemed like it went on for at least five minutes. Supposedly, there's a bootleg available of this show. I'd be curious to see if my memory is correct regarding the brutal nose-thumbing crudity of this solo.

Next, they debuted "Water", a new song with a stunning intro and hook line...and then, "For the very last time..." (ahhh... if only that had been true, dammit) they did an hour's worth of "Tommy." Pete had calmed down a bit and threw himself into entertaining the rabble that was desecrating the seats of the Met. Probably, no, not probably, the only time that venue ever reeked of reefer.

At one point, Pete made eye contact with me and sort of jerked his head towards Esther, as if to say, "That your bird, mate?" I nodded back, yes. (I'd never brought a grrrrl to a Who concert before). Pete nodded back a kind of A Ha! approval and for a moment had a tiny secret smile on his face.

With "Tommy" over and done, they played a few "oldies" and finished up with "My Generation." To my distinct disappointment, instead of the expected and much anticipated destruction, Pete very carefully leaned his Gibson SG Special against one of the stacks without so much as one bang or toss and the boys took their bows and walked off.

Naturally, the crowd went insane for an encore. Back then encores weren't the horseshit rituals they soon became. An audience really had to demand an encore. I stood there thinking that this was ridiculous. The Who had another show to do in less than three hours and the Who don't do encores! Besides, I wanted to go make out with Esther for awhile, put her on the subway, and get myself psyched and ready for the next performance.

Then, suddenly, the lights went back down, the crowd bellowed, and the Who walked back onstage... and now, Pete was beaming - a total change from the opening of the show. They launched into "Shakin' All Over" and I mean launched! Whatever had happened while they were offstage, they'd come back out just flaming! Townshend went into the solo and started playing blistering lead guitar, absolutely wailing. I can still see Roger looking over at Pete with a look of "Holy Fook" on his happy face. Pete was so into his soloing that he didn't realize he'd been slowly backing up toward his amps and when he did a huge windmill move, he inadvertently smacked the head of the guitar against one of the amplifier stacks so hard that he instantly and totally knocked it hopelessly out of tune. Oh boy... now, Pete was furious again. He threw the poor thing on the stage like it was a dinner plate he wanted to shatter, walked into the wings and came back out with another SG Special, plugged it in and tried valiantly to get back his focus.

As he played, a roadie slithered out onstage on all fours, grabbed the strap of the out of tune SG, and started slowly pulling it offstage, trying hard not to be noticed by Pete. But, notice him, Pete did. The roadie was about halfway to the wings when Townshend stalked over and stomped on the guitar, instantly snapping the head off the neck and vehemently shook his head NO! to the hapless roadie, who scurried away back into the wings. The guitar now lay onstage with it's headstock and bridge lying next to it, attached to each other by the six limp strings. Then, very very quickly, in maybe a half second, Pete snuck a very deliberate and deeply significant look at me. Our eyes met. I instantaneously somehow understood. That guitar... was... coming... my way. I started having trouble breathing. Esther had seen the glance too.

"Did you see the way Pete just looked at you?" "Yes...I did..." We didn't say another word. The song ended.

While Moon and John thrashed around doing the big coda thing, Pete put down the "new" SG and walked over and picked up the headless SG that he'd bashed all those EE E EE E E E 's on, played the entire show on. With exaggerated care, he wrapped the strap around the body, walked to the edge of the stage, looked straight at me again, and with a shrug of his shoulders, and a quick nod, asked me with his body language if I was ready. I nodded. He stepped back a foot or two, judging the distance of the orchestra pit, and with one Zen motion tossed the guitar high in the air. It must've gone up 15 feet. It slowly, as in ssslllllloowwwww motion, arched towards me. Because everyone else in the front row was a Who pal of mine, and because Pete had made it so very clear for whom the guitar was intended, I could see in my peripheral vision everyone else leaning away from the guitar. The guitar glided in, face first, and I literally caught it by it's two SG horns. For those of you who don't know - think of literally every picture you've ever seen of AC/DC's Angus Young or Pete Townshend at Woodstock. That is a Gibson SG - with the two sharp small curved cutaway horns on either side of the neck. Pete's toss would've made Joe Namath proud. As soon as it was in my hands, I looked back at Pete. Pete smiled, and with his eyes said, "Nice catch."

He then walked over and picked up the bridge of the guitar and slowly walked backwards offstage, miming as if the headstock was a little dog and the strings were the leash, making barking sounds, looking at John for humor-approval, with Ox John laughing out loud.

And, for those of you who want to HEAR proof... Listen to the last 30 seconds of this...