44th Anniversary: That Guy In The Who Throws Me His Guitar (Again)

Four years ago today, the Entertainment Editor at Huffington Post ran this story without my even knowing it had been submitted (a mutual friend of mine had sent it over to Huffington Post without telling me).

I found out I was a Huff Post Blogger when I received a No-Reply email from Huffington Post... "Thank you very much for your blog post. It's been published and can be found at this permanent link..."

Well! That was easy!

There's no question, this is the Mack Daddy of all the tales of my Misspent Rock 'n' Roll Yoot!

If you have only been skimming me for the last few months, you'll enjoy this immensely, Ifn I says so my own selves.

For my long-time readers, I can only apologize and say this never gets old for me, anyway. If you've read this story before... Brand new columns are a-comin'!

June 7th, 1970... FORTY FOUR YEARS AGO! [44 is a cool looking number, right.]

Quite a date in my life...

Trust me, this version I've put up today to re-commemorate that day has been trimmed down to Cliff Notes-stylee.

For Who Wackos who can never get enough Who Minutia... And, hey, with a love story thrown in... Here ya go...

For the rest of you sane-types, here goes the Speedy-Dri version...

Utterly obsessed Who fan that I was, I'd slept out for two nights under the marquee of the Fillmore East on 2nd Avenue and East 6th St. to buy tickets for The Who's Final Performance of "Tommy" at the absurdly ostentatious venue, The Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center.

Bill Graham was organizing and promoting the show, 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 1970.

II'd seen The Who at the Fillmore East about 15 times and almost always sat in AA113, the first row on-the-aisle seat in front of Pete Townshend's mic stand (so often, that by now, The Who knew my name).

I'd done my Met homework and knew, in advance, exactly what seat number was front row on the right aisle, directly in front of Pete. I was able to buy that seat for both the matinee and evening shows.

About eight weeks later, Sunday, June 7th, 1970... It was Show Time.

All the ushers from the Fillmore East were there, all dressed in actual tuxedos (a classic Bill Graham touch), augmenting the clearly-mind-blown staff of The Met. It was definitely the first and last time The Met smelled like a reefer den.

As I got to my seat I was instantly and seriously dismayed to discover the 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 more like the 8th or 9th row at the Fillmore East. DAMN!

No opening act, 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... on bass, Mr. John Entwistle... on lead vocals, Mr. Roger Daltrey... on drums, Mr. Keith Moon, and on guitar, Mr. Peter Townshend... Please welcome, The Who..."

Off we went!

Pete seemed truly angry and disgusted about something for most of the show. His playing was ferocious!

Once a wonderfully performed "Tommy" was over and done with, The Who finished up with "My Generation." To my distinct disappointment, instead of the expected and much anticipated guitar destruction, Pete carefully leaned his Gibson SG Special against one of his Hiwatt amps without so much as one bang.

The boys took their bows and left the stage.

The crowd was genuinely crazy for an encore.

No way.

The Who had another show to do in three hours. Hell, most of the time, the stage would be a shambles. But, suddenly, to my delighted shock, the lights went back down, the crowd bellowed, The Who walked back onstage.

As the roaring encore jam of "Shakin' All Over" was drawing to a close, out of nowhere, Pete snuck a quick look at me. Our eyes met. I have no idea why, but, my intuition instantaneously somehow understood. I was now tingling. I could feel my breathing getting quick and shallow. My heart was pounding.

While Keith and John and Roger thrashed through the big typical Who-Noise coda thing, Pete unplugged himself and walked to the edge of the stage, wrapping the strap around the guitar's body with elaborate care. He locked eyes with me.

He asked me with his body language, Are you ready?

Surrounded by friends who got what was up, all of whom had actually stood back, I nodded.

Pete stepped back a couple of feet, judging the distance of the 25 foot deep orchestra pit, and in what had to be a Zen zone, tossed his SG Special high in the air.

In slow motion, it arched towards me. Gliding in, face first, I literally caught it by its two pointed Angus Young cutaways. Pete's perfect-touch toss would've made Broadway Joe Willy proud.

As soon as the guitar was in my arms, in some kind of ecstasy, I looked back at Pete...

He smiled, a quick nod, his eyes saying, "Nice catch."

John Entwistle waved Congrats! to me.

The lights came up.

Many dozens of kids were charging down the aisle, absolutely intent on taking that guitar away from me. A true mob!

Out of nowhere, one of Bill Graham's actual real-life Hell's Angels ushers, a tuxedo-ed 6' 6" linebacker with long blond Viking hair and a wandering right eye, suddenly materialized next to me. As the hordes came charging toward me, he looked down and growl/croaked, and I mean like the Addams Family's Lurch...

"You've been at every fuggin' Who show I've ever ushered. NO ONE is taking that guitar from you!"

And he was true to his word...

"Back off! Mess with him, you're messing with me. It's his!" [highly sanitized quote]... and..

Oh, yeah! They backed off.

My Viking Savior then led me and my date (first time I'd ever taken a girl to see The Who... Wow, was Esther impressed!) backstage and out onto West 66th St. via what seemed a semi-secret exit.

Although it's somewhat fragile (Pete did bang it around some before he tossed it to me), I have been playing the guitar for decades now. Plugged into a big amplifier, it sounds exactly like Live At Leeds.

Fast forward, two and half decades...

My wife, Susan, and I were invited to the opening night of Tommy - The Musical and the gala after-party immediately following the performance on April 22, 1993.

After the show, while star-gazing and sipping champagne in the enormous ballroom holding hundreds of revelers, I spotted Pete Townshend and John Entwistle, off by themselves in a faraway corner, chatting. I decided to say quickly hello...

As I approached, Pete had his back to me. But, John, recognizing me from my years in the front row, gave me a big "Look who's here!" smile, which made Pete turn to see who John was acknowledging. Upon realizing it was me, without a second's hesitation, Mr. Townshend said to me...

"Sorry, Binky. I'm gonna need that SG from The Met back. Could use a bit of ready cash..."

He was rubbing his thumb against his fingertips like an old pawnbroker.

John Entwistle, leaned in, looking me in the eye, and said, stone deadpan...

"Pete's right, Binky. Sotheby's Rock auction's next week. Ya gotta give it back, man."

Then, we all burst out laughing.

What hadn't occurred to me until just this past year was that Pete was not just ultra-quick-wittily messing with me, he was also reconfirming 24 years later... "Yeah, I threw it to you, Binky."