I have been working on a book about my love affair and actual interactive relationship with The Who for at least three years, on and off. I had an enthusiastic publisher all lined up who essentially went belly up.
"Oh, goodie! I have time for another draft!" Oof!
Problem is, each time I plow through the currently 250-plus pages, I do actually improve it, ever so slightly. It's wild how an awful phrase or full sentence or l'il typo can elude you for months and months.
Anyway, the book is called The Who: Choosing My Religion. And no, I'm not an REM fan.
This chapter excerpted here on Huffington Post, perhaps more than any other, gives you an idea of the relationship I'd organically cultivated with my Life's Hero, pretty much just by being in the front row, under his mic stand, for over 20 shows.
I was 18 the night this story's initial event took place. I had a girlfriend who'd moved to California with her parents a few months before. I was alone and blue. And...
Here we go with said excerpt...
One afternoon, Mitch D, a fellow Who Freak called. Big news! A certain someone. I forget who, had gotten ahold of Pete Townshend's home address! POW! I can still feel the wallop, hearing that news.
Oh my God... To be able to write Pete a letter that he'd open in his own foyer...
"Oh, shit, Mitch! Are you fucking with me?" He wasn't.
"Mitch, y'gotta get it for me. I don't know Certain Someone well enough to ask, man."
About a week later, I got another call from dear Mitch... "Ya got a pen?"
I wrote down the address on scrap of paper. I then immediately hid it at the bottom of my sock draw as if it were something stolen from a museum.
Maybe a month later...
It was the Saturday night before Easter Sunday, late March, 1971, and I had the house to myself. It was about 9pm. Blue, lonely, bored, I suddenly had the urge to do something I hadn't done in quite some time. Something I'd 'grown out of'...
I put on The Who Sings My Generation album ('If you enjoy this fine Decca recording, you'll enjoy... Brenda Lee'). I turned my hi-fi as far as it would go, distorted as shit, strapped on my Telecaster, and mimed the entire album. Announcing the next song in Pete's Brit accent during the silent gap grooves. I had a real guitar. But, everything else was Air. Air Bob Pridden I yelled at. Two air stacks with torn grill clothes. Air audience with air pal I recognize. Air mic stand I kick over once every song at least. Air Ox/Moon/Rog. All in my 9 by 14 bedroom.
I was careful to skip the last song on side one. When side two was finished, I put side one back on, dropped the needle on "My Generation." Miming it with such enthusiasm, I actually threw my Fender around as if it was an air guitar, inflicting chips, gouges, cracks in the blond finish. I smacked it against my bureau pretending it was Hiwatt stack laying on its side, and then, as the song's coda came to its sham-bolic close, I hurled the guitar at the wall with real oomph, as I saw air-Keith dump his air-kit.
Pete Townshend in a Keith Altham/Hit Parader interview... "Telecasters are the strongest. You can use one as a chopper!"
I was red-lining exhilaration.
I suddenly flashed on what it was time to do.
I grabbed a healthy pile of foolscap my newspaper-man Dad always had plenty of and started frantically scrawling away with a blue ink ballpoint pen. I filled both sides of 17 sheets with an unrelenting tirade about The Who, and in particular, Pete's utterly galactic supremacy in rock 'n' roll. Basically, an 18-year-old losing his mind with a Bic.
I only clearly recall something to the effect that Eddie Cochran, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Yardbirds, Les Zeppelin, et al, were all worthless slugs, obliterated by one Pete Townshend of The Who, windmilling a fucking A chord.
Over 30 pages of that!
I crammed it all in an envelope. No idea how much a letter to England cost to send I stuck about a dozen stamps on the thing. I had to get it to the post office as soon as possible. Even at that very moment, I knew if I let it sit for half an hour I'd never send it.
Luckily, Cadman Plaza Station, one of the main post offices in Brooklyn, was a five minute hustle from my house. Back then, they had this one door that stayed open 24/7/365. I ran into the totally deserted old marble-laden post office at midnight, Easter Sunday, and dropped the later into the International slot... Okay, that's that! I went home to bed.
Sure enough, the next morning, I was distraught. That letter was insane!
Oh, man, when he reads that, he's gonna think I'm outta my mind. What was I thinking!?!
FUCK! [actual moaning]
Weeks went by. I'd decided... Pete never even opened the envelope. Yeah! That's it!
Whew! Okay. I kinda chalked it up to temporary insanity and really sorta forgot about it.
Five or six Saturdays later, my mother asked me to go out and see if the mail had arrived. The mailmen on our route were lazy and always stuffed all the mail into our ground floor tenant's box. I'd pulled out about a half dozen envelopes out of the mailbox and started to turn away when I spotted a flat square darker-than-usual cardboard package laying behind the big black iron gate that was the tenant's locked entrance.
Wow! It had foreign stamps on it. I wonders who it was for. I went back upstairs and then down to the ground floor the inside way.
I picked up the package and in typed script (!), I saws my name. It was addressed to me!
What the... ?!
I looked at the return address and (sit-com style) actually dropped the package in shock.
In his own handwriting was Pete Townshend's name and home address.
By the time I'd bent down to pick it up, my hands were shaking. I might've been hyperventilating.
I charged up three flights to my room, slammed the door shut, sat down on my bed, and very carefully opened 13' x 13" flat package. Inside was a handwritten letter (both sides) on legal size paper in blue ballpoint. It started...
"Binky, I've just filed your letter under 'Precious Words', a file I invented for your letter. Fuck it, man, I'd have framed it if I hadn't just bought this brand new filing cabinet. I've always known who you were..."
Two pages of that!
"God knows how you found out I was God, I thought only Meher Baba knew that!", was a fun line.
He ended with...
"If it means anything to you, here's an acetate of my solo album [he'd written the word 'solo' about an 1/8th of an inch high]. Remember, Binky, acetates don't last as long as regular records."
The big flat square package was an album of UNHEARD MUSIC!
My circuits were overloading. What I noticed first was that the acetate smelled great! A sharp sweet chemical odor like model glue or nail polish remover. It was also heavy and cold to the touch. The edge was bright purple! It was warped, but, not bad enough to skip.
A fantastic touch... Pete had written out all the song titles on each side's label in the same ballpoint... and got the sides wrong! He is human!
Also, very very cool, the disc's green and white label has an apple on it. Yes, he'd done the acetates at The Beatles facility!
The creme de la creme; in the upper right hand corner of the plastic-lined paper sleeve, Pete has written... "Keep for Binky"
I was in some kind of heavy heavenly dazzlement.
The album, Who Came First, came out in the same running order well over a year later. Pete had trusted me with this music for that long!
The thing is, except for a handful of dear Who pals, all sworn to secrecy, I never told anyone about this acetate until it was officially released.
Of course, I loved the album.
One marvelous moment; my dear pal Ben, who'd gone with me to see The Who's very earliest NYC shows, was over for a Sacred Listening of the Holy Acetate. At the end of Pete's solo acoustic guitar version of Cole Porter's "Begin The Beguine", Ben turned to me with misty eyes and huskily declared, "That's the best song Pete has ever written!"
Assuming he'd sung all the songs, written all the songs, played all the guitar, I wrote him a radioactively glowing review, duh, huh. Knowing Pete was into American cars from the 1950s, I also sent him my prized Dinky Toy of a 1956 Plymouth, two-toned, green and black.
This time, Pete answered me in less than two weeks. On the wildest psychedelic stationery with 'Eel Pie' at the top in drippy San Fran lettering, he'd typed...
"Thanks for the Dinky, Binky!"
[I might've sent him that toy just so he could write that sentence!]
He also thanked me for the review, but, added, "You'll be surprised by a few things when the album comes out."
Over the next few years, Pete and I corresponded several times.
By far the most intimate letter he wrote me was after the first Quadrophenia tour.
For some reason, they'd bypassed new York for the first time ever and the closest gig I could get to was down in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., at the almost-but-not-quite-finished RFK Center. The fact is, the floor was raw poured concrete. There were no seats. There was no Bill Graham to provide authority, sanity. It was a general admission riot. It was utterly pure luck that the horrendous Cincinnati tragedy didn't happen that night in DC.
I was down front, of course, and the crush was very very scary. It was obvious that the whole band, even crazy Moon, were very unhappy with how fucked up the whole deal was that night.
On top of it, this was the tour where Roger infamously insisted on telling Jimmy's story in detail between songs in his thick London accent, just making the seething hordes that much more restless... the only time I ever saw Roger misread a situation so badly.
I wrote Pete a long letter (restrained, this time) about the DC experience.
Maybe a week later, Pete has typed me a long letter in response.
He revealed that the band had had a terrible meeting just before the show where Roger ripped into everyone...
"Binky, Roger is a worrier, and if you're not sufficiently worried, too, he'll make sure you are. Did you notice how he was the only one of us vaguely happy?"
On the personal side...
"It was an up, a big up, to see you, Binky. It meant that there was at least one person there who knew what was really going on."
That sentence remains precious to me.
In June of 1987, Caroline Records released a 5-song Binky Philips Live @ CBGB EP, soon to be up on iTunes, yay.
Again, no more than a week or so later, I got a letter from his long-time, long-suffering (how could she not be?!), endlessly gracious assistant, Ms. Nicola Joss.
"Pete is dictating this note, Binky. He wants you to know that he's going to listen to your record and that it better be good. He hates rock music!"
Yeah, me, too, Pete... me, too.