Pete Townshend's Guitar... Part Two

RECAP: Last week, in my inaugural blog for Huffington Post, I told of going to see The Who perform at The Metropolitan Opera House on June 7th, 1970, with Esther, the girl I had the worst possible crush on. At the end of the encore, "Shakin' All Over", Pete Townshend walked to the edge of the stage and threw his Gibson SG Special over the orchestra pit into my arms. If you go to this link and start listening at about 5:00, you can actually hear the moment I caught this guitar!

And then...

The lights came up and I turned to see dozens of kids charging down the aisle, absolutely intent on taking the guitar away from me...a true mob! Suddenly out of nowhere, one of Bill Graham's actual real-life Hell's Angels ushers (I told you we'd get to him) was standing next to me. He was the guy who normally patrolled the right aisle (remember AA113?) of the Fillmore East. He was at least 6'6", as wide as a linebacker, with long, long gold-blond hair, a Harry Chapin neck-beard, and one wandering eye...a Viking! He looked down at me as the hordes came charging down the aisle and said, "You've been at every fucking Who show I've ever ushered. NO ONE is taking that guitar from you!"

And then he turned and put himself between me and maybe 75 lunatics and yelled..."I'll fucking break the arms of anyone who even touches this guy. Pete threw it to HIM! Back the fuck up or you're gonna be fucking bleeding! Try me, assholes, just try me!" Everyone just screeched to a halt. A girl about 15 was sobbing, reached out and begged me, "Can I please have a knob?"
I pulled one off for her. Another kid begged for one, too. I pulled another off and gave it to him.

 The Hell's Angel looked at me and said, "What the hell you doin'?! Jeeesus, I gotta get you outta here... Who you with?" I pointed to Esther.  "Okay, you two, follow me. Okay, back the fuck up! It's over! It's his...LEAVE."

He started to pull me towards a door at the furthest right-hand corner of the stage with Esther holding my left hand while I clutched the guitar against my body with my right. People were reaching out and touching the guitar like a religious object as we slowly made our way towards that stage door. The Viking pulled me and Esther into the doorway and up a small flight of stairs and into an empty, stunningly opulent lounge area... all gold brocade Louis the Something chairs, leather couches, silk wallpaper, plush gold carpeting, a crystal chandelier, and a full bar. But, the room wasn't empty after all. Standing at the bar, by himself, in a tux with a white silk scarf draped casually around his neck, one foot on the brass rail, with a glass halfway  to his lips, was Chris Stamp, who along with Kit Lambert, was one of the Who's two managers. He turned and looked at me, with the Hell's Angel's arm around my shoulders, chuckled and said, "Ahhh... So, you're the one who got it", turned away, and downed his drink.

The Viking took us down a long corridor, opened a door, congratulated me, and shoved me and my girl and the guitar onto the sidewalk of West 66th St, the part that's covered by a tunnel sort of structure, between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue. We then spent the next two hours wandering the streets with the guitar. Esther had had such a wonderful time, and I was so thrilled to be the apple of her acid-tripping eye, that I vowed to sneak her into the next show.  And...I did! The Met's staff was completely unprepared for maniac teenagers. Getting Esther past them in the lobby was comically easy. The same blond Hell's Angel usher was patrolling the same right side of the stage and when he saw that Esther was sitting on my lap without her own seat, with the guitar in her lap, he just laughed, shook his head and left us alone. When the evening show started, about halfway through the first song, Pete looked over at me, I mouthed the word "Thanks!," he nodded "Of course!," made another gesture that said "Snuck your girl in, I see..." I nodded back, he smiled... and another Who show was underway. June 7th, 1970.

Coda One:  Two and a half years earlier, in November 1967, my dear pal, Jacob, at a Who show at The Village Theater, soon to be renamed the Fillmore East, caught a few chunks of one of Pete's smashed Gibson guitars, including, remarkably enough, the headstock (the famous Baron Wolman Birdman 335, actually!). Jake graciously gave me the head and I had my pals at the very hip repair shop, Guitar Lab, attach it to the Met SG... and I've been playing it in my living room ever since. Plugged into a big amp, it sounds exactly like Live At Leeds.  And, yes, sometimes I just bash out a few dozen E E E EE  EE's.

Code Two: If you watch the recent authorized Who documentary, "Amazing Journey," and I recommend it highly, there is about 20 seconds of footage from ABC's Eyewitness News story about the Met show televised on June 7th, 1970. I remember them filming from down in the orchestra pit during the first few songs, and for about 3 of those seconds, you get to see Pete wind-milling on my guitar! For a few freezed-frames, you can see that, yes, the wood-grain matches!

Code Three: Some of you will want to know what happened to Esther. She was, besides being a tall slim beauty, a sweet, smart person, a gifted artist from a sadly messed-up family. About a month after Pete Townshend threw me that guitar, Esther decided to move in with a drug dealer in his late 20s out on Long Island. She was 16. One night, about a year and a half later, as the subway I was sitting in started to pull out of the Times Square station, I caught a brief glimpse of her standing on the platform looking forlorn. I never saw her again. I pray she's had a good life.

Coda Four: Fast forward, 24 years, April 22, 1994. A dear Broadway publicist pal invited me and my wife, Susan, to the opening night for "Tommy, The Musical" and the gala After-Party immediately following the performance. The show was surprisingly good... and believe me, I'd gotten thoroughly sick of "Tommy" at least a decade or two before.

The audience was thoroughly star-studded... Jack Nicholson, Ann-Margaret, Pete, John, Roger... even Pete's reclusive wife, Karen, was there, along with what seemed like every celebrity who lived in New York. As the show was letting out, my wife and I walked by a clump of maybe a dozen people who were grouped together just inside the main doors of the theater's entrance. In the middle of this group was none other than Chris Stamp, the surviving member of the two-man team (with Kit Lambert, who'd died over a decade earlier) who discovered and managed The Who. He had a stunning brunette in her early 20's on his arm. As we were walking past him and his entourage in the foyer, I spontaneously stopped and said, with the passion of the obsessed, "Mr. Stamp, many years ago, as I walked through the backstage area of The Met with the SG Special Pete had just thrown me, you said, 'Ahhh... so you're the one who got it...' Well, you were wrong. YOU were the one who got it! YOU brought me the Who. YOU brought me some of the greatest joy in my life. YOU YOU YOU!! And I most sincerely thank you for that, sir." and, after apologizing to his friends for my interruption, walked out of the theater with my wife.

Once Susan and I got outside, we instantly realized that, if we just hung out awhile, inside the velvet ropes, we'd be able to see all sorts of celebs walk out without anyone shooing us away, and so we stayed awhile. A few minutes later, the stunning brunette that had been on Chris Stamp's arm suddenly appeared before us. She met my eyes intently and said, "I want you to know that your little speech in the lobby really, really meant a lot to Chris, and it meant a lot to me, too... because... He's my dad!" She then pointed across the street and there was Chris shyly waving at me. So sweet!

Susan and I then walked across the street to The Marriott at 45th St and Broadway where the Opening Night Party was getting into full swing. The ballroom chosen for the event was ludicrously large, big enough for at least 3,000 people. We sat at a table, nibbled horseydeeorvezz and drank champagne and star-gazed. Eventually, Susan pointed out that it was 10:45 and we'd told our babysitter that we'd be home by 10:30, and, that while she, Susan, knew this was a special night for me, sadly, all good things must come to an end. As I was slowly and reluctantly getting into my coat, I happened to look down to the far end of the ballroom... and there, almost cosmically, standing completely by themselves with no one within 50 feet of them, were Pete and John, having a chat. I pointed this out to Susan who said, "Okay, go say goodnight to The Who, Binky."

I walked down the side of the ballroom as quickly and as unobtrusively as I could. I wanted Pete and John to myself. As I got within about 20 feet of them, Pete had his back to me, but, John, facing my way, suddenly recognized me from my years in the front row at the Fillmore East and gave me a big  "Look who's here!" smile with raised eyebrows... which made Pete turn to see who John was acknowledging. And, without a second's hesitation, Townshend said to me, "Sorry, Binky, gotta have the Met SG back... Need a bit of ready cash..." rubbing his thumb against his fingers like an old pawnbroker.

And Entwistle, again without a second's pause, leaned in and said, "Pete's right, Binky. Sotheby's Rock auction's next week. Ya gotta give it back, man."

 I can't convey how wickedly sharp and quick this joke went down. They went into it the absolute second I walked up to them as if they'd rehearsed it. Them Who guys operated on a different plane than you and me.

As I feared, my time alone with them lasted all of 30 seconds before a few dozen people realized that THE STARS were standing in that corner of the ballroom. We were besieged. Luckily, one of the besiegers was a photographer, and a few weeks later, through my pal, the publicist, I received several 8x10s of me with half The Who, which, naturally enough, currently reside within easy reach... in my desk.

Coda Five: The Gibson SG Special that Pete Townshend threw me at the Metropolitan Opera House was one of the artifacts on display in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame's exhibit, "Tommy: The Amazing Journey" that ran from April 7, 2005 through March 12, 2006. For 15 months, my guitar sat next to the Gibson J200 acoustic guitar that Pete used while writing "Tommy". Now, that was indeed an honor!