A Little Is Enough

1 Jan

townshend memeI got some sad news over the holiday break: one of my favorite rock writers is calling it quits. On Christmas Day, Jason Wendleton announced he was closing down his rock blog Defending Axl Rose and, sadder still, stopping writing about music altogether:

I’m always going to be a music fan, but I’m not going to pursue writing about music any further.  The main reason being, I’m not really qualified to do so.  I know nothing about music and can’t play any instruments.  That’s a pretty big regret I have and maybe someday I’ll correct that, but for now I feel far too handicapped to really “be” a music writer beyond the amateur-level.  And that’s just not good enough.

This stung, not only because I’ll miss his perspectives, recommendations and sense of humor about this silly/serious thing called rock and roll. His belief that he’s somehow falling short puts me on the defensive as well. Considering bloggers write for love not money, we have to create our own yardsticks to gauge our success. If Jason believes he’s not measuring up to his own particular standards, I can’t tell him he’s wrong. Yet if you’re moved by music and can convey your joy in a way that resonates with others, what more do you (or I) need for our writing to be worthy?

The way I see it, just because you don’t play an instrument doesn’t mean you can’t be an engaging, insightful music writer. Likewise, just because you’re a rock god doesn’t mean you aren’t a wanker in print.

Pete Townshend ought to have written a great rock memoir. He has credentials to spare. A founder of The Who, keynote performer at Woodstock and Live Aid, one of popular music’s best composers/lyricists and a rock blogging pioneer: he should be able to capture the giddy energy, sharp danger and ineffable cool of being an authentic rock idol. He was even an acquisitions editor for Faber and Faber—for God’s sake, he ought to know how to tell a good story.

Must ... be taken ... SERIOUSLY!

Must … be taken … SERIOUSLY!

And yet, Townshend’s memoir, Who I Am, is a pretentious, insufferable slog of a book. He wallows in perpetual angst about his overweening artistic ambitions, his sexual uncertainties, his less-than-successful self-monitored sobriety and his proclivity for expensive recording equipment and boats. No detail is spared, so the trivial is given the same weight as the monumental. (He spills a lot of ink  over his real estate dealings without a word about how his single “Rough Boys”  reflected his coming to terms with his own bisexuality.) There is no arc to his life in his telling, no sense of lessons learned or great moments appreciated, no moments of grace or humility to offset the self-indulgence. Even the amusing anecdotes aren’t very amusing.

Silly me. I thought being a rock star was supposed to be fun.

That’s the danger of reading a memoir, I guess: if you want to meet the real person behind the persona, you run the risk of not liking him very much. The Pete Townshend portrayed in his book is obsessed with being taken seriously as an artist to the expense of all else. I had been hoping to learn more about the guy who wrote “Long Live Rock,” one of the funniest songs about rock-and-roll decadence ever.

Here’s a live performance of that song on British television, introduced by a hipster of the time underscoring the Importance of the Band … then Pete goes on to flub his own lyrics:

Pete, here’s hoping you find your sense of humor again soon … I’m sure Jason can help you.

See you on the flip side …

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11 Responses to “A Little Is Enough”

  1. Every Record Tells A Story January 1, 2013 at 12:58 pm #

    That’s a really great post. I also enjoyed Jason’s blog – its a shame he is putting down his pen. I also have a nice (signed) unread copy of Townsend’s biography. I suspect (from what you and others have said) I know whose writing I will enjoy most. (But I’ll still keep an open mind). Whether he’s an entertaining writer or not, Townsend is still a better guitar player than me.
    As an amateur writer, I do this because it’s fun. And if I’m not as good at it as Pete Paphides or whoever – well that’s okay. I don’t expect to be as good as someone who does it for a living. No reason not to keep trying though…

    • lpon45 January 1, 2013 at 2:52 pm #

      Fun is the operative word here, especially when you’re writing about entertainment for your own, uh, entertainment. Getting a paycheck is rarely the measure of good writing anyway, since it’s all so subjective.

      Glad you liked the post!

  2. Jason Wolpertinger Wendleton January 1, 2013 at 1:02 pm #

    Well first, thanks for the heads up on Pete’s book not being very good. I was “this” close to picking it up, but now I think I’ll pass.

    I quit the blog for a bunch of reasons but the biggest reason is I didn’t want to be a critic. In life there are critics and there are creators, and I wanted to be a creator. All creators add to the world, but the same cannot be said for critics. I think only really good critics actually add anything, and I didn’t feel like I’d ever attain that level of “really good criticdom.”

    • lpon45 January 1, 2013 at 2:44 pm #

      Fair enough, and I’m sure that whatever you create will be a great experience for us all.

  3. Mark Anstee January 20, 2013 at 12:28 pm #

    Whispering Bob Harris! He was very funny a few years after this when punk broke – not exactly a fan… I’ve been given Townshend’s book for my birthday, but I think Neil Young’s will take priority. The Who were a difficult bunch (to put it mildly)!

    If you’ll forgive the (very British) sporting parallel, there are ever more ex-cricketers in the commentary box and media generally these days, and whereas some have taken the time to learn their new craft, there are many who are simply dreadful. Playing a sport/being in a band to the highest level is no guarantee of a person being able to write/speak about their specialist subject with any insight or intelligence.

    • lpon45 January 20, 2013 at 10:48 pm #

      Thanks for adding your thoughts … and forgive the clueless Yank but who is “Whispering Bob Harris”?

  4. Mark Anstee January 23, 2013 at 6:08 pm #

    No reason you should have heard of him! He was a bit of a legend in the UK back in the 70s – a quietly spoken DJ with a geeky enthusiasm for more erudite and artful rock music. He presented The Old Grey Whistle Test for years – a late-night live music show that everyone of the era appeared on, and it was often a place where breaking American bands first got a UK airing (Skynyrd did a great set one time, as did Tom Petty). He hated punk for its lack of musicianship, and took a bit of stick for being a ‘dinosaur’, though I think he was more welcoming of post-punk. Funnily enough, for me much of the music he liked in the 70s has aged better than punk.

    • lpon45 January 24, 2013 at 9:58 pm #

      Ohhhhh, that guy – now I know who you mean. Thanks!

  5. Jason Wendleton June 2, 2013 at 5:07 pm #

    Hey, just wanted to let you know that I just launched a obscure/weird film website with a buddy of mine. I know…I know…I don’t know anything about film. Anyway, check it out sometime:

    http://schlockreel.com/

    • lpon45 June 9, 2013 at 1:38 pm #

      WHOO HOO! You’re back!

      How do I subscribe? I couldn’t find an easy button to push – just let me know.

      • Jason Wolpertinger Wendleton June 9, 2013 at 1:47 pm #

        Hmm…not sure. Rather than do a standard-issue blog, we’re using a format built for us by my co-author’s boyfriend (so things are still being sorted out). I’ll let you know when I find out.

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