No sooner had I thought to myself "it's too bad Pete Townshend now only posts to his regular, old rock star web site - no more two-way communications with a core group of bloggers" than the landscape changed. This morning, Pete's reopened his Boy Who Heard Music site on Blogspot, probably in reaction to the outpouring of intense discussion that erupted earlier this week over the origins of Won't Get Fooled Again.
Wait, a rock anthem released in 1971, fully 35 years ago. A lanky 60ish rock geezer clutching maniacally to a pitted Telecaster. Uh, cutting edge of the Fab New Media Explosion?
Townshend gets it. After a lifetime at the very cushioned pinnacle of big media - and there is no more cushioned environment than that of the mega rock star (just read the riders) - Pete is making music and other in closer collaboration with those who consume it than ever before...or at least since his days at Ealing. Earlier this week, I posted on the National Review's insane list of 50 most conservative rock songs, giving my own semi-humorous choices, but more importantly, touching off a nice little debate among regular readers - which centered, not surprisingly, on the No. 1 on the Right Wing Hit Parade. Multiply this blog by about three dozen other blogs with similar conversation and the news of the ongoing debate reached old man Townshend's ears toot-sweet:
Won't Get Fooled Again has been listed in the UK Independent Newspaper as the number one song with - as I understand it - the political message most often misunderstood - in this case the message is said to be 'conservative', a word that may mean different things in the UK and USA.
Of course the song has no party-allied political message at all. It is not precisely a song that decries revolution - it suggests that we will indeed fight in the streets - but that revolution, like all action can have results we cannot predict. Don't expect to see what you expect to see. Expect nothing and you might gain everything.
The song was meant to let politicians and revolutionaries alike know that what lay in the centre of my life was not for sale, and could not be co-opted into any obvious cause.
Has the world changed? When, in the past, could a group of writers essentially ping a rock star and get a thoughtful response in a matter of hours? I'll tell you when - never. But tag a bunch of posts with Pete Townshend, get the feeds fired up, and word gets passed up the big media food chain pretty quickly - or rather, pretty directly. The point is: there is no food chain now - no Under-Secertaries of A&R and Communications to keep us away from them.
This is something that Old Blue Eyes - always an artist before a rock star, really - understands quite well. In this post, he talks about live webcasting of music (which he and Roger Daltrey plan to do when The Who go on tour this summer) and how it changes the who, what, and when factors of media production and consumption.
...if you wish to address a Live audience, in real time, intimately, and free of interference from petty government regulation, broadcast restrictions, or even internet controls – Live webcasting is the future for you. On In The Attic we can smoke, swear, attack hypocrites, even be hypocrites. We can have fun and be funny. The most important thing is that we can play Live music when the whim takes us. No one can argue that you are a true performer if you can appear Live and do your thing. No tricks. No ‘auto-tune’. No computer fiddling. No puffed up personality stunts effected by extreme video editing (of the style that made Keith Moon – for example – appear insanely funny every moment of his life when in fact he was often depressed, serious and incisive). The beauty of Live webcasting is that it does not preclude the inclusion of small films, or even pre-recorded music; the Live presentation element makes it all hang together.
The circle here? Imagine logging on each day to a report from Robert Fisk on the ground in Baghdad and being able to send him a Blog comment that let him know you were with him as he exploded with frustration over what was going on around him. Imagine being logged on, and knowing there was probably less that a two or three second time delay, and witnessing a truck being blown up, or a group of police-volunteers being attacked. Such news could be relayed on Robert Fisk’s terms, and not his editor’s. Imagine knowing that you were in a small elite of subscribers who were seeing what was happening first hand, and had a duty to help spread the word. Journalism as we know it will be unravelled by Live webcasting – sadly (perhaps) it seems Rupert Murdoch is the only person on the planet who can see this ahead of time and is buying up web companies like candy. He is – like me – rather old to be so prescient. But there it is – I predicted music downloading in 1985 at a lecture at the RCA and most people walked out.
Sometimes it pays to watch the icons - especially those who prefer life off the pedestal. Oh, and something else. You may recall that Townshend supported the invasion of Iraq, and Britain's involvement. Well, he's changed his position a bit - and painfully - with an openness and honesty that's missing in Whitehall and Washington:
At first, personally knowing one of his torture victims, I wanted Sadam Hussein removed at any price. I also wanted to send a message to the Islamic world (again, a place full of many of my friends) that the West was run by dangerous men with powerful weapons and our going into Iraq to ‘tidy up’ was a better option for sending that message than dropping nuclear warheads on Afghanistan or Pakistan which has such deep and tenuous links with Britain. It is too easy to sanction war when you don’t know what is actually happening to the soldiers and civilians in the conflict, and pretty much all British newspapers have kept everyone abreast of the true horrors. The Independent through Robert Fisk has been a leader in speaking of the reality of the conflict in Iraq, and the real ‘price’ of removing Sadam. I won’t go back on my initial support for the invasion, but I feel blooded and humbled, deeply, deeply ashamed at the way things have turned out.