BiographyBorn into a musical family (his father was a professional saxophonist and his mother a singer), Pete Townshend exhibited a fascination with music at an early age. He had early exposure to American rock and roll (his mother recounts that he repeatedly saw the 1956 film Rock Around the Clock) and obtained his first guitar from his grandmother at age 12.
In 1961 Townshend enrolled at Ealing Art College, and, a year later, Townshend and his art school friend John Entwistle founded their first band, The Confederates, a Dixieland duet featuring Townshend on banjo and Entwistle on horn. From this beginning they moved on to The Detours, a skiffle band fronted by then sheet-metal welder Roger Daltrey, which, under Townshend's leadership, would metamorphosize into The Who, whose dynamic, highly-amplified style of rock music would be promoted under the moniker "Maximum R&B".
His great influence was the first British Rock guitar hero, Hank Marvin, of Cliff Richard and the Shadows.
Townshend's early singles for The Who, including "I Can't Explain", "Substitute", and "My Generation" matched an ironic and psychologically-astute lyrical sense with crashing, sometimes crude music, a combination which would become the hallmark of the band. During the early days of The Who, Townshend became known for his eccentric stage style, often interrupting concerts with lengthy introductions of songs, swinging his right arm against the guitar strings windmill-style, and sometimes smashing his guitar on stage. (Although the first incident of guitar-smashing was thought to be an accident, the onstage destruction of instruments became a regular part of The Who's performances. Townshend, always a voluble interview subject, would later relate these antics to Austrian painter Gustav Metzke's theories on auto-destruction, to which he had been exposed at art school.)
The Who would go on to become one of rock music's most acclaimed and enduring bands. Townshend was the primary songwriter for the group, writing over 100 songs which appeared on the band's 10 studio albums. Among his most well-known accomplishments are the creation of Tommy and coining the term "rock opera"; Townshend would revisit album-length storytelling techniques throughout his career and remains the musician most associated with the rock opera form. Townshend also demonstrated prodigous talent on the guitar and was influential as a player as well, developing a unique style which combined aspects of rhythm and lead guitar and a characteristic mix of abandon and subtlety.
Towhshend was, for a time, a follower of the Indian religious guru Meher Baba, and his faith, which blended elements of Buddhist and Sufi mysticism with conventional Christianity, was a major source of inspiration for many of his works, including Tommy, the unfinished Who project Lifehouse (the Who song "Baba O'Riley", written for Lifehouse and eventually appearing on the album Who's Next, was named for Meher Baba), and his early solo compositions. Although Baba's teachings require abstinence from alcohol and drug use, Townshend has had several public battles with substance abuse.
In addition to his work with the Who, Townshend has been sporadically active as a solo recording artist. Between 1969 and 1971 Townshend recorded a trio of little-heard albums devoted to Meher Baba. His first major-label solo release, 1972's Who Came First was a moderate success and featured demos of Who songs as well as showcasing his acoustic guitar talents. He had an ongoing collaboaration with Faces bassist and fellow Meher Baba devotee Ronnie Lane, including a duet album (1977's Rough Mix). Townshend's solo breakthrough, following the (temporary) disbanding of The Who after the death of Who drummer Keith Moon, was the 1980 release Empty Glass, which included a top-10 single, "Let My Love Open the Door". This release was followed in 1982 by All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes, which was also successful and included the popular radio track "Slit Skirts". Through the rest of the 1980s and early 1990s Townshend would again experiment with the rock opera and related formats, releasing several story-based albums including White City: A Novel (1985), The Iron Man: A Musical (1989), and Psychoderelict (1993).
Townshend also got the chance to play with his hero Hank Marvin for Paul McCartney's Rockestra sessions, along with other greats like David Gilmour, John Bonham and Ronnie Lane.
Townshend has also recorded several live albums, including one featuring the supergroup Deep End, who performed just three concerts and a TV show session for The Tube, to raise money for a charity supporting drug addicts. In 1984 Townshend published an anthology of short stories entitled Horse's Neck, and he is rumored to be writing an autobiography. In 1993 he and Des MacAnuff wrote and directed the Broadway adaptation of the Who album Tommy, as well as a less successful stage musical based on his solo album The Iron Man, based upon the book by Ted Hughes. (MacAnuff and Townshend would later co-produce the animated film The Iron Giant, also based on the Hughes story).
From the mid-1980s through the present, Townshend has participated in a series of reunion and farewell concerts with the surviving members of The Who, including a 2002 tour immediately following the death of John Entwistle.
Townshend currently resides in Richmond, UK. Despite being linked to many companions over the years, he has had a longterm marriage to Karen Astley (daughter of composer Ted Astley) with whom he has had three children.
Child pornography controversyIn early January 2003, Townshend admitted having provided his credit card details to a commercial child pornography website, and viewing the child porn images there, which he claimed to have done for research purposes. He made the admission after his credit card transaction was discovered as part of Operation Ore, a large anti- child pornography operation. In May 2003, he was cautioned by the police (acceptance of which is technically an admission of guilt), who decided not to press charges, after finding no evidence that he was still in possession of child pornography. He was also placed on the Sex Offenders Register, requiring him to register with the police every year and if he moves house. Failure to do so would carry a five-year jail sentence.
His research claims were bolstered by a document written by him, dating to January 2002 and once posted on his official website. In it, he describes the child pornography market on the Internet and police attempts to regulate possession, which he characterizes as a "witch hunt" that also catches innocent vigilantes. In March of 2004, Townshend was featured on a BBC television documentary in which he described his experiences as a result of the charges, stated that he was so upset by the accusations that he considered suicide, and apologized for the event.