Peter Townshend David Marsh - Essay

David Marsh

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Townshend is the best rock critic we have ever had. When the Who decided to perform a surprise number at Madison Square Garden, they chose an obscure track from The Who Sell Out. But "Tattoo" isn't a random choice; the song is about sex roles, and the disfigurement of one's body in the pursuit of ambiguous beauty. It concerns getting tattooed and there's no more important historical precedent for contemporary unisex fashion than that ugly, painful process. (p. 48)

There are rock songs about rock songs—lately there seems to be almost nothing else—and there are movies about movies but all of them—save Townshend's—are worshipfully nostalgic. Having been through the rock mill for ten years, Townshend understands the clay feet of the golden age. Our Golden Decade, he maintains in Quadrophenia, among other places, was also a Giant Drug.

Many, maybe most, of us already believe both parts of that. In fact, Quadrophenia has its cinematic equivalent in Sunset Boulevard. Everyone already knew that the motion picture industry was crass and that it destroyed more lives than it created, but because Sunset Boulevard presented that common wisdom with such enormous affection, because it was first of all a good movie, and then an anti-Hollywood track, it brought the fact home. Quadrophenia does the same for the Rock Age; it does it, furthermore, without denying the most exhilarating moments of the 60s, which is a wonder in itself. In fact, it is so fair that it has been confused as both an attack upon the 60s and as a celebration of them. It is neither; it's just a piece of criticism, which assesses the relative value of components which make up a whole at once attractive and repulsive….

The Who, particularly Townshend, are moralists; they are a lot clearer about what they think is right, and what's wrong … with the world rock has created [than most other groups are]. (p. 73)

David Marsh, "Ten Years on with The Who," in Creem (© copyright 1974 by Creem Magazine, Inc.), Vol. 6, No. 5, October, 1974, pp. 47-8, 72-3.