In a recent interview with Clash Music, Pete Townshend delved into the ‘Lifehouse’ concept, initially conceived in the early ’70s and eventually materializing into a graphic novel released in December 2023. The legendary guitarist of The Who reminisced about the pivotal role played by The Grateful Dead in the success of this enduring project. Townshend shared:
“The Who were grappling with a creative void pre-‘Tommy,’ the groundbreaking rock opera. That album began as a mythical narrative, loosely inspired by Hermann Hesse’s ‘Siddharta.’ However, my mind was also immersed in Sufi tales and the mystical writings of Hazrat Inayat Khan, a musician and spiritual teacher who penned ‘The Mysticism Of Sound.’ All of these influences were swirling in my thoughts.”
Addressing the impact of the psychedelic culture of the ’60s, Townshend continued: “After the Monterey experience, I had a transformative episode where I ingested some acid, courtesy of a chemist associated with The Grateful Dead. During this intense trip, I had an alarming out-of-body experience. I discussed it with Mike MacKinnon, who suggested exploring the writings of Meher Baba. Upon delving into a biography of Baba, I found the answers to the myriad questions that had been buzzing in my head.”
The Genesis of the Concept: Unraveling the Birth of ‘Lifehouse
The ‘Lifehouse’ project, originally conceived as a rock opera, took a backseat as The Who pivoted to create ‘Who’s Next.’ Although revisited in the 1978 album ‘Who Are You,’ guitarist Pete Townshend also crafted two solo albums based on the concept.
Fast forward to 2023, and ‘Lifehouse’ made a comeback in the form of a graphic novel within the re-release box set of ‘Who’s Next.’ Townshend shared insights into the genesis of his original comic book concept during a conversation with Peter Hogan:
“At the time, The Who was running out of hit singles, and we were in need of something grander. I had always harbored a desire to compose an opera. My manager, Kit Lambert, was a fantastic mentor who urged me to embark on this song cycle.” He continued:
“Nick Cohn, an Observer writer, raised the question of it being too cliché – a rock star turning into a guru. So we tweaked it, transforming the protagonist into a pinball player, added a few extra songs… and it was in the can! It was both a piece of nonsense and simultaneously the most monumental thing that ever happened to anyone in their entire life. I mean, just beyond, beyond, beyond enormous.”