Home » Pete Townshend’s ‘Life House’: Unveiling the Man Behind the Blue Eyes

Pete Townshend’s ‘Life House’: Unveiling the Man Behind the Blue Eyes

On a chilly November afternoon, I boarded a train to Sloane Square, London, eagerly anticipating a meeting with Pete Townshend, the acclaimed guitarist and creative force behind The Who, along with his close friend, writer Peter Hogan. The setting was a private basement bar at The Sloane Club, where we engaged in an insightful conversation surrounded by a curated selection of reading materials, including Townshend’s favorite graphic novels, Life House print-outs, and a stack of unbound notes bearing Townshend’s distinctive handwriting.

Seated in a dimly lit booth, our discussion centered on the newly released graphic novel, Life House. Townshend’s vivid blue eyes, filled with focus and enthusiasm, captivated my attention as he delved into the dystopian concept that had lingered in his mind since the late 1960s. Life House, born out of the success of The Who’s first rock opera, Tommy, was Townshend’s audacious follow-up project, aiming to celebrate the unifying power of rock music.

Inspired by Sufi musician Inayat Khan’s belief in a universal note of music, Life House envisioned a futuristic world where rock ‘n’ roll didn’t exist, and people lived as if in programmed television programs. The narrative explored the clash between those immersed in controlled entertainment and those preserving rock ‘n’ roll as a primitive force.

Despite the ambitious vision, Life House drove Townshend to the brink of insanity and was ultimately abandoned. However, remnants of the material found new life in The Who’s iconic 1970 album, Who’s Next, featuring tracks like ‘Baba O’Riley,’ ‘Bargain,’ ‘Love Ain’t for Keeping,’ and ‘Behind Blue Eyes.’

Now, Townshend has revisited the project, collaborating with writers James Harvey and David Hine, who meticulously transformed his raw materials into a cohesive 150-page graphic novel. The book, scripted by Hine and illustrated by Harvey and Max Prentis in collaboration with Image Comics, brings Life House to fruition.

While Hogan, Townshend’s companion, wasn’t directly involved in creating Life House, his long-standing friendship with Townshend played a pivotal role. Introduced as a comic book author during our conversation, Hogan’s connection with Townshend dates back to 1978 when he managed Townshend’s Magic Bus bookshop and later served as the commissioning editor for Townshend’s Eel Pie publishing house.

As we delved into the discussion, Townshend reflected on his childhood fascination with comic books and how the Magic Bus facilitated a renewed appreciation for the medium in adulthood. The graphic novel Life House stands as a testament to Townshend’s enduring creative restlessness and the collaborative efforts that brought this visionary project to life.

Townshend and Hogan, both followers of Meher Baba’s spiritual teachings, embarked on a venture encouraged by an ageing actress named Delia De Leon. She envisioned a bookshop presenting Meher Baba’s writings alongside works of other mystics like Hazrat Inayat Khan, Hafez, and Rumi. Townshend humorously recalled his early visit to the shop, divided into sections for esoteric, music, and comics—thanks to Hogan’s passion.

Sharing a chuckle, Townshend revealed his first arrest as a young boy for shoplifting books, including Observer books he couldn’t afford to buy. At Magic Bus, Townshend borrowed some of Hogan’s comics, discovering the potential of illustration in adult literature. Hogan, instrumental in Townshend’s renewed interest in graphic novels, served as a bridge to taking the concept seriously.

The new graphic novel, Life House, delves into a dystopian narrative set two centuries into the future, where Earth faces environmental collapse and most of the UK population lives in virtual reality. Jumbo 7, the tyrannical leader, controls their lives through induced sleep, devoid of music since 1977. While Townshend acknowledged the impossibility of banning music, the story reflects the erosion of rock’s subversive spirit.

Life House’s catastrophic events in 1977 symbolize a more insidious suppression of rock’s revolutionary essence, drawing parallels with recent UK legislation restricting the right to protest. The story raises philosophical questions about perfectionism, suggesting that perfection can only be achieved collectively, not individually. Townshend views perfectionism as an abstract state of mind and associates it with returning to the infinite nature of the universe.

The climax of Life House involves a convergent composition, expressing the “universal note,” where musically inclined individuals ascend to the heavens. Townshend reminisced about The Who’s 1970 concerts at the Young Vic Theatre, intending to create a pioneering concert film with audience participation, blending scripted elements with live performances. However, the project faced challenges due to the absence of computers for data processing.

Townshend’s vision for Life House, influenced by Meher Baba’s teachings, explores consciousness and the quest for perfection. The graphic novel, a culmination of Townshend’s enduring creativity, Hogan’s role as a catalyst, and collaboration with writers and artists, brings this visionary project to life.

Townshend playfully admitted that even modern computers might produce a cacophony when attempting to create the “universal note.” It seems better suited for graphic novels and audacious concept albums.

After the karmic rapture event in Life House, the spiritually enlightened find nirvana, while Jumbo 7 and her followers face nuclear annihilation. Despite the cataclysmic warning, Townshend was optimistic about humanity’s future, having grown up in a post-apocalyptic era. He acknowledged the potential for unforeseen challenges, like a software targeting magnet bomb with unimaginable consequences.

Reflecting on the theme of unity in Life House, the absence of music’s unifying power raises questions about the impact on an ego-driven minority without the influence of a compassionate majority. Hogan emphasized the uncertainty of predicting the future, acknowledging the unpredictable nature of history.

Life House, a 50-year-old concept delivered in an accessible, thought-provoking, and entertaining graphic novel, partly unveils the mystery “behind blue eyes.” It celebrates Townshend’s enduring passion for music, storytelling, and spiritual philosophy.

As the conversation concluded with a handshake, Townshend’s humility and gratitude became evident. Despite his prolonged success, he referred to himself as a fortuitous “black swan.” His reluctance to dwell on the past and his appreciation for both contemporary and classic artists revealed a man deeply connected to the present and eager to inspire discussions and creativity in others.

The Life House graphic novel was initially available in September as part of the Who’s Next / Life House box set, with an official launch scheduled for December 19th. Pre-orders are open for those interested in exploring Townshend’s visionary project.

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