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.