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Tough As You

SMASHED GUITARS AND SILENT CROWDS

It's 1964 and The Who are playing their regular Tuesday night slot at the Railway Tavern, a tiny pub in northwest London. During one energetic song, Pete Townshend inadvertently cracks his guitar on the low ceiling, snapping the end of the neck. The guitar is precious to him but Townshend is unfazed, thinking the audience will be energised. But nobody in the venue does anything. A few laugh awkwardly, but there are no shouts or cheers, no encouragement of any kind.

Incensed by the crowd's underwhelming reaction, Townshend proceeds to bounce around the small stage smashing the guitar to pieces, throwing the mangled bits on the floor in a heap. Then he simply picks up his spare guitar and carries on playing.

This iconic rock moment needs context: this was the 60s, soon to be the era of the hippy and 'The Summer of Love'. Bands were more likely to have peace signs on stage than scraps of smashed guitars, and any show of on-stage violence was always met with scowling disapproval.



Their toughness and flexibility made them perfect for the athletic routines I performed on stage. I literally bounced.

Townshend would later explain that the venom and anger he exhibited was a result of his frustration with not being able to play his guitar as well as the blues musicians he idolised. He could hear the notes in his head, but he couldn't pick them out… yet. His famous arm windmilling and jumping around was intended to make his guitar work seem more 'lethal'. This all created a pent-up anger and frustration in the young guitarist that eventually boiled over that night in London.

The on-stage antics soon became a unique signature of The Who, and Townshend in particular. His performances became so physical that he started damaging his feet. And in 1967, he turned to a pair of air-cushioned 1460 boots to relieve his soles. In Townshend's own words, 'Their toughness and flexibility made them perfect for the athletic routines I performed on stage. I literally bounced.'

As the band rose to Mod king status, they brought our boots along for the ride. Townshend took them everywhere: ‘There would sometimes be a couple of things I’d take to bed with me. A bottle of cognac on one side, a Dr. Martens boot on the other.’



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