Friday, August 27, 2010

Pete Townshend 11: Lifehouse Chronicles

In the midst of the high Who profile during the reissue period, Pete closed out his dormant solo deal with a hits CD. The collection, which sported a very long official title, offered a wide selection, a new mix of “Let My Love Open The Door” that soon made a ton of movie soundtracks and a pleasant outtake from Psychoderelict.
Then, having predicted the Internet as far back as 1970, he leaped into the murky fray in 1999 with his own official website, which promised to offer regular interaction by way of what might eventually be called a blog, along with an online shop selling his solo work and various pending exclusive products. The first of these to be announced was a tantalizing one.
The story of Lifehouse had been retold and re-evaluated (even by the author) since its inception thirty years earlier. It started as a film, the futuristic story of a society ruined by pollution and tethered to technology to the point where personal interaction had all but disappeared. A way out of this hell was to be a concert (performed by the Who, naturally) where the few faithful who believed in the power of music as communion could be set free from the chains.
However, Pete’s ideas couldn’t always translate to the band and their management, but the music was incredible, eventually resulting in Who’s Next, one of the greatest albums of all time. Over the years, as the legend of Lifehouse as a great lost album grew, some attempts to complete the project were made and abandoned, surfacing in songs on The Who By Numbers and Who Are You, and much later alluded to on Psychoderelict. He never did make a movie out of it—why he didn’t just do an animated version seems a no-brainer today—but he did complete another revision of the script, incorporating ideas and allegories from such mutated concepts as White City (which included the protagonist’s conversations with a young version of himself) for a rather depressing radio play on the BBC.
To bring the project full circle, he also unveiled Lifehouse Chronicles, a six-CD box set containing the radio play on two discs, one disc of baroque orchestral pieces, another of remixes and experiments from the ‘90s, and the holy grail—two discs of his original demos of the songs dating back to 1970. Some had appeared on the Baba and Scoop albums, and others had snuck out on bootlegs. But there were some true surprises. “Teenage Wasteland” began as a song of its own before it evolved into what we now know as “Baba O’Riley”. That first version began slow and piano-based with a completely different melody before sliding into the familiar three-chord vamp when Sally takes his hand. “Love Ain’t For Keeping” is a harder rock version the Who would try to emulate before turning it into the acoustic version. “Greyhound Girl” is very pretty, whatever it has to do with the plot. “Mary” and “Pure And Easy”, like most of his demos, are longer than the version previously released. The full ten-minute version of the “Baba O’Riley” backing track is simply intoxicating.
While Pete contended that this would be the definitive representation of the concept, it’s not. For one, the original Lifehouse screenplay from 1970 has never been revealed, so it’s unknown if it’s anywhere near as bleak as the eventual radio revision. It also makes it tough to figure out what the songs have to do with the plot, as they’re not presented in a thematic order, except for the beginning and the end. Completists looking for documentation as to, at the very least, what years Pete’s demos were recorded still had to guess what things like “Slip Kid” and “Sister Disco” had to do with the plot. (And while it wasn’t available in stores, an abridged version called Lifehouse Elements was, including the demo for “New Song”, which wasn’t on the box.)
But such quibbles are moot when presented with the sheer quality of the music in those demos. Perhaps the songs would be transformed into classics by the Who, but there’s something in the ache of Pete’s voice that makes the songs different from Roger’s bravado. On top of that, he’s a pretty decent drummer. The classical disc, if a bit pompous, makes for nice rainy day listening, complete with a new orchestral arrangement of that ten-minute “Baba O’Riley” demo.
With such an auspicious start for his website, fans were itching for more selections from his vaults, and for a time, he complied. But soon his attentions turned to other things, and his hope for a bright future via technology was tainted by the dangerous playground of the real Internet. Today, Lifehouse Chronicles is out of print.

Pete Townshend The Best Of Pete Townshend: Coolwalkingsmoothtalkingstraightsmokingfirestoking (1996)—4
Pete Townshend Lifehouse Chronicles (2000)—4

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