Historiography Saturday: Pete Townshend


Pete Townshend, better known as the lead guitar-smashing guitarist of the legendary British rock band the Who, has been a rock superstar for half a century. Offstage, Townshend was in charge of songwriting; at the time of this posting he is credited with having penned over one hundred for either the Who or his own solo work. On top of his performances and record list, Townshend has a mile-long resume of charity work; a collection of short stories; producer credit for the animated film The Iron Giant; and an autobiography chronicling his exploits. In 2012 the Who took the stage and played a medley in London during the closing ceremony of the Olympic games.

During the course of his solo career Townshend wrote and performed a number called “Rough Boys” that poked fun at gay leather culture. In a subsequent interview he was quoted as saying that he knows “what it is to be a woman, because I am one,” and that he has “had a gay life.” However, Townshend later clarified the remark, explaining that the “gay life” referred to his friends, and that hadn’t been coming out at all. To add a further level of complexity, in his memoir he describes himself as “probably bisexual,” given a crush on fellow rock musician Mick Jagger, as well as an affair with another man. It is unclear how best to classify someone who is equally unsure of how he himself should be classified; “questioning” may be appropriate, or something close to “heteroflexible”. Or, given that he describes Jagger as “the only man I’ve ever seriously wanted to fuck,” he may have simply had an exception.

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