Mouse rant blog vent mouse.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

It's alright to talk back to 60's rock gods

And I'll start: Pete Townsend is a great songwriter and overall musician. He is also a world-class dork. I mean, c'mon--Tommy on Broadway?
Just have to get that out of the way, because, through The Sideshow, we find that Pete Townsend is firing back at some stuff that Michael Moore apparently said about him. I haven't heard anything that Moore said, and Townsend may be right, that it was unfair and mean-spirited. Amygdala obviously thinks that Townsend is making a nuanced argument, but really it seems like he's pouting and his point isn't nuanced at all. He's just saying that Moore is a loud-mouthed bully and doesn't understand that Townsend thinks about it very hard before he just gives his songs away willy-nilly for anti-war purposes. Especially if the money's not good enough.

When first approached I knew nothing about the content of his film FAHRENHEIT 911. My publisher informed me they had already refused the use of my song in principle because MIRAMAX the producers offered well below what the song normally commands for use in a movie. They asked me if I wanted to ask for more money, I told them no.

They raised the offer, which makes me immediately suspicious of Townsend's motives here. I seriously doubt that he ever gets offers that are as high as he wants. The nature of bargaining is just that--the buyer under bids, the seller counters with a ridiculously high offer, so on and so forth until a price is agreed on. And Townsend admits that Weinstein stepped in and made a sufficient offer. So, money is not the issue, but just a way to build his rather weak case.

Out of courtesy to Harvey I suggested that if he and Moore were determined to have me reconsider, I should at least get a chance to see a copy of the new film. I knew that with Cannes on the horizon, time was running short for them, and this might not be possible. I never received a copy of the film to view. At no time did I ask Moore or Miramax to reconsider anything. Once I had an idea what the film was about I was 90% certain my song was not right for them.

This is the only point he makes that's really valid and it's fair to say that if he doesn't like the movie or its politics, he has a right to withhold his song. But he doesn't want to just come out and say that, because that would actually be confirming what Moore is saying, albeit in different words--that Townsend disagrees with Moore's politics so he wouldn't cough up the song.

I believe that in the same email to my publisher and manager that contained this request to see the film I pointed out that WGFA is not an unconditionally anti-war song, or a song for or against revolution. It actually questions the heart of democracy: we vote heartily for leaders who we subsequently always seem to find wanting.... I suggested in the email that they might use something by Neil Young, who I knew had written several songs of a more precise political nature, and is as accessible as I am. Moore himself takes credit for this idea, and I have no idea whether my suggestion reached him, but it was the right thing to do.

Okay, Townsend is really being disingenous here. He knows that the actual lyrics of the song are secondary to Moore's purposes. It's not like they use songs in their entirity in movies--a lyric here, a lyric there, and mostly the sound of the music itself for mood. But I can agree with him that it is noxious to hear music used to promote values that are directly against what the song stood for in the first place--the classic example being Limbaugh's use of the Pretenders. If Chrissie Hynde could stop Limbaugh, I have no doubt she would and I would applaud her.
But this is a hazier case, because despite what Townsend says, there is nothing in Fahrenheit 9/11 that's in opposition to this song or it's lyrics or the values of Townsend's generation or the Who's entire canon or whatever. The song's lyrics are incredibly appropriate for the film and fit in with Moore's overall use of music in the movie. After all, the movie isn't outright against war in general either, just against unnecessary ones. And the movie isn't whining about the decisions of an elected leader, it's spitting on the decisions of an unelected leader who's acting like he has a mandate.
Moore used alot of different songs from different eras, but he very specifically made a point to use 60's and early 70's rock music to evoke the anger and revolutionary feelings that the Vietnam War brought to a head. His purpose is obvious to me, as it should be to everyone--not only is he making a symbolic link to a war that pretty much everyone agrees was crap in retrospect, he is pulling a guilt trip on his own generation. It's a not at all subtle, but extremely effective reminder to the middle-aged people in his audience who may be ambivalent about the war or may have even supported it that once were of the generation who agitated for the end of wars just like this, who agitated to end sending young people to their deaths fighting for things they don't really understand. That is probably why Townsend is over-reacting to a few snotty things Moore said--he knows damn well that he and his music still have that evocative power, to make people feel like there was a time when rock music meant something. And that when people hear that Townsend wouldn't let Moore use his song, the first thing they are going to conclude is that Townsend is a sell-out.
Okay, we don't know if Townsend is a sell-out(Tommy on Broadway, Tommy on Broadway). But he doesn't do much to help his own arguments with the bringing up of the money right away. But even more irritating, at least to me, is how he winds up suggesting that Moore used Neil Young on his suggestion, as if it couldn't possibly have occured to Moore that Young's music might be really good at evoking that anger and nostaglia. It's been clear to me that Townsend has an over-inflated opinion of himself, but this really takes the cake. What next? He comes down off the mountain and says that if you want some good anti-war music, you should check out this band called Creedence Clearwater Revival? Can you really be more full of yourself?
Apparently, yes.

I wish him all the best with the movie, which I know is popular, and which I still haven’t seen. But he’ll have to work very, very hard to convince me that a man with a camera is going to change the world more effectively than a man with a guitar.

You haven't seen it, eh? I guess the great Townsend doesn't need to see the fucking movie to tell us all what's in it and what it's politics are. And the snooty shot where he implies that he, a Musician, will always be superior to little Michael Moore who is merely a film director. If movies are so silly, then why the hell did Townsend make his albums would be better as movies?
If Townsend is going to pout every time someone implies that he's a sell-out, he better get his pout on. It's a grand old tradition of the rock and roll era to go around trying to discredit someone by calling them a sell-out. Hell, it's such a tradition that I've heard wingnuts complain that Moore is making money off his movie, that he's a sell-out. This from people who think that selling out is a holy Biblical tradition! Like it or not, Townsend, if you're going to withhold your music because you dislike someone's anti-war stance or because they didn't offer up enough cash, people are going to think you're a sell-out. You made your choice, and you have to live with the consequences.
Of course, Townsend's gonna get away with this, since he is an official Rock God and therefore alot of people are going to think that whatever he says is intelligent and important at bare minimum. Like this blogger Amygdala, for instance, who has interpeted what I see as a whining temper tantrum as a nuanced argument.

Edited to add: I almost titled this post, "Pete Townsend is a whiny bitch." But I thought that was a bit harsh.


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