It’s the worst news for The Who fans since the death of bassist John Entwistle. On Jan. 13, Pete Townshend, The Who’s guitarist, was arrested for possessing child pornography.
The Who, who begin their song “Won’t Get Fooled Again” with the lyrics “We’ll be fighting in the streets / with our children at our feet,” have deservedly garnered respect for their style of now-classic rock since their 1965 debut with “My Generation.” But Townshend’s recent arrest is a triple threat to The Who’s rock legacy and could be indicative of a more expansive problem in the world of entertainment.
First, Townshend’s arrest in disheartening enough in itself. But it also creates second punch to the gut for The Who fans by singling out vocalist Roger Daltrey as the only bandmember neither dead nor scathed by scandal. (Drummer Keith Moon died of a drug overdose in 1978; Entwistle died a day before The Who was to launch a tour on the United States in June of 2002.) On Tuesday, Daltrey spoke publicly in defense of his bandmate and friend. “I believe Pete is innocent,” he told reporters. Elton John, with whom Townshend has collaborated, also publicly expressed his shock. One can almost imagine his oversized Gloria Vanderbilt sunglasses flying off his face in surprise.
But the third – and perhaps most career-damaging – effect of this ordeal is Townshend’s pathetically naive excuse. Townshend admitted to having used his credit card to purchase illicit material from a now-defunct Texas-based child porn studio. However, he said he only did so to research the practice of child pornography for a book in which Townshend said he would have discussed his own sexual abuse by his childhood guardian, his mentally ill grandmother.
The arrest is not the first time Townshend’s issue with childhood sexual abuse has publicly surfaced, however. The Who’s rock opera “Tommy”concerns a disabled pinball prodigy who is molested by his uncle. And the Townshend-penned song “Rough Boys” from Townshend’s solo album Empty Glass contains the lyrics, “Rough boys / come over here / I wanna bite and kiss you.”
Whether Townshend actually downloaded child pornography for research purposes is something only he could know, but his fans are left to one of two conclusions: Pete Townshend is a law-breaking pedophile or Pete Townshend is an incredibly stupid man who purchased and possessed a type of material generally reviled by most members of Western culture.
Daltrey was careful to point out Townshend is “not Gary Glitter.” For the uninitiated, Glitter is a formerly celebrated glam rocker who scored with songs like – ahem – “Do You Wanna Touch Me?” Glitter was convicted of possessing child porn, served jail time and was even banished from Cambodia for his predilections. His career never recovered.
Similar scandals have spread beyond the rock world.
Artist R. Kelly’s alleged videotaped tryst with a 13-year-old is not news. But E! Online News reports Kelly is now working on I Can Fly, an inspirational autobiography intended for children between 6 and 9 years old. (Apparently, Kelly wants his name on the most inappropriate book ever.) And actor Jeffrey Jones, perhaps best known for his role as the principal in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” pled not guilty on Jan. 9 to charges of hiring a 14-year-old boy for a nude photo session. Finally, Paul Reubens (aka Pee Wee Herman), the man whose sexual life is a source of endless fascination for the American government, is currently fighting charges of misdemeanor possession of child pornography.
What all this amounts to is a lot of celebrities with a tangled mess of legal complications. Is it a sign of grown-ups with too much money and too little contact with functioning society? Or are these just hapless shmucks with large enough spotlights on them to get caught for things that Nester the Molester in South Little Paw, Iowa, gets away with every day? In any case, it should be a blazing reminder to those who bow to celebrities on pedestals that these are not gods but truly just people… people who make very bad, sometimes utterly unforgivable mistakes.