The Age of Anxiety : a review
by Trevor Moore
The Age of Anxiety
Pete Townshend, Coronet, 2020, 265pp, ISBN 9-781-473-62294-4
They say things come in threes. I am not sure who “they” are but whoever they are they qualified the type of things that come in threes. Bad things apparently come in threes. That it is bad things may be associated with superstitions around the number three. There’s a website called The Book of Threes that proclaims that “something, nothing, and everything comes in threes”. It purports to be the largest collection of all things three. I am writing about this because of three particular events that happened to me each of which involved Pete Townshend who is, as you all know, the guitarist with The Who. The first was, as you may have seen in an earlier article in The Beagle, in which I expressed my amazement that it was 50 years ago since The Who’s seminal Live At Leeds album.
Just after I wrote the Live At Leeds piece I had a long exchange with my good friend Macman. We found ourselves needing urgently to address the question of what is the greatest bass line ever played in a rock song. I tossed in Tina Weymouth’s bass on Talking Head’s Psycho Killer. Macman came back with Pink Floyd’s Money. And back and forth we went until Macman sent me a playlist by Steve Kilbey who the bassist for The Church. He had five songs on high rotation and fifth on the list was Overture which opens 1969’s brilliant rock opera Tommy. I hadn’t listened to this for several decades and as Kilbey himself remarks it is “still jaw-droopingly good after 51 years.”
The third of this particular set of three things happened when I visited Moruya Books to relieve some recent heavy reading through the acquisition of a novel or two. My eyes alighted on The Age of Anxiety by some author called Pete Townshend. There’s a small picture on the back of the author and a glance confirmed that he was indeed our special friend; the Pete Townshend. It was the work of a moment to add the book to the heap. After all the man who wrote Pinball Wizard would surely be able to write a half decent novel. And it is a half decent novel – in fact, it’s more than half decent.
The novel is narrated through the voice of an art dealer called Louis Doxtader. It is pretty clear early on that Doxtader is Townshend. There’s a notable autobiographical angle to the book. Doxtader is well-acquainted with the business of rock music. He’s a recovering heroin addict. At one point he writes “drugs had opened a door for me too, and slowly, as that door had closed, I settled down to live a more normal life. But I could not forget what I had seen, what I had experienced.”
The novel is based on Townshend’s inclination to push the boundaries, in this case the boundaries of rock music. There’s a frustration that comes through; clearly Townshend believes that rock music needs to develop further, in new and different ways. That’s what he has spent his career doing. Yet in his heart I think he recognises that his age and youth culture may be against him. The true innovator is a young person.
In his art dealing Doxtader has formed a business relationship with an artist and former rock star, Nik. Nik has been having disturbing episodes both visual aural. As it turns out he shares this problem with Doxtader’s godson, Walter, is also a rock star (you can see the autobiographical theme) who sings and plays the mouth-organ (an odd choice of instrument, but perhaps Townshend is making some point that is beyond me) with his band Big Walter and His Stand, known to its fans as The Stand. Walter decides to cope with his problems by taking a 15-year break and building a maze before eventually pushing his music to a new level.
The weak aspect of the novel lies in the development, and the treatment, of its female characters. There are three: Doxtader’s daughter, Rain, and two sisters, Siobhan and Selena. These women seem to be props for the actions and desires of the male characters. They are support actors.
On the whole, however, the novel romps along in an easy-to-read and engaging style. I was not disappointed to have bought the book and not disappointed to have read it. It is not a great novel, but it is just about a good one. I suspect you would read this if you like stories about rock musicians and if you want to read one that is written by a rock star and if you are a Pete Townshend fan. And that, I suppose, is a qualified recommendation.