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"A friend of mine"

Pete Townshend reflects on the Brian Jones he knew and pop's myth of romantic self-destruction.

(Originally printed as part of MOJO's 1999 Feature)

Brian Jones was a friend of mine in the early Who years. We first met the Stones when we were still called The Detours, before Keith Moon joined the band. I spoke about Mick Jagger's effect on me on a VH1 plug-clip recently; he really was quite beautiful and erotic, even to men, I think. Brian by contrast looked like a pretty sheepdog. His stage movements were confined to an urgent head-thrust like a strutting cockerel. But the Mod girls in the audience (pretending to like short haired Mod style, but really wanting teddy bears in bed) screamed more at him than Mick.

He played very well, I thought, and played harmonica, too, in a slightly more country style than Mick. On Last Time it was his guitar that repeated the intoxicating riff-catch. He was musical, almost musicologist, in nature and loved to talk about music.

We hung out a lot from about 1964 to 1966. Part of the time he was seeing Anita Pallenberg. She was a stunning creature. I mean literally stunning. It was quite hard to maintain one's gaze. One time in Paris I remember they took some drug and were so sexually stimulated they could hardly wait for me to leave the room before starting to shag. I felt Brian was living on a higher planet of decadence than anyone I would ever meet.

Brian and I used to go to a club called Scotch Of St. James. Everyone hung out there. We were together when we first heard I Got You Babe. Brian was really excited and enthused by it. He loved pop music as well as R&B; that appealed to me. I hated snobbery, even though I'm sad to say I later became rather snobbish about pop versus rock. Alongside the gems there was so much utter shit in the charts at the time. I wanted to make a distinction. We sat together to watch Stevie Wonder's first UK show. Stevie was so excited he fell off the stage. Brian never offered me drugs. I didn't use them, and he didn't press me. I was not seeing my girlfriend much at the time. Had I been, he may have hit on her and I would hate him, but in fact he was always very kind to me. Very encouraging of my writing. He loved my first Who song, Can't Explain.

When we played The Rolling Stones' Rock And Roll Circus I was very upset about Brian's condition. I was upset at Keith Richards' green complexion, too, but he seemed in good spirits. Brian was defeated. I took Mick and Keith aside and they were quite frank about it all; they said Brian had ceased to function, they were afraid he would slip away. They certainly were not hard nosed about him. But they were determined not to let him drag them down, that was clear. Brian certainly slipped away that evening. He died soon after.

I was melodramatically upset when he died. He was the first friend of mine that had ever died. He was the first person I knew well in my business that died. It seemed to me to be a portent and thus it proved to be. I wrote a really crap song for him, Normal Day For Brian. He deserved better and one day he will get it.

I've become angry about a business in which people (especially the press) sneer if someone tries to save their skin by going into rehab after raising hell. This week my friend Oliver Reed died of raising hell. We applaud, we wait, then we nod sagely when they burn out. It's despicable. Oliver Reed should have been sacked every time he drank on the film set. Brian should have been sectioned into a mental hospital like a street drunk, not allowed to flounder about in a heated swimming pool taking fucking downers. If I'm honest I suppose I was one of the friends who should have called the ambulance.

Keith Moon? Well I tried. I thought it would be best to get him back to London after his two-year binge in California and rented for him the London apartment in which he almost immediately died. I had introduced him to Meg Paterson who later helped me. I had found a friend of my father's from AA who watched Keith for a week and pronounced that it was me who had the problem! So I know it isn't always possible to save the skin of someone whose number is up.

But let no-one pretend it's part of the poop myth. I told Jim Morrison he was turning into a fat drunk in1971. I could tell from his stunned expression that until then no-one had indicated they might even care. A little while before he died Jimi Hendrix told me he owed me a lot. (He meant with respect to the guidance I gave him on what amplifiers to use when he first came to London, but perhaps too for my unadulterated support.)

These people were my friends. Brian was a pleasant and quite well-educated fellow. Really.

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