Blackie Lawless Recalls Pete Townshend’s Nervous Breakdown

Playing in a world-renowned and beloved band, and being able to continue on the same line, may require some mental compromises from time to time. The Who is one of the bands that have solidified their spot in rock history, and Pete Townshend has experienced some mental health problems during his career. Talking to the Warpo Show after the performance of his 40th-anniversary tour, Blackie Lawless recalled the period when Townshend had a mental breakdown.

“I was in New York, and they were playing ‘Tommy’ at Radio City,” he recalled when he was asked about the Who frontman. “And when the record went gold, I presented him, for ‘The Real Me,’ I presented him with his record. And so we talked for about 45 minutes, I told him the idea I had, and he basically kind of patted me on the head and said, ‘Yeah, it sounds like a great idea. Go for it.’”

Blackie continued by explaining how he found out about Townshend’s mental state later on, and said, “You know, and I didn’t realize later that when he did ‘Quadrophenia,’ he had a nervous breakdown. I found out what the stress was all about later, and I wrote him another letter after it was done, and I said, ‘Well, you told me a little bit, but you didn’t tell me everything.’

The Who released ‘Tommy’ in the late 1960s. It was a rock opera that told the story of a character named Tommy Walker who gets traumatized after witnessing a murder. After ‘Tommy’ came out, he brought The Who a vast commercial success, selling hundreds of thousands of copies in its first two weeks alone, and it was awarded a gold record.

At that time, Pete Townshend had another story in mind he wanted to tell: a story set in a futuristic scene, a time when rock ‘n’ roll didn’t exist, in a universe where everything was programmed. However, ‘Lifehouse’ remained an unfinished story, even though some songs from rock opera were featured on the Who’s albums and Townshend’s solo projects.