Song Of The Day 2/22/2017: Pete Townshend – “Stardom in Acton”

The Final 36

By the way, Spotify's wrong about the name of this song on their service. It's "Stardom in Acton," a part of London where Pete Townshend lived as a child. But I always heard it as "Stardom in Action" too until I read the lyrics more closely, so really, pick whatever name you want.

The Show Went Fine

Never overestimate your free time. By this point in these memoirs I was fully expecting to be in college. And I took a year off first.

Anyway. I did the show, everything went fine. A couple of weeks later I played piano for Bye Bye Birdie, that went fine too. Everybody was fine.

I spent the next summer at MCW, except the old grizzled guy was no longer in charge and we renamed it something that gave it the initials “SST.” You’d think it was “Summer Stock Theater” but I think it was something else. Maybe “Sacramento Summer Theater.” I don’t remember. Again, help me, crowd. I can’t be bothered.

We also moved the whole shebang over to El Camino Fundamental High School. Jessica Chastain went to El Camino. So did Larry Linville, who played Maj. Frank Burns on the TV show M*A*S*H.

I landed two roles the next summer: Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls and one of the comic-relief gangsters in Kiss Me Kate. I think we threw another play onto the fire that year and did Grease. I played piano for that too. I don’t remember the financial arrangements but they were good enough for me.

In between the two summers I also played Daddy Warbucks in another cross-district production of Annie. I refused to shave my head. They just made my hair grey instead. Terrible career move.

Sleeping Bag Heroes

If not for MCW and SST, I’m not sure I’d be at the precise point I’m at now. I can trace almost everywhere I went in the future back through to people I met over those two summers. It would take two or three degrees in some cases.

The kids I hung out with knocked down a lot more doors as well. David Bowie was the big unifier. Up until that point I’d only really heard the Let’s Dance album (I’m not kidding), but by the end of the first summer C.J. was unloading “Cygnet Committee” and “God Knows I’m Good” in my car. After Elvis Costello, Bowie became the next target of my completist album-buying tendencies. I was in pretty good hands.

I spent all day at Mira Loma and El Camino those summers, and for at least a couple of weeks all night. The stages were outside. It was theater al fresco. So a couple of weeks into the program they’d have to start building the stage, and once it was set up, well, you couldn’t just leave it there because who know who’d come onto the high school grounds and cause damage to it? They needed nightwatchmen. And nightwatchwomen. So we volunteered to stay all night and guard the stage. From our sleeping bags. We figured all of us in our sleeping bags would scare the shit out of anybody. And we needed sleep.

If you’re wondering the number of teenage kids it takes to guard a stage from disloyal outsiders every night in the middle of a  Sacramento summer—about thirteen. About thirteen seems right.

Believe it or not, we did not take advantage of these unwatched moments to test illicit substances. You’re still dealing with theater kids. We would have been kicked out of the program anyway. So on substance abuse level we were on the up and up.

I’ve got no comment on anything else.

Cutlass, Brah!

I didn’t hang out so much with Casa Roble kids those two years. I was finding myself in downtown Sacramento a lot. I didn’t really fit in comfortably to any particular scene—no matter how I tried to festoon myself in clove cigarettes and hair products, I still had my Hall & Oates tapes in the car.

Oh, the car. Yeah, man. The car. I got myself a sweet ride in high school. Oldsmobile. Cutlass. Cutlass Supreme. Stark bathtub white. Power windows. (No… I think they were crank windows, sorry.)

There was no point in investing that much into an image. I didn’t have any clue what I wanted to do outside of music. Frankly I didn’t know what I wanted to do inside of music. During my high school years I was only in one rock band at any point, and we’ll get to them tomorrow.

I did hang out with an unusual amount of beautiful people. I mean, considering what I look like now. It just seems unusual to me. Although when I do hang out these days, unfailingly it’s with a bunch of beautiful people. But back then we were all beautiful. Goddamn. We’d see what I remember as foreign movies at Tower Theater on Broadway, but probably were just David Lynch films. We’d go to each other’s shows at rival high schools. We smoked cloves. Kuta Kretek was my brand. My clothes were finally washed out of the scent in…. 2003, I think.

I did go to dances and proms and things, but I wanted to disrupt them. Not in a Carrie way or anything. Mainly through  photographs and costumes. At one dance my date and I (we weren’t an item) posed for our pictures Public Enemy style, unsmiling and with arms folded. In another prom picture my date and I (we were an item) read a copy of USA Today with great interest. We were screwing the system from within, you see.

Nothing was going on at home. The guys in Brooklyn weren’t actively bothering me anymore. I was very fortunate to have had someplace to go pretty much immediately after splitting from them. A lot of refugees from the guys in Brooklyn had nowhere to go. I still watch out for them.

But there was something of a gap in progression. The only thing I kept up with reliably during my youth was music. There was a bunch of things I never learned about. Social rituals, psychological development… fuckin’ civics, man. The way the world worked. I still feel that gap today. It’s difficult to fathom, because I’ve got three of these kids now and they think I know everything.

Well, Hank doesn’t. Hank knows everything. He might not seem like it, but he’s picking up an incredible amount of stuff nowadays.

But I never really felt completely in place because of it. It wasn’t tragic or anything like that. Sometimes it was lonely. Sometimes it was almost tragic. And maybe part of it is just something all us introverts go through at some point or another.

The way I remember and tell it, though, is that I was very fortunate to have a bunch of friends who were very, very patient with me. And a few who weren’t. I was fortunate for that too.

Of course in the back of my mind I was demanding compensation, screaming out for justice. But it never got to the front of my mind.

A few years ago I interviewed a musician who’s also a friend. We were talking about the pop music we loved as kids, and I mused aloud whether he felt, in the Johnny Rotten sense, that we’d ever been cheated by the promise and lure of that pop music. He laughed, “Yeah! We did! I want my money back!” That explains it pretty well. I just wanted my money back. I’d already blown through the rehearsal pianist cash. Now I wanted the rest of what was owed me.

It wasn’t until I stopped shaking down karma that things got much better, but we’re a ways off from that yet.

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