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May, 1969: My Parents Accost The Who's Pete Townshend in the Lobby of the Fillmore East

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This story took place 45 years ago!

Time just keeps plowing forward, doesn't it. It's a lava flow... scary.

Meeting at the end of the 1940s, my parents were an almost comically archetypical New York couple for the times; an extrovert black sheep Midwest (St. Louis) shiksa with artistic and bohemian pretensions falls for a sardonic intellectual card-carrying Communist Jewish fella, born and bred in the brier patches of Brooklyn, New York.

A few quick stories about my Mom and/or Dad thatʼll help you better "taste" this headline tale of mine...

For the record, Ruth Gray Philips was an artist. A genuinely "Holy Cow, youʼre GOOD!" artist. Oil painting, commercial illustration, sculpting, photography... she tackled and mastered them all.

One day, when I was in 1st grade, me and about five of my other little 5 and 6 year old Hicks St pals were hanging out on a stoop. A handsome man (looking back, probably all of 20 years old) stopped and casually started talking to us. There was nothing scary about him and his subject matter was mundane. But, then, he started telling us all about ʻblowjobsʼ. I can still hearing him saying, "If someone wants to put his thing in your mouth, donʼt do it, okay."

Okay, this was weird. I stood up and ran home. I told my mother what this man had been saying to us.

"Take me to him right now!"

We walked down the block. The man was still sitting with the rest of my friends. My mother walked up to him and sharply ordered him to, "Stand up!"

He did and my mother, with no warning whatsoever, smacked him square the face so hard it sounded like a snare shot. The guyʼs head snapped backwards like heʼd been punched by a fighter. Her voice quiet and seething, Mom Ruth said, "If I ever see you again on this block, Iʼm calling the police and I will testify against you. You got that?"

Totally bashed and abashed, the guy muttered, "Yes, maʼam."

My mother then turned to us and, as if she was scolding us, "If you ever see this man again, run and tell your parents immediately. Do you hear me?!"

"Yes, Mrs. Philips..." replied baffled little voices.

The guy sort of stumbled away. Having absolutely no idea what was going on, I actually felt sorry for him.

In the mid-1960s, after our doorbell had been rung by one pair or another of Jehovah's Witnesses for what literally could've been the 30th time, my mother went to the door and told them to remember our street number, because, "We worship Satan in this house, okay." Then, she shouted at the top of her lungs, "SATAN!" The pair backed down the stoop in horror. Our bell was never rung again, ever.

During the Summer of 1970, my mother stopped at a table the Black Panthers had set up for recruitment and donations on Fulton St., the main commercial-retail thoroughfare in all of downtown Brooklyn. She proceeded to loudly lecture four males and one female Black Panther on how their cause was destined to rot and whither if they didn't embrace immediately Feminism as well. Within 60 seconds, the now-pissed off female Black Panther turned to her male colleagues and delivered a line that became immortal in the Philips family...

"More power to the sharp-shootoin' sista!"

My Dad, Bill Philips, was a newspaper man... mostly copyediting; 20 years at the New York Mirror, 20 years at the New York Times. But, he was also a musician, primarily viola. He could fake you out on violin, cello, and piano. Just as The Beatles exploded he was attempting to master classical guitar, but, the frets kept messing with his viola-playing fingers. Drove him nuts! But, for me, there was already a guitar in the house on February 9th, 1964. Oh, yeah! I had a serious jump over many a Beatles-besotted boy.

Early in their relationship, my mother painted an excellent self-portrait. For some reason, she then dared my father to paint his. So, he did. It's hanging in my living room. It's a great portrait. Not only does his painting look just like him, but, the grim exasperation in his eyes at having to do the damned painting at all is crystal clear as well.

He never painted anything ever again.

One afternoon, in my late-teens, I was with about four pals and we had just smoked a joint in my kitchen. We were sitting around the dining table, very mellow, when unexpectedly, my father came home. Uh ho! He walked in, casually said hello, fellas, noticed my pal Anthonyʼs harmonica sitting on the table. Dad picked it up and started playing "Swanee River" complete with trills, note-bends, hand wa-was... Insane! My father could play harmonica at an absolutely professional level. I was dumbfounded.

Anthony exclaimed, "Damn, Binky. You never told me your Dad could play harp."

I replied, still stunned, "I didnʼt know either..."

A sly little chuckle in his voice, Bill declared, "You never asked."

And with that, my father said his goodbyes, turned and went upstairs to finish rereading a favorite Eric Ambler.

I never heard him play the harmonica again.

In 1966, I named my first band September 92. I was manically enamored with "Decemberʼs Children" by The Rolling Stones at the time and just had to have an "_____ber" month in the band name. December was taken. September sounded smoother than October. I picked 92 because 1992 was sooo farrr offf in the future. Cool band name for 1966, huh.

My friend, David M, across the street, had taken up guitar about two months after me, and within a month, he was significantly better than me. Irksome! So, he was lead guitarist and I was rhythm. Best buddy, Andy P, was as close to gaunt-cheeked as a 13 year old boy can be, therefore, according to the Bill Wyman template, he was designated the bassist. Ben S, was the drummer using a pillow and two wooden spoons. Ben, a lifelong friend, was unceremoniously replaced when I found out that another pal, Jamie K, had a real snare drum, a real cymbal, and a pair of real drumsticks.

In virtually every setting where I wound up with a guitar plugged into an amp, there was always someone better than me. David from across the street was merely the first to torment me.

Consequently, I was always relegated to playing rhythm.
Consequently, I was often bored shitless and resentful.
Consequently, when I heard Pete Townshendʼs brilliant and angry chord-bashing on the first Who album, Iʼd found my Forever Hero.

So... finally, here we go...

May, 1969.

I had gotten to the Fillmore East's box office at 6am the day tickets went on sale and consequently had front row for all four sold-out shows on Friday & Saturday, the 16th and 17th, the Debut-of-Tommy by The Who at The Fillmore East... I would be sitting in AA113... front row on the right aisle directly below Townshend's mic stand.

The show was beyond anything I'd been prepared for. In a year's time (they'd last played NYC on August 7th, 1968), The Who's musicianship had significantly improved.There was far more Music emerging from the sheer noise that only that band could generate. And their stage show now had a level of consistent excitement that I'd never experienced before.

After a truly triumphant performance of about 2/3s of Tommy, The Who launched into a few 'oldies'. It was during these last few songs of the Friday early show (doncha love it... The Who @ 8pm and again @ 11:30!) on Friday, May 16th, while enjoying the deafening roar of The Who, I became aware of the odor of (non-reefer) smoke. I looked up at the beams of the spotlights. They seemed solid enough to walk on... I realized that something was definitely out-of-the-ordinary here.

The Who were now playing "Summertime Blues". This being a full year before Live At Leeds was released, you could only hear this one live and I'd waited all night for them to do it. About halfway through the tune, something made me turn around again. A red-in-the-face Marine-looking middle-aged guy wearing a crew-cut, jeans, and a dirty white t-shirt was charging down the aisle on Entwistle's side of the stage. Without hesitation, this Marine leapt on stage, grabbed Daltrey, and tried to wrestle the mic outta Roger's hands. Roger Daltrey, a genuinely no-poser-tough-guy, hauled off and punched the guy square on the jaw, hard enough to snap the guy's head back. As the guy staggered, Pete just flew across the stage, jumped like a jack knife, and somehow kicked the guy square in the crotch with BOTH feet! Down and definitely out this crew cut dude went. Two stagehands ran out of the wings and dragged his prone body offstage.

What the fuck was going on?!

Weirded out, "Summertime Blues" limped to a close. The smoke was now obviously getting worse by the minute, the balcony was almost lost in haze. The Who were now fully aware that something was wrong, too.

At that moment, Bill Graham slowly strolled out of the wings, nodded significantly to The Who, walked up to Pete's mic and calmly announced that there was a fire across the street and that, unfortunately, the fire marshals were insisting that the Fillmore East be evacuated for precautionary safety's sake. He made it sound like just another lame move by The Man. Boring, annoying, and stupid, but whattyagoona do?

It was a brilliantly wise strategy. Out we all went in a grumpily disappointed but orderly fashion.

Once outside, with 8 or 9 firetrucks scattered all over 2nd Ave, we all saw that the fire was actually in the grocery store right next door to the Fillmore's lobby. Wwwwwow! This could've been really really bad.

The Friday late show was, of course, cancelled. But, yes, I was sitting in AA113 for both shows the next night. At one point, Pete told the Saturday late show crowd about the night before. "We were onstage playing had no idea what was actually going on." He then pointed down at me in the front row and said, "And I know that this person right here had no idea what was going on either." The spotlight widened, I sheepishly waved, pals yelled "Binky!", and the house applauded. A totally unexpected public acknowledgement from my hero. I was dazzled.

Well, that Friday night early show turned out to be a very very big Uh Oh! for The Who.

It turned out that Mr. Marine from the night before was a plainclothes NYPD cop who was gonna try to literally yell "FIRE!" in a crowded theater. So, in truth and fact, Roger and Pete should've been given a medal for the dozens of un-trampled lives they saved.

But, as it was, they were arrested for assaulting an officer, a genuinely serious crime.

Eight weeks later, I attended their trial. Oddly, I seemed to be the only fan to show up. Both Pete and Roger were cordial when they saw me out in front of 100 Centre Street (think Law & Order), but, both were obviously really worried about the possible ramifications of being found guilty. The charge was heavy enough that it was entirely plausible that they'd be denied the right to ever tour the US again.

They'd hired a real NYC hustler of a lawyer, super-cocky, and clearly a sorta naughty nudge nudge wink wink the-fix-is-in type of barrister. Actually, a few years later, I heard he'd been dis-barred.

At one point, they realized that Pete's passport was in the limo outside and this New Yawk lawyer enlisted me to run down and get it. I charged downstairs and out to the limo where The Who's manager, Kit Lambert was waiting. I stuck my head in the rear window and announced to Mr. Lambert that they needed Pete's passport in the courtroom right away. He dug it out of a briefcase, and without any hesitation, gave it to me, this kid he'd never even seen before. For a moment, I realized I was holding what you might call a Serious Souvenir. But, being a nice worshipful Who boy, I ran it back to the courtroom.

When I handed it to the lawyer, he schmoozed...

"Look at you, a regular fucking Perry Mason, helpin' me out."

Pete, now very nervous, turned, looking a pale gray-green, and nodded thanks.

Within the next 15 minutes, a deal was cut and a fine paid. Whew, it was over.

I walked Pete and Roger back to their limo making small talk. There were now a few other Who fans hanging around outside 100 Centre St. Roger leaned into Kit's limo and pulled out a copy of Tommy, released only weeks before, and handed it to me.

"You KNOW I own this, Roger."

Beaming, he replied, "Well, now, you own two, doncha."

Given the circumstances, I couldn't bring myself to ask Pete and Rog to autograph it. But, I did keep it.

Anyway, so, we're back to the weekend of May 16th and 17th...

Bill Graham and The Who rescheduled the Friday late show for a Sunday matinee on May 18th with the offer of a full refund if any ticket-holder couldn't make the Sunday show instead.

On that Sunday morning, after four years of total obsession, I convinced my parents that tickets would definitely be available and that they should come experience my religion, The Who, in action. So, the three of us got on the subway in Brooklyn and made the trip to the East Village.

After we'd bought them their pair of balcony tickets, we walked into the lobby and my mother immediately started enthusiastically pointing out details of the "marvelous Art Deco lobby" to my Dad.

That's when it hit me like a brick. I suddenly realized that this whole idea was just a terrible mistake. What self-respecting 16 year old would fucking bring his parents to the Most Hallowed Hall of Hip, The Fillmore East, ferchrissakes!? My God, what was I thinking!? I was now inwardly mortified with embarrassment.

So, I slowly started sauntering away (doot dee doo...) from Mom and Dad while they looked at the ceiling moldings and gold leaf. I decided to stand at the very back of the theater proper, just outside the last row, pretending to care about the opening act, It's A Beautiful Day [lead guitar replaced by lead violin. Girl singer. Gag me!]. I just hated this band by now, having had to sit through them three times already in the past 48 hours.

But, at least I was about 30 feet from my parents... Whew!

And then... And then...

I suddenly heard my mother's boisterous voice sort of shriek-yell...

"YOU'RE PETE TOWNSHEND!"

Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?!

Not sure if I believed my ears, I wheeled around... Oh, my God, was this really happening?!

Right out of a dream, Pete Townshend, guitarist of The Who, dressed in a pale sky-blue suit, was, indeed, standing in the Fillmore East's lobby... talking... to... my... parents!

I sort of zombie-tranced my way over to where the three of them were standing in a disbelieving daze... just in time to hear my Dad opine, "... and your drummer, very tympanic..." while Pete bemusedly nodded... "He is rather, isn't he."

As I approached, Pete turned and saw me. Pointing to me, Pete asked, "Is this your son?"

Mile-a-minute Mom went off...

"Oh yes, that's Binky. Heneverstopstalkingaboutyouandyour band, Pete. He plays your records every day. The Who just means everything to him...".

Mr. Townshend leaned over, put his right arm around my shoulder, and announced with kind of a friendly growl, "Why, we're old friends!"

So, yes... I have known Heaven on Earth... besides being in my wife's arms, of course.

Both my parents actually enjoyed the show.

Mother Ruth thought they were "really charismatic, especially Pete". While Father Bill admired them too, he was bordering on incensed that "such talented musicians" would feel the need to "jump around like maniacs" and then destroy "really expensive musical equipment that some less fortunate musician would dearly love to own and play"...

"But, Dad... That's the best part!!"

Jeeeez!