The Who’s Pete Townshend is arguably one of the greatest songwriters that Britain has ever produced, but it’s not just his creative prowess that built his immense reputation. His on-stage antics were famously wild, a skill which blew away audiences all over the world who were in awe of Townshend’s ferocious behaviour which often saw him smashing a guitar to smithereens. But when did he start doing his signature exploit?
The Who tore up the rulebook in the 1960s and put on a proper rock show which was like nothing else in ’65. Bursting onto the scene with relentless authority, the band released the incredible song ‘I Can’t Explain‘ which propelled their status to international fame. However, despite their studio success, it was the band’s live shows in which they really came into their own.
Townshend was cut from a different cloth to The Beatles, he wasn’t a charming figure who was polite or family-friendly. His on-stage presence was aggressive from the very first note he played until he literally slammed his guitar into the ground at the end of a gig, a moment of performative art playing out in front of audiences every night.
The guitar god actually destroyed his first six-string way before he ever achieved any notoriety, as he once revealed in a past conversation with Playboy’s David Sheff: “I was 13. John Entwistle and I were rehearsing together in the front room of my house. My grandmother came in shouting, ‘Turn that bloody racket down!’ I said, ‘I’ll do better than that,’ and I got my guitar–this was a good guitar that I had paid for myself with money I earned from a paper route–and smashed it to smithereens. I said, ‘Now will you fucking get out of my life?’ and she stomped out.”
He then continued: “I looked at John and said, ‘What now?’ And he said, ‘Another paper route, I think.’ Once I had done it, it was always there as a possibility. If ever I wanted to deal with any kind of hidden rage, I could always take it out on the guitar. I could always trigger the same little bit of psychotherapy.”
Sheff then tried to get inside of the mind of Townshend and tried to find out whether he does this as a form of letting off his anger or is it just theatre to which The Who icon stated: “Well, you have to remember I’m not angry all the time. Even now I occasionally get frustrated on the stage with guitars and want to smash them. I tend not to do it, but the opportunity’s always there. I smashed a guitar on the Psycho Derelict tour and it was great fun.”
As Townshend alludes to, he only does the guitar smashing when he is in the mood to do so, making it a special and almost symbolic moment. Sheff, pondering the question of guilt in regards to smashing such an expensive instrument, saw Townshend reveal his plans to auction off the crumbled guitar for charitable causes.
He also stated the brutally honest reason why he only does it when he wants to do so, saying: “It’s also embarrassing, is what it is. It’s like comedians’ being forced to use their catchphrase after they’ve become serious actors.”
Watch Townshend do his iconic trick in action, below.