Shaidle Unchained

The Hitler of Gibsons

March 07, 2017

“[Metzger] had a profound effect on me,” Townshend recalled long afterward. “I really believed it was my responsibility to start a rock band that would only last three months, an auto-destructive rock group. The Who would have been the first punk band except that we had a hit.”

And then another. Three months stretched into three decades. No longer forced to fret (no pun intended) about mounting luthier bills, Townshend devoted himself not just to music, but to cultivating spirituality and sobriety, and tending his often-quirky charitable endeavors (of which this is a too-modest sketch).

Alas, it was that last powerful (and almost always unharnessed) instinct that got Townshend into the trouble of his life—but rarely mentioned is the accidental role Gustav Metzger played in that particular ruination.

At the fag-end of the 1990s, a grateful Townshend underwrote a major Metzger show in Oxford, in the midst of what reads as an alarmingly manic time in his own life.

I remember driving to Oxford, determined I was going to do something soon about the sudden whirlwind of news about child pornography on the internet. I remember feeling that being on my own, spending time with Gustav again, who was so saintly in a sense, set up a determination in me to do something so profoundly impetuous and brave.

The compulsively philanthropic Townshend had Googled the words “Russia,” “orphanages,” and “boys,” and been presented with a photo of a 2-year-old being raped. Long haunted by (then still-nebulous) memories of his own sexual abuse, he became obsessed with—in some flaky, ill-defined fashion—exposing international kiddie-porn operations. Moral panic or not, the topic was all over the media; Townshend wasn’t the only concerned individual reading or even writing about it. But his trail of bread crumbs led police to his computer.

And yes, he was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing. (I get sick of explaining that.)

But in a strange way, the resulting scandal was—in my twisted mind if certainly not, never, Townshend’s—Gustav Metzger’s most destructive “creation” of all.

However, the one noted in pretty much every obit last week was a “work of art” that, along with sounding exactly like a Kurt Vonnegut or Tom Wolfe vignette made flesh, inadvertently revealed that Metzger’s touted Marxism was (you’ll never guess!) rather provisional.

You’d think that a Champion of the Working Man would have been delighted to somehow acquire an unlikely collaborator in proletarian form.

And, of course, you’d be wrong.

Because Metzger threw a tantrum when it happened:

In 2004, London’s Tate Britain gallery displayed a Metzger installation that included a bag of garbage. A cleaner mistook it for real trash and threw it out.

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