Did Pete Townshend accurately predict the future of not only the music business, but modern culture? In his autobiography, Who I Am, I came across this recent passage, where he is discussing a story he wrote:
One short story that I’d written, ‘The Limousine’, formed the basis for a lecture I was asked to give to students at the Royal College of Art.
‘The Limousine’ is a dark murder story in which the evil man who owns the limo fills the airtight passenger compartment with tantalizing music combined with poisonous gas. Then he robs, rapes, murders and dumps his customers. I told this tale to an initially rapt audience of about 200. Once I had them in the right frame of mind I got to my theme: when music, converted into digital data, could be compressed sufficiently to pass down a telephone line, music as we knew it would end. We would feel as though we were in control, but we would merely be helpless passengers. Composers and musicians would feel they had a direct line to their customers, but they would also open doors to all kinds of mental and spiritual pollution. This was the Lifehouse vision become real. (Lifehouse is a long gestating project of Townshend’s.)
Vinyl discs, already endangered, would disappear, as would analogue tape. The CD would be unnecessary. We would use computers, some as small as a watch, to listen to music and share it, and we would be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of sounds we were exposed to. Unable to distinguish good from bad, we would, in a matter of music – metaphorically speaking – be gassed, robbed, raped and murdered. Our luxurious, comfortable limousine was really a hearse.
Perhaps I was being too dramatic. Maybe it was just shit. But one thing I could see clearly: by the time I got to my punch line most of the audience had walked out.
These are Townshend’s ideas from the 80’s. Sure, maybe he was a bit too dramatic, but there is a lot there that sounds eerily familiar.