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And so, for no real reason besides pride and misunderstanding, my best friend, Steve, and I had a falling out when we were 17. It wasn’t your typical bloodied knuckles, black-path fight after school that drove us apart. I’m sure that Steve inadvertently brushed me off in favor of his high school girlfriend and that I took it the wrong way. So I decided that I would wait. I would wait for him to initiate the next time we got together and and instead drank warm Bud Lights or kicked back in the basement and idled away the hours listening to music. I was a stupid teenage guy and I let my own self-importance get the better of me. Face it, friends, when faced with the option of hanging with your bud or possibly getting to third base with a 17-year-old cutie, a guy’s going to choose the latter. What should have been resolved within a day or even a week went on for months. Another long, dreary Cleveland winter passed and the two of us did not speak, not even cordial “hellos” in the hallways. Silence. When asked by mutual friends what happened between us, I could only reply, sadly, “I don’t know.” In truth, I really didn’t know. Back then, I wasn’t wise enough to understand that people don’t have to speak every single day to remain close and important to each other. Alas, that was high school, though. I don’t think I knew any kid my age with the wisdom of an adult, John Hughes films notwithstanding.

One Saturday night, we wound up at the same small get together in someone’s living room. In the background, the television was tuned to MTV and the Pete Townshend Deep End Live concert special. Townshend’s presence was strangely appropriate. He was an artist that Steve and I had discovered at the same time, admiring his long history of introspective lyrics and ear bleeding guitar chords. Steve was a great fan of Quadrophenia and Empty Glass, while I enjoyed the anthems on Who’s Next and White City. We both agreed that All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes was his finest work as a solo artist. That night, as we sat uncomfortably in the same tight quarters, I wanted to nudge him and make a comment about drummer Simon Phillips or about how David Gilmour’s guitar playing really suited Townshend’s theatrical music (Gilmour was playing lead for this show). But we kept our distance and the rift continued. When we would eventually reconcile, it would actually be an obscure of Pete Townshend song, “Life to Life,” that would give me the courage to take the extra steps needed to make sure our friendship healed.

Soon after the shared Townshend experience, I approached Steve during our high school’s winter formal. Something inside of me, perhaps the realization that I’d been an ass, compelled me to break the ice.

“We should talk sometime.”
“Yeah.”
“Cool. See ya around.”
“Sure.”

Another few weeks passed, but we still did not communicate. Spring arrived and our high school concert band made a several day trip to Canada for concerts at some local high schools. This was part of a cultural exchange program my father, the school band director, had carried on for years with a couple schools up north. The bus ride was monotonous and lasted forever. If you didn’t have a girlfriend or someone to flirt with, you were stuck actually doing homework or sleeping. Or, like me, you chose to drown out the noise of gabbing kids and wheels humming through use of an Emerson personal cassette player (you know, one of those cheap Walkman imitations). For this trip, I happened to bring along the soundtrack to a mediocre film called Playing for Keeps. The movie, generically bad, is noteworthy only for the fact that it co-stars future Academy Award winner Marisa Tomei in her first feature role, and that it was written and directed by Bob and Harvey Weinstein (I’ve heard horror stories about Harvey Weinstein seizing control of films in the editing room. I wonder if he leads off an argument with “You don’t know what you’re doing! Back when I was directing Playing for Keeps we did it this way!”) The film tanked; it barely made a dent in rentals. However, the music supervisor managed to assemble an impressive cast of talent for the soundtrack including Phil Collins, Julian Lennon, Peter Frampton, Arcadia and Pete Townshend. It is Townshend’s song, “Life to Life” that served as the de facto theme for the movie. From what I have gathered (thanks to Popdose’s resident Townsend-ologist, Jason Hare), “Life to Life” was originally penned for the White City record. Personally, I have always felt the lyrics are closer in tone to the themes of his next opus, The Iron Man. Townshend’s words were what jumped out at me during each listen and they inspired me during the final bus ride of the trip. Before that, though, I poured my heart out to Steve during one of my famous drunken strolls.

The drunken stroll, for the uninitiated, is an age-old tradition of Midwestern young men born into repressed households. Boys are taught at an early age to bury their emotions deep inside themselves and to act “strong.” The result of this behavior is typically an explosion of rage (say, punching your windshield until it begins to shatter) or the consumption of large quantities of alcohol, which releases the suppressed feelings in a stream of conscious regurgitation of slurred words.

For the Canadian trip, each student from our band was set up in the home of a Canadian student. My host happened to have a glint of mischief in his eye. The moment I walked into this guy’s house (along with another drummer from my school), his mom left for pizza and the Canadian kid turned to us.

“So, you guys wanna drink?”

I didn’t want to be rude. He was putting us up for the night. So the Canadian kid, the other drummer, and I (sounds like a bad 80’s sitcom) proceeded to take enormous swigs from his dad’s liquor cabinet. Four or five tilts back (on an empty stomach) and I was trashed. Functional, but drunk. Did I mention that his mother returned home while the bottle was mid gulp? Yeah, Mrs. Mom of the Canadian kid nearly had a melt down. Our quick witted host took his mother aside and explained that we were merely tasting to see if vodka in the States tastes the same as it does in Canada. Apparently this is a common taste test in the Great White North because she bought it, replying, “Oh, okay. But not too much.”

After the pizza, we changed clothes and went off to the high school for some sort of social mixer… I think. We were at the high school, I know that. While doing my best to avoid my father at all costs, I cornered Steve and dragged him through the school hallways letting all of the frustrations and pain from the previous months in a stream of conscious regurgitation of slurred words. I recall nothing of this conversation except that we wandered through the vacant halls with our arms draped over each others shoulders. I made him laugh, as I always do when we’re inebriated, and confessed my brotherly love to him. He, too, said he missed me and the night ended with the air cleared, sort of. The next morning, we took off on our final bus ride to Niagara Falls. Embarrassed by my behavior the night before, I kept to myself (albeit, with a little boasting). Furthermore, I was unsure exactly if my outpouring of emotions was acceptable and whether Steve now thought I was a freak (again, Midwestern upbringing, you have to understand). During the ride to the Falls, I slouched down in my seat near the back of the bus and listened to the Townshend song. Those lyrics spoke to me in a new way.

Gotta let my heart learn to talk
Must let my head learn to walk
I must forget all the hopeless pain
Must bring my life back to life
once again

Never let them see you crying
Don’t try to run before you figured out to crawl
They must believe they are the lions
Never let them guess you learned how to fall

Let them brand you as a sinner
Let them think that you’re the one who has lost
You won’t be charged with being a winner
You won’t be saddled being called of the bus

Bring back to life
Life to life
Breath life into life
Back to life
Give life back to life

Why pretend to be so rough and strong
When your weakness is your strongest ten
Why pretend to be so tough so long
As you are really an ordinary man

Never let them see you dreaming
Never let them know you concord your sorrow
Don’t let them know your scheming
Don’t let them know that you have plans for tomorrow

To bring back to life
Give life back to life
Life to life
Back to life
Give life back to life
Will attack the stands
Can you stand the shaft
We need an iron man
They wanna man of rock
You can keep all the games
The suicide leaps
Keep away from the flames
This time where playing for keeps

Never let them see you crying
But make them sure your not afraid to cry
Never let them see you trying
Don’t let them know you are prepared to die

To bring back to life
Give life back to life
Breath life into life
Life to life
Give life back to life

Gotta let my heart learn to talk
Must let my head learn to walk
I must forget all the hopeless pain
Must bring my life back to life
once again

Finally, I told myself, “fuck it” and made my way up the aisle to where Steve was sitting with his girlfriend. I handed him my headphones.

“Dude, you’ve got to listen to this. It’s Pete.”
“Sure, man. Thanks.”

I weaved back to my seat, a little more confident that things were going to be cool. 10 or 15 minutes later, he came back to return my cassette player.

“Hey, man, you’re right. That’s a good song. What’s it from?”
“Some dumb movie.”
“Figures.”
“Yeah.”
“So, like, are we cool?”
“I think so. Yeah. We’re cool.”
“Cool.”
“Cool. So, I’m going back up. See you at the hotel?”
“Sounds good to me.”

And that was the end of it. At Niagara Falls, the two of us began a new friendship, one with more maturity and one that endures to this day. Steve is more than just a friend; he is my brother. Period. I could feed you some line about how it could have been any song that helped us bridge the gap between us, but that would be bullshit. It had to be Townshend, the god of male adolescent angst, and it had to be this song. It may seem silly to dwell so much on a misunderstanding, but that brief time in my life gave me perspective on friendship and forgiveness. I suppose I could thank Mr. Weinstein for making his movie, but I think I’ll just say thanks to Pete Townshend for helping breathe life back into my friendship.