my design wonder years

pete townshend & the who


The first album I ever bought, was the Who’s Who Are You. When I saw the cover of the Who’s "Who Are You", it was love at first sight. I first spied that incredible cover on the floor of my best friend’s bedroom, a floor that appeared to me a stream of albums flowing around a pair of rock-like speakers, grills removed, pumping out bass-enough to upset my stomach. The albums belonged to my best friend’s stoner brother who had a most amazing and, in retrospect, influential record collection…for stoners and non-stoners alike.

We only had 2 records stores on the South-East Side of Chicago, Stevens Music and Rex Records. I never liked Stevens Music for some reason maybe the cats walking on top of the albums or the fact that the albums were not in their sleeves. Rex Records on the other hand was straight out of the 70’s. 50% head shop, 50% music shop and 100% black lights, incense, patchouli oil & black velvet day glow posters. 

I had just bought a stereo system with paper-route earnings and now it was time for my first album. Since the album is listed as having come out in 1978, I’m pretty sure I bought it the summer of ’78. Placing that new album on my Pioneer PL 514 turntable and listening through my Pioneer SX550 receiver & Acoustic Research AR 18 speakers was the kind of instant epiphany Joseph Campbell talks about in "Hero With a Thousand Faces". I was no hero, but I was a kid who felt completely out of place in his surroundings and somehow knew that this band and their lead writer/guitarist Pete Townshend was asking me who I was for a reason. I’ve spent the last 37+ years giving Pete, Roger, John & Keith my answer…Who am I, Who are we and Who Are You?


The Who’s Who Are You was my first album, but it is not my favorite Who album. Growing up on the shores of Lake Michigan I could hear in the distance the waves crashing along Lake Michigan shores. Often, I would leap the train tracks, cut through a hole in the Calumet Park fence, cross a couple baseball diamonds and a football field to reach the rocks and beach for a glimpse of the sun rising above Lake Michigan’s horizon. Summer, Fall, Winter and Spring, Lake Michigan has its own quadrophonic personality and each is worth a witness.

“Here by the sea and sand nothing ever goes as planned”, “With me hanging round on the street or here on the beach”, “There’s a story that the grass is so green, What did I see? Where have I been?” are lyrics that still resonate, but unlike Pete Townshend and/or his alter ego Jimmy, everything I’ve ever planned has been planned by the sea and the sand.


Quadrophenia is my number one album of all time and there is no close second. Picking a favorite song is nearly impossible when each and all songs work so well together, but Sea and Sand is the song with the lyrics that resonated at 15 years old when I first heard them and at 50+ as I listen again today as I write.

Summer of 2013 we took a family trip to Paris and London. I had one selfish request and that was to visit Brighton Beach and Brighton pier to see and hear for myself the sea and sand that were the inspiration for Mr. Townshend and the countless mods and rockers who’ve made Brighton a pilgrimage for so many years. The photograph is my daughter standing on Brighton Beach with Brighton pier in the background. 


"I’m wet and I’m cold, but thank God I ain't old…" were lyrics that took on new meaning as I thought about me the aging “mod” vs. my daughter a mod girl with a long future ahead of her. I doubt a similar thought occurred to young Pete Townshend when he wrote these lyrics, but with a daughter of his own, a similar thought must have crossed his mind at some point over the years.

Pete Townshend has both played and smashed many a guitar over his long and prolific career, but the guitar that caught my eye and ear both early in Pete’s career and in my own amateur career as an aspiring guitar player was the Gibson SG. Something about its thin-ness and curves, a guitar that looks both contemporary and classic simultaneously caught my eye and tickled my somewhat inept guitar playing fingers.


Gibson released a commemorative version of the SG in white with chrome hardware in 2012. As Gibson describes it on their website “To celebrate the Golden Anniversary of the instrument behind the Live at Leeds-era Who performances and recordings, Gibson USA releases the 50th Anniversary Pete Townshend SG. Rendered with all the period-correct details of an early '60s Les Paul/SG Special, with Townshend's preferred hardware complement, this model represents the early '60s SG Special with a smaller pre-'65 pickguard (5-ply B/W/B/W/B) that Townshend used for the first British Quadrophenia shows in late 1972 and early '73…”

My Gibson SG Pete Townshend 50th Anniversary edition guitar hangs on a shelving system of my own design, fabricated with my own hands.


Specifically, my Gibson SG Pete Townshend 50th Anniversary edition guitar hangs from a custom designed and fabricated guitar hanger that attaches to my custom designed shelving system.


Pete Townshend and the Who have influenced my work in numerous ways over the years and perhaps in time I will add additional “thought” posts to cover these influences in more detail. For now, perhaps the most conceptually and visually obvious influence is an electric acoustic ukulele and amp that I designed and fabricated as part of a project and exhibition for the Lubeznik Center for the Arts.


The Gibson SG’s form was the shape that inspired both my ukulele and ukulele amp’s form. More importantly it was “here by the sea and sand” that inspired the initial memory of placing a sea shell over my ear to hear the sound of the sea translated into the sound of the wood used to fabricate the ukulele and amp. The sound of the wood allows the performer and audience to hear the sound of the tree and the locale within which it’s tree source once grew. The tree might no longer be heard after its fall in the forest, but its sound lives on not having died after getting old.

schwinn lemon peeler


My yellow Schwinn Stingray was stolen out of my back yard. My dad took me to get a new bike with the insurance money and I saw this Schwinn Lemon Peeler on the used bike rack. I debated between a new Stingray and the used Lemon Peeler. I bought the Lemon Peeler. I delivered papers with my Lemon Peeler from about 1976 - 1978. My Lemon Peeler didn't have the gear shifter or handbrakes like some lemon peelers. My Lemon Peeler looked just like this one except I remember my banana seat being yellow?

Thinking back, I'm not sure if it was the color, the shock absorbers, the funky handlebars or perhaps the excess of it all that appealed to me. Schwinn’s Stingray was minimal in comparison. My Lemon Peeler was a hot rod and chopper rolled into one incredibly heavy excessively functional design object.

A friend entering my home and seeing my collection of books and all things modern once remarked, "Paul for a minimalist you sure have a lot of stuff.” That observation pretty much sums up my design attitude.

I often return to Vitruvius and the 3 core principals he distilled from all that he had collected in the way of design knowledge for his Ten Books on Architecture. Function & structure are easy to wrap your head around, but beauty (these are the three words I use as my personal interpretations of Vitrivius' original words/text). The subjectivity of beauty makes it the most intriguing of the three words to play with as part of a design process.

My take on beauty is that it needs to tell a story. What is the Lemon Peeler’s story? It’s certainly a story of structure and function. It was a functioning bicycle after all. The Lemon Peeler’s beauty back in 1976 was its excess. The Lemon Peeler was unapologetic for being too bright, too heavy, and too much. Its weight and its smaller than normal tires made it a slow bike which also made riding my Lemon Peeler more about cruising than getting anywhere as fast as possible or with the least amount of effort.

In design, efficiency is typically thought of as a good thing and inefficiency bad. At the end of the day, I prefer a little inefficiency in my design objects. I prefer the low and slow of design. I prefer bright and shiny. I prefer exposed fasteners and the celebration of technology as opposed to the black box of pure minimalism.