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Pete Townshend interview in Rolling Stone 1968

201303-pete-townshend-x306-1363624638From Rolling Stone

1968 Rolling Stone Interview (by Jann Wenner)

For his first full-length Rolling Stone Interview, Jann Wenner picked Pete Townshend, and for good reasons. “The Who,” he says, “were one of Rolling Stone’s original favorite bands. I saw them at their American debut at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, and later that year at the Cow Palace in San Francisco.” The Who were still comparatively unknown in the United States and Wenner recalls the band being “squashed in the middle of a rather dumpy concert, one of those eight-act packages that used to tour the country.” After the show, he interviewed Townshend for an article in issue number four.

In the fall of 1968, the Who were back. By now they were a sensation, and this would be their second time headlining a three-night stand that year in San Francisco (first, in February, at the old Fillmore; now, in August, at the Fillmore West). This time, Townshend did the Rolling Stone Interview.

“Peter Townshend was twenty-three years old when we sat talking at my house in San Francisco into the dawn hours,” Wenner has written. “And a year or two later, Townshend told me that during our interview he articulated to himself, for the first time comprehensively, the basic plan for what became Tommy. And that brought back to my mind a remark he had made at the time, which I had edited out. We’d been drinking orange juice, and in the middle of a long and wandering answer he asked if I had spiked his drink. Those were the halcyon hip days in San Francisco, and when I asked him what he meant by ‘spiked,’ he said he felt as though he were beginning an LSD trip. I hadn’t slipped him anything.”

THE WHO {guitarist Pete Townshend, singer Roger Daltrey, drummer Keith Moon and bass guitarist John Entwistle} are the most brilliant expression of the most influential “youth movement” ever to take Great Britain, the Mods. Their career began in Shepherd’s Bush, a lower-class suburb of London, and took them through such places as Brighton-by-the-Sea, scene of the great Mod-Rocker battles of the early Sixties. Their first big recording was “My Generation.” Pete Townshend, the well-known guitarist, is the group’s main force, the author of most of the material, the composer of most of the music and the impetus behind the Who’s stylistic stance.

The Who’s generation has gotten older, and the change is seen in their records: “The Kids are Alright” to “Happy Jack”; and from “Happy Jack” to girls and boys with perspiration, pimple and bad breath problems. And, as can be seen from the interview, the changes continue.

This interview began at 2:00 a.m., after the Who’s second 1968 appearance at the Fillmore West in San Francisco. Nobody quite remembers under what circumstances it was concluded.

WENNER: The end of your act goes to “My Generation,” like you usually do, and that’s where you usually smash your guitar. You didn’t tonight – why not?
TOWNSHEND: Well, there is a reason, not really anything that’s really worth talking about. But I’ll explain the pattern of thought which went into it.

I’ve obviously broken a lot of guitars, and I’ve brought eight or nine of that particular guitar I was using tonight and I could very easily have broken it and have plenty more for the future. But I just suddenly decided before I went on that if there was anywhere in the world I should be able to walk off the stage without breaking a guitar if I didn’t want to, it would be the Fillmore.

I decided in advance that I didn’t want to smash the guitar, so I didn’t, not because I liked it or because I’ve decided I’m going to stop doing it or anything. I just kind of decided about the actual situation; it forced me to see if I could have gotten away with it in advance. And I think that’s why “My Generation” was such a down number at the end. I didn’t really want to play it, you know, at all. I didn’t even want people to expect it to happen, because I just wasn’t going to do it.

WENNER: But Keith still dumped over his drum kit like he usually does.

TOWNSHEND: Yeah, but it was an incredible personal thing with me. I’ve often gone on the stage and said, “Tonight, I’m not going to smash a guitar and I don’t give a shit” – you know what the pressure is on me – whether I feel like doing it musically or whatever, I’m just not going to do it. And I’ve gone on, and every time I’ve done it. The actual performance has always been bigger than my own personal patterns of thought.

Tonight, for some reason, I went on and I said, “I’m not going to break it,” and I didn’t. And I don’t know how, I don’t really know why I didn’t. But I didn’t, you know, and it’s the first time. I mean, I’ve said it millions of times before, and nothing has happened.

WENNER: I imagine it gets to be a drag talking about why you smash your guitar.

TOWNSHEND: No, it doesn’t get to be a drag to talk about it. Sometimes it gets a drag to do it. I can explain it, I can justify it and I can enhance it, and I can do a lot of things, dramatize it and literalize it. Basically it’s a gesture which happens on the spur of the moment. I think, with guitar smashing, just like the performance itself; it’s a performance, it’s an act, it’s an instant and it really is meaningless.

WENNER: When did you start smashing guitars?

TOWNSHEND: It happened by complete accident the first time. We were just kicking around in a club which we played every Tuesday, and I was playing the guitar and it hit the ceiling. It broke, and it kind of shocked me ’cause I wasn’t ready for it to go. I didn’t particularly want it to go, but it went.

And I was expecting an incredible thing, it being so precious to me, and I was expecting everybody to go, “Wow, he’s broken his guitar, he’s broken his guitar,” but nobody did anything, which made me angry in a way and determined to get this precious event noticed by the audience. I proceeded to make a big thing of breaking the guitar. I pounded all over the stage with it, and I threw the bits on the stage, and I picked up my spare guitar and carried on as though I really meant to do it.

WENNER: Were you happy about it?

TOWNSHEND: Deep inside I was very unhappy because the thing had got broken. It got around, and the next week the people came, and they came up to me and they said, “Oh, we heard all about it, man; it’s ’bout time someone gave it to a guitar,” and all this kind of stuff. It kind of grew from there; we’d go to another town and people would say, “Oh yeah, we heard that you smashed a guitar.” It built and built and built and built and built and built until one day, a very important daily newspaper came to see us and said, “Oh, we hear you’re the group that smashes their guitars up. Well, we hope you’re going to do it tonight because we’re from the Daily Mail. If you do, you’ll probably make the front pages.”

This was only going to be like the second guitar I’d ever broken, seriously. I went to my manage, Kit Lambert, and I said, you know, “Can we afford it, can we afford it, it’s for publicity.” He said, “Yes, we can afford it, if we can get the Daily Mail.” I did it, and of course the Daily Mail didn’t buy the photograph and didn’t want to know about the story. After that I was into it up to my neck and have been doing it since.

WENNER: Was it inevitable that you were going to start smashing guitars?

TOWNSHEND: It was due to happen because I was getting to the point where I’d play and I’d play, and I mean, I still can’t play how I’d like to play. Then was worse. I couldn’t play the guitar; I’d listen to great music, I’d listen to all the people I dug, time and time again. When the Who first started we were playing blues, and I dug the blues and I knew what I was supposed to be playing, but I couldn’t play it. I couldn’t get it out. I knew what I had to play; it was in my head. I could hear the notes in my head, but I couldn’t get them out on the guitar. I knew the music, and I knew the feeling of the thing and the drive and the direction and everything.

It used to frustrate me incredibly. I used to try and make up visually for what I couldn’t play as a musician. I used to get into very incredible visual things where in order just to make one chord more lethal, I’d make it a really lethal-looking thing, whereas really, it’s just going to be picked normally. I’d hold my arm up in the air and bring it down so it really looked lethal, even if it didn’t sound too lethal. Anyway, this got bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger until eventually I was setting myself incredible tasks.

WENNER: How did this affect your guitar playing?

TOWNSHEND: Instead I said, “All right, you’re not capable of doing it musically, you’ve got to do it visually.” I became a huge, visual thing. In fact, I forgot all about the guitar because my visual thing was more about my music than the actual guitar. I got to jump about, and the guitar became unimportant. I banged it and I let it feed back and scraped it and rubbed it up against the microphone, did anything; it wasn’t part of my act, even. It didn’t deserve any credit or any respect. I used to bang it and hit it against walls and throw it on the floor at the end of the act.

And one day it broke. It just wasn’t part of my thing, and ever since them I’ve never really regarded myself as a guitarist. When people come up to me and say like, “Who’s your favourite guitarist?” I say, “I know who my favourite guitarist is, but asking me, as a guitarist, forget it because I don’t make guitar-type comments. I don’t talk guitar talk, I just throw the thing around.” Today still, I’m learning. If I play a solo, it’s a game to me because I can’t play what I want to play. That’s the thing: I can’t get it out because I don’t practice. When I should be practicing, I’m writing songs, and when I’m writing songs, I should be practicing.

WENNER: You said you spend most of your time writing songs in your basement.

TOWNSHEND: A lot of writing I do on tour. I do a lot on airplanes. At home, I write a lot, obviously. When I write a song, what I usually do is work the lyric out first from some basic idea that I had, and then I get an acoustic guitar and I sit by the tape recorder and try to band it out as it comes. Try to let the music come with the lyrics. If I dig it, I want to add things to it, like I’ll add bass guitar or drums or another voice. This is really for my own amusement that I do this.

The reason “I Can See For Miles” came out good was because I sat down and made it good from the beginning. The fact that I did a lot of work on arrangements and stuff like that doesn’t really count. I think that unless the actual song itself is good, you know, you can do all kinds of incredible things to it, but you’re never gonna get it, not unless the meat and potatoes are there. Although I do fuck around in home studios and things like that, I think it’s of no importance; I don’t think it’s really got anything to do with what makes the Who the Who.

WENNER: Does what you write in your home studio ever out on records?

TOWNSHEND: Most of it gets out, but the recordings I make myself in my own studio don’t. They might in the future, but they would only come out if they had the Who on them. To put out a record of me banging away on a guitar or bass drums collectively and generally being a one-man band wouldn’t be a very good idea. I’d like to use my studio to record the group because interesting things happen in small environmental sound-recording situations like Sony tape recorders, for example, which don’t happen in studios. It’s a well-known fact.

WENNER: When you work out an arrangement and figure out the bass line and the various voices, is that just directly translated onto a record that would be released?

TOWNSHEND: More or less, but then we don’t really take it that grimly; I mean, what happens is I will suggest the bass riff on the demonstration record; John takes up and goes from there. But the bass (line) I would suggest on the demo, as I said earlier, would be very simple; it would be economical, tasteful and just a vehicle for the song, making the bass line, and, if I use the them, the piano or drum, as simple and effective as possible in putting the song across to the group.

Instead of me hacking my songs around to billions of publishers trying to get them to dig them, what I’ve got to do is get the rest of the band to dig my number. If I’ve got a number that I dig, I know that I’ve got to present it to them in the best light. That’s why I make my own recordings so when they first hear, it’s not me stoned out of my mind plunking away on a guitar trying to get my latest number across. It’s a finished work that might take me all night to get together, but nevertheless it’s gonna win them over.

I’m working on the lyrics now for the next album. When we get through that, all the lyrics cleaned out, we’ll start to work through the album. We’ll probably have do to it in short sections, like fifteen-minute sections. Ideally, I’d like to record one backing track for the whole album whether it lasts for two hours or two days. We sit down and we do it in one go, and then okay, we spend the next two years adding tarty voices or whatever it is that it takes to sell the record. But at least you know what’s happening in the background is real meat and immediate meat, and it’s part of the present.

The whole thing about recording is that a man feels slightly cheated anyway, because he’s getting a recording of something which has happened, so he feels like he’s getting something secondhand. If he thinks he’s being fucked around already, this is a whole different thing. A lot of people, I’m convinced, that buy records don’t realize what happens when a group records on an eight-track machine. They don’t realize that they record half of it one time, and then another eighth of it another time. They record it in eighths at different locations, and this ceases to become music to me.

WENNER: What other ideas in this field do you have?

TOWNSHEND: Well, the album concept in general is complex. I don’t know if I can explain it in my condition, at the moment. But it’s derived as a result of quite a few things. We’ve been talking about doing an opera, we’ve been talking about doing like albums, we’ve been talking about a whole lot of things, and what has basically happened is that we’ve condensed all of these ideas, all this energy and all these gimmicks, and whatever we’ve decided on for future albums, into one juicy package. The package I hope is going to be called “Deaf, Dumb and Blind Boy.” It’s a story about a kid that’s born deaf, dumb and blind and what happens to him throughout his life. The deaf, dumb and blind boy is played by the Who, the musical entity. He’s represented musically, represented by a theme which we play, which starts off the opera itself, and then there’s a song describing the deaf, dumb and blind boy. But what it’s really all about is the fact that because the boy is “D, D & B,” he’s seeing things basically as vibrations which we translate as music. That’s really what we want to do: create this feeling that when you listen to the music you can actually become aware of the boy, and aware of what he is all about, because we are creating him as we play.

Yes, it’s a pretty far-out thing, actually. But it’s very, very endearing to me because the thing is . . . inside; the boy sees things musically and in dreams, and nothing has got any weight at all. He is touched from the outside, and he feels his mother’s touch, he feels his father’s touch, but he just interprets them as music. His father gets pretty upset that his kid is deaf, dumb and blind. He wants a kid that will play football and God knows what.

One night he comes in and he’s drunk, and he sits over the kid’s bed and he looks at him and he starts to talk to him, and the kid just smiles up, and his father is trying to get through to him, telling him about how the other dads have a kid that they can take to football and all this kind of crap, and he starts to say, “Can you hear me?” The kid, of course, can’t hear him. He’s groovin’ in this musical thing, this incredible musical thing; he’ll be out of his mind. Then there’s his father outside, outside of his body, and this song is going to be written by John. I hope John will write this song about the father who is really uptight now.

The kid won’t respond, he just smiles. The father starts to hit him, and at this moment the whole thing becomes incredibly realistic. On one side you have the dreamy music of the boy wasting through his nothing life. And on the other you have the reality of the father outside, uptight, but now you’ve got blows, you’ve got communication. The father is hitting the kid; musically then I want the thing to break out, hand it over to Keith – “This is your scene man, take it from here.”

And the kid doesn’t catch the violence. He just knows that some sensation is happening. He doesn’t feel the pain, he doesn’t associate it with anything. He just accepts it.

A similar situation happens later on in the opera, where the father starts to get the mother to take the kid away from home to an uncle. The uncle is a bit of a perv, you know. He plays with the kid’s body while the kid is out. And at this particular time the child has heard his own name; his mother called him. And he managed to hear the word: “Tommy.” He’s really got this big thing about his name, whatever his name is going to be, you know, “Tommy.” And he gets really hung up on his own name. He decides that this is the king and this is the goal. Tommy is the thing, man.

He’s going through this, and the uncle comes in and starts to go through a scene with the kid’s body, you know, and the boy experiences sexual vibrations, you know, sexual experience, and again it’s just basic music; it’s interpreted as music, and it is nothing more than music. It’s got no association with sleaziness or with undercover or with any of the things normally associated with sex. None of the romance, none of the visual stimulus, none of the sound stimulus. Just basic touch. It’s meaningless. Or not meaningless; you just don’t react, you know. Slowly but surely the kid starts to get it together, out of his simplicity, this incredible simplicity in his mind. He starts to realize that he can see, and he can hear, and he can speak; they are there, and they are happening all the time. And that all the time he has been able to hear and see. All the time it’s been there in front of him, for him to see.

This is the difficult jump. It’s going to be extremely difficult, but we want to try to do it musically. At this point, the theme, which has been the boy, starts to change. You start to realize that he is coming to the point where he is going to get over the top, he’s going to get over his hang-ups. You’re gonna stop monkeying around with songs about people being tinkered with, and with Father’s getting uptight, with Mother’s getting precious and things, and you’re gonna get down to the fact of what is going to happen to the kid.

The music has got to explain what happens, that the boy elevates and finds something which is incredible. To us, it’s nothing to be able to see and hear and speak, but to him, it’s absolutely incredible and overwhelming; this is what we want to do musically. Lyrically, it’s quite easy to do it; in fact, I’ve written it out several times. It makes great poetry, but so much depends on the music, so much. I’m hoping that we can do it. The lyrics are going to be okay, but every pitfall of what we’re trying to say lies in the music, lies in the way we play the music, the way we interpret, the way things are going during the opera.

The main characters are going to be the boy and his musical things; he’s got a mother and father and an uncle. There is a doctor involved who tries to do some psychiatric treatment on the kid which is only partly successful. The first two big events are when he hears his mother calling him and hears the word “Tommy,” and he devotes a whole part of his life to this one word. The second important event is when he sees himself in a mirror, suddenly seeing himself for the first time: He takes an immediate back step, bases his whole life around his own image. The whole thing then becomes incredibly introverted. The music and the lyrics become introverted, and he starts to talk about himself, starts to talk about his beauty. Not knowing, of course, that what he saw was him but still regarding it as something which belonged to him, and of course it did all of the time anyway.

It’s a very complex thing, and I don’t know if I’m getting it across.

WENNER: You are.

TOWNSHEND: Because I don’t feel at all together.

WENNER: I know you don’t look it, but you’re coming on very together.


WENNER: This theme, not so dramatically, seems to be repeated in so many songs that you’ve written and the Who have performed – a young cat, our age, becoming an outcast from a very ordinary sort of circumstance. Not a “Desolation Row” scene, but a very common set of middle-class situations. Why does this repeat itself?

TOWNSHEND: I don’t know. I never really thought about that.

WENNER: There’s a boy with pimple problems and a chick with perspiration problems and so on.

TOWNSHEND: Most of these things just come from me. Like this idea I’m talking about right now, comes from me. These things are my ideas, it’s probably why they all come out the same; they’ve all got the same fuckups, I’m sure.

I can’t get my family together, you see. My family were musicians. There were essentially middle class, they were musicians, and I spent a lot of time with them when other kids’ parents were at work, and I spent a lot of time away from them when other kids had parents, you know. That was the only way it came together. They were always out for long periods. But they were always home for long periods, too. They were always very respectable – nobody ever stopped making me play the guitar and nobody ever stopped me smoking pot, although they advised me against it.

They didn’t stop me from doing anything that I wanted to do. I had my first fuck in the drawing room of my mother’s house. The whole incredible thing about my parents is that I just can’t place their effect on me, and yet I know that it’s there. I can’t say how they affected me. When people find out that my parents are musicians, they ask how it affected me. Fucked if I know; musically, I can’t place it, and I can’t place it in any other way. But I don’t even feel myself aware of a class structure, or an age structure, and yet I perpetually write about age structures and class structures. On the surface I feel much more concerned with racial problems and politics. Inside I’m much more into basic stuff.

WENNER: You must have thought about where it comes from if it’s not your parents. Was it the scene around you when you were young?

TOWNSHEND: One of the things which has impressed me most in life was the Mod movement in England, which was an incredible youthful thing. It was a movement of young people, much bigger than the hippie thing, the underground and all these things. It was an army, a powerful, aggressive army of teenagers with transport. Man, with these scooters and with their own way of dressing. It was acceptable, this was important; their way of dressing was hip, it was fashionable, it was clean and it was groovy. You could be a bank clerk, man, it was acceptable. You got them on your own ground. They thought, “Well, there’s a smart young lad.” And also you were hip, you didn’t get people uptight. That was the good thing about it. To be a mod, you had to have short hair, money enough to buy a real smart suit, good shoes, good shirts; you had to be able to dance like a madman. You had to be in possession of plenty of pills all the time and always be pilled up. You had to have a scooter covered in lamps. You had to have like an army anourak to wear on the scooter. And that was being a mod, and that was the end of the story.

The groups that you liked when you were a mod were the Who. That’s the story of why I dig the mods, man, because we were mods and that’s how we happened. That’s my generation, that’s how the song “My Generation” happened, because of the mods. The mods could appreciate the Beatles’ taste. They could appreciate their haircuts, their peculiar kinky things that they had going at the time.

What would happen is that the phenomena of the Who could invoke action. The sheer fact that four mods could actually form themselves into a group which sounded quite good, considering that most mods were lower-class garbagemen, you know, with enough money to buy himself Sunday best, you know, their people. Nowadays, okay, there are quite a few mod groups. But mods aren’t the kind of people that could play the guitar, and it was just groovy for them to have a group. Our music at the time was representative of what the mods dug, and it was meaningless rubbish.

We used to play, for example, “Heat Wave,” a very long version of “Smokestack Lightning,” and that song we sang tonight, “Young Man Blues,” fairly inconsequential kind of music which they could identify with and perhaps something where you banged your feet on the third beat or clapped your hands on the fifth beat, something so that you get the things to go by. I mean, they used to like all kinds of things. They were mods and we’re mods and we dig them. We used to make sure that if there was a riot, a mod-rocker riot, we would begin playing in that area. That was a place called Brighton.

WENNER: By the sea?

TOWNSHEND: Yes. That’s where they used to assemble. We’d always be playing there. And we got associated with the whole thing, and we got into the spirit of the whole thing. And, of course, rock & roll, the words wouldn’t even be mentioned; the fact that music would have any part of the movement was terrible. The music would come from the actual drive of the youth combination itself.

You see, as individuals these people were nothing. They were the lower, they were England’s lowest common denominators. Not only were they young, they were also lower-class young. They had to submit to the middle class way of dressing and way of speaking and way of acting in order to get the very jobs which kept them alive. They had to do everything in terms of what existed already around them. That made their way of getting something across that much more latently effective, the fact that they were hip and yet still, as far as Granddad was concerned, exactly the same. It made the whole gesture so much more vital. It was incredible. As a force, they were unbelievable. That was the Bulge, that was England’s Bulge; all the war babies, all the old soldiers coming back from war and screwing until they were blue in the face – this was the result. Thousands and thousands of kids, too many kids, not enough teachers, not enough parents, not enough pills to go around. Everybody just grooving on being a mod.

WENNER: How do you think that compares with what’s called today the American hippie scene?

TOWNSHEND: I think it compares. I think the hippie thing compares favorably, but it’s a different motivation. There are beloved figures. There is pot, there is acid, and there is the Maharishi, there is the Beatles, where is being anti-the-U.S.A., there are a whole lot of red herrings, which aren’t what it’s all about. What it is all about is the hippies, you know, what’s what it’s all about. The people, the actions, not the events, not the tripping out or the latest fad or the latest record or the latest trip or the latest thing to groove to. The thing is people.

This is what they seem to overlook. You see, this is the thing about the media barrage – you become aware only of the products around you because they’re glorified, and so that when somebody gets stoned, what they do is that they don’t groove to themselves, really, they just sit around and they dig everything that’s around them. They perhaps dig other people. They dig the way the room looks. The way the flowers look, the way the music sounds, the way the group performs, how good the Beatles are. “How nice that is.” This is the whole thing: they’re far too abject in outlook, they’re far too concerned with what is feeding into them and not so much with what they are. This is the difference between the mod thing in England and the hippie thing over here. The hippies are waiting for information, because information is perpetually coming in, and they sit there and wait for it.

This is the incredible thing about the States, man. To get stoned in England is an entirely different trip. I’m not saying that you get stoned and you dig yourself or anything. What you would do is you would get stoned, perhaps you’d walk out and look at a tree or a matchstick or something and come back and have a cup of tea and then go to bed, man. But over here, you just carry on regardless. You to go Orange Julius and you have an Orange Julius, and you watch TV and then you listen to some records, played very, very loud, and you know, it’s a whole different pattern, a whole different way.

The acceptance of what one already has is the thing. Whereas the mod thing was the rejection of everything one already had. You didn’t want to know about the fucking TV. “Take it away,” you know. You didn’t want to know about the politicians, you didn’t want to know about the war. If there had been a draft, man, they would have just disappeared. If there had been a draft, there wouldn’t have been mods, because something like that – the thing was that it was a sterile situation, it was perfect. It was almost too perfect.

Over here it’s imperfect, it’s not a sterile situation. The group themselves can’t become powerful because they can be weakened at so many points. They can be weakened by their education, by their spirituality, by their intelligence, by the sheer fact that Americans are more highly educated. The average American and the average Englishman, and the Englishmen I’m talking about are the people that probably left school when they were fourteen or fifteen. Some of them can’t even read or write. But yet they were mods, they were like – you see something nearer, I suppose, in what it’s like to be a Hell’s Angel, but not as much flash, not as much gimmicking, much less part of a huge machine.

WENNER: Can you pin down some of the elements that make rock & roll what it is, starting with the basic elements . . . it’s got the beat.

TOWNSHEND: It’s a bigger thing than that. The reason it’s got to have a beat is the fact that rock & roll music has got to have bounce; it’s got to have that thing to make you swing; it’s got to swing in an old-fashioned sense; in other words, it’s got to undulate. It’s got to have a rhythm which undulates. It can’t be a rhythm which you count down in a long drone like classical music. It doesn’t have to be physical because when you think of a lot of Beatles music, it’s very non-physical. Like Sgt. Pepper’s is an incredibly nonphysical album. If I hear something like the Electric Flag album, I jump up and dance, and I hardly get to hear the music because I’m so busy jumping up dancing.

But when I hear something like “Summertime Blues,” then I do both, then I’m into rock & roll; then I’m into a way of life, into that thing about being that age and grooving to that thing that he’s talking about which is, like, summertime and, like, not being able to get off work early and not being able to get out in the sunshine and not being able to borrow the car because Dad’s in a foul mood. All those frustrations of summer so wonderfully and so simply, so poetically, put in this incredible package, the package being rock & roll.

There’s the package, there’s the vehicle. Not only is it about some incredible poignant experiences, but it’s also a gas. The whole thing about rock & roll dynamism, in many ways, is the fact that if it does slow down, if it does start to review itself, if it takes any sort of perspective on life at all, it falls. As soon as someone makes any comment, for example, musically on something they’ve done before, they collapse.

WENNER: You talked about maturing and settling down. How has this affected you?

TOWNSHEND: It gives me a far more logical time aspect on the group. I’m not as frantically working as I used to. I always used to work with the thought in my mind that the Who were gonna last precisely another two minutes. If the tax man didn’t get us, then our own personality clashes would. I never would have believed that the Who would still be together today and, of course, I’m delighted and love it. Nothing can be better really than waking up in the morning and everything is still the same as it was the day before. That’s the best kind of thing you can have in life, consistency of some kind.

It always amazes me. As an individual, it’s given me incredible freedom and all. I know that I don’t have to do things like I used to Our manage will create artificial pressures to try and get me to operate, but I know they are artificial so they don’t work like they used to. “My Generation” was written under pressure; someone came to me and said, “Make a statement, make a statement, make a statement, make a statement, make a statement,” and I’m going “Oh, okay, okay, okay,” and I get “My Generation” together very quickly, like in a night – it feels like that. It’s a very blustering kind of blurting thing. A lot of our early records were. “I Can’t Explain” was a blurter and a bluster, and “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere,” which was our second record, was just a brag, like, you know, nothing more. “Substitute” was a takeoff on Mick Jagger or something equally banal.

The whole structure of our early songs was very, very simple. Now, with less pressure, I have to create pressures for myself. I have to excite myself by myself. I have to say this is what we’re going to do, this is what you mustn’t so, this is what the Who are going to do, this is what you’ve got to get the Who to do, this is what you’ve got to ask the Who to do for you. You set yourself these pressures so that now the important thing is that the Who are the impetus behind the ideas, rather than the pressure of pop music being the impetus behind the music that we used to play, whereas now our music is far more realistically geared to the time in which our audience moves.

Pop audiences and pop musicians are geared to different time structures; they lead different lives entirely. They say it’s very difficult to go and see a group and feel totally in with that they’re doing because they’re on a different time trip. They are doing one gig out of a hundred gigs, whereas to the fan this is a very important occasion, like this is the only chance he’s gonna get to see, say, the Cream and never again in his life.

For the group, it’s another gig, and they’re going to be on the road in another ten minutes, and the fan is going to catch a section of something which as a whole is a complicated network to them. This is important to us in our compositions. The point is not to belittle each thing. It’s all very well to say, “Oh, well, it’s good to have the pressure because it’s the pressure that makes the music move and wild and groovy,” but the music becomes thrown-out, tossed-out ideas which aren’t really good. They are as much as you can give out. They are not a hundred percent.

If you slow down just a little bit and gear yourself to your audience, you can give them once hundred percent. If you do a slightly longer set on the stage, you can give all instead of having to cram a lot of unused energy into guitar smashing, for example. Unchanneled energy or misdirected energy is incredible in pop music, incredible. Like the Beatles know how to channel their fucking energy. I’m convinced that there’s not a lot actually coming out, it’s just that we get all of it. We get a hundred perfect Beatles album. We don’t get any halves; they know that they are in a position and they’re got it together and they do.

WENNER: What groups do you enjoy the most?

TOWNSHEND: It’s difficult to say. I always forget the groups that I really dig. I like to watch a band with a punch, with drive, who know what they’re doing, with a tight sound. I used to like to watch Jimi Hendrix; sometimes he worries me now because he often gets amplifier hang-ups and stuff. I can’t stand that, it kills me. I used to like to watch Cream until they got sad and fucked up. I still dig to watch a group like the Young Rascals, who just walk on with their incredibly perfect sound and their incredibly lovely organ and they’re so easy, the way their numbers flow out, just to watch a group stand and go through their thing so beautifully. I dig that. I dig a guy like Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin. She’s been standing still and singing the blues all night, and then when she’s really into it she’ll do a tiny little dance and just get her little feet going, very slightly; just a little jog, and in terms of what she’s doing with her voice, it’s an incredible gesture and really goes mad. I dig Mick Jagger, who I think is an incredible show, and Arthur Brown I think is an incredible show, too. What I dig in a performance, in an event, is essentially to be communicated to, to feel part of an audience. I always feel like an audience because I am an audience if I am watching anything, but I like to feel alongside the other members of the things, I like to feel a part of the audience; I like to feel that I’m being effective as a member of the audience. I don’t mind being asked to clap my fucking hands, let’s get that straight. I like to clap my hands, and it doesn’t get my uptight if someone says clap or sing or shout or scream or do what you want to do. That’s exactly what I want to do, and if I feel like jumping up and down and dancing, I don’t want everyone telling me that I’m bringing them down or that they can’t listen to the music or something. People should be an audience, and if it’s time-to-get-up-and-dance-time, everybody should do it at the same time.

This happened when Otis Redding appeared, that’s what happened. When he wanted them to sit down he said, “And now we’re going to play a soulful tune,” and sang in a soulful way and was dead still, and when he wanted them to get up and dance he said, “Come on, clap your hands, get up and dance,” and they did, man, grooved right along with him.

When you’re listening to Ravi Shankar, you know what you’ve got to do. When you’re in the Who’s audience, you know – I like to know where I am. I like to go and see a group and know what my role is. I like to know whether or not I’m supposed to listen attentively, whether I’m supposed to groove, whether I’m supposed to do anything constructive, whether I’m invited up to jam or what. I like to know where I’m am. It’s usually the most professional groups that give you this feeling.

WENNER: Performers like Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Mick Jagger, Jimi Hendrix, the Who, all are tremendously physical, tremendously sensual, tremendously involved with very sexual things. Does this characterize rock & roll?

TOWNSHEND: It must! It must. I mean, it does. Period. It embodies it, it’s part of its life. Life revolves, of not around it, within it, if not within it, without it, but definitely along with it. Something about rock & roll has to do with sex and everything to do with sex, like becoming together and the parting and this kind of thing. The whole thing about polluting a chick and then waving goodbye. The whole process of sex is embodied in just the rock & roll rhythm – like gospel music or like native chants or something. Just banging on the table is like it’s the demand, and it’s also the satiation as well. You bang on the table and in the same process you masturbate, you know. At the end of the show you’re finished, you know, you’ve had it. You’ve come your lot, and the show’s over.

“Rock me baby until my back ain’t got no bone.” That is the line. Man, it’s such a funny line, I can never believe it. I imagine some very skinny, wizened old Negro blues singer singing that in a very frail old voice: “Rock me baby ’til my back ain’t got no bone.”

WENNER: I forget if I read this or whether it is something Glyn Johns told me. You and the group came out of this rough, tough area, were very restless and had this thing: You were going to show everybody; you were a kid with a big nose, and you were going to make all these people love it, love your big nose.

TOWNSHEND: That was probably a mixture of what Glyn Johns told you and an article I wrote. In fact, Glyn was exactly the kind of person I wanted to show. Glyn used to be one of the people who, right when I walked in, he’d be on the stage singing. I’d walk in because I dug his group. I’d often go to see him, and he would announce through the microphone, “Look at the bloke in the audience with that huge nose” and of course the whole audience would turn around and look at me, and that would be acknowledgement from Glyn.

When I was in school the geezers that were snappy dressers and got chicks like years before I ever even thought they existed would always like to talk about my nose. This seemed to be the biggest thing in my life: my fucking nose, man. Whenever my dad got drunk, he’d come up to me and say, “Look, son, you know, looks aren’t everything,” and shit like this. He’s getting drunk, and he’s ashamed of me because I’ve got a huge nose, and he’s trying to make me feel good. I know it’s huge, and of course it became incredible, and I became an enemy of society. I had to get over this thing. I’ve done it, and I never believe it to this day, but I do not think about my nose anymore. And if I had said this when I was a kid, if I ever said to myself, “One of these days you’ll go through a whole day without once thinking that your nose is the biggest in the world, man” – you know, I’d have laughed.

It was huge. At that time, it was the reason I did everything. It’s the reason I played the guitar – because of my nose. The reason I wrote songs was because of my nose, everything, so much. I eventually admitted something in an article where I summed it up far more logically in terms of what I do today. I said that what I wanted to do was distract attention away from my nose to my body and make people look at my body instead of at my face – turn my body into a machine. But by the time I was into visual things like that, anyway, I’d forgotten all about my nose and a big ego trip, and I thought, well, if I’ve got a big nose, it’s a groove and it’s the greatest thing that can happen because, I don’t know, it’s like a lighthouse or something. The whole trip had changed by then, anyway.

WENNER: What is your life like today?

TOWNSHEND: Mainly laughs, actually, mainly laughs. The Who on tour is a very difficult trip: it’s a delicate one, and it could be dangerous. So it’s best to keep this on the humorous side. If we take this situation seriously, we tend to feedback. Like one person gets a slight down and the rest of us get a slight down, and so we have to keep spirits up even if it’s false, even if it’s jokes that aren’t funny, just in order to get someone to laugh. That is what it’s all about to me now.

WENNER: What is going to happen to rock & roll?

TOWNSHEND: I’m looking to a couple of people. I’ve heard some of the Rolling Stones’ tracks, and although I dig them I don’t think they’re anything more than what they are which in incredible, delicious and wonderful rock & roll and well overdue from them. The Rolling Stones should always be a nonprogressive group. I don’t think that the Rolling Stones should be concerned with what they’re doing in pop. That’s what I dig about them.

Dylan, for example, could create a new thing. I think if he made his next record with the Big Pink, that could be interesting. That might create some new things in rock & roll. Dylan’s thing about writing the lyric and then picking up the guitar up and just pumping out the song as it comes out is a direct guide to what will happen in music.

People are going to want music to be more realistic, more honest and more of a gift from the heart, rather than a gift from the lungs, as it were. Instead of wanting to go and watch Ginger Baker run six miles before your very eyes, you’d rather dig what he’s doing. I think this is what’s happening.

WENNER: People are always trying to find a parallel with jazz. Do you see what happened to jazz, happening here?

TOWNSHEND: No. Jazz totally absolutely boiled down to a different kettle of fish. Because of the audiences. Audiences were a different breed entirely. If you’re talking about the days when the people used to do the Black Bottom, then maybe you’re getting nearer to what pop music is equivalent to today.

Pop is more than the Black Bottom; pop is more than short skirts. The effect pop has on society is incredible. It’s a power thing. It’s now in a position that if everyone that was thinking in pop music terms were to stand end to end, they’d go around the world ten times. This is what pop music is about. Pop music is basically big. It concerns far more than the twenty-year-olds. It concerns everybody now. It’s lasted too long.

Jazz, in its entirety – modern jazz, progressive jazz – hasn’t had the effect on the world in fucking twenty-five years that pop has had in a year today. Geniuses like Charlie Parker are completely unrecognized by the world, and yet groups like the Rolling Stones – very normal, very regular guys – are incredibly well known. This is true of everything. The whole system is a different thing entirely. The audiences then were smaller; they became snobbish, racist. They were pompous jazz audiences. They became slow to catch on to new ideas. They became prejudiced, dogmatic, everything bad. While pop music is everything good.

Pop is everything; it’s all sugar and spice, it really is. Pop audiences are the cream of today’s music-listening audiences. They’re not the classical snobs who sit by their poxy Fisher amplifiers and listen to Leonard Bernstein conducting. Not knowing that Leonard Bernstein is completely stoned out of his crust and grooving to high heaven, thinking, “What a fine, excellent recording this is, really fine,” and not knowing what the fucking hell is going on.

This is what the jazz listener was like. Okay, he’d have a few beers and he’d go down to the fucking Village Gate and shout one “yeah” in a night, when he thought that someone had played something quite clever. But he didn’t know what they were into. I just about know what they’re into today, listening to some recordings that Charlie Parker made nearly twenty-five years ago. God knows what people thought then.

Pop’s audience is right alongside; they know what’s happening. Pop hasn’t confused anybody, it really hasn’t. it’s kept with the people, it’s kept in time with the people. It’s going out now; the panic now is that the people feel it going out of step. They felt it go out of step in England and completely rebelled.

People just felt that pop was getting out of their hands; groups like the Pink Floyd were appearing, scary group, psychedelic. So they completely freaked out. Nothing like the down-home Rolling Stones who used to have a good old-fashioned piss against a good old-fashioned garage attendant. This Pink Floyd – what were they all about? With their flashing lights and all taking trips and one of them’s psycho. “What’s this all about? That’s not my bag.”

So they all turn over to good old Engelbert Humperdinck who is a phenomenon of out age in England. Yet it’s a sign of the revolt; it’s a sign of the fact that the music got out of step with the people.

WENNER: Why did it happen in England?

TOWNSHEND: Europe is a piss place for music, and it’s a complete incredible fluke that England has got all the bad points of Nazi Germany, all the pompous pride of France, all the old-fashioned patriotism of the old Order of the Empire. It’s got everything that’s got nothing to do with music. All the European qualities which should enhance, which should come out in music, England should be able to benefit by, but it doesn’t.

And just all of a sudden, bang! wack! zap-swock out of nowhere. There it is: the Beatles. Incredible. How did they ever appear then on the poxy little shit-stained island? Out of the Germans you can accept Wagner; out of the French you can accept Debussy; and even out of the Russians you can accept Tchaikovsky. All these incredible people. Who’s England got? Purcell? He’s a gas, but he’s one of the only guys we’ve got, and Benjamin Britten today who copies Purcell. There’s so few people.

And all of a sudden there’s the Beatles, with their little funny “we write our own songs.” “Don’t you have ghost writers?”

It’s difficult to talk about rock & roll. It’s difficult because it’s essentially a category and a category which embodies something which transcends the category. The category itself becomes meaningless. The words “rock & roll” don’t begin to conjure up any form of conversation in my mind because they are so puny compared to what they are applied to. But “rock & roll” is by far a better expression than “pop.” It means nothing.

It’s a good thing you’ve got a machine, a radio that puts out good rock & roll songs, and it makes you groove through the day. That’s the game, of course: When you are listening to a rock & roll song the way you listen to “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” or something similar, that’s the way you should really spend your whole life. That’s how you should be all the time: just grooving to something simple, something basically good, something effective and something not too big. That’s what life is.

Rock & roll is one of the keys, one of the many, many keys to a very complex life. Don’t get fucked up with all the many keys. Groove to rock & roll, and then you’ll probably find one of the best keys of all.

January 17, 2014 Posted by | Pete Townshend Interview In Rolling Stone 1968 | , | Leave a comment

Pete Townshend interview in Rolling Stone May 14th 1970

PeteLoRes copyFrom Rolling Stone May 14th 1970

Rolling Stone #58 – Thursday, May 14, 1970
Pete Townshend Interview by Jonathan Cott

Pete Townshend’s quiet and unassuming 18th century house stands on the Thames Embankment in Twickenham facing Eel Pie Island where, eight years ago, the Stones, Aynsley Dunbar, Acker Bilk, et al., first used to blast music out of the island’s club where the floors bounced in all directions. “Free were on the other night,” Townshend told us. “I opened the double frame windows and listened and they sounded good.”

The gardener was pruning the roses in front of the house when Jan Hodenfield and I arrived. Boats were grounded in the low tide riverbed, scores of gulls resting on them. “When spring comes, the birds fly to the sea,” he told us as we waited for Townshend to return home. It was one of those lazy afternoons when spring promises and river scents set you in the mood for an 18th century English gardener to say something like “Sir, I for my part shall almost answer your hopes, but for this gentleman that you desire to see has stretched his legs up to town.”

Pete Townshend soon stretched his legs back down to the house, invited us into the living room where, hanging just above scores of little wooden animal figurines on the mantel, Meher Baba’s smile floated off the wall out through the windows across the river and into the island. Townshend made tea and then we talked about his plans and ideas since exhausting the performance possibilities of Tommy.

Afterwards, we went down the hall to Townshend’s home studio where he played us tapes: “A Normal Day for Brian, A Man Who Died Everyday,” which Townshend wrote and recorded after Brian Jones’s death:

I used to play my guitar as a kid wishing that I could be like him but today I changed my mind I decided that I don’t want to die But it was a normal day for Brian Rock and roll’s that way. It was a normal day for Brian A man who died every day

“Accidents,” a song from the forthcoming Thunderclap Newman album which Townshend produced and on which he plays bass, about “little kids having terrible accidents, falling down holes and being run over by cars”; “There’s a Fortune in Those Hills,” a slow wailing country song; “I Don’t Even Know Myself,” a dazzling song which begins with riffs out of “Gimme Shelter,” shifting into a gentle mountain music chorus and brilliant instrumental solos. These last two songs will appear, re-orchestrated and including the other members of the Who, on the second of the Who’s forthcoming two LPs, the first being The Who Live at Leeds.

Townshend explained how he recorded those songs in his studio: “This is just a two-track tape recorder, but it’s got self-syncing on it. I can put something on one track and then put something on the other directly parallel to it. Then I can get those two tracks, which were in this case voice and acoustic on one track and drums on the other, mix them together adding a bass guitar and put it onto one track of another tape recorder. Then on the other recorder I’ve got guitar, voice, drums, and bass together and I put a piano on the next track of that recorder. And then I mix those two tracks down onto the other recorder again in stereo, adding a guitar.” Which is how Townshend becomes his own one man band.

When we left, Townshend presented us with a privately released Meher Baba birthday LP featuring Alien Cohen, Ron Geesin and Pete Townshend singing solo: “The Seeker,” “Day of Silence,” “The Love Man,” and, if you can believe it, Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine.”

What kind of songs will you be playing on your next tour?

Well I’m still on a kind of a Self with a capital S trip, you know. It’s a bit difficult, writing heavy when you really want to write light or when you really want to write devotional, you know? It’s like a period which I know lots of other people have already gone through. I know the Beatles went through it, and quite possibly the Stones for a while. I’ve just done a thing of getting out of that trip, Tommy got it out of my system. I’m getting a balance now between “straight head” and “clear head,” getting back to the point now where I realize that if you want to get anything done you’ve got to actually Do it, you know, with a capital D, and not wait. So the kind of stuff we’re doing at the moment — have you heard “The Seeker”? It’s a bit like back-to-the-womb Who, not particularly very good, but it’s a nice side, it’s good because it’s probably the only kind of thing we could do after something like Tommy, something which talks a little bit about spiritual ethics, blah blah blah, but at the same time is recapturing the basic gist of the thing.

The first thing I associate with self and quiet in terms of rock are groups like the Incredible String Band or Donovan. That’s where the tone of the thing equals the con-tent, right? Whereas the Who is a rock and roll sound basically.

Yeah, but it’s roughly the same thing, it’s just that I’m saying it in a different way. I’ve written something quite similar called “I Don’t Know Myself,” which is kind of blaming the world because you’re fucked-up. It’s very much like “The Seeker” in a way. I kind of dig that, I think that, you know, the world is responsible. You can blame a lot on society, and you can blame a lot on yourself in society, and that’s good, but I rather think of myself as something tender which has got to be sorted out and be found. I think that the self is an enemy that’s got to be kicked out the fucking way so that you can really get down to it. Most of the songs that I’m writing now are a bit like that — “Don’t pretend that you know me because I don’t even know myself.” Things like, “don’t send me to war because I’m too busy fighting a battle with me,” that kind of thing.

Well, that can be an excuse, too. It’s a half put-down of yourself, isn’t it?

Well, it’s a half put-down, but it’s only a half put-down of one bit.

There are some people who think you really can get what you’re after. The idea of asking the Beatles and Timothy Leary for guidance because they’re “stars” might seem to some people just like reading a lot of newspapers. How do you feel about that guy in the “Seeker” song?

He’s just like a whirling dervish. It started off as being very much me, and then stopped being very much me. It’s very personal, but then the whole thing is that, as soon as you discover that songs are personal, you reject them. It’s what happened with “I Can See for Miles.” I wrote it as a personal song at first, and as soon as I sussed out that that was what was going on, I completely pushed it away.

Quite loosely, “The Seeker” was just a thing about what I call Divine Desperation, or just Desperation. And what it does to people. It just kind of covers a whole area where the guy’s being fantastically tough and ruthless and nasty and he’s being incredibly selfish and he’s hurting people, wrecking people’s homes, abusing his heroes, he’s accusing everyone of doing nothing for him and yet at the same time he’s making a fairly valid statement, he’s getting nowhere, he’s doing nothing and the only thing he really can be sure of is his death, and that at least dead, he’s going to get what he wants. He thinks!

I wrote it when I was drunk in Florida. We were in the middle of an American tour and me and the production manager went out to Tom Wright’s father’s pad in the middle of the jungle to get some sun, and because we were only there for like five days, this guy was a very good friend of mine, he got in lots of steaks and lots of booze, and he like overdid everything and it ended up with us, him and the production manager getting completely stoned every night and me being the only person that could stand up, playing, and we were just standing amid the sand spurs one day, I was just covered in sand spurs, I kept falling and they stick in your skin and you can’t get them out, screaming with pain and singing this song and it just came out, “I’m looking for me, you’re looking for you, we’re looking at each other and we don’t know what to do.”

Sometimes there’s three of you in a room, it happens very rarely, three or four people maybe, and you get to a certain state, you might all be on completely different trips but what you really want to do is like hug one another. But you know it wouldn’t do any good, all you want to say is, “You know, I think you’re really a great guy.” You know that drunken thing that you might go through when it makes that come out. Makes a stranger your friend. It just was a good way of expressing it. Tom Wright was going, “It’s gotta be your next single.” It is. And they carried on to do the rest of the verses. By some miracle I remembered it all.

Was “The Seeker” done here or in—?

I did a version of “The Seeker” which appears on an album which we did for Meher Baba’s birthday celebrations, which I still dig more than the version done by the Who. But I normally do, in an egotistical way I always prefer my demos to what the Who does. But, this is just my own trip. Usually you find that when the Who does it, it’s completely heavier, whereas with “The Seeker,” I felt that the group was just being whipped into shape, and that what I really want to do when we record in the future is to allow the song to emerge as we’re actually recording it, something which I’ve threatened for years and years and years.

You see, recording is really, it’s the recording of a process of discovery. It’s shifted, it shouldn’t be just a performance going down on the tape, it should also be people discovering lyrics for the first time or maybe a song evolving. It’s like when I listen to something like, say, the very first demo of “My Generation,” the second demo of “My Generation,” the third demo of “My Generation,” the group’s first try at it, the group’s second try at it, and then the final try, you know. Then the reduction of that try and then the cut of that try, and then the pressed recording of that try, and you listen to the two things together and they’re worlds apart. One has class; it’s ridiculous, but I mean the finished thing is kind of polished and slick and it hasn’t got too many bum notes in it, that kind of thing. But the demo, it’s scruffy, it’s hissy, it’s lousy, it’s distorted, and nobody would be able to listen to it; but none the less, it’s got something which the finished one hasn’t, and vice versa. The thing is to bridge that gap.

And I mean, no matter what people say about the Band — I know a lot of people really think they’re kind of frigid — but I think the reason why so many people dig them is because they’ve done that. I mean, while they’re making sounds, they’re discovering things; they’re practically writing as they’re going along, and it’s all being recorded as they’re doing it. It’s like someone picking up a guitar in a room and playing something. Well no, it’s not like someone picking up a guitar in a room at all, I mean they’re conscious of a heavy performance trip.

Have you ever thought of putting out one side of a record with all the takes of a particular song? You’d put it in free as a bonus record.

Yeah, I tried it once. I did this thing with a friend of mine who’s a lecturer at an art college, he said come down and play some tapes. And everyone was on holiday. I took a system down and I took a load of tapes, and I was going on about the thing that I’ve been going on about, the difference between the finished thing and the demo, and trying to bridge the gap, just talking about the difference in generations, as it were, in copy dullness that you get between an artist having his work printed and a musician having his work recorded and then fucked about with and perhaps copied and then buggered about with in other countries and so on. And I was playing them this song that’s on the Thunderclap Newman album, it’s called “Accidents.” The original demo’s just a guy with a twelve-string going and someone was hitting a cardboard box in the background. But I mean, the first time I heard it, it completely blew my mind. I just knew it was incredible. Then it went into another phase and then into another phase and then a kind of a crisp recording, and I played them all three. And they flipped for the finished thing. Nobody even mentioned the early one.

It sounds like they’re brainwashed to me — terrible.

Maybe you’re right: Maybe if you did allow people the time to digest — no, that’s wrong, it’s wrong, it’s not true. The thing is, if you give them three versions, they’re going to make a choice. If you give them the one version, let’s face it, I was lucky, because first I heard the first version, got hip to that; then I heard the second version, got hip to that; then I heard the final version, so now I’m hip to them all. You play them all bang-bang-bang — like that — and it doesn’t happen. There’s no evolution there, because you’re not working towards anything, it’s all finished material. I don’t think it would work. Young musicians would find it interesting, maybe, to see how songs evolved.

How much interested are you in the effect your songs have? Like the effect of’Tommy’ on people listening to it?

I’m very worried about the effect of Tommy because we wanted to avoid so many of the things that actually happened with people. I don’t mind, for example, a kid coming up and saying, “Something very incredible happened to me while I was listening to Tommy and I felt a spiritual a-wakening” or anything — I mean, that’s cool, because if I could have got at someone like Dylan or the Beatles in the past, or in my case it would probably have been the Stones, I probably would have said similar things to them, particularly to Brian Jones, whom I used to see a lot, who used to come and look at me with boss eyes and wonder what I was talking about. I don’t mind that, but what I do mind is a situation when people hear about that kind of thing and expect it to happen part and parcel with the music. I don’t think kids take that kind of journalism seriously; but you’ve got to admit that most of the stuff that was written about Tommy was fantastically unbalanced, without exception, it was all unbalanced. I think the thing is that there was nothing real about the criticism of it, but there was something very real about what we were trying to do; we were trying to fuck the criticism from the word go, so that the whole thing was watertight.

But because the structure was loose, a lot of things could be read into it, too.

Exactly, I mean, this is what I suddenly realized. The thing was we wanted it to work on lots of levels. We said, well, you know, we want to turn on the spiritually hip, we want to turn on the fuckers and the streetfighters and everyone, we just want to turn on the whole gang. We want to turn on the opera lovers but also we want to turn on other people as well. And we succeeded in turning on a lot of people that weren’t included before, but what we also succeeded in doing was confusing a lot of people. Let’s face it, the Who were the Who before they did that, and that’s the key, that’s where the thing clearly went out of balance. It’s very strange to be talking about something like Tommy as a kind of failure, but I think the thing itself, everything we intended to do, we did.

I believe rock can do anything, it’s the ultimate vehicle for everything. It’s the ultimate vehicle for saying anything, for putting down anything, for building up anything, for killing and creating. It’s the absolute ultimate vehicle for self-destruction, which is the most incredible thing, because there’s nothing as effective as that, not in terms of art, anyway, or what we call art. You just can’t be as effectively self-destructive if you’re a writer, for example, or a painter, you just can’t make sure that you’re never going to fucking raise your head again; whereas if you’re a rock star you really can. And of course, all this choice is always there. There’s always musicians who say, “Well, I’ve had enough.” There’s always somebody there saying, “Really?”

How do you control the situation, then, if you don’t want that?

Well, it’s not a matter of being able to control it because it’s a matter of it being always a situation where you’re aware of the possibilities and you make a rough choice. Let’s put it this way; I suppose it is controllable. The thing is, you can look at something like a song like “My Generation” and say that the intentions of that were quite obvious, it worked all the way down the line. It repulsed those it was supposed to repulse, and it drew a very thick line between the people who dug it and the people who wouldn’t dig it. Well, what if we say we want to make that line disappear, and we don’t want to repulse anyone, but what we do want to do is fuck everyone, as it were, what we want to do is to stimulate everyone and take away their preconceptions about us. We say, we’re the Who, and we’ve been blah blah blah up to now, we’ve been guitar specialists, we’ve been people that wrote such and such type rock lyrics. But we want to get to a position where we want to break down people’s conceptions of what we’re doing by doing something like Tommy, right? This wasn’t the original plan, it wasn’t to do something like this, it was more of a heavy kind of neoclassical thing that I was into, thinking, just go from the sublime to the ridiculous, just completely twist.

And then just when everybody’s like trotting up behind you, turn ’round and get out the whip, and say, “Right, now we’ve got you, now listen to this, because this is what’s really happening.” The only thing that happens is that you break down people’s preconceptions, but as soon as their preconceptions are gone, it opens a door, and the thing which broke down their fucking preconceptions instigates a new lot. It really did escape me that in fact the first thing people are going to hear after listening to Tommy is, of course, Tommy again. So as soon as it breaks down what they know the Who to be, the Who take their next big step — what’s next? Obviously we’re not going to be able to make the record change immediately in nature and then present ourselves — ha ha! — out of the cupboard.

Well, maybe the best thing for the Who is just to embody what’s going on, because that’s apparently the way people finally take it.

Well, absolutely, I mean, the whole trick really of rock is to be a reflection of what’s happening anyway.

Of course if what’s happening is just chaotic, then you can’t do much to change it, can you?

No, not really. But I mean, the thing is this: You can make an order out of chaos by calling it chaos — do you know what I mean? Say, well okay, everybody’s fucked-up, right, we’re fucked-up again — you know, that’s it, and then everybody’s quite happy to be fucked-up. It’s when you don’t know what you are and when you don’t know what situation you’re in that you can’t bear it, or when you’re pretending to be something that you’re not or pretending to be the other thing.

I really got very heavy over Tommy, I really thought I was doing the world a service at one stage. The thing that hit me about Tommy looking back on it, is that it wasn’t very Who, you know. Let’s face it, I could have walked up to any group, even a group like the Kinks or the Stones or the Beatles and said, “Look, here’s Tommy with all the songs and the demos, just sort it out, Ringo sing this” and blah blah — you know what I mean?

But the harmonies and the phrasing were all the Who?

Yeah, but I still resented slightly the way it came out, because I feel that the Who have got to be on top of it, otherwise they don’t shine. You can’t accept our recorded sound unless the group is really on top of what it’s doing, because our recorded sound isn’t good enough. We’re getting on top of it slowly, but it’s like so miserable waiting, like it was miserable waiting for the Stones to get on top of their recordings. But they did it, I think, with Beggars’ Banquet, they were on top of it then, like when Charlie hit the deep tom-tom it sounded like a fucking deep tom-tom, and not like a cardboard box.

The production of our records has got nothing to do with sound. It’s got to do with trying to keep Keith Moon on his fucking drum stool and keep him away from the booze. And through that period it was to do with keeping me from fucking out on some kind of other dope. I’m very good now, I sit there waiting for each tape, but there was a whole period when Kit Lambert was just keeping us from really fighting. We’re a dreadful group to record.

How does Meher Baba come to be involved with your music?

It’s getting to the point where the whole thing is relaxing quite a lot because I’m beginning to see something quite simple. If you want to get your head together, right, or your soul together, or whatever it is you’re trying to get together, there is no necessity to go ’round changing the color of the walls and changing the carpet that you’ve got on the floor, and cutting your hair off, and stopped smoking or any of those trips, there’s no need for that. It’s the translation of what’s happening and the way you get into what’s happening that is the thing. And so I’ve just got to the point now when I’ve suddenly realized after a long time that writing and things like that shouldn’t change; and subsequently this is why musically I feel I’m moving a little bit back to the position we were in before Tommy, which wasn’t very healthy, actually.

It’s kind of peculiar, in other words it’s like going back into a position where we were in a decline. And I prefer that alternative rather than following up Tommy. I’m sure the Beatles were faced with it after the height that went on after Sgt. Pepper. I just feel that that’s the best thing to do, you’ve just got to own up to what’s happening, you can’t fuck around. It would be very very difficult to follow up Tommy, and I don’t want to do it, and I don’t think people really want it anyway.

RS58-RSWhat’s on your new live album?

This was incredibly lucky. On our last tour of the States we recorded every night on a stereo machine taking feeds from the guitars and the drum kit and the P.A. onto a rough stereo picture (the road manager was doing the balance), with the theory that in 80 performances, or whatever it was we had, we must get a good show. We go over there, we do like 80 fucking good shows, you know, some shows incredible shows. We come back, some of the tapes are bad, some of them good, some of them sound all right. Suddenly someone realizes there are 240 hours of tape to be listened to. You know, now who’s going to do this? So I said, well, fuck that, I’m not gonna sit through and listen, you’d get brainwashed, let’s face it! So we just fucking scrapped the lot, and to reduce the risk of pirating we put the lot on a bonfire and just watched it all go and we said, right, let’s get an eight track.

So we got a Pye eight track and we said take it to Leeds, and we went to Leeds and it just happened to be a good show and it just happened to be like one of the greatest audiences we’ve ever played to in our whole career, just by chance. They were incredible and although you can’t hear a lot of kind of shouting and screaming in the background, they’re civilized but they’re crazy, you know, they’re fantastic. And we played it in their own hall. And the sound is all right, it’s a good atmosphere.

Do you know what songs are on it?

Yeah, we’ve just gone for the hard stuff. The first number in the show, which was “Heaven and Hell,” was something written by John Entwistle which was something I was very keen to get on, but it didn’t come out well enough. So it starts off with “I Can’t Explain,” then it’s got “Young Man Blues” and it might have “Fortune Teller” on it as well; “Young Man Blues,” then “Substitute,” “Summertime Blues,” and “Shaking all Over” on one side. Then on the other side it’s got a long version of “My Generation” and then an encore with “Magic Bus.” It’s kinda groovy actually. I like it. It’s where we are today musically, and when you listen to it, it ain’t very far, quite honestly!

What hits you when you listen to it is you realize how much you need to see the Who. You know, I’ve never seen the Who, but it makes me realize how much you need to. Because I know that people wouldn’t rave about us so much if they could just hear that tape, but I’m sure what happens is that the kids that’ll buy the live album will probably be kids that will be able to remember us when they’ve seen us and they’ll compensate. But there’s all kinds of bits where sticks are obviously in the air when they’re supposed to be on the drums and arms are spinning when they’re supposed to be playing solos. And there’s a bit like when we are all doing “Dooby de doo doo” like scissor kicks and you can hear halfway through, where, although I’m playing in time, I’m landing in the middle of the beat. A kind of weird lumpy noise. They did a terrible job on the recording. They fucked it up incredibly. It’s the Pye Mobile set up. They did Air Force and Delaney and Bonnie and they did all right with them but they fucked up on ours, they got crackles all the way through, horrible crackles. But I’m just going to put it out anyway.

Can you say anything about the record Brian Jones made in Morocco that Track is supposed to release?

I haven’t heard it, but I remember when he was making it. He’s done a lot of film music as well you know, which I heard tracks of, for some French guy or some Dutch guy, which he did with all these weird instruments which he used to play. You know there’s something really escapes people now, and I miss it when I hear Mick Jagger play the harmonica, and that’s Brian Jones’ harmonica playing. Brian really was a good harmonica player. He was into quite a lot of ethnic stuff. I wrote a song about Brian Jones dying. A lot of people on the day he died rang ’round and said, “What have you got to say ’bout it?” And I got one from Peter Cole of the Daily Express and it was about ten o’clock in the morning arid I didn’t really think about what I was saying, it was the first I’d heard of it and it just seemed very normal you know — well, Brian Jones has died, rock singer’s death, good stuff, you know, he had to go and like he was dead already kind of thing, so I just said “Oh, it’s a normal day for Brian, like he died every day, you know,” and he said, “Thank you very much,” put down the phone and I thought, “Fucking hell,” then I got a phone call from the Rolling Stones’ publicity man, Les Perrin, saying, “This is terrible,” so on and so on. And I got all upset about it and to back up my words I wrote this song, “A Normal Day for Brian, the Man who Died Every Day,” and it really came out very good.

You’re not going to release it are you?

I don’t think I will, but I think it might not be too late. I did it and recorded it so I could put it out that day.

Maybe it’s too soon.

Yeah, perhaps. I used to know him quite well. Fairly well. I know a lot about the vibes that were about. The Stones have always been a group that I dug very much. Dug all the dodgy aspects of them as well, and Brian Jones has always been what I’ve regarded as one of the dodgy aspects. The way he fitted in there and the way he didn’t fit in, I always felt was one of the strong dynamics of the group. And I felt that when he stopped playing with them that dynamic was going to be missing, but somehow it seems to be still there. I credited him with a lot. I think the thing is that the Stones have just managed by some miracle to kind of replace him somehow. Not with Mick Taylor, I mean, he’s like a musician, but they’ve kind of filled the hole. Either that or the fact that he’s dead has made that dynamic that was there when he was alive permanent.

What about the Keith Moon episode, the chauffeur business?

Keith is going to come back from his holiday to a bit of a shock, because he’s been charged with drunken driving and being in charge of a vehicle without a license. His solicitor says that the police did it so he gets the chance to clear his name, which sounds very suspicious. But they kind of did the inquest or whatever it is, and it made him feel better because nobody actually pointed a finger at him and said, “You killed your best friend.” But that was the thing that went through his head, and it took a lot of heavy thinking on his part to straighten himself out. Because what basically he must have felt like is that there was trouble and he ran away, which is the exact opposite of what was true. I mean, he thought in fact that this guy had run ahead and he was actually driving ahead to get him. But it was just pointless, the whole thing was pointless.

Especially coming after Altamont.

Yeah, it was probably some kind of moon thing going on.

How do you feel about Altamont and Woodstock now?

Well, the Woodstock thing I’m still very unhappy about. Altamont I don’t know about, because I wasn’t there. At first I was a bit repulsed by the way ROLLING STONE wrote about it, because I felt like it was written by a whole batch of writers who seemed to be unanimous in the decision that it was the fault of rock and roll or the fault of the Stones. But what I really felt was wrong with the whole thing was the fact that there were murderers in there. And I mean I know there’s murderers everywhere. I think it’s just as silly for Keith Richard to say it wouldn’t happen in this country, because, let’s face it, it did happen to Keith Moon’s chauffeur. Somebody killed him; somebody kicked him under the fucking car. They arrested what, like four 14-year-old boys? There are reasons why kids do things and there are reasons why grown men do things, and they’ve got a lot more to do with rock and roll than they’ve got to do with anything else. But at the same time I felt that with a little bit of care, a little bit of thought in advance, you can avoid things like that.

What didn’t you like about Woodstock?

Quite honestly, I mean knock for knock, everything Abbie Hoffman said was very fair. Because I did hit him, he must have felt it for a couple of months after. I didn’t like Woodstock for one reason because I took my wife and the baby, and you know when women are pregnant they go through a whole thing where if they get in a crowd they freak out. Well, I was kind of like that, paternally, people coming up to me — “You’re going to Woodstock? You’re crazy. Turn back, go home, there’s millions of people there, the food’s poisonous and the water . . .” Well, I immediately got into an incredible state and I rejected everyone. I wouldn’t talk to anyone. And I was telling really nice people like Richie Havens to fuck off and things like that. And it just got to a point where when we finally did get out of the helicopter and the helicopter never arrived and we eventually got in a queue of cars it took about six hours to get there. Well, we got there and then we waited another ten hours in the mud; the first cup of coffee I had had acid in it. I could fucking taste it. I took one sip and threw it away because I really can’t play if I’m tripping. Can’t trip if I’m playing, as it happens. Like I thought I was going to be up by the time the trip had gone through, it was only a little trip, you know, a very bad one incidentally, but I mean it’s just a little thing, went up/down in the space of say three or four hours. But there was another six hours to wait before we got on the stage and we got there at eight o’clock at night.

And people came up and said “It’s all right for you fucking rock groups, flying in by helicopter,” but we had to walk a mile through the mud from the car, then we got there and just started to pick up vibes that were just great. I must admit if you went out of the section where the musicians were, forgot that you were there to work, it was great, but every now and then you’d think, “I’m part of the sideshow, I’m selling the soft drinks here” — No one else was doing his fucking job — no one was supplying water, no one was cleaning the lavatories, no one was supplying food. But the groups played. I know that’s what people were there for, but it’s a whole trip.

People picked on the Who as the group to criticize because you demanded money, is that right?

That was because we were leaving the morning after, you see. I expected this as we were fucking asking for it. They were giving us such a lot of bullshit. This geezer said, “I invited you to play as a friend and now all this distrust,” and we said, “Look, man, we’ve come from England to play your shows specially. We want our fucking money. Want to take it back and spend it. You know, we’re in debt.” And they said, “Well it’s very difficult.” They had to get a bank manager in the middle of the night to sign a check. So we did it, and then everyone else started to do it. They said, “What’s the trouble?” So we said, “We just got our money, it’s all cool.” So Creedence did it, Grateful Dead did it, Santana did it, all the bands that were on that night tried it on. We went and the Jefferson Airplane came up and said, “Did you get your money in advance?” So we said, “Yeah and you should,” so they said, “We already have. Paid six months ago.”

Everyone felt it wasn’t the spirit of the thing to ask for money.

Oh yeah, I mean in a way it wasn’t the thing. Oh fucking hell, Woodstock wasn’t what rock’s about, not as far as I’m concerned. When the sun came up I just didn’t believe it. I was giving a little prayer, you know, I was saying, “Look this is a disaster, we’re playing and Abbie Hoffman and company are spreading their peculiar vibes about and I’ve done the wrong thing,” and the vibes were well down. Tommy wasn’t getting to anyone. Sly and the Family Stone had just whipped everyone into a frenzy and then kind of walked off. Everyone was just silent and then we went on and all the bad vibes, and all the photographers all over the stage. I had to kick about ten photographers off the stage to get on.

By this time I was just about awake. We were just listening to the music and all of a sudden, bang! The fucking sun comes up! It was just incredible. I really felt we didn’t deserve it, in a way. We put out such bad, bad vibes. But like it started for that bit and then we went into “Summertime Blues,” “Shaking All Over,” “My Generation,” and as we finished it was daytime. And it was just incredible. We just walked off, got in the car and went back to the hotel. It was fucking fantastic. Still, if people offer us festivals now, we say no before we say yes.

What are you doing with the opera tours now? Is that all over?

We pulled out of that really because it was we were going and playing in fucking opera houses, you know like thousands and thousands of kids were coming to see us and then only about a hundredth of the kids who wanted to see us could. And we’d go in and play and like the first 20 rows would be Polydor people. Or Prince Rainier and his royal family, and honestly it was such a bad scene. We were going to play the opera houses in Vienna, Moscow and the New York Metropolitan, but I just thought that was the biggest hype bullshit I’d ever heard of. We blew it out.

The thing I didn’t dig about it is that we didn’t play big enough places. The opera houses over there are very small. There are 1500 people usually and you could see every face. But you can’t win them over. Say there’s an old guy in a bow tie out there, he’s come to write up a review in some opera paper or some serious music paper and most of the night he sits there with his fingers in his ears. It’s just impossible to work when someone’s doing that.

You were talking about the next step for the Who.

Well, I was talking about it then in terms of a film and I think a film would be the ideal thing. A film, a bit in nature like the Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus thing. Only a feature. Something which was about rock but was about a lot of people in rock. The Stones scooped, as far as England was concerned, Taj Mahal and Jethro Tull and people like that, and at the same time gave a good reflection of the kind of music they dug, gave a good performance of their own and had some oldies but goodies like the Who on, and had some fun at the same time. If this could be done — but where the balance was one where you were actually filming something turning on its axis or doing a spiral upwards or doing something incredible, say a whole picture including a whole lot of groups, filmed from the viewpoint of the Who maybe or just using it as an excuse. I think this is yet to be done. It’s very vague, but there are people, and I am one of them, who have got a lot of ideas in that direction, for a rock film which is not a documentary and not a story and not a comedy either, but a fucking Rock Film. A film which is the equivalent of a rock song, only lasting an hour or longer.

Why did you write to The Sunday Telegraph about drugs?

Because the guy that wrote the article, Lionel Birch, who’s a friend of mine, asked me to write a letter backing up saying that Meher Baba had caused some people to stop taking drugs, and I got into the letter and got carried away and wrote a lot of stuff as well. I just feel that the whole thing is that if there is such a thing as a drug problem and if there are people who get fucked-up because of drugs, and there are many who don’t but quite a lot who do take drugs get fucked-up — it’s because they’re looking for something and they’re desperate and even if they don’t know they’re desperate themselves, they are. I mean even if you’re not taking drugs, you’re still fucking desperate.

The first thing that hit me about stopping . . . you see the first thing Meher Baba says, which is logical, is that drugs like acid and STP, the psychedelic drugs, right, are harmful mentally, physically and spiritually. Fair enough. Who am I to say they are not? In fact it was probably the harm they did that I dug. But then he says that it is all right for a sincere seeker to have been stimulated by them but not to continue use of them in the light of that. In other words if you get a buzz from something and then you dwell on it, it’s the equivalent of like getting in a mood. It’s like seeing something fucking incredible like a daffodil and then just looking at it till it wilts and dies. Do you see what I mean? He just put it in a way which got to me.

And I just stopped using acid straight away, just the words got me. But I went on smoking pot, and coke, and I started to get heavily into coke and other things and then all of a sudden when I did that long Rolling Stone interview, I was very hyped up on coke because we went round to the Jefferson Airplane pad in the middle of the interview, which was a silly thing to do. The day after I did that interview, a Baba lover came to see me in San Francisco and he was talking about drugs and things and what Baba says about it, and he says, “Of course you’re not still smoking dope, are you?” So I said, “Yes, sure. What’s Baba said about dope?” “Didn’t you know that it’s been proved now that pot’s an hallucinogenic drug, so it falls into Baba’s teachings?” he said. So I just stopped. Just because I felt more keen about getting into Meher Baba than I felt about being stoned all my life.

And then as it started to go down I started to realize how much I credited to drugs. I used to think, “Well, man, I can’t play the guitar unless I’m stoned, I can’t write a song unless I’m stoned, I can’t be happy unless I’m stoned, I can’t listen to records unless I’m stoned, I can’t do anything unless I’m stoned. Because if I’m not stoned it’s not as good.” Well, I’ve just kind of got out of that, and I can get just as much now out of everything perpetually 24 hours a day as I used to out of that high. It’s like that thing in the hearing, they call it A.G.C., like if you hear a very loud sound, very quiet sounds are inaudible, but if you play a very quiet sound, other sounds become audible. In other words if you’ve got the loudspeaker on, you don’t hear the doorbell ring, but if you’ve got it on quietly then you do hear the doorbell ring. I think it’s a lot like that with dope. When you’re on dope, it’s so extreme it dulls a lot of other aspects. You dig what you’re focused on, but you miss what you’re not focused on.

Well, your music works the other way, doesn’t it?

What do you mean?

You go to a Who concert and couldn’t hear the doorbell ring if you wanted to.

That is, of course, an old pre-dope thing, where in fact we used to be a mod group and we’d go on the fucking stage and we’d literally get heckled. You go and play a really tough town like Glasgow and you get bottles thrown at you, so the thing was you just turn up your amplifier. It’s good, it’s good, I still like it loud.

January 11, 2014 Posted by | Pete Townshend Interview In Rolling Stone May 14th 1970 | , | Leave a comment

Pete Townshend All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes (1982)


This is Townshend’s own custom-built version of Quadrophenia: that big bloated pretentious kind of thingie that no-one but Townshend himself really can dig into, but sounds enthralling all the same.

What is really amazing about this record is the very fact that it exists. If you happen to be familiar with that bit of early Eighties’ Who history, you might probably have heard it was one of the worst moments in Pete’s life. He was torn between the Who, his own solo projects, his family, his drinking, and God knows what else. He was, in fact, a total wreck – at one point, he nearly followed Keith Moon into the grave with a heroin overdose and was saved by the hospital nurse in the nick of time (some say there’s an indirect hint at this in ‘Somebody Saved Me’).

And with all these perturbances, he made easily the most complex record of his entire career – where ‘complex’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘best’ (even if it is the best solo Townshend record), but it sure means a lot of work went into it. The lyrics on the album amount to a whole new level of artistic ambition; heck, even the liner notes open with the following lines: ‘There have always been times like these. The multi-coloured spheres crash and collide, the triangle expands and explodes; eventually there is nothing’. At times I wonder if Neil Peart had been involved in the project. There’s no use in trying to even begin deciphering all the complex imagery of these lyrics.

My personal belief is that this is definitely not a put-on and that these lyrics actually meant a lot to Pete himself; after all, he was never known for spewing out phoney pseudo-poetic bullshit in the past. And in fact, I’m actually relieved that Cowboys isn’t Empty Glass Vol. 2, neither musically nor lyrically; with a couple notable exceptions like ‘Somebody Saved Me’ (which, not coincidentally, is the album’s weakest tune), Townshend never wastes much time on whining about his personal problems – yet the album is still introspective in nature. Pete isn’t in true “confession mode” on here – he’s arranged for battle, and just a brief comparison of the album cover with the one of Empty Glass is enough to prove that.

As for the music, it ventures further and further away from the Who prototype – even if an album like Who Are You had already pretty much demolished that prototype four years ago. It actually doesn’t sound much like Empty Glass either, with a continuing reliance on synthesizers and less and less reliance on guitars. Yet Pete proves himself to be in total control over these things, and most of the melodies are pretty well concentrated and sometimes even hook-filled. One thing Cowboys does not offer is a couple or so of timeless outstanding hits like ‘A Little Is Enough’ or ‘Rough Boys’; it yields no mammoth classics to be immensely treasured by the average Who fan. Instead, it’s just consistent, diverse, and often thought- and emotion-provoking.

Not all the songs on here are equally good, but there’s nary a true misstep. And believe me, I was seriously put off by the record at first – the hooks took some time to sink in, and so did the emotional content; it’s yet another one of those albums that can be easily put down with just one move of your little finger, but before you do that, ask yourself if you really need to mock this guy in this particular situation. Because you don’t. Yes, so ‘Stop Hurting People’ is introduced by Pete speaking instead of singing, and what’s that he speaks? ‘A love born once must soon be born again’? Is this a treatise on reincarnation? But it only gets better and better with every next second, and at the present time it has reached the point where I’m nearly moved to tears at hearing the ‘people, stop hurting people’ refrain and that majestic synthesizer riff – don’t tell me it isn’t Quadrophenia-quality, because it is. Maybe the song would be better if Pete bothered to sing his lyrics. Maybe it wouldn’t. Whatever. It’s a wonderful number either way.

‘The Sea Refuses No River’ is one of Pete’s best ballads, and this one really brings out all the vulnerable beauty of his voice. I guess it’s the sharp contrast between the pretentious lyrics and the thin, pleading, humble voice that neutralizes the worst sides of both and brings out the best – because the melody itself isn’t all that memorable, it’s the unique power of the whole combo that drives the song forward. But somehow I still end up preferring Townshend’s ‘poppier’ material, like the unstoppable groove of ‘Face Dances Part Two’, a song that’s better than at least a good half of the actual Face Dances album combined. There’s an aura of mystery and romance to this technically ‘ordinary’ synth-and-guitar-driven upbeat pop composition that can’t be beat, and both the ‘face dances tonight, fate chances moonlight’ chorus and the ‘I can only stare, you make me feel like I don’t care’ “post-chorus” bit just won’t leave my head.

Maybe it takes time to really dig into this whole shenanigan, well, I had all this time, and now I keep spotting groovy little bits everywhere – the nervous insecure acoustic picking at the beginning of ‘Exquisitely Bored’ is a perfect match for the song’s depressed, pessimistic chorus; the little “rappy” bit in ‘Communication’ (the one that goes ‘comma comma comma commi commi commi… communicate!’) is hilarious and does a lot to push away the depression induced by ‘Exquisitely Bored’; ‘Stardom In Action’ is not a highlight, but the chorus is unforgettable anyway; ‘Uniforms’ is endearingly “boppy”; the inclusion of the traditional folk song ‘North Country Girl’ is a pleasantly shocking surprise; ‘Somebody Saved Me’ is kind of a boring go-nowhere ballad but is at least hardly worse than your average confessional song on Empty Glass; and only a complete Townshend-hating idiot will remain unmoved by ‘Slit Skirts’, a song that’s said to be inspired by Pete’s sister-in-law’s Virginia Astley’s disdain for said thing – except that the main lyrical message here is having to gracefully accept the new realities of middle-age, hence ‘I don’t ever wear no ripped shirts, can’t pretend that growing older never hurts’. Boy is that chorus ever beautiful.

All in all, I think in the end it all depends on whether you’re willing to accept Pete’s charisma or not; Cowboys is very dependent on that. Yes, it’s ambitious and overblown, but it never sounds like Pete is forcing that ambition and pretention on you. Maybe it’s just because he wasn’t “blessed” with a Greg Lake type of voice, and so in his hands even something like ‘Epitaph’ would have sounded unpretentious. Maybe it’s the fact that for the most part, he is able to evade obvious cliches and truisms even in the most puffed-up locations. Add to this the bunch of really catchy melodies (about half of the songs), and there you have it – an album that’s actually deeper than Empty Glass, if less accessible. And miles and miles ahead of the unlucky It’s Hard, which really gives the impression of a vastly inferior outtakes collection from Cowboys.

May 25, 2013 Posted by | Pete Townshend All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes | | Leave a comment

Pete Townshend Who I Am: A Memoir (2012)


Review If you read this memoir for all the events in Pete Townshend’s life, you’re missing the main thrust, the larger picture, of this book. This is not about all the many (albeit interesting and fascinating) stories Townshend lays out, but more about how these events affected him. Townshend has opened up his life-both personally and professionally-in able to (hopefully) tell us and himself just who he is. “…I both want this book to entertain, but also to convince”. Pete Townshend.

This clearly written, straightforward book (separated into three “Acts”) lays out, in a matter of fact style, everything that has made (and is still making) Townshend who he is. He is at times brutally honest in his writing. At other times he seems to be more removed from the events he talks about. You may at times agree or disagree with what he writes. But taken together, this is one of the most honest attempts to paint a picture of one’s self and the things that he’s experienced, that any artist has written. The book is always fascinating, and sometimes riveting to read, but it’s not openly self-analytical. From his beginnings through his life in music-everything is laid out as Townshend remembers it. Of course The Who and that part of his life are interesting and informative, and are naturally a large part of the book, and go some way in helping to explain who Townshend is. But all aspects of his life he writes about help fill in the gaps for a better picture of Townshend.

“This is as much a note to myself as one to you. It’s all the same thing. If in doubt, just play”. Pete Townshend.

The sixteen pages of photographs (in two sections) is helpful and adds depth and some interest to the story. No picking out highlights (or low lights), no overview of the many things Townshend writes about is needed-some will be familiar to you-others not. But taken together, this is a real attempt by Townshend to look beneath the surface, to put into some kind of perspective, all the events (both important and seemingly unimportant) that have shaped and moulded him into the person he is today. “Away from therapy I still used the technique I’d learned, writing more diary entries than usual, as well as bitterly honest letters I never sent”. “…this time I thought seriously about writing my autobiography”. Pete Towhshend.

To sum up-this book is the only way we’re going to know this much about Pete Townshend. Any closer and we’d be him.

“Enjoy life. And be careful what you pray for-remember, you will get it all”. From a letter Townshend wrote many years ago to his “eight-year-old self”, the “kid brother inside me”, saying, “The letter I wrote to my eight-year-old self is still one of the most important affirmations in my life”.

Review The story of Pete Townshend and his band The Who have been documented in dozens of books already and when news began to circulate early in 2012 that Pete was (at last) preparing this book for publication there was a mixed reaction that ranged from: “Well at last he’s gonna tell his side of the story” to: “Oh, no! How is he gonna put his foot in his mouth this time?” and there is good reason for that later response as Pete has a habit of saying such ridiculous things to the media in the past it has made many a bad situation much worse after his comments were printed.

Well, after finishing this more than 500 page document of Pete’s life it reads as an amazing journey of total entertainment and the touchy subjects (the deaths of Keith Moon and John Entwistle, Cincinnati) were handled with care and style and as Pete is still trying to tell all he is now looking back and in reflection telling his story with plenty of heart. I Thank his editors for doing their job as word warriors in keeping Pete somewhat under control here. We are not reading a 2000 page drama of Pete rambles that he just may have turned in before this was trimmed and presented in the more streamlined fashion that can be found here. This is overall insight of Pete’s life with 200 pages of story told AFTER the death of Keith Moon in 1978.

All the normal stuff already featured in all the other books already published (from Geoffrey Giuliano’s horrible: “Behind Blue Eyes” published from 1996 to a very good 600 pager: “The Life Of Pete Townshend” from Mark Wilkerson in 2008.) But, the difference found in: “Who I Am” is that so many of the stories Pete reveals here are personal memories that he didn’t blab to the press in past rants and we really do (at last) get behind those blue eyes at last to gain new insight into Pete’s life and the story of The Who.

There are two 8 page photo inserts included and most of them come from Pete’s personal files and have not been published before. The photograph of Pete and Roger at the closing ceremony of the London Olympics on 12 August 2012 proves this account of Who tales was still being worked on and pieced together at the 11th hour and we are not left hanging on as if Pete stopped documenting his story two or three years ago like plenty of other books have.

A major reason that The Who became so popular (besides the amazing music and stage show) has been the ongoing honesty of Pete Townshend and here he goes again. If you enjoy rock music and the music of The Who and Pete Townshend “Who I Am” is a perfect early Christmas gift to enjoy.
Five Stars!!!

April 19, 2013 Posted by | Book Pete Twonshend Who I Am A memoir (2012) | , , | Leave a comment

Pete Townshend Empty Glass (1980)


Since Who Came First was in reality a half-finished project, and Rough Mix was a collaboration with Ronnie Lane, it’s safe to regard this album as the true start of Pete’s solo career. Critics and fans alike usually call it a masterpiece, and while that seems a minor exaggeration to my ears, it is not bigger than, say, the overratedness of John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. A lot of the hype comes from Pete’s brilliant timing: Empty Glass was released a year earlier than the Who’s far inferior Face Dances, so both albums share the fate of always being compared. This results in Face Dances being underappreciated (‘don’t you dare buying that post-Keith Moon Who stuff! It’s total crap, even Townshend’s solo albums were better!’) and Empty Glass being overhyped (‘wow, Pete was really on a high note at the time! His solo stuff was so much better than that post-Keith Moon garbage!’) Nevertheless, even with all my problems, this is a marvellous record, and a worthy successor to Who Are You.

For one thing, I greatly enjoy the album cover. Pete sitting at a bar with his bottle and his glass with two young ladies of uncertain purposes, with a gloriole around his head… hmm, might be considered sacrilegious, but what a funny allusion at the ‘sinner-saint’ motive! And probably very reflective of Pete’s inner self at the time. Still, the album is not so introspective as one might suspect. While there’s practically no reason to doubt Pete’s utter sincerity and true artistic impulses, one can clearly see how much Pete wanted this album not to miss the record stores as well. So all these songs can be divided in four groups: (a) personal confessions, oriented at Pete fans; (b) loud, dumb rockers, oriented at Who fans; (c) witty social commentary, oriented at post-punk fans; (d) sappy pop love songs, oriented at sappy pop love song fans. In other words, Mr Townshend tries to make the album acceptable for everybody – maybe that’s why everybody loves it so much.

My gripes mainly have to do with the first two categories. Actually, these confessionals bear a strong reminiscence to Pete’s confessional songs on Who By Numbers: clever, heartfelt lyrics, set to rudimentary melodies that were probably just deemed unnecessary. Such is the title track: except for the self-deprecating, mockery lyrics (‘Next time you switch on/You might see me… what a thrill for you’) and that beautiful, tear-inducing falsetto bridge where he compares his life to an empty glass, there’s little truly memorable about it. ‘I Am An Animal’ (what’s that, a nod to Eric Burdon?) also plods along like a dull dinosaur, an uninspired ballad with superb lyrical imagery – again, a clear case of melody sacrificed in favour of text. Much better is the obvious Meher Baba tribute ‘And I Moved’ – but if not for the stupendous rolling, tinkling piano lines of ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick, it would be no better than your average disco anthem.

The rockers suffer likewise – the downside of recording solo is that you have no Roger Daltrey nearby to sing your ‘powerful’ stuff when you really need ‘im. Thus, the album closer ‘Gonna Get Ya’ might sound fun on a Who’s Next-type record; here, Pete just doesn’t seem to have that deep a throat to deal with the macho, bloodthirsty refrain. His guitar work on the song is impressive, though – on here and on the slightly inferior ‘Cat’s In The Cupboard’ Pete seems to fall in love with his trademark riffage style again, so you might even get over the lack of Daltrey.
Note that it was no accident that I made a point of Pete’s guitar playing on a song that happens not to be one of the melodical highlights of the album (whoah, that was a really intricate phrase construction). The problem is, there’s just not that much guitar otherwise: most of the record is propelled by synths, and Pete also starts employing disco rhythms and all that ‘modernistic crap’ that, for instance, ruined Roxy Music’s Manifesto only a few months before that. Luckily, Pete is a much more inventive and self-conscious guy than Bryan Ferry could ever hope to be, and there are no true embarrassments on the album – but it’s not always utterly pleasant to listen to…

But come on, really! I gave this album an 11 and all I do is scolding it? At that rate, I’ll have to go and change the rating! Forget it! This record features at least three absolute Townshend masterpieces, so what the hell? ‘Rough Boys’, a fast, pulsating, synth-rhythm-based anthem to gay life, might be Pete’s best song never included on a Who album – it’s catchy, speedy, tasty, and slightly dangerous: ‘I wanna bite and kiss you’, eh? Then there’s the sleazy pop ballad ‘A Little Is Enough’, with a groovy ‘space-synth’ line serving as the basis for the whole song. Yay, it’s been a long time since Pete wrote his last love song, isn’t it? Well, he’s still got it! ‘Your love’s so incredible, your body’s so edible, you give me an overdose of love – just a little is enough!’ Cooky. Finally, I’m a big fan of ‘Keep On Working’, with its weird multi-tracked backing vocals that keep repeating the refrain to create a paranoid atmosphere of a ‘gray busy day’ – this is Pete Townshend in his Ray Davies employ, and he shows he could have easily beaten ‘im if he only would.

And the other songs are okay, too. ‘Let My Love Open The Door’ is a bit cheesy, but not offensive; ‘Jools And Jim’ rocks and cusses, with venomous anti-press attacks, and… wait, that’s about it. Come to think of it, there’s not a single bad song on the whole album, just a couple yawnfests. If this is indeed the best that Pete could offer at the time, it’s not a big disappointment. And a must for every Who fan, even if, like I said, this doesn’t at all sound like your average Who album. Then again – it certainly sounds a lot more fresh than that post-Keith Moon crap.

April 11, 2013 Posted by | Pete Townshend Empty Glass | | Leave a comment