Wayne Kramer on Townshend and The Who

L. Bird pkeets at hotmail.com
Thu Dec 16 19:23:30 CST 2004

Repost from Whochat Forum:

>Something I saw on Tony Fletchers website:

For a Q magazine Special Edition on Icons, published in November 2004, I was 
commissioned to write profiles on Pete Townshend and Joe Strummer. To 
distinguish these pieces from the dozens of other similar features already 
out there, I was asked to interview musicians who were either similarly 
minded to or clearly influenced by my subjects. For the piece on Pete, I 
talked to Matt Friedberger of The Fiery Furnaces and Wayne Kramer of The 
MC5. Kramer proved particularly eloquent, and I'm happy to reprint our phone 
conversation in near enough its entirety as follows.

We started out talking about the incident with which I kicked off my 
profile: the moment at Woodstock, August 17 1969, when "hippie 
rabble-rouser" Abbie Hoffman took to the stage in the middle of The Who's 
set to protest the incarceration of The MC5 manager and White Panther Party 
founder John Sinclair on trumped-up drug charges. Townshend, furious at the 
interruption – especially mid-Tommy - kicked Hoffman hard up the arse, 
swiped him with his Gibson SG into the photo pit, and then announced to the 
crowd of half a million, "The next f**king person to walk across this 
f**king stage is going to get f**king killed."

Tony: Where were you, Wayne, when that incident took place?

Wayne: We were in Europe at the time of Woodstock.

[Researching some links and photos for this piece, I see that this was not 
actually the case. According to The MC5 Calendar, The MC5 were in the town 
of Milan in their home state of Michigan, playing with (Ted Nugent's) Amboy 
Dukes, the Stooges and others at a concert billed as "Michigan Music 
Supports The John Sinclair Defense Fund." Which makes the topic yet more 

-How was your relationship with John Sinclair at that point? Did you share 
Abbie Hoffman's sentiment?

Personally, John and I were estranged. But politically and in the larger 
sense of what was going on I supported John 100%. What the police did to him 
was criminal and I've never wavered in my commitment to John and what John 
believed in on those days. Him and I were having a hard time because in a 
lot of ways John was the scapegoat for the MC5 and he resented the fact that 
he had to go to prison and was lashing out at me. I understand that. I've 
been to prison myself and I know there's a state of mind that really doesn't 
want to accept the reality of the situation. And in fact, John and I got 
over that real quick, and have remained the best of friends ever since that 
time. I remember being confused by it at the time. My loyalty was to John 
and the injustice of his incarceration and also I didn't understand why 
Townshend made such a big deal out of it. I didn't understand Townshend's 
perspective that it was HIS stage. With the benefit of these many years to 
look at it they were both right!

-His view was that it was his stage at that time: "Who dares cross us?"

He was right, that was his stage and it was his time to say what he wanted 
to say. In my work as an entertainer, I've found ways to make a space for 
people who I think have something to say that fits in with my sense of what 
was right and wrong. But today I can identify with Townshend's stance. I 
worked hard to get that hour on stage, and that's my time. I'm saying what I 
have to say now. You have something to say, you get your own time!

So where did you first come into audio-visual contact with The Who?

There was some footage that showed up on television from the Richmond Pop 
Festival. It was this band no one had ever heard of, called The Who. They 
had this terrific sound that was totally unlike other bands of the day – The 
B**tles and The Merseybeat sound. They had a whole different intensity about 
them. And at the end of the performance, the guitarist wrecked a fabulously 
beautiful Rickenbacker guitar by pushing the neck through a Vox super beetle 
amplifier. It was beyond my ability to comprehend what was happening. I had 
to call someone on the phone and say "you won't believe what I just saw," 
call another guitar player up.

-I know the footage. [It's the Richmond Blues Festival 1965, the precursor 
of the modern-day Reading Festival, and The Who are shown performing Anyway, 
Anyhow, Anywhere. It's on the 30 Years of Maximum R&B Live Video. Townshend 
doesn't quite wreck the Rickenbacker, but you do wonder how it emerges 

It was like when you're confronted with ideas that are beyond your ability 
to identity. Like something's going on here and you really don't know what 
it is. It was compelling. What did this mean? What was he doing? And that 
really opened the door to this attraction. I was attracted to the sound and 
the ideas behind this band called The Who. I was probably their biggest fan 
in Detroit. I did more to promote The Who than anybody. Rob Tyner got them 
right away; he was a little older than me and had a little broader vision 
than I did. That what was happening here in the context of a pop band, was 
that they were artists. They understood principles larger than strictly 
musical principles and entertainment – though it included musical and 
entertainment language and symbols and sounds. But they also understood a 
larger sense of performance art. And they brought that to the stage, they 
brought it to the work. This was something no one had done consciously yet. 
The Rolling Stones had the art of dance, The B**tles had the art of music 
and harmony, but Townshend really brought a larger sense of what was 
happening in the world of, maybe, the situationalists. Or a sense of 
avant-garde. Almost surreal rejuxtaposition of familiar imagery in 
unfamiliar ways. He almost took a William Burroughs approach to being in a 
band – he cut it up and put it in a different order. I read that he termed 
it auto-destructive art.

-Well, he got that phrase from art school.

I knew it had to come from somewhere.

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