Wayne Kramer on Townshend and The Who
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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