Roger interview in The Australian
brianinatlanta2001 at yahoo.com
Fri Jul 16 11:07:50 CDT 2004
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The olds are alright
By Ian Shedden
July 17, 2004
ANGRY old men don't suit the rock stage. Young
audiences might find it acceptable - at last - for the
old 'uns to be up there trotting out the old hits, but
it's stretching the limits of credibility to have a
frontman such as Roger Daltrey rallying the world's
yoof to, say, the sound of The Kids are Alright when
he has just turned 60.
Daltrey, the wiry screamer who once posed as the tough
guy, has mellowed through the years and his demeanour
onstage with the Who - this year celebrating an on-off
relationship spanning 40 years - is no longer all
about aggression or antagonism towards his career
adversary and bandmate, guitarist and songwriter Pete
Townshend. Nowadays he's what some of his fans might
call a "diamond geezer", one who didn't die before he
He prides himself on the fact the Who, formed in
London in 1964, were always a band "of the people".
Their mod beginnings cast them as such: ordinary
British lads with a roguish streak having a bit of fun
while being true to their working-class roots. This
was reflected in Townshend's early songwriting, and
titles such as I Can't Explain, Substitute and My
Generation inspired a kinship with their audience that
survives to this day.
These days, Daltrey is the epitome of ordinary
blokeness. He talks in a cheery cockney brogue. The
veneer of "to the manor born" he adopted during the
1980s - all wellington boots and hunting jackets down
on the trout farm - has evaporated, although the
country estate in Sussex that has been home for the
best part of his career remains.
In that setting he is a man content. He's wealthy,
with interests that range from acting to painting, has
a stable family life and in 2004 finds himself
fronting a band that is enjoying a remarkable
renaissance, attracting rave reviews for its concerts
and working on a new album, to be released next year.
Most amazing, perhaps, the Who are about to play in
Australia for the first time in 36 years.
"I'm really glad we're coming back now because
Australia never really got to see the band at its
best," says Daltrey. "You'd have to go a long way to
see a better rock band."
That wasn't quite the view taken by pilots, customs
officials and prime minister John Gorton in 1968, the
last time the Who were on these shores. The group and
its entourage were booted out of the country after an
incident on a plane from Adelaide to Melbourne, after
which an outraged Townshend vowed never to return.
In hindsight, the whole drama seems overblown. The Who
and fellow English band the Small Faces drank some
beer on the flight and got into an argument with crew
members. According to some press reports, "an invasion
of pop singers" used terms such as "go to hell" and
were "garishly dressed".
Daltrey, who last visited Australia four years ago as
part of the Ultimate Rock Symphony extravaganza,
laughs at the controversy he caused in 1968.
"I've got a lot of memories of that tour, all of it
just being an incredible laugh," he says. "In some
ways, when you look at Australia now, it's seems so
un-Australian back then. You had no sense of humour.
We got thrown out of the country for drinking a bottle
of beer on the plane. Was it really Australia?"
Back then, the Who were one of the most confronting
and loudest bands in the world. They were also a
powerful influence on generations of rockers to come.
Without them, the Jam, Oasis and our own You Am I, the
last of which will open the Who's Australian shows
this month, would not have had a starting point for
Daltrey acknowledges the band's imprint on rock
history and is encouraged by the way bands such as
Oasis are carrying on the bad-boy swagger. He's also
full of praise for Melbourne band Jet after seeing
them in London a few weeks ago. "They were great," he
says. "It's great to see these young bands with the
same light in their eyes that we had."
A dimming of that light has not dissuaded Daltrey from
treading the boards but it's fair to say that the Who
are a different, less confronting proposition than
they were in 1968, not least in terms of personnel.
Wild man drummer Keith Moon died of a drug overdose in
1978, while bassist John Entwistle passed on in
similar circumstances two years ago.
Through these tragedies and countless tantrums and
upsets, particularly the volatile relationship between
Daltrey and Townshend, the band has fractured several
times only to regroup, determined to cling on to
whatever vestige of "greatest rock'n'roll band in the
world" status might linger in fans' minds.
Exciting as they may be, the perception of the Who as
dangerous and innovative relates mostly to another
era. As with the Rolling Stones, the Who are trading
chiefly on nostalgia for their influential back
That's not the full story, though, as Daltrey sees it.
He sings My Generation, the band's ultimate teen
anthem, at every show without fear or embarrassment.
That's because, he says, there is a lot of his
generation who still want to see the band. More than
that, the modern-day Who want to remain relevant to
that older generation, even if it means writing songs
about more mature issues. "I sing that song for my
generation because my generation hasn't gone away," he
says. "We're all here ... and all our fans are losing
people around them the same way as we are. They might
be all old and fuddy-duddy, some of them, but they're
just as important as the young generation."
To that end, Daltrey says the next batch of Townshend
songs may address topics that are more suited to his
"One thing that musicians like us are able to do is to
show people how to go on living their lives," Daltrey
says. "I'm hoping we can be the first to articulate
what it's like to be middle-aged and old-aged. We want
to capture the feelings and anxieties of that and put
them in songs in the same way that Pete did when he
was talking about adolescence. I think he's about the
only writer out there who could do it."
Whether this means we can expect new material about
hip replacement surgery and grappling with modern
technology (internet sites, for example) is down to
songwriter Townshend, but what's clear is that in a
few years, if they stick around that long, the Who
could well be the first champions of a new art form -
senior citizens rock. Just imagine: "Are you feelin'
aawlriiiiigghtt?" screams Daltrey. "You'll have to
speak up," cries the audience.
IN the mid to late 1960s, the Who were the baddest
boys among the British exports. That reputation, built
on uproarious live performances, endeared them to an
international audience that looked on the Rolling
Stones as too tame and the Beatles as anathema.
Daltrey calls them "girls' bands". The Who, on the
other hand, were very much a blokes' affair. Daltrey
reckons that 75 per cent of their following during the
'60s and '70s was made up of young males. This, he
believes, is down to "the way Townshend writes his
songs ... they come from an incredibly male,
introspective place. He writes in such a personal way.
It's so honest and it connects with everybody,
particularly when he was writing about teenage angst
While some rockers of his ilk might have had issues
with having such an abundance of blokes in the room
every night, Daltrey says it worked for them in the
long term. "We had our fair share of women, I'm not
complaining there," he chortles, "but the great thing
about blokes is they're a lot less fickle ... and they
stuck with us over the years."
There's no denying that testosterone levels - onstage
and off - were above average at Who shows. Daltrey was
all swagger and swinging mic stands, Townshend wrote
the book on smashing guitars, while Moon smashed drums
with alarming dexterity, got smashed himself just as
often, and wasn't averse to smashing the odd hotel
television set on to an unsuspecting pavement from a
Moon's indulgences eventually caught up with him and
he died from an overdose of sleeping pills shortly
after the release of the band's 1978 album Who Are
You? The band's career - and the careers of the
individual members - had gone off on a variety of
tangents by that point, mainly because of the whims of
its creative force, Townshend. Although hits such as I
Can See for Miles and Happy Jack had cemented the
band's success worldwide in the '60s, the guitarist
had a grander vision of rock'n'roll than many of his
contemporaries. Thus the concept album Tommy was born
in 1969. The tale of a "deaf, dumb and blind kid"
provided the hit Pinball Wizard; more significantly,
it took the band in a new, more theatrical direction.
The follow-up was another conceptual piece, this time
science fiction titled Lifehouse, but Townshend was
one of the few people who understood it. Fortunately
for them, it was whittled down into what is recognised
as their best album, Who's Next (1971), which features
two of the mainstays of their live set, Baba O'Riley
and Won't Get Fooled Again.
Throughout the '70s, all four members released solo
albums. The Who's Quadrophenia (1973) marked the point
when Daltrey and Townshend's relationship was at its
most volatile. Fists flew and egos locked horns during
the recording of that album. Right from the beginning
the Who had acknowledged that they didn't really get
along with each other. Now it was all coming to a
In retrospect, Daltrey believes that the bad blood
only added to the energy and potent chemistry of the
unit. "Creatively volatile, yes," he says of the
partnership with Townshend. "And may it always be so.
That's what makes the creative thing work. We do put
out a lot of energy. The music demands that of the
player. The music itself is so powerful, more so than
almost any other rock music you'll ever see."
The Who lost all continuity during the '80s and '90s.
The three surviving members had plenty of other
projects to keep them busy. Daltrey became an actor,
starring in the 1980 biopic McVicar, among other
roles. They toured together several times, but never
as successfully as in their early years.
Townshend had his own demons to deal with. He had a
heroin addiction that nearly killed him in the '80s
and last year had to endure a tabloid drama involving
his logging on to a child pornography website. He was
cleared of any wrongdoing.
Now the two main men are back to give The Who another
shot, with another member gone but with a new zest for
the task and a line-up that includes Ringo Starr's son
Zak Starkey on drums and Townshend's brother Simon on
Many thought the death throes of the band had been
reached when bassist Entwistle died in his Las Vegas
hotel room on the eve of an American tour in 2002. "Of
course we thought about that," Daltrey says. "It would
have been very easy to stop then." Instead, he and
Townshend vowed to keep going.
"To be honest, since John died the band has been a bit
different to what it was before," he says, perhaps
understating the case. "It's kind of come of age and
we've had the best reviews we've ever had. We're doing
these shows because we don't want to lose touch with
what the band's all about, which is being a great live
band. We're having more fun than we've ever had,
that's for sure. We feel totally free now to do
whatever we want. It's really exciting from that point
It's also a less hostile duo that is holding the band
together. Hatchets, it would seem, have been buried.
In fact, given the opportunity, Daltrey is fluid in
his praise for his longstanding musical collaborator,
putting him up there with Lennon and McCartney and
Brian Wilson. "Our relationship has got stronger," he
says of Townshend. "It's not a buddy-buddy kind of
thing. It's more like a brother thing. You know, when
you're there for someone and they're there for you. It
was the same when John [Entwistle] died. I only saw
John maybe twice a year when we weren't working ...
but, my god, I miss him.
"Pete's an animal on that guitar, too," he adds. "It
becomes like a living creature when he plays. I have
an understanding of how important Pete is to the music
of the 20th century."
Time will tell if he can carry that relevance into the
future. In the meantime, Daltrey has plenty to occupy
his time when he's not on stage or in the studio with
Townshend. He and his second wife, Heather, have been
married for 33 years and have three children - Rosie,
Willow and Jamie. He's happy being at home when not
committed to touring. Now he's considering writing an
autobiography, although it might not be the tell-all
tome that publishers have begged him for at various
stages of his career.
"It would be interesting if I can remember half of
it," he says. "There are always offers, but people
just want the dirt. That's the problem with it. All
they want to know is who you shagged. I just say I
shagged them all."
Shagging aside - or perhaps not - it's clear there is
life in the old dog yet. While it has been a hell of a
long time between beers in Australia, this could be
just the first of many visits the Who make in their
twilight years, as long as there's an audience out
there to watch them. Whatever the future, Daltrey is
convinced that age is no longer an impediment to
maintaining a rock'n'roll career, if not the
archetypal hedonistic lifestyle.
"To me, getting old is to do with the mind, not the
age you've lived," he concludes. "Our generation is
refusing to grow old gracefully. They seem to be
growing old disgracefully, which is great.
"I don't really want to retire. The music will change
to suit where we are, so what's to stop it going on
for another 20 years? At the moment it's better than
it ever was. If it starts to go the other way ...
write me a note."
The Who play Sydney on July 28 and 29 and Melbourne on
-Brian in Atlanta
The Who This Month!
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