"The next one to drop, that's the end"

Brian Cady brianinatlanta2001 at yahoo.com
Sat Jul 24 14:06:06 CDT 2004

Roger interview in The Age at:

And then there were two
July 25, 2004

First Keith Moon died, then John Entwistle followed.
Frontman Roger Daltrey tells Annabel Crabb why it
matters to him and Pete Townshend that The Who keep
playing live.

Roger Daltrey, lead singer of The Who, used to be
one-quarter of a band that was known as the most
strident youth voice of the 1960s. Now he's half of
the band, as he and writer-guitarist Pete Townshend
are the only members of the original quartet still
alive. "The next one to drop," says Daltrey in London
on the eve of the band's Australian tour, "that's the

The first to drop was Keith Moon, the hard-living
drummer who died aged 31 in 1978 after taking an
overdose of drugs that had been prescribed to help
overcome his alcoholism. Bass player John Entwistle
similarly joined the ranks of rock's fallen when he
died doing something he loved —- taking cocaine in the
company of a sexual professional — in a Las Vegas
hotel room in 2002, two days before The Who were to
start an American concert tour.

When I meet Daltrey in his management's offices in
London's Camden Town, he seems in pretty good shape
for a 60-year-old veteran of the rock'n'roll
lifestyle. He is no longer the outrageous sexpot he
became in the '70s, with his bursting jeans and miasma
of hair. But nor is he from the human wreckage school
of ageing rock stars. Rather, he comes across like a
friendly PE teacher: cropped hair, horribly fit,
cheerful as hell and full of a "right, let's get
cracking" sort of energy. 

Indefatigable though Daltrey is, he concedes The Who
simply couldn't survive another death.

"We couldn't be The Who then. But at the moment we are
The Who. Or the Who's left, anyway."

On stage, Daltrey still belts out the immortal
Townshend lyric "I hope I die/Before I get old" from
My Generation, but he seems determined that the
remnant and reconstituted band should enjoy a
rewarding old age. "The music still lives," he says.

"That's why we're doing it. And nobody can play that
music like we can. So we'll keep playing while we've
still got the energy and the fun. It could be 10
years, it could be five. Who knows?"

Daltrey's work ethic kept The Who together and touring
after the other members began to tire or die off. And
it was his eagerness to keep going and work harder
that proved one of the most explosive points of
difference with the sometimes dreamy Townshend. And
now, years of Daltrey persistence have finally
persuaded Townshend to return to Australia, a country
he swore he'd never visit again.

The Who last toured Australia in January 1968, flanked
by The Small Faces (whose drummer, Kenney Jones, would
go on to replace Moon in 1979), on a tour that saw
them playing two gigs a night, one at 6pm and one at
8.30. But the tour was cut short after an incident on
an Ansett flight from Adelaide to Essendon that seems
remarkable more for its mildness than anything else.
En route to Melbourne, a bottle of beer was produced
and "offcolour" language used. Before long, Prime
Minister John Gorton had sent a telegram to the band
insisting that they leave Australia, never to return.

"Yeah, that was back before you people got a sense of
humour," says Daltrey. "I mean, a bottle of beer at 10
o'clock in the morning, and they deported us! We were
filthy rock'n'rollers. I remember the stewards called
our road manager a 'scruffy little man'. He took
umbrage because he was actually married to quite an
aristocratic English lady. But it was a very rough
crew, I'll tell you."

Daltrey confesses that the band may have played up to
their bad-boy image, just a little. "We tended to make
things worse, I suppose. I mean, when they put the
stairs up to the plane we all came out with our hands
up. They loved that. I think it was when the
politician came into it, the Prime Minister, that was
the thing that sunk the ship."

I tell Daltrey that John Gorton was one figure from
the 1960s who didn't die before he got old; he expired
only two years ago at the distinguished age of 90.
"Well," Daltrey responds, "he probably knew we'd come
back over his dead body!"

For all the band's determined iconoclasm, guitar-
smashing and general air of naughtiness, a strong
thread of humour was apparent throughout The Who's
career; how else could you explain songs like Boris
The Spider or Daltrey's decision to pose in a bath of
Heinz baked beans for the cover of the 1967 album The
Who Sells Out? In fact, says Daltrey, the whole
history of the band — which formed in 1961 as The
Detours when Daltrey, Townshend and Entwistle were at
Acton County Grammar — is a bit of a joke. "You've got
to laugh at our career. It's extraordinary. This is a
band which we didn't think would last till the end of
the week. A band built on breaking up. But we're still

Well, I point out, while trying to be as sympathetic
as I can, "still here" is not strictly accurate where
two of the band are concerned. "Nah, well,
unfortunately, no. They're still here in the music
though, and that's the main thing."

There have been a few occasions, though, when the
music very nearly stopped for good. One was on the
American tour of 1979, when 11 fans were crushed to
death in a stampede at a concert in Cincinatti.

More recently, Daltrey and Townshend thought about
calling it quits when Entwistle died.

Though grief-stricken, they ultimately chose to
continue the tour with the Italian-born bass player
Pino Palladino, who will also travel with them for the
Australian shows, in Entwistle's place. "We were
thinking of stopping, and just saying no, but we kind
of thought about how many people would be put out of
work if we didn't do that tour."

Last year, a different sort of cloud fell over The
Who. On January 11, 2003, news broke that an unnamed
famous British rock star had been caught in an
internet child pornography sweep by police.

Pete Townshend's London home was immediately
surrounded. When the 59-year-old Townshend gave a
shaky doorstep press conference, clad in a dressing-
gown and identifying himself as the superstar in
question, Daltrey rang up and shrieked at him.

"He was very angry," Townshend later told The
Observer. "He was shouting, 'Anybody could have used
that credit card'. And I said, 'Roger, I think it was
me'. He's going, 'You think? You think? For f--- 's
sake, you couldn't have done it, you're confessing to
something you didn't do'."

But Townshend did do it. He admitted he had paid £5 to
view online images of child porn, explaining it away
as research for his anti-pedophile campaign work (he
had claimed prior to the incident that he was a victim
of sexual abuse when a child). In the end, he was let
off with a formal caution by police.

Townshend has kept a low profile since, but does offer
occasional diary entries at petetownshend. co.uk. The
latest concerns a spat with filmmaker Michael Moore,
who was refused permission to use Won't Get Fooled
Again to conclude Fahrenheit 9/11. The songwriter says
he didn't like Moore's previous film, Bowling For
Columbine, and thought the new film sounded unsuitable
for his 1971 tune.

"I wish him all the best with the movie," Townshend
wrote. "But he'll have to work very, very hard to
convince me that a man with a camera is going to
change the world more effectively than a man with a

It's a laudably rock'n'roll remark, even if "effective
guitar-driven world-changing" would be a slightly
over-enthusiastic description of what The Who was up
to in the 1960s. What they were up to, more simply,
was giving the world a rock band that was loud and
angry but intelligent as well.

So what does Townshend's compadre Daltrey make of the
state of modern music? "Contemporary rock'n'roll is at
a very unfortunate stage at the moment," he says.
"It's the accountants running the show most of the
time, and the creative spark ... well, it's much more
difficult for the creative bands to get out. They used
to just let you get on with it. Now they try and
manufacture it and it's a disaster.

"But it always goes in cycles. I mean, you've had this
dreadful Pop Idol, which I think is shite but it
serves a function, which is making a whole generation
of young people sitting at home say, 'What is this
shite? I'm going out to the garage to start a punk
band'. I know from that something good's going to
come, and it is already. We've got bands like the
Libertines, you've got Jet in Australia."

The Libertines, incidentally, are struggling with the
same problem that ransacked the ranks of The Who:
frontman Pete Doherty is going through an extremely
public and stormy love affair with heroin, and is
regularly pictured in the British newspapers looking
closer and closer to oblivion. In fact, his colleagues
have asked him to leave the band until he sorts
himself out.

"The Libertines, yeah, maybe if the singer lives till
the end of the week, I'm hoping for a seminal moment,"
says Daltrey. "The trouble is, I've seen it all
before, and it all ends up (with you) standing over a
hole in the ground."

Given The Who's long and tragic relationship with
substance abuse — with Moon and Entwistle dying of
overdoses and Townshend at one stage being addicted to
heroin — it's little surprise Daltrey has little
sympathy for this particular devil. "It didn't agree
with me, to tell you the truth," he says.

"I met a guy in the early '60s in America who was
making all the psychedelic drugs for the government,
all the acid and everything. He told me, 'Never take
the chemicals, stick to the grass', which I did. And I
didn't even really like that too much."

It's difficult to know what is less plausible: that a
member of The Who sincerely disliked drugs, or that
there was a man whose job it was to manufacture acid
for the Kennedy administration. But Daltrey is
insistent; the only time he ever tried LSD, he says,
was at Woodstock in 1969. And even then, he didn't
mean to take it. "It was horrible. You couldn't have a
drink without it being laced; tap water, everything
was laced, which is how it happened.

"I don't think back on Woodstock with any pleasure.
The fondest memories of Woodstock are really of what
it did for us later on in our careers." 

Woodstock helped break the band in America, but now,
much later in their careers, Daltrey just wants to
keep the music alive. "I think for the first time in
our careers, we're really enjoying playing. It's more
fun now than ever. 

"In the early days, it was a war — it was a battle to
be heard, it was a battle to get the sound right, it
was a battle to stay current. But that's not a problem
any more."

-Brian in Atlanta
The Who This Month!

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