Roger interview in Filter magazine
brianinatlanta2001 at yahoo.com
Tue Apr 8 06:33:59 CDT 2008
You don’t apologize for the Who’s original ambition. How conscious were you of class issues motivating your success as a band?
Subconsciously, quite strongly, I suppose. You have to be in it to understand that, you have to be English to understand that. We did think it was about time we shat in the upper class’ toilets.
How many years did it take for you to break out beyond the Mod subculture and become a cross-Atlantic goliath?
Really, it was Tommy in ’69. We did tours in the States and were successful—we did Monterey Pop—but then in late ’68, it started to build, then we had Tommy in the spring of ’69 and then we did Woodstock and it just exploded.
There’s a snippet in Amazing Journey when Entwistle talks about Jimi Hendrix ripping you guys off at the Monterey Pop Festival.
It’s true. Hendrix’s stage act and a lot of the antics that he got up to—banging the guitar on speakers, the feedback, spearing the speakers—he copied those directly from Pete Townshend. Pete was doing that stuff in 1964. And Hendrix came over to England in ’66 and saw the Who’s act and basically lifted it. He did it differently; he did his version of it, but make no bones about it that the first one to do that stuff was Pete Townshend. Hendrix was brilliant and he was a genius and all those things, yes, but it always felt to us like, “Why did he need that bit of our bit?”
You straddled a number of different eras of rock and roll during your strongest performing eras from the ’60s through the late ’70s. How closely did you identify with psychedelia or the counterculture?
We didn’t identify with any of it at all. We really didn’t. We sat in our own niche. Very much with the mod thing, but that’s where we started. We were just youngsters doing what youngsters do. We were never really hippies, we were never really punks; we were just four yods from Shepherd’s Booth—just young people growing up, disgracefully.
The mixture of musical genres that went into the Who’s formulation is interesting—for example, Keith Moon’s style was based in surf music. Where were you guys coming from?
Our musical background had a very wide spread. We used to play stuff from Johnny Cash, Everly Brothers, Del Shannon, through to Ray Charles, John Lee Hooker, traditional jazz—ridiculous—to the Beach Boys. And indeed, some modern jazz. I’ve got tapes of the Who doing stuff that was so out there that you think, “How could we do it?” We were 18 or 19 years old, and it was so avant garde.
Being a major innovator from such a young age has put you into a position to be considered a rock legend for 10 years longer than I’ve been alive. Do you ever feel like you’re keeping the flame with the Who? Are there points where you get tired?
I’m just living the life I’ve always lived. I’m doing what I want to do most, playing music with a bunch of musicians and one in particular who I am incredibly close to. I think I was gifted a relationship that could transpose into music and create something wonderful. It’s never boring and it’s always a challenge. You never succeed in what you attempt to do. But it’s an onward journey and I’m really proud to be where we are. People say, “Shouldn’t you retire?” But this is our music. It’s not anybody else’s music. Why should we fucking retire? We’ve got every right to be playing it, like B.B. King—the same right he has to play his music. And the older he gets, the better it gets.
That youthful connection to rock subcultures has always been ridiculous; that notion that you can only succeed for a brief golden period.
But most of that came—and I’m not putting them down—from jaded journalists who were looking for a story when there’s nothing there, and from a culture based on rubbish. Everyone celebrates that all the best rock stars die young. Well, were they the best? I don’t know. What do you prove when you’ve done the easy bit? It’s easy to be young, and it’s fucking easy to do it when you’re young. They’re all clichés.
Do you find that songs change their meaning over time?
Like “My Generation” by the Zimmers—that 86-year-old singer has gotten an incredible dignity into it that you couldn’t ever get out of a young man. I saw a similar thing where it was an 80 year old singing a Coldplay song, and all of a sudden the song has a weight and a dignity that’s way beyond when Coldplay do it. And it’s not that Coldplay is bad. It’s just something wonderful that age brings to us that you can’t mimic, it has to be learned.
It seems the band battled their own insecurities individually: Pete needed to be seen as the genius, Keith wanted the attention for his persona, and you were the singer in the middle who was not getting the credit early on. How do you think these things affected your work together?
Anything that creates friction can only improve the friendship. That’s how I look at it. You have to be true friends to survive it. But make no bones: If the friction goes away, the music will suffer. I think there was a subconscious understanding that this was as good as it was going to get. You’re never gonna find better people to work with. When you play with a musician who totally gets you within the music, then all the rest of the stuff—the other personality traits and all the fights—are completely insignificant.
How was Tommy a turning point for your involvement in the band?
It was a turning point for me because I did manage to find the voice that Townshend’s songs needed, and pre-that, I was at a loss. Partly because the songs were strange: the “I’m a Boy,” “Pictures of Lily,” and “Happy Jack” period was very different from “My Generation” and I didn’t know how to be that person…but then Tommy came and I really felt comfortable in it. It brought me out of myself. I could give it the drama that was inside me that I couldn’t get out previous to that.
How did drugs infiltrate the band?
Drugs have been there since day one. There have always been people around doing drugs. I dabbled a bit here and there, but I never got hooked. I was hooked to the music. Drugs have been an incredibly destructive force in my life. I’ve lost a lot of great friends. Sadly, the people I lost could have been such great old people—that’s when I kind of get sad about it. Why do people want to emulate dead rock stars? The only thing you can suggest to them is that they talk to a survivor.
That goes back to how these rock myths are created. Although you were simply writing and playing the music you wanted to create, the legend was created outside of the band. How many misconceptions occurred? Are you at peace with how you have been interpreted?
I don’t worry about it. I try and hang onto who I am and deliver my music in the best way I possibly can. I can’t worry about it. It’s why I had no input for anything in Amazing Journey. I just handed over the rights to someone who I trusted would make a good film because I know their previous films. It can never be the truth of the Who’s life. It can give a glimpse of what we are, but you can’t put 43 years into two hours. That’s not the nature of it. Is it a good, entertaining piece of film? In the end, that’s the only way you can judge it.
Going back four decades, why does the music of the Who endure?
The main thing is that you really have to be conscious to listen to Who music. It is not music that you can have on in the background. It demands your consciousness. It’s the strength of the music. If you wanna ruin a party, put on a Who song… Who knows what the answer to that question is? I still think we’re a good band—we’re a great band. The way I’ve always felt about it is as long as it doesn’t get hokey, it should get more magnificent as we get older.
This story was featured in FILTER's Holiday '07 Issue
-Brian in Atlanta
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