New Pete interview on writing Quadrophenia
brianinatlanta2001 at yahoo.com
Fri Aug 7 11:01:12 UTC 2009
From the Nottingham Evening Post:
Quadrophenia: Pete Townshend interview
Friday, August 07, 2009, 07:00
Comment on this story
HOW DID YOU COME TO WRITE QUADROPHENIA – WHAT WAS THE CATALYST AND ALSO WHAT CAME FIRST THE STORY OR THE SONGS?
I have a strange way of approaching what I do. I am inspired by very diverse circumstances and conditions. A new piece of computer software, something that simply makes funky drum sounds, might set me off. A walk by the river or looking at the sea might start me off on some tangent as a lyricist. I might position a table in a particular place in my home and find I write a whole batch of essays, poems and lyrics. A new guitar (or guitar open tuning) could inspire a burst of creative work. I am especially stimulated by the designing and creation of studio-workshops and technical workplaces. The modern recording studio is as much a hobby for me as a train-set or a boat. There is a lot childlike play in all this.
With Quadrophenia, a very wide range of these kinds of inspirational strands came together in a very short space of time. The Who as a band decided to build a commercial studio for themselves. I was already building a private studio for myself in the country. My studio at home in London was tiny; nevertheless a lot of the music for Quadrophenia was written there and the recording started there. I was also pursuing a new idea, telling a story using sound effects. So I was often out and about with a field recorder listening to trains, birds, cars, planes, rivers, the sea and the chatter of people in pubs.
In the midst of all this came the news that quadraphonic sound was about to arrive as a domestic format on vinyl records. Pink Floyd had already pioneered four-channel sound in their concerts, but what excited me was bringing The Who - an astonishing band to stand in the middle of when they played at full tilt - to life on vinyl in surround sound. So, the two new studios, one for The Who in Battersea, and one for me in the country, were designed as the first quadraphonic rooms in the world.
At the same time, I felt I wanted to try to compose a set of songs about the internal struggle I saw so many of my peers were still experiencing. A lot of them seemed to have drug and alcohol issues that had turned into psychoses. Remember that my immediate peers had all been mods, most of them, and so it was natural to set the story in the closing years of that movement. One or two of the songs were already in place: Drowned, Love Reign O'er Me, and Is It In My Head, were all songs about the desire for some spiritual sustenance in a world that seemed devoid of faith and direction at the time. The old wartime values were still invalid, remember. Using these three songs, I scribbled out the story you see inside the cover of the record sleeve and started to discuss it with my friend and mentor Richard Barnes, and the photographer-essayist Ethan Russell. From these discussions emerged the idea of a four-faceted character, coming at you from four speakers.
Subsequently the idea was somewhat deepened, but also somewhat confused, by the notion that a member of The Who could reflect each facet of Jimmy's character. I am still uneasy about this. This is the story of a member of our audience not of the band, but we had big egos and wanted to feature in the story somewhere. The only song I intended to speak about the band was The Punk and the Godfather, which was actually highly critical of what we had done thus far.
On top of all this I could feel a new wave or reaction rebellion coming in the music business. The big bands were becoming careless and self-indulgent. I wanted my songs to continue to have a cathartic function for our audience. When punk hit a few years later I was not surprised.
The mod movement of the 1960s was almost forgotten at the time of the recording. Skinhead culture was springing up and was much more politically driven, albeit right wing. The mods I had known were all more gentle souls, effete in some ways, certainly intelligent and creative. What had happened to Jimmy? Where was he? What had he been through? Did he find what he was looking for?
This wide range of stimuli sets up a now familiar dilemma for me, in that when I look back I can tell the story of any particular project in a number of different ways. I often feel I am guilty of revisionism, and am sometimes accused of it. More on this later maybe.
BEFORE IT WAS ADAPTED FOR FILM, QUADROPHENIA WAS A DESIGNED AS A ROCK OPERA – IS THE STAGE WHERE YOU HAD IN FACT ALWAYS IMAGINED THE PIECE? DID YOU ALWAYS HAVE A PERFORMANCE IN MIND?
We had performed Tommy in its entirety many times and I felt Quadrophenia would blow it away in live performance. But we got sidetracked by the complications of the necessary technology. We were highly pressured by deadlines, so we didn't perform the complete work until 1996. I wanted to have a quadraphonic PA system like Pink Floyd, but have a dramatic reason for using it. I wanted a great album and a great vehicle for our live shows. In the end only a few of the songs survived to be played regularly as part of The Who set.
WHAT DO YOU MOST FONDLY REMEMBER ABOUT DEVELOPING QUADROPHENIA?
I loved all the technological innovation, there was a lot of fascinating research involved. The film was different because it happened in the final years of punk. We actually tried to cast Johnny Rotten as Jimmy at one point and he and I became friends. I didn't have much to do with the film. John Entwistle was music director and I concentrated on providing one or two pieces of incidental music that was required. I was personally on a big drinking jag when the film was made. To achieve what I'd managed to achieve as a writer and performer in the years from 1964 to 1976 required full-time work from me. When the other band members were resting between tours, I was working, writing, or researching; I didn't get a break. By 1979 when the film was made, shortly after Keith Moon's death, I had taken on a solo record deal as well. I had been much encouraged by my managers and advisors who thought it would help me feel more fulfilled. In fact it was the last
straw. So the film passed me by in a bit of a haze, but when I came round from my stupor I was deeply impressed.
HOW DID YOU FEEL WATCHING IT FOR THE FIRST TIME? DID DIRECTOR FRANC RODDAM ET AL INTERPRET THE STORY IN LINE WITH YOUR VISION?
I didn't feel the script went deep enough into Jimmy's psychosis and I was sad that it didn't precisely follow the song-cycle structure. However, I also knew that there was no story in place on the album, just a journey that was deliberately left vague and open so that people listening could get inside it. The film needed a story, and Franc and his writer came up with one. I was delighted with the film when I saw it, truly, but I didn't feel it was my work at all. The response to the film from the public was good – and within a month the mod movement seemed to have enjoyed a revival.
WILL THE STAGE PRODUCTION RESEMBLE THE FILM?
We are hoping for a new kind of musical. That is probably dangerous, but that is what we want. It will not resemble the film, except that I believe the girl will be more important in this play than she was on the album and more pivotal than in the film. On the album we only observed the girl from Jimmy's screwed-up point of view. In the film, and more so in our play, we see her as real person, with her own story to tell and her own frustrations about what mods did and did not achieve.
TO WHAT EXTENT ARE YOU INVOLVED IN THIS STAGING?
I am involved, of course, but I am trying to keep out of the way. This is a fresh interpretation of the music and I am certain the cast will bring new life and new angles to the story.
DID YOU TAKE MUCH CONVINCING TO GET INVOLVED?
I took a lot of convincing. Not because I felt Tom Critchley and Jeff Young were on the wrong track, but because of divided loyalties. The Who do a terrific live performance of Quadrophenia, with video screens helping to tell the story, and Roger is very keen, and has been for the past three years, to tour The Who's concert version one last time while he can still sing it (it's hard to sing well).
Roger put a lot into the stage version we did, and it was great for me to be able to work with him creatively for the first time with such trust. So it took a big leap of faith for me to say no to my beloved mate Roger in The Who and yes to the show. I think in the end my aspirations as a composer and writer for the theatre proved more powerful than my desire to play this wonderful music on stage with The Who. The Who version may happen again, but not for some years now.
HOW DO YOU THINK NEW AUDIENCES WILL RESPOND TO THIS ADAPTATION?
My concern is that mod old-timers might get too caught up in what they believe to be the fine details. We are not trying to recreate the mod world. In fact, a lot of modern mods get it badly wrong.
Mods rarely wore parkas except when on a scooter – that's just an example. Today young people show up at Who concerts wearing parkas. That's fine for today, and we need to let the past go. What I want new and existing fans to do is respond to the story as it told today and to try to find something in the show that enriches their lives today. I also hope they have a great time.
IN YOUR SHORT STORY IN THE COVER NOTES YOU WROTE: THE GUITAR PLAYER … HE WROTE SOME GOOD SONGS ABOUT MODS BUT HE DIDN'T QUITE LOOK LIKE ONE." FORGIVE ME IF I'VE MISJUDGED THIS, BUT IT CERTAINLY SUGGESTS YOU WERE NOT ONE. WHAT WERE YOU FEELINGS TOWARDS THE MODS?
I was a mod. No question about it. The other three guys in The Who were not. My best friend at art college Nick Bartlett and his older brother Tim were the sharpest mods I came across, I hung out with them as much as I could. The thing is that anyone could be a mod. You didn't need to be working class. I once hung out with a group of mods in Brighton with a girl, and we slept under the pier and chased rockers. The rest of the band had gone home. I wanted to feel a part of something, I always have. The mods allowed me that. When I went our clubbing in Soho, dancing I came across some of the Faces of the day. Phil the Greek, Julie Driscoll, Rod Stewart, David Bowie, Marc Bolan, Micky Tenner, Sandie Sargent and, of course, the Small Faces themselves. I was always close to the greatest Face of them all, Peter Meaden, and if The Who hadn't got in the way I would have embraced the mod movement far more deeply. But my position on the stage allowed me a good
view of what was going on. I became someone who gave a voice to some of those mods. But I was a part of what was happening. When LSD hit London I moved on, like so many others.
YOU'RE KNOWN FOR YOUR MUSIC AND WRITING, ARE YOU A FAN OF THEATRE? WHAT MUSICALS, SHOWS OR THEATRE PROFESSIONALS ARE YOU A FAN OF?
I like Tom Stoppard's work, especially his Arcadia, and Kenneth Brannagh's work on Shakespeare, especially his film of Hamlet. I am a huge fan of Arthur Miller and was an investor on Last Yankee back in 1993. Musicals? I liked Cats and Phantom of the Opera. I love the soundtrack of the Phantom of the Opera movie, and I adore Minnie Driver as the Diva. I liked Rent, and Guys and Dolls at the National years ago. I've seen 'em all. I think my favourite musical is Into The Woods by [Stephen] Sondheim and Lapine. I also like West Side Story as a film – who doesn't. I am a huge Abba fan, so I am looking forward to watching Mamma Mia when I have time. (Ken Russell said I would love it).
HAVE YOU HAD ANY FEEDBACK FROM ROGER DALTREY? WHAT ARE HIS FEELINGS ON THE PROJECT? WILL HE BE GOING ALONG TO SEE IT?
Roger will find this production tough to engage. He felt he should have been involved, and he might well be correct. I'm certain that given the chance his process, his version if you like, would have been a valid one. But I wanted to keep this production away from The Who and its internal machine. I hope he comes to see the show, and if he does I hope he likes what he sees. He wasn't a great fan of the Broadway Tommy. Whatever he thinks he will tell me honestly and we will remain friends.
WHAT ELSE ARE YOU WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT?
This year is my year dedicated to writing. I have started so many things that I am excited about and I need to pick one to complete. I am composing a lot of new music at the moment. A lot of it sounds like old-fashioned music theatre stuff rather than pop or rock, so I have no idea where it will go. I am having a ball. I began this set of replies to your questions by speaking about how I respond to all kinds of diverse stimuli. This does tend to make my output seem lacking in direction, or overly eclectic. But as I close in on a final idea I tend to drop everything else and get very highly focused. At the moment I am working on about five or six ideas, in about the same number of different methods. I don't want to say too much, in case I set myself up, but I having the most fun I've ever had in my life. My partner Rachel Fuller is working on three theatre musicals too, all at the same time - she is a composer – so the house we share is like a music
workshop. It's a great way for a musician to live. I am very happy about it.
-Brian in Atlanta
The Who This Month!
More information about the TheWho