New Pete Interview

Lowgens02 at Lowgens02 at
Tue Jan 20 12:32:02 UTC 2009

20th January, 2009

Noel  Mengel of the Brisbane Courier enjoyed a fascinating question and 
answer session  with Pete Townshend of The Who, who tour Australia in March. 

NOEL  MENGEL: There seems to be a real energy to the band now, a sense that 
time can't  be wasted. Does that mean there could be a swift follow-up to 
Endless Wire?  

PETE TOWNSHEND: This is the question that I sit asking myself  today. Whether 
swift or otherwise, it would have to be good, and that means  having time to 
write, and also knowing precisely what it is I want to say as a  writer that 
Roger would stand by. To be perfectly honest I am looking at things  very 
short-term at the moment. Coming back to Australia is about making good the  
promise we made to include Oz in our tour to support Endless Wire in 2006-2007.  
Sheer exhaustion saw that plan founder. We are in better shape now with lots of  
rest, and the recent tour in the USA and Japan (especially) were really  
heartening. We're still playing very well. 

NM: I've been a Who fan  since 1965, and Endless Wire has become one of my 
favourite Who albums. A couple  of years on, what are your thoughts on what you 
achieved with that  recording? 

PT: That makes me happy to hear. Endless Wire  surprises me when I go back to 
it because it features such a mixture of styles.  But it has lyrical teeth, 
and that is what I always feel most determined to  achieve as a song-writer. It 
also has moment of lyrical flaccidity, especially  in the songs written for 
the new mini-opera Wire and Glass. What is most  important to me is that this 
was an album I managed to stay with until the end,  and managed to drive until 
we arrived. As the producer of the record I did a lot  of work in my home 
studio, but this time I used that studio to keep things very  simple and low-fi, 
rather than try to produce grand sweeping schemes. You know,  I'm proud of it, 
not just because it happened, but because it seems to join the  dots somehow, 
even over the 24 year gap. Usually I look at my solo records to  make that 
join, and in some ways that works. Songs like Face the Face and Let My  Love Open 
the Door were big hits. And Rough Boys could have been a great Who  song. But 
what you miss on my solo stuff is Roger's delivery, he always wants to  wring 
a little more out of the songs than I am prepared to give.  

NM:Do you agree that Roger is improving with age as a singer? His  
performance on Endless Wire is stunning. 

PT:I do agree. I  wish we were able to bring some of his new skills to the 
very early material but  we seem to end up playing it like heavy metal. He has 
shades now that are fully  developed, that started as long ago as when he first 
found a way to sing "See  me, feel me, touch me, heal me' on Tommy, and that 
in The Who song collection  until now there have few opportunities for him to 
show off. Roger has a strange  style of singing. It is partly singing, and 
partly a kind of screaming  rage-passion-call-to-arms. Only he seems to be able 
to work out how to control  it. It is hard work, and sometimes he'll do a show 
that he feels has failed. But  that is always more because he feels he hasn't 
given his best for some reason.  We all hit bum notes now and then, but what 
Roger has now is deep empathy and  wisdom to bring to the older songs, and an 
amazing interpretive angle on the  newer ones. 

NM: An essential element of The Who is the balance of the  primal power of 
rock'n'roll with insightful and intelligent lyrical themes. Are  you 
disappointed that there appear to be so few challengers for that mantle  among younger 

PT:It's a tough thing to do. I don't  write primal rock. When we record and 
perform is when the primal element comes  into play. Our generation, the 
boomers, still carry some kind of rage, I'm not  sure why. As a writer I've always 
had a softer side, but even when I perform  solo I find myself going nuts 
sometimes. Not sure why. Younger bands don't have  the boomers' frustrations. They 
have different problems. For example, a wise and  smart young person of today 
will not challenge someone of their same age who  mugged them with a blade. In 
my day, if you didn't fight back you were  worthless. So a lot of us ended up 
dead, pointlessly. Rage is not useful any  more. 

NM: Relationships in The Who had always been volatile. But the  grief 
following John Entwistle's death and the stress you had to endure when  facing court 
charges seems to have brought you and Roger closer together than  ever. How 
would you describe your relationship now? 

PT:It's  good. Very good. Roger did bravely stand by me when I couldn't 
really speak for  myself. He took a chance, as did Jerry Hall and some other people 
who spoke up  for me. They made their public statements of belief in me 
several months before  it was established that there was no evidence against me, 
and that my researches  were genuine, and a part of a long-standing commitment 
to help adult survivors  of child abuse - not a perverse interest in children. 
John's death was a  different matter. That was a different challenge and in 
that case I have to say  that I was the one who had to decide and act. Roger was 
smashed by John's sudden  death, and couldn't even think straight. I was the 
one who made the decision to  go on at the Hollywood Bowl and do the tour we 
had booked, Roger stood by my  decision. 

Much great art comes out of pain and turmoil. But despite the  common 
assumption, the artist doesn't really have to be unhappy to create great  art, do 

Of course they do. Why would anyone try to make art if  they thought the 
world was fine without it? You have to believe you can enrich  the world, change 
it, affect it or even challenge it by attacking it. The  problem here is that 
rock and pop were never intended to be Great Art, they were  meant to provide a 
kind of conduit for the audience to express their own needs  and hopes. I 
think occasionally good art has been created in pop and rock - once  or twice by 
me. But the art I am most proud of - the ability to give my audience  a place 
to rage at the frustrations of their badly managed childhoods, and the  mess 
of a world they grew up in - is a performance method that definitely came  from 
conflict, pain and some inner turmoil. 

This will sound pretentious  but I can carry it: look at Tolstoy. Here's the 
man who wrote War & Peace.  Was he happy? Some of the time, but this amazing 
writer grew more and more  unhappy as he got older. It's been the reverse for 
me I'm glad to say, thus it  is perhaps that my work goes downhill! 

NM: Some fans were shocked  when The Who returned to the stage so soon after 
John's death, but it seems you  and Roger both took great comfort from it. 
What is your response to those who  said it was wrong go on without Keith and 

PT: I don't  enter into discussions with fans who feel they have some role in 
what I do with  The Who. We provide a service to fans, if they don't like the 
service they can  go elsewhere. We are not a religion, a huge family or a 
political party. We are  musicians and performers and if we don't keep our own 
circus running someone  else's will come to town in our place. In fact our 
continuing as The Who rather  than 'Daltrey & Townshend' benefits Keith and John's 
families, and keeps Who  music alive. 

I don't think we took comfort from continuing after John's  death - I really 
wanted to use John's death as an excuse to stop. Ask any  knowledgeable Who 
fan if that is right or wrong, I am not a Who fan, I have  always wanted to 
stop. (I feel I should insert a smiley face here or something,  but I am not being 
ironic, I really don't like being in The Who very much, but  that is another 
story). So for me, the question was not what I wanted, not what  would comfort 
me, but what was my duty. I felt the buck stopped with me, and I  made the 
decision, right or wrong, I stand by it. 

NM: Zak Starkey  (drums) and Pino Palladino (bass) are both great musicians. 
How is the feeling  in the band now playing with them? 

PT: Even now they are both  evolving, Pino is always great, but he is 
starting to stretch out now in the  most explosive and exciting way when we play on 
stage. Zak has always been  adventurous, but now he is bringing a lot of 
discipline to his work. We are  achieving a real balance now. You mustn't forget 
Rabbit on keyboards - he's a  genius. My brother Simon also does work that we 
cannot do without now. Mainly  vocal, he also plays vital second guitar parts 
that were important on the  original Who records where there were almost always 
at least two guitar parts.  He's also a great energy to have in The Who. 

NM: Looking back, what  is The Who album/albums that gives/give you most 

PT: So long ago - Quadrophenia, but only partly because I had so  much 
control over it. More recently I'm with Roger in my liking for Who By  Numbers - a 
strange little record, but knocked out in just two weeks at our  studios in 
Shepperton on a mobile studio with Glyn Johns. Keith Moon was  recovering from 
the loss of his wife Kim (she left him) and was in full flight,  drinking, and 
using drugs, but playing well, holding court and being incredibly  funny. 

NM: We can send a spaceship to Mars and communicate via the  internet, but I 
still don't think I've heard a better-sounding rock album than  Who's Next. 
Endless Wire is a great sounding album too, but do you agree that  generally 
something has gone amiss with sonic quality in the digital age?  

PT: Ah! Some of the sonics on Who's Next emanated from my home  studio 
(producer Glyn Johns was never too proud to use my demo as the basis for  a Who 
backing track). Glyn was and still is a master of sonics. But he also knew  when 
to stop recording. A lot of musicians these days get lost in perfectionism  
that is inherently possible in the digital method of recording. That said, I  
like a lot of recent lo-fi stuff. Sufjan Stevens, Wilco, and so on. I also think  
there are some great sounding recordings being made today, I just think  
producers have to a long way to go to compare to the great moments in recorded  
history. On Who's Next I had the best studio in West London, and it happened to  
be in a tiny room in my house opposite Eel Pie Island in Twickenham.  

NM: There was a very feverish atmosphere to rock music in the '60s, a  real 
hothouse of creativity, perhaps fuelled by the feeling that it might be all  
over in a few years. Rock'n'roll today seems very corporate by comparison. Are  
you pessimistic or optimistic about rock music in the future?  

PT: I refuse to be pessimistic about anything at all. I've lived  through so 
many scares that never happened. I think it's shocking the way we try  to 
frighten people today, in order to cow them down, bully them into feeling  bad, 
instead of just getting on with the business of making the world a better  
place. Rock 'n' roll? It's just a conduit, whether it's commercial or New-Age  
hippy, the audience are the ones who count, and who use the music for their own  

NM: What's your preferred guitar/amp  set-up now?

PT: Fender Stratocaster (Eric Clapton model) and  Fender VibroKing amp. 

NM: I've seen The Who once: Concerts for  Kampuchea, Hammersmith Odeon, 
December 28, 1979. Any memories of the  concerts? 

PT: I loved it. Remember it well. Had a great time.  Got a message from 
Blondie saying she heard I looked cool in my 'baggy suit'.  Lots of Remy Martin 

NM: I also saw you do an encore with The  Clash in Brighton a few weeks 
later. Thank you, I'll never forget either  night. 

PT: Same period. Same baggy suit. Same Cognac. The  Clash gigs of that time 
were just sublime. We felt so spoiled. Some great bands  when you remember that 
early U2 and Bruce Springsteen played the same hall in  the same year. 

NM: The 1968 tour of Australia with The Small Faces  has become the stuff of 
legend. What are your memories of the experience, "The  Fortnight of Furore" 
as it was described in the title of Andrew Neill's  book? 

PT: It was fun in some ways, and I have some good  stories to balance out the 
bad. But at the end of the day it was the press who  screwed up. They were 
very tough back then. You must be very grateful they all  came to work in 

NM: You didn't tour Australia again for 35  years, and we've been left to 
presume it was because that tour was such an awful  experience. Was that the 

PT: We didn't play Japan  either. The reason was that I always felt we had 
too much pressure on us already  to properly serve our established audiences in 
the UK, Europe the USA. We never  seemed to have enough time. Taking on a 
Pacific tour would have seen The Who  fold much earlier than we did (in 1982). We 
also never played Spain, Portugal,  Mexico, South America or anywhere in the 
Balkans. You didn't see us simply  because we didn't have enough time, not 
because you were too far away or we held  a grudge. Roger once said on the subject 
of my resistance to revisit Oz that I  am capable of holding a grudge for a 
long time. Others say I am always changing  my mind. You can't have it both 
ways. I think my decision was sad for our fans  in Oz, but may have saved my life 
in the long-term. I'm glad it's so much easier  to travel today, first class, 
great hotels, and we are treated like royalty not  scumbags. 

NM: What were your thoughts on returning to Australia to  play Sydney and 
Melbourne after 35 years? Hopefully you had a more enjoyable  visit. 

PT: It was a dream from start to finish. I bought  Aboriginal art, Ugg boots, 
had some of the best food I've ever eaten, and looked  stunned at Sydney 
harbour. Our shows were just straight-up rock shows with  earnest and friendly 
audiences. I can't wait to come back. 

NM: I know  we have to take what we read about early Who history with a grain 
of salt since  there are probably as many myths as facts. Do you intend to 
set the record  straight with a book we can believe? 

PT: I have written my  own story up to the premiere of Tommy at Ronnie 
Scott's Jazz Club in London.  Then I took a break. My book will not be finished 
until I stop touring. I take a  long time to write, and I try hard to get it 
right. In the meantime the stories  you hear are probably mostly true, and the ones 
that aren't are always amusing.  

NM: Keith didn't drive his Rolls-Royce into a swimming pool. To your  
knowledge, did he really drive his hire car into the foyer of his Brisbane hotel  in 
1968? PT: Ah, but you see he did drive his Rolls Royce into a pool  - just not 
his swimming pool. What went into the swimming pool was a lesser car,  an Iso 
Rivolta or something. The RR went into the muddy swamp at the bottom of  his 
garden about the same time. So it's just two poor stories combined to make  
one good one. Keith was famously bad at steering. Just that. He was  
steering-dyslexic. To turn right, he steered left. He would probably have made a  good 
dingy sailer. He drove a hire car into the lobby of a hotel in Scotland  
somewhere. Right up the steps, through the glass doors and up to the desk where  he 
opened the window and asked for his room key. I'm certain of that. Luckily I  
was staying elsewhere. But in Brisbane? I never heard that story. 

NM:  If there is one erroneous Who myth you could correct, what would it be?  

PT: Probably the story I just told about Keith. I wasn't actually  there, as 
I admit. In the end I don't know whether I remember what really  happened, or 
what we all laughed about later, which would have had some juicy  bits added. 
Our publicist Keith Altham used to sit with Keith and try to think  up ways of 
getting The Who on the front pages of the newspapers. By that time,  lucky 
for us, all the press hacks from Australia worked for the tabloids in  London 
and they would print anything that allowed the sub to scream: MOON THE  LOON 
DOES IT AGAIN! The Oz-owned UK tabloids loved Moon, and he loved the  tabloids. 
To reassure your readers, Moon the Loon does not feature in our lives  today 
except safely on screens at the back of the stage. 

• The Who play _Brisbane Entertainment  Centre_ (  
on March 24. 
Book through _Ticketek_ ( .

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