PT Pt. 3

Scott Schrade schrade at
Wed Apr 28 02:46:31 UTC 2010

21st April, 2010

Marksandwell: You wrote Little Billy for the US Cancer Trust. They 
never used it. Do you, Pete Townshend, own the rights on this song 
or does it belong to the US Cancer Trust?

PT: I think it belongs to the American Cancer Society. I will attempt 
to find out. It would fun to record it again with younger performers 
and see if we could get a hit. The whole world might stop smoking, 
and it would all be down to me. I would be Sir Pete, and be given 
a nuzzle of the Queen's cleavage. I actually wrote two songs to this 
brief. The other one was KIDS, DO YOU WANT KIDS? They 
own that too I think. Pretty strong song, an early indictment of smoking. 

Steverosen: Have you ever considered doing a live performance 
of the album `All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes'? 

PT: Yes, at the time of recording in 1981 I had a six-piece band. 
The four prettiest members are pictured on the sleeve of the album. 
In the middle of recording I tried to stop drinking, became addicted 
to a therapeutic tranquilliser called ATIVAN, went slightly nuts, 
moved on to heroin for a while, ended up on crack cocaine and 
went into rehab. 

I completed Chinese Eyes in early 1982 around the same time I 
worked to finish the Who's IT'S HARD, did a `final' Who tour 
in summer 1982, left the Who, and by then really didn't want to 
tour again even solo. 

I've continued to work with some of the members of that band, 
Jodi Linscott, Virginia Astley, Peter Hope Evans, Mark Brzezcki, 
Tony Butler, etc., in various ways since then. As for doing that 
album today as an album - in performance - I can't see the point. 
It would be great of course, but there would be no point.

Redrum: We saw Quadrophenia done in full at the TCT. Can we 
see Tommy being done in full for next year's TCT or are you 
saving it for the 50th anniversary in 2019?

PT: It's possible. I'm keen to see some kind of Gala TOMMY 
any time soon. If we wait until 2019 one thing I can assure you: 
I will not be on stage, I will either be composing or decomposing.

Gus1872: As a professional musician himself, what did your 
father think of your career and the music you made both with 
Who and as a solo artist?

PT: He didn't see the Who play live as often as my mother 
did. She was really helpful in our early days setting up auditions. 
I could go on about this in some detail but a part of this aspect 
of my mother's involvement in our early career is finding its way 
into Floss, so I will leave it for now.

My father was not a snob, he thought rock `n' roll was fun, and 
invigorating new music. But he knew that amplified music-from 
small, economical bands-would sound the death knell for the Big 
Bands. He was proud of me I know. By the time I was 24 I had 
bought him a great car, the apartment he had been renting and 
the apartment above, his first colour TV, and I gave him a couple 
of boats. He'd been a great father to me; he was funny, handsome 
and loving, and a really terrific musician. He drank a bit too much, 
but unlike me he could usually handle it.

Lucyd: As an American from the Deep South (New Orleans) I've 
always been intrigued by the name of your first band, The Confederates. 
Was it indeed based on some notion of the American South, or 
was it meant more generally: just a cool word for a band of friends? 
Or both?

PT: I didn't come up with the name. I just joined the band. I 
suppose the New Orleans style Jazz we played back then (at high 
school) was considered deep south music. We covered the 
famous Louis Armstrong songs mainly: like Maryland and When 
The Saint's Go Marching In.

A11who: Pete, please put this one to bed once and for all! In 
Baba O' Riley is it "Out here in the fields, I FIGHT for my meals" 
or "I FARM for my meals"? While we're waiting for Floss, we 
Who fans are going nuts over such trivia!

PT: It's `fight'. Too far in any direction toward `farm' and it might 
end up that we FART for our meals. More Roger's thing I think 
with all his tummy troubles over the years. (Ed: I told you. This 
is your last warning. No more jokes at Roger's expense. The fans 
don't like it.)

Gooddaysunshine: What is your favorite underrated Who song?

PT: Rael. Actually this is a really cheeky question, none of my 
amazing songs are underrated. They are all regarded as master-
pieces in every salon in Europe. Wherever I walk in Paris, 
Moscow or Vienna people shout at me, `Sir Pete,' they shout. `
Your Who songs are all so overrated'. So your question is ill-
founded you see.

Brews: I remember listening to a couple of Kinks songs (maybe 
on their "Superman" album) and thinking "I've heard this before", 
and you've reprised some songs e.g. It's a Girl/It's a Boy. It must 
be hard to be original when there is a formula for satisfaction 
that you can use. Do you feel bound by the limitations of your 
creativity? That you can't do anything new because you've done 
it all and you know how it works?

PT: I don't necessarily get hung up on trying to be original in the 
composition. As I said earlier I usually feel I need an original 
manifesto, a kind of new angle, that underpins what I write, 
then I can fall back on my old tricks that consistently work, and 
no one complains if I trot them out again and again (like 
YAGGERDANG! On the electric guitar). 

I'm pretty bored with trying to write for the Who as a manifesto 
in and of itself, and it's very hard to update it. Roger always 
says anything is possible, it's a wonderful idea, but it's hard to 
change the way people have adopted what we have done, and 
made it their own. It's what we wanted, and what we set out to 
do, so we were successful, but it is hard to follow. It's hard to 
honour someone else's view of what you do creatively when 
you don't necessarily share that view, or know how it was 
formed or where it was rooted. 

Our music is huge in the USA but we live in the UK. The two 
countries each offer a very different way of life. A lot of great 
Who songs have become `great' because you guys made them 
great. Imagine Baba O'Riley with no Who audience screaming 
"They're all wasted!" I would now have a smarty-pants electronic 
pop song in my catalogue with some confusing words about 
farming, or fighting or maybe even farting. So to try to work 
from a song like Baba O'Riley - which was written with a single 
function: to roll under the opening film credits of LIFEHOUSE 
(the movie) - to what happens next, is tricky. 

I never started the journey, and although I've been on it with 
the fans, I don't really know what to do next. Maybe write 
another movie epic, and another song to roll under the credits?

Theox69: Hey Pete, I'm a 16 year old songwriter from New 
York. What do you find to be the best topics to write songs 
about. Love? Human kind? God?

PT: Three really crap subjects you have given me there. Why 
not try cars, sexy girls, sexy men, war, the Pope? Seriously, I 
get your question. Sometimes I set out to write a love song, 
and it rarely works. I know what it feels like to be in love, and 
it is a wonderful and difficult experience all at the same time. 
But I feel I'm reducing it to dishwater trying to sing about it. I 
have to be drunk to enjoy a love song. I write love songs by 
accident. Better for me to start with a snappy title, like ALL 
LOVERS ARE DERANGED, and work from there. That is 
one love song I wrote (with Dave Gilmour from Pink Floyd) 
that actually worked. It's cynical, but it's truthful, and the woman 
I had in mind as I wrote it merited another good and honest love 
song from me: NOW AND THEN (you see a soul and you fall 
in love you can't do a thing about it). We really did love each 
other briefly I think, but we were badly matched, and I was 
trying to stay married. Nothing much happened between us 
(no affair) but she inspired two of the only so-called love 
songs I ever wrote. 

As someone who was trying to stay married, I should have 
written love songs to my wife. I never did. In around 1973 
Ronnie Lane used to tease me that I had never written a 
proper soppy love song for my beautiful young wife Karen. 
One night after a drunken evening out he started to sing a 
song to her that he wrote on the spot. "Karen! I love you", he 
sang, and developed it into a full scale mini-opera until I threw 
him out of the car. Karen looked pretty smug I can tell you.

God, I try to avoid, but rock `n' roll in the modern sense has 
a real spiritual function, and so God (you might say) definitely 
comes into the process. As songwriters today what we are 
trying to do is help our audience fly, feel released, become 
inspired, feel hope, release frustration or anger - and of course 
face the fact they may be unsure of who or what God is. If 
you are certain who your God is, rock `n' roll might still be 
great to dance to, but part of what it is intended to do best 
is redundant I think. Yes, the Who can help you find God. But 
then so can surviving a terrible plane crash. 

Redhead09: Pete, my favorite song of your solo work is Slit 
Skirt, it sometimes makes me cry. Can't pretend that getting 
older doesn't hurt. What was the inspiration behind that song. 
What were you feeling at the time?

PT: It came out of nowhere. I wrote it very quickly in the 
winter of 1981 at my Oceanic studio, on piano for my sister-
in-law Virginia Astley to play with me so I could play electric 
guitar on the track. She played it beautifully. She's a really 
expressive musician. It's amazing to look back and remember 
that at the relatively young age of 34 years old I regarded 
myself and my peers as being too old to dance any more, or 
to wear fashionable clothes. Not sure how I would have felt 
had I known that I would still be dressing and dancing like a 
fool on stage at 65. I was quite distraught when some critics 
took the song to be entirely autobiographical, because although 
I myself was having a strange time when I wrote it (I was 
separated from my wife for a couple of years and living in a 
remote country house) nearly all my friends in their `30s felt 
the same way. 

This was the time of the New Romantics, and we had survived 
punk only to feel like old farts all over again. The aimlessness 
and dissolution of the singer was meant to reflect the last days 
of the New Romantic period that had fallen into a heroin haze 
for so many. Funnily enough, the members of many of the big 
bands of the day - like Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet and Adam 
and The Ants - were fairly clean cut by the standards of some 
of the chic London crowd who were their fans. 


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