September 24, 2020

’66 Melody Maker interview with Pete Townshend

Pete gives his views on Vietnam, Pop Art, Keith Moon, The Kinks, and more.


"It’s funny how Vietnam has turned into a household word. I’ve got some American mates who were deported from this country for all sorts of things, and one of them, who was a criminal, was called up and killed in Vietnam. His mother got about £300s from the American Government. The Vietnam situation needs something big to happen to stop the war, either from the people of Vietnam or America. Actually it’s turned into a bit of a bore, one of those questions like Korea. That war was never won was it? There will always be teenagers ready to throw themselves under tanks. I wonder what I would do if we were in the same position? I always stand by Young Communist principles. If I was in Russia and in some harsh five-year plan, if it was for the good of the country, I wouldn’t mind. I would get joy out of seeing something being done, like new libraries being built. But for a youngster to face foreign troops blasting away about something they don’t even understand… well, really they all ought to get out."



"That’s fairly topical. Our one took a fantastic amount of work on the part of the group, the photographer and writer, whose name I have forgotten. It surprised us the amount of work that went in. They came out with us for a month, and the photographer took some of our best pictures -sinister and glamorous! It’s funny how pop is getting into the things. It’s become another form -not an art form, a form that is suddenly becoming accepted.’



"I’ve been dying to go but there’s nothing on, really. There’s only Oblomov, which I haven’t seen, but everybody I know has seen it twice. I’d like to see that Libby Morris thing. She tears me up. I think the theatre is fantastically dated. Opera and ballet benefit from better lighting, better musicianship, better scenery and material. But what is the theatre benefiting from? Nothing. In pantomime even, you still get the devil coming up through the floor, and musicals are so dated. The Sound Of Music would be the last place I’d step into. I hate all the songs, so obviously written ‘for the whole family’."



I like cheeseburgers. I’ve seen all sorts of famous people in all-nighter Wimpy Bars. They are places you go into and get out of as quickly as possible. John is the Wimpy Bar man. The food is atrocious and the chefs are carefully trained – in the art of self-defence. When some bloke wouldn’t pay they threw palette knives at him, and squirted ice-cream all over him – the whole works. If I was in one and found I hadn’t any money I think I’d die of fear."



"It’s still my favourite form of art. My favourite artists are Barry Fantoni and Peter Blake. What I like most of all is it’s English. Foreign Pop Art I hate. I don’t think you can enjoy it unless it’s relevant to your own country. It has no relevance to The Who except we used its ideas, although the way The Who used to talk about Pop Art was Pop Art: ‘Are you Pop Art?’ ‘Yes we are Pop Art.’ I think we did a lot for it in this country. The number of journalists I had to explain it to, especially on local papers. Pop art encompasses performances, what are called ‘happenings’, and auto-destructive performances, including smashing guitars. Kit Lambert and I are on the same wavelength and I used to go on about it to him. I think the rest of the group tend to underestimate his ideas. Our deterioration now is proving how wrong they all were, and we’ve gone back to our manager on our hands and knees. Anyway, I used to talk to Kit about Pop Art a lot and suddenly he came out with this idea. He told us: ‘Keith is going to have a bullseye on his T -shirt, Pete is going to wear badges’ – all these were his ideas. At the beginning it took a lot of guts to wear them."



"1 saw his TV performance and as I like James Brown I don’t think I’ll say too much. I don’t like the way coloured artists are presented in this country. Why should James Brown have the whole show? Why didn’t they give him some supporting acts? The sound was atrocious. It showed a great I misunderstanding of sound. I liked the camera work, but they don’t seem to have much control over sound. They should wake up, because they will destroy pop. It’s a shame about James Brown, it’s probably damaged his reputation. As usual the RSG audience performed like a lot of twits."



"Comedy must come to Pop Think-In in the end, and it just has. It’s a horrid general election and I think the Tories will win, because so many people hate Wilson, especially the women. I still reckon English Communism would work, at least stronger trade unions would and price freedom. I’ve always been instructed by local Communists to vote Labour if I can’t find a Communist candidate. The British Communist Party is so badly run -sort of making tea in dustbins like the Civil Defence."



"I’ve got all sorts of things I want to say about Keith Moon. He used to be a lot of fun. Unfortunately he’s turning into a little old man. It’s a shame. He used to be young and unaffected by pop music but now he is obsessed with money. I still like him, and I don’t really care what he thinks of me. He’s the only drummer in England I really want to play with. He’s not interested in jazz, and won’t ever be a jazz drummer because he’s more interested in looking good and being screamed at. Keith’s aged so much. Once, if I felt ageing, I could look at Keith and steal some of his youth."



"It came to me like being hit in the stomach. I was once in a desperate hurry to get to a show and tried 34 phone boxes in Marylebone, trying to find out where the job was. Every one was smashed in, and finally I had to knock on somebody’s door. How much money can you get out of a telephone box -five bob? Vandals don’t realise how much inconvenience it can cause. Supposing there was a car accident and a bloke was on his last legs? You run down the road and find the phone with its guts ripped out – great."



"The Kinks record is fantastic and I like Ray Davies, because he’s married and he’s still hip. Him and Barry Fantoni are a good team. It’s bringing a bit of colour into pop music. I think dedicated followers of fashion are great – good luck to them. I used to be one myself. They are bank clerks who earn fair wages who have nothing better to do than dress well. They haven’t got the convictions to save up and buy a car, so they spend money on looking good. Down the East End they’ve all got new suits. They sell them back down the Lane each week, and actually make a profit!"



"I only know Chinese Jamaicans and I like them very much. China frightens me and it’s the only thing that threatens my life. The Bomb doesn’t. Never be afraid of being run over by a car – que sera sera. But the Chinese are people, like a stampede of people and ideas. They are being taught to hate. But they are being led by a great person who can control them."