September 26, 2020

’71 Melody Maker Pete Townshend Article

Pete replies to a previous "mailbag" article

I was spurred to write this piece after reading a letter sent in by Tim Thorp in MM’s "Mailbag." It contained, apart from some personal digs at some of the only groups that work very often on the road today, a reflection of the unease which a lot of people involved in the Rock "society" are beginning to feel about where their music, and the money they pay to hear it, is going.

I suppose to an outsider it could look as though bands like the Who are charging exorbitant prices, our costs are reflected in ticket prices usually, and we often choose to lug around more equipment than other bands. The expense is passed on to you.

This need to always improve the running of the show and the standard of the equipment, lighting and sound and so on, is our frustrated way of saying that we are not happy with things they way they are. If prices are high, it is only because we are trying to raise our standards – not fill our pockets. But we, and I sometimes wonder if we are alone in the business, are becoming aware that Rock is going to have to pioneer a new way of attending to it responsibilities.

When I looked up at the stage at the Chiswick Empire and decided to become a Rock star, the whole point in my 11-year-old head was that I could emulate the success of my heroes on stage.

I suppose more important is that I wanted to be "bigger" and richer than my sarcastic mates who figured my chances against Cliff and the Shads very slim. Today the "larger than life" figures on the stage are being accepted less and less.

The success of the Faces is a good example. Both they and their audiences refuse to allow a barrier to be set up between them. It’s not crash barriers I’m talking about, it’s the status barrier. The feeling we get when watching say Dylan; that maybe we expect too much from him and this elevation confuses him, setting up a wall between us and he, is becoming more common in the lower echelons.

Audiences are less willing to accept the fact, now Rock is maturing, that most Rock musicians’ "power" is used to perpetuate their own status. The audience is maturing also, and demand much more than mere value for money from the people on stage.

Tim Thorp talked of "pop’s hero figures." I’ve never really felt like anybody’s hero. That part of my dream never came true, but I have felt like a lot of people’s voice. Not necessarily lyrically through the words of our songs, but through our evolution and live appearances; the excitement of being part of the "Bulge"; the frustration when sheer force of numbers seemed useless against centuries of stolid British tradition and law, these things can’t go on forever. Neither can the Who go on reliving its part.

In the letter there was talk of inequality and profit. I don’t think these things can be lumped together and chucked at people. Of course men should be equal, but they should also benefit from what they do for other people.

Most men aren’t even born equal, to me this is a karmic fact of life, but then again, most people don’t even get an equal START educationally in life let alone a life lived on an equal basis with their fellow men. But how do you equate the enigma of having to pay someone for something they have done for you, with the knowledge that they may have given you something you could never hope to match?

Men are born with pride; if an incredible doctor performs a cure on a simple workman, that workman will be grateful, but maybe feel that he could never repay the doctor for what he had done for him. This could even mean that he ended up feeling angry at the whole train of events. This, to me, is the eternal problem behind communistic set ups.

They work in certain areas of the world, and for God’s sake I’m not suggesting that we are the doctor and the audience the workman; if my ideals are worth anything at all it is the reverse. But our pride is set deeply in the fact that we need the respect and reverence that we get from audiences, because living out and sometimes experiencing the hard end of political and social problems is a thankless task.

We know we are responsible to do this, and get paid for it indirectly, and at this point in time we are trying to do something about how to better utilize the financial status we gain, and how to get it into perspective with our ACTUAL STATUS.

The Who will inevitably use the money they have earned to instigate a change in the direction they think Rock should go. Not to create new leaders or play for free till we (and the roadies) starve, but to do something permanent about the only part of our work we can really control, live performances. It is assumed that when a change is necessary in society, or in a microcosm of it like Rock, everybody wants the same sort of changes. Incorrect.

Even within the Who we feel differently about what to do. Roger feels strongly about aggression and pollution, and wants to allow things to evolve naturally around the group. John feels his roots set deeply in his music and writing, and perhaps the most clear manifestation of it, black humour. Keith never wants to see the glamour, or the "street circus" as he calls it, disappear from Rock.

If it is humanly possible to make Rock, or "pop" if you like, a realistic and self-contained microcosm working effectively and humanely within a corrupt and apathetic democracy, then we will try to do it. It’s ridiculous – we’re probably the worst people on earth for the job, but our ideals are clear. Only to ourselves; they may not, Mister Thorp, be identical to yours.