A brief article about The Who and quotes from Pete about a couple of subjects, including the Tommy movie
Before The Who sailed for the Thanksgiving tour ZW’s London correspondent, Michael Wale, got together with Pete Townshend to rap the current state of whatever…and to record Townshend’s own exegesis of the new Quadrophenia album.
It’s been a dull year for albums, each new one seemingly out-boring the last. Can you bear me, Carole King, George Harrison, Don McLean? These we have loved. It has taken The Who, with their two-set story Quadrophenia, to ensure that no other album got on my turntable for two days.
Or, more particularly, it took Pete Townshend, that catalyst of the modern British rock scene, linking ten years ago with today, the Goldhawk public house with Carnegie Hall. Townshend, the anteater-nosed guitarist with the permanently quizzical look, the nearest thing to a genius in rock ’73. Townshend, the man Mick Jagger rang up when the Stones decided to get back on the road: "He wanted to know what sort of hall you played these days."
Four and a half years ago he wrote most of pop music’s first rock opera, Tommy. At the time we were skeptical, looking for that magical Who ingredient: hit single. We found it in "Pinball Wizard," at the expense of initially missing the point of the work as a whole. Mercifully, Quadrophenia does not have the same show stopper, it is a whole, musically flowing and ebbing with the sound effects of the sea Townshend uses to change the scene.
I am not here to write a record review, but it is necessary to explain the record’s purpose, as it is, in fact, a work mirroring the group itself. Quadrophenia; a quadruple schizoid. Four personalities in one, the persona being the characters of The Who: Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle, Keith Moon and Townshend himself. A reflection of what has happened over the years, of Britain, of the mod era when The Who and their audience popped pills and speeded to the top of the charts with a succession of hits. Even then Townshend was thinking deeper than his contemporaries. Consider the famous stutter in the original version of "My Generation," back in 1965, symbolizing the lack of communication between the generations. It was a theme that has always fascinated him, just as at the time it was fascinating Arnold Wesker in the theatre.
The amazing thing about The Who is their indestructibility, in the face of a massive’ change in lifestyle-from Shepherds Bush to the obligatory house beside the Thames at Twickenham, motoring now in limousines as large as some peoples’ bedsits, down to new country property in Berkshire, where Townshend has built a studio. How have the Who changed? This was the first point I put to Townshend:
"The Who have been going ten years. We’ve still got the same motivation. We still like to dance. We still like to play, we still like kicks, but there is that taint of having done it all before many, many, many times, which makes you start to weigh things up and look at things a little differently, and I think this is the feeling you get from the whole generation. The Who have got a funny type of audience, it’s not really like the Stones’ audience, it’s obviously not like a Slade audience, it’s a very strange cross-section of people. Some of them are very, very fervent, having followed us for years and years, and some of them joined us with Tommy and then realized we had a past.
"The Who’s roots are very much their own roots, whereas the Stones and the Beatles had roots in rhythm and blues. We had roots in the Goldhawk Road, Shepherds Bush, and Carpenters Park, Watford."
Of late Townshend has discreetly followed the teachings and work of the Indian mystic, Meher Baba, but with none of the public trumpetings that accompanied the Beatles’ journeys to India during their Maharishi period. We traced the events that led up to this change of mental direction, which seems to have brought him a new quietude and depth.
"I had an incredible time. It’s going to sound very, very, very decadent. What actually led me to get spiritually insecure, desperate, if you like, was everything was going too well. I was running out of ambition, mountains to climb. That was what buggered me up. I got to the grand old age of 25, and I’d done everything I’d ever wanted to do. I thought ‘What is there now to do?’ and ‘Why am I here?’ I looked at something and all of a sudden it was mine. So I thought I’d go for the absolutely biggest target I could go for. So I thought I would find God, or find myself, whichever way you look at it. It was a very sudden thing. It happened immediately after Monterey, that’s when I knew we had cracked America. I’d also tried the most powerful psychedelic drug available at that time, STP. After that, I thought ‘What is there to do?’ I stopped using psychedelic drugs. I continued to smoke pot for awhile, until eventually I didn’t feel I needed that anymore."
Although Tommy was an important work, it was to become The Who’s albatross. For two years they were able to play little else as its reputation grew. Townshend was repeatedly telling me that he’d had enough of it, and wasn’t going to perform it any more, but the next week there’d be a new twist, which eventually spawned Lou Reisner’s double album interpretation, and the one night stage show at the Rainbow Theatre, Finsbury Park, which really had more of the atmosphere of a school play with each rock star playing his or her part; than a serious attempt at professional staging. And now Ken Russell is to make it into a film.
"The way he has done the script, the two biggest parts are the mother and Uncle Ernie." says Townshend. "Roger will play Tommy, we’ve yet to find the mother. I think with new Who backing tracks it’ll be the vocal performance of Roger’s career. Keith Moon will be Uncle Ernie. John and I ain’t in it at all, except for a brief appearance as part of a group. I don’t ever want to act. It’s not really me, it’s not a natural thing for me to do. Not only can I not remember scripts, I can’t even remember lyrics. What I’m really interested in doing is re-orchestrating it. We’ll be able to do that in a couple of weeks.
"Air hostesses still say ‘Which one’s Tommy?’ We laugh at that now, the same way that we can laugh at someone who comes up and says ‘Oooh? Who? Ooooh?’ We say: ‘Yeah, good one. We never heard that one before.’
"What I’d really like to see at the moment is The Who back in command, which I think we will be after the new album. This usually happens once in a lifetime. The Beatles had Sergeant Pepper. We had Tommy, but I honestly feel we’ve done it again.