Although published after his death, this article features quotes from Keith as well as Pete and Roger while they were in the U.S. promoting Who Are You
Deep in the back of my mind is an unrealized sound
Every feeling I get from the streets says it soon could be found
When I hear the cold lies of the pusher I know it exists
It’s confirmed in the eyes of the kids emphasized with their fists
Like volcanoes explode through the snow
The mosquito’s sting rings a dream but the poison’s deranged
The music must change.”
@ Eel Pie Publishing Ltd.
More than any other artist, Pete Townshend knows that music must change. Unfortunately no one has had the opportunity to hear just what direction the Who have been aiming towards until now. Thank God we didn’t have to wait longer.
Who Are You is the aptly named title of the first Who album since The Who By Numbers appeared late in 1975. Of the eight album tracks, five are written by Townshend and three penned by bassist John Entwistle. Undoubtedly the best song is "Music Must Change" which at first listening doesn’t even sound like the Who.
"It’s gotten to the point where the Who really are a new group," Pete Townshend said quietly, still somewhat amazed that their album has finally been transferred to vinyl. "Music has gone through the strangest self-examination period these last few years. Everything has been taken to such an extreme that any move in any direction has got to be hypocritical because everybody has said they’re gonna take a certain stance.
"The thing is, nobody can fulfill all the promises coming out of their mouths."
Pete Townshend, however, might be an exception to that very 70’s rule. Of all the tracks on the new album, "Music Must Change" is not merely a peek into a brave new world but a hot-blooded taste of things to come. A deviation from the usual Who formula, the song features a Daltrey vocal that could easily be sung at a piano bar lounge while Townshend tosses off some of the funkiest jazz licks anyone’s heard in ages.
Not surprisingly, Roger Daltrey agrees.
"Townshend wasn’t even going to put that on the album," Daltrey said in disbelief, throwing off a typically boisterous laugh and looking very suntanned indeed. "The song was so good that I asked if I could stick a vocal on it.
"Visually I could see a kid walking down the street kicking a tin can. That’s the nearest Pete’s been to the street in a long time so it had to be on the album. We put footsteps on it so if you listen with cans on you’ve got this geezer ,walking down the middle of your head! It’s eerie."
Although this sounds terribly serious, the Who are actually back in a more familiar, light-hearted guise. Just recently Townshend, Daltrey and the notorious Moon flew to the States for a lightening quick promotional fling. Throughout the TV shows, radio appearances and even interviews, the terrible triumvirate displayed an off-the-wall sense of humor that could have come straight out of a Marx Brothers film. At any minute you expected Townshend to pick up the phone in his hotel room and say "Room service? Get me a room!"
The climax of this three-day swing through America was an outrageous party held at the Universal film studios in Los Angeles. Before the Hollywood merry-go-round began, the Who paid a visit to New York City where they shattered Scott Muni and the whole of WNEW with an eccentric interview that transcended even the "What’s your favorite color" school of journalism.
Keith Moon informed the DJ that his funeral was not held in Malibu last week. Muni explained that the station’s albums were filed alphabetically and that the solo Who albums were tucked away under the appropriate name.
Townshend patiently listened before repaying, "What an unusual system of filing." Roger Daltrey laughed hysterically. Meanwhile back on Good Morning America David Hartman was so confused by the frenetic free-form jokes that the segment resembled Monty Python more than a "serious" interview.
But L.A. was the real tour de force. The night the Who arrived the weatherman greeted them with an authentic downpour. Townshend looked casually up at the threatening clouds and remarked, "Must have something to do with the Pope’s death."
If all of this sounds like a new Townshend it is. His mood has been one of genuine good humor and optimism. ne disillusioned pessimism that surrounded The Who By Numbers and last year’s interviews, has been replaced by self-confidence. Townshend actually seems to be having fun. Ya know f-u-n?
"I’m not taking the band quite as seriously as I once did," he remarked as the new Who album soared around stage 12 at Universal. "I’m not even worried about what went down five or six years ago. Or even two years ago," he deadpanned. "Two years is more recent than five and much more topical."
As we talked, the entire lot looked as if it were about to lift off for some foreign planet. This little press lig was held on the same lot where they film The Incredible Hulk and the Bionic Woman. Next door a movie about Buck Rogers is being shot while most of the interplanetary props and gadgets that decorated this room are part of a new autumn TV series called Galactic. Two workmen thought they were attending a party for that TV show but started to get drunk anyway.
Silver objects and plastic clones are the objets d’art at this affair. Plastic pillows and spaceships hang from the ceiling. An orange neon light flashes WHO ARE YOU. Propped up on each table is the customary vase with flowers.
Not your ordinary vase, these each pictured a Star Wars hero with the words MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU emblazoned on the other side. Mysteriously most of these disappeared during the party.
A local L.A. news crew filmed their entrance. Daltrey looked healthy and embarrassed, Moon looked almost elegant and Townshend looked like the only rock star in the world who doesn’t look like a rock star yet manages to radiate style and grace.
While the album blasted away, two elderly people who work in the MCA pressing plant asked Pete for his autograph. Amid all the futuristic paraphernalia, it was somewhat miraculous that Keith Moon didn’t break anything.
"Blasé aside, this place is incredible," Townshend said with all the enthusiasm of a little boy who had just seen his first episode of Flash Gordon. "If you put a camera in front of this it would still look like a film set!"
Pete Townshend sat down at. a modernistic table without a Star Wars vase, sipped brandy and smoked these weird little yellow betel nut leaf thingies. I wondered why.
"These remind me of my druggy days without actually getting involved," Pete said laughing as he inhaled his betel nut smoke.
But back to the new image. Back to the fun. "I HATE fun," Pete yelled mockingly in a voice that made even the man who sliced the roast beef turn around. "I still enjoy Kafka, Jorge Louis Borges or Somerset Maugham. That’s fun. I like listening to the live Stones album and thinking how long it took Mick to listen to all the tapes. That’s fun."
Pete Townshend always looks smaller than he really is, radiating an attractive vulnerability that blends well with his often poignant view of life. When he smiles, somehow everything seems like it will work out OK. And this time he’s actually put some humor into the music. Well, sort of.
Take "Sister Disco" for starters. It’s a Who-type disco dive into Bee Gees pastures only it has nothing to do with the Bee Gees. Don’t worry. The Who won’t sell out.
"With ‘Sister Disco’ I felt the need to say that the group would never, ever, in any way do anything like the Bee Gees," Townshend said sipping Courvoisier. "We stand over here and what we stand with is all right. They might say we’re boring old farts but we still feel more at home with the boring old farts than any of that crowd."
Roger Daltrey is none too fond of the Bee Gees’ high falsetto style either. Yet he has mastered a perfect imitation of "Stayin’ Alive" which sounds like a song form the album The Chipmunks Go Disco.
"The Bee Gees write fantastic songs," Daltrey said passionately "but why the fuck do they sing like that? Those songs would be great in another key. And when you see big, butch Barry singin’ that’s hysterical. I guess when you’ve got it, flaunt it."
In a typically aggressive Who vein, they’ve done just that with the new album. Take for example the tune "905", written by John Entwistle about the much publicized topic of cloning.
"Talk to John about test tube babies", Pete laughed, both at the subject matter and the fact that John was out of the country on vacation and impossible to talk to. "I’ve got no interest in them at all. Don’t give a shit. Never dabbled in test tube babies. And I’ve never shared a bed with a whore either."
Townshend and the other two members of the band were surprisingly cooperative with the media this time out considering the feud that erupted three years ago when Roger Daltrey spoke out honestly to the press in an attempt to reach Townshend. Townshend replied in print and a mini-war started. But that was the impetus the Who needed to get out on the road. And Daltrey was the instigator. "I got him back on the road three years ago," Daltrey said still determined to get him back on the road again. "But you can only play that trick once. It almost killed me. It took so much of my confidence away. None of the press could understand. But Pete understood.
"Afterwards he thanked me for doing it although he found it hard to stomach. I know it was undiplomatic but it was a shit or bust move. The Who have always been like that. You can’t compromise with the Who."
And Who Are You isn’t a compromise. It takes more than a few listenings to rid yourself of three year’s worth of preconceived expectations. After numerous playings three tracks stand out as superb; mixing arp synthesizers, horn and string arrangements with the more traditional raunchy sound that characterizes the Who. All penned by Townshend; "Sister Disco," "Guitar And Pen," and "Music Must Change" rank with the band’s best. It isn’t rehashed Who either. It is a new group.
One of the motivating factors behind this revitalized burst of energy has been the advent and rapid decline of punk rock. Townshend and other established stars like Jagger and Rod Stewart took a lot of criticism from the punks. Yet the bands ended up imitating musically the very people they publicly criticized. .
"It’s not all that important what people say about me," Townshend said as a throng of people came over to shake his hand and stare at the clones. "What’s more important to me is what’s been done. When I finally got to grips with some of the music and related to it, I realized there were individuals that I identified with. Don’t know if they identified with me."
Yet Townshend is quick to realize that despite the fact that he admires Johnny Rotten and likes bands like the Clash and the Boomtown Rats, they still must conquer America.
"How would Johnny Rotten function here?" Townshend wondered, staring vapidly at the orange neon Who Are You sign. "He’s an uncompromising individual."
As far as all the putdowns, Townshend cares more about his own preservation and survival than anyone else’s.
"I don’t really care what anybody says anymore," Pete said, with a large dash of his old aggression. "I care a lot about the way I feel. I think Rod Stewart is an idiot. And I think Mick should live the life he lives offstage onstage."
Aside from media meetings, Townshend recently came face to face with Johnny Rotten, who was briefly considered for the starring role in a film of the 1973 Who album Quadrophenia.
"We went out for a drink," Townshend related. "The weird thing for me to realize is that he’s an amazing guy. I’d known under my skin but you don’t know ’til you see it proved. It’s a drag that the business has already smashed him. I wanted our manager to manage him just to prove to him that everybody wasn’t like Malcolm McLaren.
"I felt very even with Rotten. It was a bit like meeting a blond Keith Moon. Only his hair isn’t even blond, it’s sorta dirty brown. The amazing thing was the guy who is directing the film said to Rotten ,’You realize Jimmy is a sensitive character. He gets hurt. You’ve got to be able to reveal a chink.’
"And Johnny Rotten said ‘The eyes’ and he just looked at the director and immediately his eyes went spaniel and he revealed a chink. One minute they’re spaniel and the next minute they’re leopard, then they’re just zombie," he said in awe. "Amazing."
Aside from the Quadrophenia film, the Who have a biographical film scheduled for Christmas release entiled The Kids Are Alright.
"Most rock films are pretentious," Daltrey said. "They’re made for the sole purpose of making Robert Plant’s dick look big. This is totally the opposite. Within the first half hour we’re made to look complete idiots. You need pretentious films but you also need the Who."
Townshend agrees that the Who look pretty silly but lovable.
"Roger looks pretty idiotic," Townshend laughed. "But I really look sort of neat and cool. Actually we all look like total idiots."
In an unorthodox but typically Who move, the star-studded premiere in London will feature an audience comprised of mostly Who fans sitting right next to the celebrities.
"After all it is a kids’ film," Daltrey said, beaming like an adolescent. "We’re gonna run competitions with. the radio stations. Most premieres have an elitist audience but I want the kids to be there. I want them treated as I was when I did Tommy.
"That was the only premiere I’d been to and I couldn’t believe the extravaganza. I’m not used to that. My mum was going ‘Jesus there’s a whole salmon’. Can you imagine? Mum and Dad!
"My Dad’s never seen champagne. We’re just not that kind of people. And I want to give the kids that same kind of extravaganza so they can see what a mindblower it is."
Aside from that film there is yet another Who cinematic venture in the pipeline. Daltrey is to star in a film about a famous British convict just released from prison and he’s determined to use this film as a vehicle to prove that he really can act.
"One of the problems with acting if you’re a rock character is that film people won’t touch you because it’s so difficult to shake your rock image; it’s so powerful. If I get rid of my hair," he said, pointing to the infamous golden mane, "then I’m a mean motherfucker who you wouldn’t want to meet in an alley on a dark night."
Townshend will be writing some of the music to be used during some of the prison scenes for, as Daltrey admitted, "In prison there’s not a whole lot of talking." It is also probable that Adam Faith will co-star as Daltrey’s friend and partner in crime. The film is based on the life of John McVicar.
"I identify with him because his life is so similar to mine . When you’re on the street there’s only so many ways out," Daltrey said logically. "I’ve got a big machismo, that whole fuckin’ male thing. And he’s the same. But he can’t sing. So he’s gotta have a fast car and flash suits and you don’t get that workin’ at Fords in Dagenham.
"So he robs a bank. I understand the rush he got from it. I was lucky. I found rock ‘n’ roll, otherwise I would have ended up the same way.
One problem that faces the Who is the fact that they have ceased being a performing band. Although Townshend tells a TV audience he won’t tour because he’s going deaf, it isn’t as simple as that. He admits there are infinite reasons for not going on the road although it is not a total impossibility.
"I get frustrated all the time about not touring," Daltrey said passionately, eager to tour whenever possible. "It’s delicate ground. I respect Pete’s opinion but I don’t agree. I never joined a band to be in business. I joined a band to get on a fuckin’ stage and kick ass. One day it’s gotta end. That’s a matter of fact. It’s just ending before its time which is stupid.
"A band like the Who will end their stage career before the Stones who will go on for a long time. The Who is a different entity. It’s the energy thing. Age will lose that energy. And the Who without the energy wouldn’t be the Who. But right now I feel stronger and more fit than ever. And so does Pete.
"That’s why I told him, ‘For fuck’s sake Pete, there’s only one Pete Townshend and one Roger Daltrey. Let’s get up there and do it’. He talks in paradoxes, which confuses me. He said a profound thing on TV: ‘Rock ‘n’ roll is music from the street for kids on the street to dance all over their problems.’ And if that’s how Pete feels he should get up onstage, make some music and dance all over his problems. After all, there is only one Who."
Townshend does talk in paradoxes, although always articulately. An example of this is the following Townshendian quote: "It’s all wrong to even talk about rock ‘n’ roll but I don’t want to talk about anything else."
Nevertheless he doesn’t seem particularly keen to play rock ‘n’ roll onstage. He admits he doesn’t yet miss the stage but possibly will eventually.
"I still don’t want to go on the road, it’s as simple as that," Townshend stated with authority. "But that’s just a part of it. There’s the family and there’s the fact that I don’t want to go on the road or need to go on the road."
Yet I’m a firm believer that a rock ‘n’ roll band, especially one of the Who’s caliber, needs to play live to keep in touch with themselves and their fans.
"It possibly is detrimental to the Who not touring," he agreed. "But we’ve done so many other detrimental things and managed to come through. Playing live has been detrimental to the Who," he laughed. "I don’t exactly know what the right move is now. Having an album out means you’re asked every 15 minutes if you’re touring."
The one reason that the Who might just tour is their over-zealous sound-man Bob Pridden, who thrives on the live Who as much as Daltrey. Even Townshend recognizes this.
"If the Who ever tour again it will be because of Bob Pridden. We don’t want him to get bored," he laughed. "We’ll all get divorced, become estranged from our children, intimidate our fans, do bad gigs, we’ll do anything just to see Bob bouncing at the side of the stage," Pete laughed. "He came up to me the other day and said ‘I hear there’s a rumor of a Who tour?’"
Although there isn’t any tour news yet, Roger Daltrey at least is optimistic. And if the Who don’t tour, John Entwistle will probably go out on the road with Joe Walsh.
One of the things that has always contributed to the Who’s greatness is the friction within the group. While sparks fly at times in the studio and onstage, it is this somewhat odd but totally beneficial relationship between Daltrey and Townshend, delicately interwoven between love and hate, that literally makes the Who.
"When used positively friction is great," Pete said. "It’s necessary in any relationship."
I mentioned that relationships are not only unproductive but also boring. Understandably he agreed.
"I could never be in a group with Ann-Margret. We get on so well," he laughed. "But I could be in a group with Olivia Newton-John."
Taking it one step further, I wondered if he saw himself ever playing a disco king or starring in Grease.
"I could be in Grease," he giggled, "but only as the musical director to undermine the entire production."
Although Townshend admits he’s happier and more confident, he still hasn’t sorted out life. But then he wouldn’t be Pete Townshend if he had.
"I feel closer to Roger than I have for a long time. We got on a plane to come to L.A. and Roger says ‘Do you want to look at a magazine?’ So I say ‘yeah.’ So Roger says ‘What do you want? I’ve got everything.’
"So I say ‘anything on boats?’," Pete began to laugh hysterically. "And Roger says ‘boats?’ So I ask for Time or Newsweek. And Roger says ‘Time? Newsweek?’ So finally Roger says ‘Look, I’ve got Club international, Playboy, Genesis, Oui, Hustler, Naught, Fuck, Wank, Whore, Schnort ….’
"And the thing is," Pete Townshend laughed, "I’d like to think that I’d just about grown out of that. Suddenly I realized that I’m not always as close to Roger as I think. There’s always a bit of ground to recover."
Even if they don’t go on tour, the Who are alright.