September 19, 2020

’79 Trouser Press Interview with Jeff Stein

The Director of "The Kids Are Alright" discusses the movie.

Although it is really only a coincidence that Trouser, Press’s fifth anniversary comes at the same time as the completion of The Kids Are Alright, the movie chronicling 15 years of the Who, nothing could be more appropriate. The role which the Who have played in my life, and the importance of the Who in the very creation and existence of the Trouser Press can not be overestimated. Long before the inception of Trouser Press, I followed the Who loyally and their music determined the path of much of my life. If you’ve never felt that way about a rock ‘n’ roll band, there is no point in trying to explain it. Just find someone who has, and ask them. I don’t regret anything about my devotion to the Who, and I still have quite a number of friends with whom I shared the experience of waiting on ticket lines, going to concerts in various cities, trading records and tapes, writing long impassioned letters, and talking endlessly about the Who. Sometimes it seems a long time ago.

Rock ‘n’ roll has changed a lot since the early days of the Who, and Trouser Press has only been around the last five years to chronicle those changes. With the death of Keith Moon last year, the end of the Who as we knew it had come, but fortunately, one true Who fan was making this movie, capturing the spirit and music of the Who for posterity, and for the mass audience that either never saw the real thing or never knew the whole story. Jeff Stein, a good friend whom I first met in the second row of a Who concert at Forest Hills, NY, in August 1971, has been working on this film for as long as I can remember, and now it’s ready. I couldn’t wait to see it, so I phoned Jeff up in Los Angeles, where he was putting the finishing touches to it, and asked him a bunch of questions about the film – how it came about, what’s in it, and so forth. As director, as well as instigator, Jeff has been in charge of nearly every aspect of the production, and he was most willing to talk about the project, a true labor of love.

Interview by Ira Robbins

How did you get involved with the Who in general, and how did the film come about in specific?

I was a fan – the Who were my favorite band – they always were and still are. I guess I started following them in 1965, and started physically following their tours in ’69 and ’70. During that time I gradually got to know them, and took a lot of photographs of them. One day, Keith saw that we had the same kind of camera, and he wanted to show me his photographic equipment, so we went up to their hotel – somewhere horrible, like Rochester – and that’s where I got to know Keith and Pete better. Then I had a collection of photographs  that I got published [as a book in 1973-Ed.] and I got to know the band better. When Pete wanted to put together the Tommy book in 1975 [The Story of Tommy was finally published in 1977-Ed.] he knew me well enough that he called me, and asked – since I had published a book on the Who and knew a lot about publishing – if I’d help him with that aspect or give him some advice on where to go. That’s when I really got to know Pete, and the next time he was in New York [March 1975], I discussed the possibility of doing a film with him. I said that there was a whole new generation of Who fans – there’s a hierarchy of Who fans: the people that first followed them, then the people who followed them as of Tommy, and then the younger people who first saw them in ’74 or ’75. 1 said, "I think we should preserve all this. Why don’t I put all the old film clips together so that they’ll always be there for the younger fans and for the older fans who still want to see the old songs you don’t want to play anymore. Even for your kids." He said he thought it was a good idea. If I could put up with all the hassles with lawyers and management and stuff, he said he would back me all the way, which he has. That’s how it all started.

The final thing that convinced them to do it was a 17-minute film that I put together with Ed Rothkowitz, who was, and is, my editor. We strung together whatever Who film I could beg, borrow or steal, and showed it to them. I’ve never seen such a reaction – Pete was on the floor, banging his head. He and Keith were hysterical. Roger’s wife was laughing so hard she knocked over the coffee table in the screening room. Their reaction was unbelievable – they loved it. That’s when they were really convinced that the movie was worth doing. It amused them, so they figured there must be an audience for it. They’re always their harshest critics.

Can you give us a chronology of the film after that point?

First, money had to be gotten together. Actually, before that, I had to do a lot of research and not only find where the Who had appeared on television and what films and promotional clips had been made of them, but find out what still existed, which was the hard part. That took a year-and-a-half to really do thoroughly. Then we started to raise the money. My advice to the Who was always "Don’t give away the control, or the extra profits. Don’t get taken for a ride; put up your own money," which they have. That, the research, and organizing the money took about two-and-a-half years. You can imagine what it’s like; look at how long it takes them to make an album. I had the same problems – tours, changes of plans, getting them to really make firm commitments in a number of areas. It wasn’t only the guys in the band, it was also management – and they were switching management at that point. They weren’t touring a lot, and the tours they did had a lot of problems. Pete was very unhappy in 1975, doing those tours – none of that was helping in terms of making the film progress. That takes us up to the last week in May 1977, when production officially started at Pinewood Studios in England. In other words, the money was in the bank, the production crew was hired, and I went over from the States. After that, we went out and bought up the library footage.

It was the first time I’d even gotten to view some of it, because a lot was from Germany, some from Sweden, France and Australia. I also got footage from Norway and some from Finland that had been shot elsewhere. I had to track people down that had shot film for them at the Fillmore, at the Village Theatre, at Commack, Long Island – stuff like that. There were particular gaps in time that were very hard to fill, mostly around 1968-1969 when Pete was very firmly against anybody shooting their act. Woodstock was really the only stuff from that particular period, but I did find a guy named John Rubin who had been a film student at MIT at that point, and who shot some stuff. One of my favorite pieces of footage he shot is of Keith destroying what became known as the "Pictures of Lily" drum kit, that hand-painted psychedelic job. I have wonderful footage – John was in the front row shooting when Keith destroyed that kit completely, about 10 minutes into the set. He threw the entire kit into the audience, and people were throwing it back. Pieces of equipment kept falling over, and roadies kept standing them back up – Keith was well out of it at the time.

Once we got to Pinewood, it was a matter of finding all the footage, negotiating for the footage, viewing and logging it, and beginning to actually edit the film. All of this was done under my supervision. Bill Curbishley [the Who’s manager] took care of getting money together, negotiating a lot of the final deals for footage, while I supervised finding everything, initial negotiations, and overseeing the editing and the shooting.

What new material was shot for the film?

We filmed some interview stuff and spent a "day in the life" with Keith Moon that ended up being a week in California at his home. We were very fortunate in that Ringo came out the last day we were there and spent about 10 hours with us, interviewing Keith. Ringo’s the one who actually interviews Keith in the film, except for a couple of things I did. Ringo and Keith working together were great – really funny. Later, I filmed their rehearsals, just after Keith had moved back to England from California, when they were getting ready to go into the studio to do Who Are You. I think that was September of ’77, which gives you an idea how long that album took. I actually filmed them rehearsing "Who Are You" for the very first time. I was just supposed to go in and do cinema verité stuff, just get whatever happens, but when I showed up, it was "Okay Jeff, what do you want us to play?" I didn’t know what to tell them, so I racked my brains for a minute and said, "How about playing ‘Barbara Ann’?" So we have a rendition of them doing "Barbara Ann" with Keith handling lead vocals. They hadn’t played it since 1966, but they went right into it, and it’s a great version. The next day, Keith decided he would arrive on a fire truck that was on fire, so we have some of that.

I also filmed recording sessions. One sequence in the film was shot when they were recording "Who Are You." Then we filmed the two "secret" gigs [see TP 26-Ed.]. Setting those up was nearly impossible. I’m very surprised that they ever happened at all. Pete never really wanted to play; no one was really into touring, and I finally had to say "Listen – there are a couple of songs that I don’t think are well covered in the footage we have, and you’ve got to do some gigs." I was supposed to go on a couple of tours – during the one in late ’75, we were supposed to film their show at Winterland in San Francisco – but that was one of the things that fell through.

I didn’t want to shoot something like Midnight Special with a really controlled crowd, so we announced a secret gig and everyone showed up. At the last one [5/25/78-Ed.], the Greater London Council wouldn’t let us use the lasers inside London, and we couldn’t find any suitable venue, so we finally booked a huge movie sound stage at Shepperton, and built their entire stage inside. To make up for it not really being a gig, we turned it into a huge party. There were people in straitjackets suspended over the crowd, and some guy tried to break the world’s record for keeping a ferret down his trousers [Hunh?-Ed.l. Keith organized the entertainment, of course. We had thousands of bottles of wine, cases and cases of beer, and it turned out to be the most uproarious party, and the Who came out and played as a finale. We had twelve hundred people drunk out of their skulls, and it was very difficult to film. I didn’t have people roped off, and we didn’t tell anybody to sit down or anything, and it was crazy. When they hit the stage, there were people all over the place. The Who played great. When we went back the next day to clean up, there were people still there, unconscious

At Shepperton, at the last gig, I was backstage, and the people were roaring for an encore, and carrying on. You know the Who hate to do encores, and they had really beaten themselves to death doing this show. It was really tough, and I went back and said, "Pete – you gotta go out and give ’em an encore. We’ve got to get a definitive version of ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again.’ We need the definitive end." And he said, "Jeff – what do you want me to do? Go out there and fall asleep playing? Maybe I should go out there and just die during my last solo? Or maybe I should hit that guy who’s been yelling for ‘Magic Bus’ over the head with my guitar." Anyway, we do have a great ending – they did go back out and do it.

It was very complicated, because I wanted to film the lasers that accompany "Won’t Get Fooled Again" and it was very hard to shoot those, but that was one of the main reasons we wanted to film them at Shepperton, to get the lasers right, which we did.

When did the operation pick up and move to Los Angeles?

We moved to Los Angeles in September, and Entwistle came over the first week of October in order to supervise the Dolby sound dub. I had always thought it would be good to have one of the Who do it, so that we would have an authentic sound, and John had already done Odds and Sods, remixing all those old songs. The soundtrack is authentic, unlike some rock ‘n’ roll movies that I won’t mention that were supposedly live but where everything was overdubbed, or where the filming is done on a sound stage and they pretend it’s Madison Square Garden…All our sound is the authentic sound, except I think there are a couple of bass overdubs. We have a very early "Anyway Anyhow Anywhere" where they just did not record the bass – there isn’t any bass. We discussed it at length – either Entwistle would lay in a new bass track, or there wouldn’t be any bass. We opted for having bass. John went back and found the bass he’d played, and played it in the same style.

It was a pain in the ass finding footage that had sound intact. Some of it we would have been better off re-recording, in terms of sound quality, but the impact of hearing them…On the Shindig stuff, I had to get the sound off the optical track of a kinescope. We spent a lot of time on the sound, and it sounds great: raw. and punchy. It’s the Who sound.

The soundtrack album won’t have everything on it, because there are over 25 songs, all of which are full length, except for a singles medley that I did because we wanted to work in all their great singles of the ’60s, and there was no other way to do it except to shorten them. The singles’ medley is six songs, everything else is full length. Entwistle remixed everything, and we talked a lot about what the Who sounded like at each particular time. Instead of brightening things and doing a whole lot of overdubs, or replacing things, we just tried to make the old recordings sound as good as possible, and that took a lot of time. In the old promo films, like "Happy Jack," he’s totally remixed the song. It was mixed so shitty in the ’60s that you won’t believe what it sounds like. Our remix of the "Magic Bus" single is great.

In terms of eras covered, the film has everything back to footage shot while they were the High Numbers. I have loads of stuff from 1965, meaning their first Shindig stuff, which was all live; the only thing left of them from Ready Steady Go, which is "Anyway Anyhow Anywhere" live; I have the Richmond Jazz Festival in which they do "Shout and Shimmy" live; that’s all the early R&B period. The next period is the singles like "Substitute," "The Kids Are Alright," "Pictures of Lily" – we have all those – then have their Beau Brummel period with the sequins and the ruffles and all that. As a matter of fact, we have a sequence from an 8mm film taken by a friend of theirs of them putting on their make-up backstage in ’67, including a great shot of Pete powdering his nose! Roger Daltrey fixing everyone’s hair – that sort of thing. They’ve never seen that part – I put that in last. They’re gonna cry when they see it.

For that sort of "psychedelic" era, we have "I Can See for Miles" and "My Generation" from the Smothers Brothers TV show, which is how the movie opens. We also have the Monterey Pop Festival sequence of them doing "My Generation." Then I have the ’68-’69 period where they proved themselves to be the best live band in the world, I have "Young Man Blues" from the London Coliseum, which is unbelievable, It cuts the one on Live at Leeds to shreds. I have three songs from Woodstock that we totally re-edited, then I have "Pinball Wizard" and "Sparks."

Then we go to the Who’s Next period, and I have "Baba O’Reilly" and "Won’t Get Fooled Again." I was going to have "5:15" from Quadrophenia, but it wasn’t really a hot version, and when they decided to do the Quadrophenia film, I dropped it, so there’s no live stuff from Quadrophenia in the film. The film I had was a videotape from the 1973 Charlton concert, but I didn’t think it was up to snuff, and I didn’t use any of it. The problem with stuff shot on video is that they use three, four, or maybe five cameras, and they edit it and destroy the leftovers. The stuff is so shittily edited. Everything else we have totally recut.

I then have the ’75-’76 era when they did huge stadium gigs – I have a live jam from Metropolitan Stadium in Pontiac, Michigan which was, at that point, the largest indoor gig ever (70,000 on Dec. 6, 1975). The jam, which runs over nine minutes, is sort of a combination "Join Together" and "Naked Eye," which goes into "Roadrunner," and then they do a slow "My Generation." At the end, Pete does his Eric Clapton impersonation. From there, we have them at Shepperton ’78, (their last show ever), and recording "Who Are You," which shows them really becoming a studio band, which I guess is what they were going to do, weren’t they?

I have promos that were shot and never used, like "Anyway Anyhow Anywhere," where the Who are running down Carnaby Street with Pete and Keith wearing Union Jack jackets. There’s also a film that has Keith running after an armored truck with the others in it. I found that, and nobody knew where that one was. I went to the vaults of every film lab in England, and asked if they had any film by Kit Lambert or Chris Stamp, or New Action Limited; I would try any name that might turn something up. Some would call me back six months later, and ask if I hadn’t once called about Who films. That’s how I got the "Anyway Anyhow Anywhere" promo – some lab found dailies [working proofs-Ed.]. Finding the Rolling Stones’ Rock & Roll Circus (from which we used "A Quick One") was a bitch – no one knew where that was, not even the Rolling Stones! And then I had to find the sound!

There are about 150 different scenes – each one had to be found, recut, then the negative had to be found, then they all had to be optically perfected so they could salvaged – it was a lot of work. I was told for two-and-a-half years that there was no way the Rock & Roll Circus negative could be found, or that the work print could be found, and that even if I found it we couldn’t use it. Well, we found it, and we’re using it. I found "Young Man Blues" in a garbage can – it was that kind of thing. Even the Woodstock stuff – can you imagine what it was like going through 500,000 feet of film for which the log books had been destroyed in a flood at Warners? We found the stuff and cut it.

How does the film reflect Keith Moon’s death?

Keith saw it before he died. Everyone had seen a rough cut about a week before, except for Pete, because I was holding out until it was nearly perfect. Then Keith died, and Pete had to see it two days later, so I’m sure he missed a lot of the fun. It was awfully peculiar showing them the film again after that. Nobody involved with the Who ever asked me to change anything to exploit Keith’s death. We were determined not to change a thing.

Who’s the film aimed at?

My initial thing was for Who fans, but also to showcase the Who so all the non-believers would see their contribution, see that they were the greatest group in the world. I’m sure, like you, I was tired of telling people, and once everybody accepted the fact that the Who were the greatest band, it was like anything – you wonder if you were right or wrong. People might have loved them after Tommy, but they wanted to be famous after they did A Quick One and Sell Out – that’s when they deserved to be the top-rated band in the world, not after Tommy.

To sum up the motivation, our first aim was to preserve the legacy and to prove the point that we’ve been arguing since grade school – that the Who are the best group in the world. Then, as I found the footage, I could see what it was saying – that  this was the only band that survived the whole era without changing personnel; that had contributed so much to the development of rock ‘n’ roll; and that had always epitomized the rock ‘n’ roll spirit – no holds barred, ever. It became a rock ‘n’ roll film. Fuck Kiss – if that’s what kids think is rock ‘n’ roll, they’re going to have their eyes opened! Even the Sex Pistols – I loved them, and I think Johnny Rotten is sensational, and I knew him quite well in England, but in terms of what the Who stood for 12 years before them, that comes through in the film. The film will satisfy a Who fan audience, I hope, because they’re very hard to satisfy and everyone will have their own vision of what the film should be like. There will be some who hate me as much as they hate Ken Russell, but I’ll live with that. I think The Kids Are Alright is a film that explores the phenomenon of a music that many hoped would "fade away" yet is still here. I think the film shows how that music has progressed, and shows what it took to stand up for the music, and why so many people got destroyed by it. I think it’s self- destructive.

I think the film is even about what Pete stands for – he said, and he meant, that he was going to die before he got old, and now he thinks he’s old and maybe he feels ashamed that he didn’t die, but he also tried to bring rock ‘n’ roll in another direction. I think he was holding that flag as long as he could until someone else had the balls to take it. As he says in the film (I hope it stays in the final cut), standing on the stage at the Kilburn gig, "There’s a guitar up here if any of you big mouth little gits want to come and fucking take it off of me."

The last bits in the film are "My Generation" from Monterey, totally redone, a destruction montage of 15 years of them breaking their equipment, back to the end of Monterey, and then into their last four statements, which I don’t think I should tell you. You think the movie’s over after Monterey and the destruction montage, but then they come back for four last statements. The last quote by Pete is "I don’t know what to do-I keep getting accused of letting the side down, as it were, often by our fans. Some people say, ‘Pete, you’ve got to keep going, otherwise you’ll let down all these kids.’ It’s not people saying ‘the show must go on,’ it’s people saying ‘Pete, you’ve got to go on, otherwise, all those kids will have nothing to live for.’ That’s rock ‘n’ roll." Into "Won’t Get Fooled Again."

The film was a tearjerker long before Keith Moon died. You’ll be crying when you see it, but I wanted everyone to feel proud that they had stood by the Who. You did it, Ira, and look what it did for your life. It did the same for me, and it’s something to be proud of. I promise you this film will renew your faith in what you stood for.