OT: Interview with Pete Townshend from The Who web site
Date: February 15, 2008 04:25
Here is a pretty good recent interview from Pete where members posted their questions to him. Hope you enjoy.
jae905: When Al Gore claimed to have invented the internet did you scream to yourself (and whoever was within earshot) “NO MOTHERF*****, I DID”?
PETE: I didn’t hear about this until quite a long time after he made his claim. Remember, I never claimed to have ‘invented’ the internet, merely to have stumbled on a sci-fi vision of it while plotting Lifehouse. In fact, what I foresaw – virtual reality – has never really taken off in the way I imagined it might: as a way for people to advance themselves spiritually and mentally. (By doing crazy, dangerous things they might otherwise avoid).
I think my most interesting bit of forward thinking was to predict music downloading in my lecture in 1985 at the Royal College of Art (mentioned as something Ray High does in The Boy Who Heard Music). The audience walked out on me. I am impressed with Al Gore actually. His current work is good; he’s getting people to think about the environment as a first step. He has a good way of going about it – he does it BIG. It’s a big issue and I like the fact that he thinks big. I would never call him a ‘motherf****‘ in any case. That’s Abbie Hoffman
language, the language of the true radical. Kick out the marmalades, etc.
greyhound_girl: I have read in your teen years you were in the Young Communist League. How have your political viewpoints changed since then and why?
PETE: Let me speak about my political views. I never really had any of my own. My parents never spoke of politics at all. At 11 or 12 I joined CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament). I now believe I was wrong to do this, but I was just a kid. I do think the Bomb has been a deterrent. I also joined Anti-Apartheid at the same time. This is something I am proud of, and I continued to defend my beliefs on this until the mid ‘80s when I was part of a fund-raising group rallied by Donald Woods (of ‘Biko’ fame) to help fund legal efforts to trigger Nelson Mandela’s release. I have many South African friends, one or two of them Afrikaan, and I had great sympathy and empathy with their plight, racially speaking. Race is never, and I say this without irony, a matter of black and white.
The YCL was different. It happened a little later, and I danced on the fringes, finding it tricky to find the right books to read. This was when I was in my first band with John Entwistle. We were about 13/14. I wasn’t really a paid up member, but Communism seemed to be what the Nazis had hated (as well as my beloved Jewish friends) so I thought I’d take a close look at it. Our clarinet player friend Phil Rhodes’ father was in the Communist Party and I thought he was a good man. He was an amazing driver too, he only had one arm and rolled cigarettes while changing gear. Later, at Art School, my friend Barney said he had actually been a paid up member of the YCL and I think for some time had trouble getting a US Visa, but we never talked about it much. I felt
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betrayed by the Liberals of my childhood, the ban-the-bomb crowd. They said I’d be dead by the time I was 16, they were wrong. The bomb they despised may have saved my skin – and yours.
Missy428: What are 5 books that you would turn to someone and say ‘If you’re going to get stranded on an island, take these!’?
PETE: You only need one book – How to Catch Fish from the Beach (by throwing books at them?) I may as well just list five of the last few books I’ve read. Plato’s Republic; Musicophilia by Oliver Sachs; Frozen Tracks by Ake Edwardson; Against The Day by Thomas Pynchon and Firmin by Sam Savage.
magic33bus: With rap and hip-hop having a stranglehold on the Billboard charts the past decade or so, how did rock’n’roll lose its grip on the masses, and can rock music rebound?
PETE: Rap and hip-hop is the music of the street today. The street is where rock came from. When the white rock players and their fans stopped hanging out on the street, and started hanging out in restaurants, the reality shifted. When I answer a question like this I can always see the landed thesis that underlies it. This is – in other words – a ‘loaded’ question. You assume I will agree with you that rock has lost its grip on the masses. Firstly, it never had a grip on the black audience, they’ve always had their own music styles and special coded language which rap has now formalised. I also reject the use of the word ‘stranglehold’ – it suggests a noble rock ‘n’ roll tree is being starved of air and nurture by the weeds of rap. I am a huge fan of rap – even Eminem has a real connection to the work I did when I was young. My job as young writer wasn’t to sell records, but to try to make music that allowed our audience to find some hope and release. If it happens to show up on the Billboard charts someone gets rich. But that doesn’t change the fact that what matters most is that the music does what it is supposed to do. rap and hip-hop, for people who understand it, provides hope and release.
longliverock26: Do you enjoy new music that was obviously inspired by yourself and The Who?
PETE: I’m not sure. Sometimes. I think you may mean bands like Pearl Jam and Green Day who actually cite The Who as an influence. But the music of theirs I like best is not always the heavier stuff. Some interesting female singers have cited The Who – I won’t make a list because most of them wrote to me before they were famous, but you might be surprised at the names.
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englishBoy33: What are your thoughts regarding your work being given ‘academic treatment’, i.e., being studied, analyzed and critiqued as true art that gives a specific insight to many aspects of our human condition?
PETE: I have always been ready to discuss what I do, and open to analysis. Criticism is academic study at one level after all. I am an artist, that’s what I was trained to do. I’ve always thought of my work as art. However, I am an artist operating in the pop genre, and my early work was defined by two ideas:
1 That popular art should reflect our impulsive and eventually compulsive destruction of nature. (Gustav Metzger)
2 That computers would make all academic study, and language, if not irrelevant, certainly unrecognisable by the 21st century. (Roy Ascott, Harold Cohen). This sounds quite academic but it is really the manifesto of the MC5 in disguise. Kick out the marmalades!
eris: What it is that goes on at your concerts, that I (and others too) subjectively experience as a sort of ‘mystical energy’? What are you doing that other bands are not doing? Is it to do with the content of the songs, or the way they’re performed, or something else?
PETE: We are obviously keeping out of the way – which is what we try to do I think. The concert is YOUR experience, not ours. Roger and I have different ways to approach this, but we both end up in the same place – we want YOU to have the spiritual high, not us. We are simply working at a job Roger loves, and I sometimes find tiresome – but we both know we are good at it. For a rock artist it can appear to be a contradiction, or even a false conceit, to say that I aspire to ‘get out of the way’. I promise you that is what I do. I can also tell you that I’m happy some people may get a spiritual lift from our shows because all I get as a rule is knee trouble and ear-ache.
burtonanderson: In the past, you have often stated that your artistic commission is to provide a mirror to your audience… As that audience has changed and matured with time, your works have reflected that evolution very well (including your own personal journey). From my perspective, I think your recent projects have become more demanding of the audience and grander in scope (e.g. The Lifehouse Chronicles, The Boy Who Heard Music, Wire & Glass); at the same time I’ve seen the participation of the live audience dwindle to a fortunate few (relatively speaking), who can both afford the experience and who have the patience and diligence to understand the work. Is that same sense of commission still a driving force for you?
PETE: Another loaded question. Our audience has ‘dwindled’ to a ‘fortunate’ few. I think not. In this question is obviously buried the idea that we charge a lot for our tickets. That may be true, but we are putting up a very proud show. We are also
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deliberately lowering our sights on the size of audiences. We do not play stadiums by choice except for festivals. Even festivals are events I worry about – Cincinatti is still a fresh memory for me. Also carried in the question is the notion that we are becoming highbrow, and maybe leaving some of our audience behind. I don’t accept that. One problem for The Who is that we really do reflect our audience. So what do you want most from us? Probably for us to deliver you some music that makes you feel like you did when you were younger. Not possible. You are old and wrinkly, just like us. We have other duties now.
I think nostalgia and sentimentality are perfectly OK. You probably know that. But what I am trying to do is respond to the need of our fans to face reality, not fall into fantasy.
The first creative phase of The Who ended a long time ago in 1982, and lasted just 18 years. This current creative phase has really just begun. It is, however, not only a mature phase, but also one that demands deep financing. The last 13 month tour grossed huge money, but I personally made less profit than I would have if I’d stayed home (though making even a small profit is better than losing!) The point for me was to reach people with my songs, see what happened, and to deepen my creative partnership with Roger. It still feels very new for us, and may well prove to be uneconomic for me to insist on trying to deliver new work in an innovative way. Yes, I want to reflect, but you need to want to look in my mirror. If people don’t look, I may as well stay home.
sdingledine: I am a schoolteacher… You mentioned something awhile back that caught my attention: The function of The Who is expressed through its audience. The same is true for me in a way. The kids I teach ultimately express the function of teaching, not me. Question: what are your views on school and how teachers can best serve the interests of their students? And who were your best teachers and why?
PETE: I love this question. Pop worked in its heyday, and still does, because the audience is in charge. I had some great teachers; they empowered me by helping me to evolve the boy I already was. The first was a Miss Catlin at primary school (7-12). She was a woman who noticed that I lived partly in fantasy. Now some people called that congenital lying. She called it imagination, and encouraged me to tell my class a weekly serial story. It turned what could have been a problem for me into my greatest asset. At grammar school (12-16) I had the most amazing teacher called Mr Hamlyn, he taught metalwork and mechanical drawing (draughtsmanship). I wasn’t interested in either subject but achieved top grades in both, and a distinction in the drawing, simply because he was such an affirmational, gentle, ironic and serene man. Today I have fondness even for my worst teachers. At art school I was exposed to visionaries and men of genius. It was a stroke of luck meeting Roy Ascott. Fantastic thinker who wasn’t afraid to use a long sentence if the issue required it.
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All my teachers showed up every day, and did what they could. I wish I could say the same for myself.
crazyhorse111: Are we going to hear you perform some of the lesser-played gems live?
PETE: This is not really a fair question for me. I think The Who probably have to accept that they have a limited range of hits, with limited appeal, and their fans have to do the same. But I have done solo shows and played right across The Who and my solo spectrum. I’d play anything that made you happy, even ‘Glow Girl’. I’m not sure that would be the right thing to do at a Who concert. In any case, you have to speak to Roger. He is the singer. The only rarity he ever wants to play is ‘Slip Kid’, and he wants to do a new version of it in a looser style. We rehearse it sometimes, but it never lands. Roger creates a shape of show that works for him emotionally, and for the audience of course, but also it works practically over a 90/120 minute cycle. He doesn’t feel it’s right to take chances with a Who audience; I don’t care quite so much. I don’t think you’ll ever hear Roger singing Who rarities – and you won’t hear me being his accompanist on anything experimental. We know what works for us under the Who banner. If you are bored by our list of songs, perhaps it’s time to go and check out a different artist? You might simply be coming to too many shows? I understand the desire to hear rare songs, but maybe some of them will only ever be available to you as recordings.
billybill: I really enjoyed the videos of ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ posted on this site and ‘Real Good Looking Boy’ from the 2005 benefit show in New York. Would you ever consider doing a tour of this type of show with Roger?
PETE: See my answer above. No. I am not wiling to play the role of Roger’s accompanist. I love the balance we get when appear as two ‘stars’ supported by other musicians. However, what I thought was great about this version of ‘Real Good Looking Boy’ that you mention is that he accompanied himself. It was great, don’t you think? He made my song his own. I just sat and listened, open-mouthed. He doesn’t play virtuosic guitar, but when he plays, he supports his own vocal expression 100%, so it all becomes about his voice and his heart. Roger should do a solo tour with just a guitar. I’ll watch open-mouthed. Tune his guitars.
suezcc: Did the repsonse you had from your fans, to your novella, The Boy Who Heard Music, meet or exceed your expectations?
PETE: It was one of the best things that ever happened to me. It felt a little like vanity publishing until I realized that people really were deeply investigating what I was
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trying to say and reacting at every level – sometimes extremely critically. I have high hopes for the theatre musical version of The Boy Who Heard Music.
flippin_k_moon: I was wondering if you were planning on taking the stage version of The Boy Who Heard Music to the Western United States.
PETE: It is still in development. I’m not sure where it will kick off. My collaborator on the ‘Book for the Musical’ Ethan Silverman put up and directed the workshop at Vassar, but he needed some more lyrics from me to move to the next stage. Guess what? I’ve been slow…
Porkchopwi: Can you talk about the process of how songs like ‘Naked Eye’ and ‘Dance it Away’ evolved from riffs or on-stage jams to full-fledged songs?
PETE: ‘Naked Eye’ was a proper song before it was touched on stage. There is a demo of it in my stash. What changed when we played it live was the way the ending turned into a kind of search for flight. It became the most wonderful vehicle for a guitar solo. ‘Dance It Away’ was also a song I had I my head, and on cassette. I simply threw lines out here and there in the late ‘70s at Who gigs. Roger didn’t seem too keen on me doing that. Recently he has done it himself: making songs up as he goes along. So we both do it sometimes now, but we both tend to repeat what worked best the night before. One song that did start as a jam and become a song later was ‘5’15’. That was a studio jam. I wrote the words later walking down Oxford Street people-watching.
anmeli45: Will there be another season of In the Attic? The show is immensely entertaining and insightful.
PETE: I have had to close down my Oceanic Studio for financial reasons. So we don’t have the 24/7 internet streaming connection or the cute venue any more. The on-the-road part of In The Attic cost over $1.5 million, but I would have died of boredom without it. So it doesn’t look good for In The Attic at the moment. We did film and record everything though, and there is some amazing footage that may come out soon. Rachel and I talk about it a lot. The best thing, for us, were the people we met and played with who have all become such precious friends.
citydaz: Have you ever thought of doing any collaborative work with Paul Weller?
PETE: I don’t think about collaborating with anyone. I am a studio artist (even as a songwriter), I have studios, and I work best when I am alone in them. My most famous and successful writing has been produced in studio seclusion. Paul and I are very
different – loads of respect between us, but different agendas. I hear he may perform at this year’s TCT concert at the Royal Albert Hall.
whoautos: What is it that you admire most about Ray Davies and has there ever been an opportunity to work collaboratively with him?
PETE: I am quite simply a fan. I am also a huge fan of the whole Kinks band – especially Dave Davies. For me to collaborate with Ray would be strange – we both occupy similar ground, and come from a similar place, but arrive at very different destinations as artists. I pray that one day Ray and Dave can play again on a tour. Dave was often very loud, and Ray was apparently often ratty, but to me they were like AC/DC with wit, charm and beauty.
kitlambert: Would you ever consider making a record with Eddie Vedder, similar to your Ronnie Lane collaboration, Rough Mix?
PETE: It seems like people think I have lots of free time on my hands to collaborate. I don’t. I love Eddie like a brother (or a surrogate son). If he had to do what Ronnie Lane did, and came to me and say ‘Pete, I’m broke, I need to make a record, will you help me’ I would do so. Could you arrange for Eddie to go broke?
lowgens02: We heard John had some songs he had written for possible inclusion on a Who album before his passing, though he didn’t want Roger to have veto power over them. Has anybody in The Who camp heard any of them? If so, is it possible that some of them might make it onto a future Who album?
PETE: I didn’t hear anything. What you repeat is what he said to me, that he was afraid that if we did a Who record, and he showed his songs to Roger, Roger might not like them. But Roger didn’t like everything I wrote either. I should probably have kept this exchange between John and me to myself. Roger was a huge supporter of John’s writing. I think John may have been saying that he wanted to sing his own songs when recorded by The Who. We were still trying to move towards a new ‘band’ record when John died so tragically.
petetownshendjnr: It’s your 8-year-old biggest fan here. I know you have a guitar tech that sets them up, but do you have a favorite Strat you play?
PETE: I can set up my own guitars, and often do a lot of work on them myself. My guitar tech, Alan Rogan, does it while I’m on stage and is also one of my best friends, I trust him with almost everything. On stage I use guitars I don’t really care about too
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much. That’s because they are like tools to me, I want good tools, but if they break or get stolen I don’t mind too much because I have spare ones. At home I have guitars I love very much indeed. My most favourite guitar at the moment is a Gibson ES-5 I bought when I was in Austin – an old 3-pickup jazz guitar from the ‘50s. I have an interesting old Strat that Alan bought me, it has no tremelo. It sounds halfway between a Strat and a Tele. My stock modern Fender Strats from the custom shop are SUPERB instruments. They’re tough, easy to play and sound great. The same can be said for the Gibson J200s with Fishman pickups that I use on stage with The Who. These three companies still make some of the best guitars and pickups in the world – and they need to, because there are some amazing small companies making fabulous guitars today. There are a few great luthiers in Britain. I guess you play guitar. At 8-years-old you need to be careful not to overdevelop the muscles in your hands, so use very light strings until you get bigger. If you overdevelop, you may find it hard to evolve your style later on. Good luck if you play. Remember – there are no rules.
midnightx: In the past, you seemed to embrace releasing material from your personal vaults (your signature live series); are you and Roger considering starting some sort of collectors label where fans can purchase live material from The Who? You guys are the greatest “live” band of all time and it would be a very special experience for fans to be able to officially obtain some of the incredible live recordings from the late-60’s through the early 80’s that you have in the vaults.
PETE: Roger and I are not considering starting a collector’s label. There maybe good stuff in the vaults, I don’t know. But The Who’s history belongs to Universal Music Group. Talk to them about this idea. Commercially speaking, fans are a money train for media companies to exploit to earn back the advances they have to pay us – that we use to make records that don’t always sell! It’s a weird circle.
cachecache: Whatever happened to The Siege (the album you were writing as a successor to It’s Hard)?
PETE: I’m still working on it. It was a solo record by the way.
paulb: It’s been almost a year since your SXSW keynote. I am wondering what the status of the Lifehouse-Method project is. Do you ever think that project could be incorporated into a ‘Who event’ or will you keep it separated?
PETE: I’m not sure where I am with Lifehouse-Method. Still trying to work out what to do next. I can’t see it ever happening as a ‘Who’ event.
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stlwhogrl: Will there be a Method concert any time in the near future?
PETE: See the answer above. If I could afford it I’d like to have a number of Method ‘portraits’ orchestrated and performed. That is probably next on my agenda.
midnighter99: Was there a specific event or revelation during the creation of Tommy that you feel was elemental to the piece taking shape? In the earliest stage of its gestation, when it was perhaps something of a seedling in a garden run with rows of other possibilities, what was it you discovered about this concept that compelled you to bring it fully to life?
PETE: It was hearing about Meher Baba and wanting to write about a spiritual journey. Take my word for it, I wouldn’t be so nuts as to try anything like that again. It was a very ambitious project and without The Who behind me I would probably have failed to complete it. However, if I had completed it without The Who behind me it would have been less daft. You’ll have to wait for a full explanation of what I mean, but essentially the deaf, dumb and blind element started life as a metaphor for our real world ignorance of our spiritual side. It evolved into a real boy who looked like Roger Daltrey when he grew up and got sillier and sillier. Even so, Tommy has a real connection with post-war troubles in Britain. You will have read my ideas on this elsewhere. But Tommy started as sincere effort to write a kind of musical Siddartha: a journey to the source with a youthful spiritual aspirant.
johnmcdonald: Back in 2004 Tommy was remixed for the 5.1 DVD-Audio format. At the time, rumours suggested that you were working on 5.1 mixes for the other albums, such as Who’s Next and Quadrophenia. Are these remixes ever likely to be released?
PETE: That’s right. I gave up on Quadrophenia as I decided I really want to re-record a director’s cut of it (the way Jean Michel Jarre has just done with Oxygene). One day I will do this if I get time. Who’s Next, it turns out, is no longer a complete set of masters. An entire side has been stolen from our vaults at some point. These things happen. Someone, somewhere, has it in a cupboard and is waiting for us to die? What then?
marcdilo: What has changed that has led you to work with The Who much more often during this decade than during the 80’s and 90’s?
PETE: I suppose the time away from the band (contractually speaking) from 1982 until 2005 actually gave me some perspective on the music. I still don’t really like performing, though I know I’m very good at it. I’m far from lazy, and I deeply respect and value the fans of my work, but by the end of the ‘70s I think I was just tired and jaded. I was also damaged by booze (and drugs to some extent) and its sudden failure
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to anaesthetize. It took me a long, long time to feel safe to go out into the world of rock again and face the music.
Jvb123: For someone so obviously attuned to style and design, and equally aware of the ‘star’ and ‘fan’ relationship, why have you (seemingly) condoned the Who branded merchandise made available to fans via this website, or indeed recent tours?
PETE: This is another loaded question with a moral thesis in the seams. I wouldn’t use the word ‘condoned’. I don’t see merchandise as a bad thing. I would say that I ‘permitted’ the use of The Who’s name, and as a quarter partner I am sometimes outvoted. This is ‘extra-mural’ work. What matters to me is what matters to me. I can’t divine what matters to you, only attempt to give everyone what they want. I’ve rarely worn brand t-shirts, but some people love them.
lucyd: It sounds like there’s a heartbeat running through the background of the White City song, ‘Come to Mama’. Is it simulated or real? Is it yours? If not, can you give us another cool piece of trivia about that song or album we don’t already know?
PETE: I can’t remember if it was a real heartbeat. When I was a really little kid my mother was a singer. She recorded a version of ‘Embraceable You’ that includes the line ‘Don’t be a naughty baby, come to mama, come to mama do…’ I always thought the song was about me. Turned out I was wrong. In White City the villain’s mother is equally untrustworthy. Who’d be a mother around a male artist?
inspirations_cousin: As far as celebrities go, you seem unusually active on the internet… Why are you so pro-active amid the e-fan community and does this interaction have any bearing upon yourself or your work?
PETE: The internet is just another place to work as an artist. I have to say I am moving away from it at the moment. I feel this website is a good example of what goes on. I ran three websites for many years www.eelpie.com, www.petetownshend.com and www.thewho.com. I paid all the costs, and never charged. £2,000,000 and many, many complaints later, I gave up. It felt as though nothing I did was enough (simply because the more I did the bigger the audience got, and the bigger the audience got the more it cost me to deliver the bandwidth). Matt Kent and I struggled to keep everything afloat right up until the start of the Who tour in 2006, but to be truthful we were both exhausted by the difficulties of running a website with no finance from the Who camp. I turned to the Who camp (Roger) for support during the tour, and as you may know, he demurred. I soldiered on for a while, but in the end sold out to the people who run this site for us, and who hope to cover their costs and possibly make profits by selling
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merchandise and maybe even – one day – music and access to events. It’s a difficult world; everything is free. At the moment the big providers and sellers (like iTunes) need to see that unlike the record companies they are deposing they do not invest in new music and new artists. They need to do something. For me, I’m OK – I have a strong catalogue. For a developing artist, a hit will not allow you to remain an artist. You get one hit, that’s the end. So all we hear are new artists learning to do what they do. That’s wonderful, but I also want to hear artists grow and develop. They need to be able to make commercial mistakes. Record companies, for all their faults, allowed artists to make mistakes. Now – like the internet itself – they are unforgiving; they can only carry the hitmakers.
towser1983: Everyone knows you as a guitarist but you’re also pretty good on piano too. I heard you only started to play when you were around 22 and I was curious as to how you learnt… How did you make the jump from guitar to piano?
PETE: I’m competent on both piano and guitar. I don’t require virtuosity of myself on either instrument, and never have. I require invention and discovery – and passion of course. I’d love to be a truly great guitarist or pianist, but I can do what I need to do. I did start piano late, yes. I just started to play around that time (in 1967), in order to study notation and orchestration for my first proper opera that was going to be called Rael.
When I fell off a push-bike in 1992 part of my physiotherapy routine was to play scales on the piano (and on the guitar). As a result of that accident, which my surgeon said could have prevented me from playing ever again, I worked so hard practising that I went beyond where I had been before and can actually play quite a bit better on both instruments. What has been left behind is drums. I used to be OK, but my wrist is a little too weak now to properly crack the snare.
roywally: Should there be another new Who album, I’d like to know if you would entertain the use of the full touring band (or other musicians) on some of the recordings?
PETE: No. At least this is a straight question. I want to work the way I did on Endless Wire. I loved it. I did use musicians on that album – check the credits. I assume you mean do a conventional rock band studio album. If I were still in a rock band I would do that. (This sets up a question you didn’t ask, and I ask myself right at the end. I hope it explains where I stand.)
wineaman: If you do another Who album would you produce it or are you willing to delegate to someone else?
PETE: Again, I assume you feel I need someone bullying me to do ‘better’ or ‘bigger’. I produced Quadrophenia and Live At Leeds, and I know how to produce the old Who sound better than anyone. However, T-Bone Burnett has already been invited to produce a record with The Who (I asked him before the Plant/Krauss album, by the way). We are looking to do something entirely new, Roger, especially, feels he can do things vocally that have never been tried before.
thealarm34: Would you (and The Who) ever consider a sort of interactive concert, where the fans could chose the songs you play., ie via computer or actually at the show?
PETE: No. Nice idea, but contrary to perceived wisdom I’ve written and published well over 400 songs and I wouldn’t be able to remember them all. Also, I don’t think fans should have this kind of control. Have you come across DeepRockDrive.com? This is a live music website entirely driven by the whim of fans to select music they enjoy best in live concert. Check it out. The Who may try to do a show with them one day (the studio is in Vegas) but I am so contrary I’d probably refuse if fans asked me to play ‘Behind Blue Eyes’. Work it out: if you want us to play ‘Glow Girl’, ask for ‘Behind Blue Eyes’.
iluvawnings: In 2002, Roger’s song, ‘Certified Rose’, as well as ‘Real Good Looking Boy, were recorded during tour rehearsals with John. Considering these were among John’s last performances with the band, would you consider releasing them in some way (this website, as part of a DVD compilation, etc.)?
PETE: ‘Certified Rose’was not recorded. We may have rehearsed it once or twice, Roger felt the song wasn’t quite finished. This material was filmed for what has now become Amazing Journey. Not sure where the footage is now.
clashwho: Why did you take so many of the lead vocals on The Who Sell Out?
PETE: Kit Lambert produced that record. I just did what I was told. Maybe Roger didn’t like or feel comfortable singing the songs in question. It may have been one of the weeks he left the group. We all had our weeks! Roger is much more adventurous these days. I like my voice on that record and it’s my favourite Who record after Quadrophenia. Roger had a real blues voice at that time, a great voice, but it took his work on Tommy to set him free as a singer. Today, he can do anything at all he turns his mind to as long as it’s not in 5/4 time.
Paddington: Pete, they have been playing the Quadrophenia film on television a lot lately and I watch every time it’s on. I know at the end, Jimmy is at Beachy Head, an area notorious for suicides. Does Jimmy go over the cliff with the scooter or is the smashing of Ace’s Vespa simply
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symbolic of Jimmy’s ‘ending’ that part of his life and his breaking with the whole Mod scene in general?
PETE: I don’t know what happens at the end of the film, it has nothing much to do with my original story (in which I am pretty sure Jimmy did not die in fact, but did ‘die’ in that he let go of all the teenage shit that had held him back for so long - as you say). The film is great, but it dodged its own final question really. The open end does however allow for a sequel…
georgwp4: Whatever happened to ‘How Can I Help You, Sir?’? This was the first time that you posted filmed sessions of a song intended for Endless Wire, and as much as I love that album, I remember wondering why ‘How Can I Help You, Sir?’ wasn’t released. Can we expect that to be released on a future Who/PT solo album?
PETE: It’s still knocking around in the archives. I have no plans for it today. I wrote the song after a conversation with Matt Kent. It was not dedicated to him, nor was it about him. We had spoken, and been friendly, attempting to deal with some of the website issues I mentioned above, and I suddenly realized that sometimes we can’t help each other even when our aims are precisely in line. I’m sure Matt felt the same.
halcyondays93: Does The Who possess any more quality audio or video recordings from the early to mid-70s (besides the London Coliseum and Kiburn, which we’ve been told will be released), and are there any plans to release them so the world can have true documentation that The Who is the greatest live band of all time? (A lot of us would love a full ‘73 Quadrophenia show ).
PETE: Not my field of expertise any more. I hung up my job as curator of The Who archive about five years ago when the new Who documentary (Amazing Journey) got moving. Surely it must all have been used by now?
bookworm: Do you feel a difference in your heart between live gigs with the new Who and solo gigs together with Rachel like ITA? Which shows do you prefer more?
PETE: On the past tour I found that each kind of show complemented the other. It got a bit tiring sometimes, but I loved playing almost every day. Roger needs time off to rest his voice. Working with Rachel also allowed us to be together on tour, but have a joint purpose. I came closer to Who fans at her shows than I did at Who shows both physically and emotionally. We both made some good and trusted friends, some of whom are setting these questions today.
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sherid32: Roger often describes himself as the ‘interpreter’ of your lyrics and enjoying finding a “role” to play within the songs structure. However I have read that you consider it important that Roger not deviate much from your phrasing and inflection used on your demos. Which of the above statements is closer to the actual process or is it a little of both?
PETE: I also describe him as my interpreter. Since Roger developed as an actor he has been building a ‘method’ for himself. He seems to want to do more than interpret, he wants to inhabit my songs completely. I adore that of course and feel very spoiled. But I am a composer and I work very hard indeed on my demos to make sure the songs work as delivered. So although I am happy for there to be some deviation, I am not crazy about big changes. The composer is king, but not because he wants to be, he simply has to be. Art is finishing things – and writing a song is finishing a piece of art that can then be ‘interpreted’. But it should not be parodied or used for some purpose the composer feels uncomfortable with, at least not before it has been judged by our audience. Generally I end up preferring what Roger does on my new songs to my own vocal take. Sometimes I prefer my own version. Sometimes Roger’s version simply needs some getting used to.
acash: Will The Who tour in 2009? If so, would the tour be a Tommy 40th birthday theme or would more focus be on a new work?
PETE: I don’t know yet. We may tour later in 2008! I’m keen to do something in 2009 to celebrate 40 years of Tommy, but it might not involve The Who as a band. Of course it would probably involve Roger and me in some form. Anyway, it’s too early to tell what I may want to do next, I’m still doing the laundry from the tour. Seriously, I only got back some of my soiled stage clothes last week.
slipkid90615: You obviously need both talent and hard work to be as successful in the music business as you have been. Which do you think is more important (if either), and how do you perceive your own balance of natural talent vs hard work?
PETE: The author Phillip Pullman said you need three things to succeed as a writer: talent, persistence and luck. He was paraphrasing someone else I think. He said you can get by with two of those, but it’s best if you have all three. I have needed all three. However, there is one thing you also need in the music business and that is willingness to compromise. So much rock and pop is created by teams of people, you might even say teams of egos. But the audience’s needs must be held highest, so you have to let go of a lot of grand ideas and high ideals, and deliver something the audience will recognise and accept. This is not imperiousness, smugness or snobbery on my part, but realism. Sometimes talent gets in the way, do you agree? For example, some guitar
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players play too many notes. Some, thinking they are Miles Davis no doubt, don’t play enough. Compromise doesn’t mean taking a softer path, it means starting to move forwards, reaching the destination. If you are too purist you can end up static. I know from experience how that happens.
bbdawg: Have you have ever considered doing a ‘stripped down’ or semi-acoustic tour of the States and UK with Roger in smaller venues much like the set up for Gotham charity show in 2005. I know Springsteen toured The Ghost of Tom Joad in old auditoriums and opera houses that had seating capacities of two to three thousand throughout the US with some success.
PETE: Interesting last phrase in your question – ‘some success’. Doesn’t sound like much fun to me. We have considered this often. Let me try to make this clear. When I play Who songs with Zak, Rabbit, Pino and Simon – and Roger is singing, I feel as though these wonderful musicians are supporting not just Roger but also me. I also feel they are supporting the audience’s desire to relive old Who songs as they should be played. With passion, fire, commitment, energy, self-sacrifice and humility. We are like a tribute band in a sense, with the advantage that we have two real Who members in our ranks. But we do bring the music to life. If I sat with an acoustic guitar on stage with Roger singing Who songs my job would be to accompany Roger, not bringing Who songs to life as they used to be played, but looking at them in a brand new way. Dylan does this, I could do it, but I don’t think it’s no so natural for Roger and me to reinvent and re-approach our old songs together. Roger and I can both do this in our own way as solo artists. However, when we work together like this I have found that Roger unwittingly, and without intending to, holds the upper hand, and I am too important a musician to dedicate any part of my career to being anyone’s mere ‘accompanist’ (unless it’s for a worthy cause). Now if Roger asked me to accompany him playing other people’s music, I might give a different answer, because that would allow me to express myself in a new way and without reference to any earlier, younger and more vital time. That would be ‘collaboration’ though – and I have little time for that. (I don’t rule it out completely of course, I have collaborated a few times in the past).
jogreg: ‘I Can See For Miles’ is in my opinion, one of the great rock songs. Why is it rarely played live?
PETE: It is very complex. It has six vocal parts, and three guitar parts, for example. That is why we did such a great version of it on the 1989 tour when he had a really big band. The same goes for a number of songs on Quadrophenia – they are rich and deeply layered. They just don’t all work stripped down.
johnfsully3: I read somewhere that you were a bit disappointed about the sales of Endless
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Wire but that more material could be on the way in various ways (standalone record, TBWHM, singles, etc.).
So the question is – how are you planning to advertise and promote the new material?
PETE: I was very disappointed. Paul McGuinness said yesterday in his attack on iTunes in the press that during their tour U2 sold 150 million CDs. (I have a feeling he may have been exaggerating a little). We didn’t even hit a million. Universal feel we didn’t do enough radio and TV. Maybe. Endless Wire was released by Universal whose job it was to advertise it. Our job was to promote, which we did with a 13-month international tour. Sadly the schedule didn’t leave much time for radio and TV. In the future maybe you think things will be different? I think the fact is no one really knows what the future holds, not today.
carriepr: Considering you were educated at art school, have you ever used that training to experiment with other arts, such as painting, sketching or sculpture? We have seen one fine example of your artwork when you displayed your smashed guitar installation on “In the Attic”. Have you ever done anything else like that, and is this something you are interested in pursuing in the future?
PETE: I have a few paintings and drawings. I’m pretty good. But I prefer writing creatively towards song lyrics, and making music. On Siege, mentioned by an earlier questioner, I planned to do a painting or artwork for each track, and did quite a few interesting pieces of work. It’s all a bit Joni Mitchell isn’t it? I love her painterly art. When I’m not working on music stuff I’m resting. I read recently that Ronnie Wood’s San Franciscan agent claimed to have sold $10 million of Ronnie’s paintings. Trouble is Ronnie can spend that on a single party! Good man he is, and a good painter I think.
vfcfireman: Pete, I understand you have a keen interest in sailing and racing. What craft do you currently use?
PETE: I like boats I can handle myself, or with a small crew. I have a share in a Dragon for example, though I haven’t raced it myself yet. The Dragon is just under 9 metres long. I have a larger boat I race in Classics Races. This requires a crew of at least ten during racing, and thus we don’t get out much. When we do get out we do pretty well. I’ve got a lot of cups, some of which I earned myself, some of which I simply have because I paid for the race! I’m crazy about boats, all kinds. I have all kinds. My father used to say that what makes a boat special is that you can always have a cup of tea, at any time. (He probably meant a large whiskey and water, but you know what he meant).
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ibeme: Is there anything that you wish you could do other than what you have accomplished already with your career? Do you have any other big aspirations?
PETE: I aspire only to accept that I am just as likely to produce great new work as never to produce anything else ever again. It seems to be out of my control, and I now understand it always was.
entwistle52698 Are you happy?
PETE: Don’t worry about me.
Now, my question to myself: Pete, are The Who a band or a singing duo? Your new website features Keith Moon and John Entwistle, but they are gone, and cannot be a part of what is happening now on the site. When you tour, you have a band, but it is not The Who, not in a real sense. What’s up with the Who ‘brand’ versus ‘band’ thing?
PETE: I think Roger longs to be in a band again – except perhaps when it comes to dividing the royalties, and I must say it’s good only having to split the meagre profits 50/50. We were both so lucky in The Who, we were a real four man band for so many years. However, I have always been in a position to create a new band if I wanted to. I suppose Roger could have too. I’ve had to face the truth that I don’t really want to. I don’t really like being in a band at all. I like working with musicians, I love it in fact, but creatively I hate the compromises that being in a band places on me. This might simply come down to agreement about when, and when not, to tour. So between 1982 and 2006 I simply refused to even honour The Who name as a band member. I was happy to get together occasionally, but I just didn’t want to be in the old band again and accept its majority rules. Since John’s death everything has changed. Roger and Pete do not make a band. Some people might like to think of us as a band. Some promoters might market us as a band. But we are two members of a band that has now gone forever. What remains is the music. John’s death somehow made that clear to me. We can best honour that old music by gathering great musicians around us. We two can evoke the old Who atmosphere – but by that very act also evoke the enormous vacuum left by Keith and John. It is a compromise.
When John died, Roger and I were able to consider making a new record without pretending to be who we used to be, and without trying to recover our old and youthful spark. We could be who we are today. When fans want us to use our touring musicians in the studio (and Roger says he likes this idea too) it’s because they misunderstand the process. A real band doesn’t need to work together in a studio, they simply don’t exist at all unless they play together. Roger and I can be who we are in any context we choose. Why would we take touring musicians who are so good at
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recreating the mood and excitement of the past into a studio to work on something brand new? It would seem to me to be an exercise in contradiction.
I feel the old music is now best served by honouring the ‘brand’ – what The Who used to stand for, what they still evoke with their old films, records and ideas. Roger, and I, by being honest, best serve the new music. We are older, but we have endless choices. It’s a delicate balancing act to try to serve who we used to be, and who we are today.
I am no longer a member of a band called The Who. I am Pete Townshend. I used to be in a band called The Who. It does not exist today except in your dreams.
I am a song-writer and guitarist who – if I create the right setting – can walk onto a stage with my old buddy Roger Daltrey and evoke the old magic of The Who in the dreams of the audience. It never becomes The Who in my dreams. I’m so sorry, it never happens for me. I think it may happen sometimes for Roger – you’ll have to press him for an answer.
This is a pedantic view that many fans feel is unnecessary for me to express. It’s sour grapes, and defies their loyalty to who we once were and who they now take us to be. However, in some of the questions above, I feel the inquisitor is living in their dreams – that they can ask me a question about a forthcoming tour or recording session as though I too inhabit their particular dream. I inhabit my own dream. In that dream I have survived, and so has Roger, and we can continue to do our job of getting out of the way. There are many Who fans who have just as good a time watching one of the many fantastic Who tribute bands as watching Roger and Pete (and their supporting musicians) pretend to be who we used to be. As I said earlier, as a sort of tribute band, Roger and Pete and Who2 have an advantage – two of us are still alive.
Rock is dead, long live rock.
Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 2008-02-15 07:42 by whitem8.