The Who Puts the Bomp by John Swenson
Who night. The crowd waits reverently, attention vaguely focused on the massive half-ton fortress of amplifiers looming in the shadows of the dimly lit stage. The house lights go down ... two guitars are brought out to Pete Townshend's side of the stage, amplifiers are switched on and the stage lights are turned full up. The theatre becomes deadly silent, everyone focusing intently on the stage, charging it with a palpable energy. The Who walk out into the warm glow of cheering adulation, and the show begins . . .
Largely due to the efforts of bands like The Who, no one questions the power of rock anymore. Rock's power involves magic. There's magic every time a group steps up on stage and an audience responds with that strange exalting welcome, the kind of love reserved for nothing less than gods. When the first chord sounds to begin a concert, when the show reaches a high point fusing the group and the audience through the music, the magic is working well.
Every band shares a piece of that magic at one time or another, but The Who are that magic. It's in them as if it were a part of the act, along with the WEM PA and the cooler of beer and soda behind Entwistle's amps. They use the magic like the Stones use it, like the Beatles used to use it, the way only a real Rock band knows how. And they have been doing it steadily for years.
Peter Townshend calls the Who stage a sacred place. He's serious about that, just as much as people that come to the concerts are -- they believe in Rock. It's all part of the magic. Townshend doesn't have to play anymore if he doesn't want to. Ever since the popularity of Tommy, The Who could have gone for the big bank roll and split -- lots of bands do that. They could have played Madison Square Garden a dozen times. They haven't because they believe in Rock and in themselves as one of the music's prime forces. They are exacting and uncompromising as performers, idols and musicians, and what's more, they know what they want in terms of what's best for Rock, and are never satisfied with less.
In England, The Who have always been mammoth. Their fans there claim them to be the greatest band in the world, even greater than the Stones. In America, there's been a more dreamlike quality to their rise. They came here in 1965 through the back door, playing the Murray the K Easter show. They didn't leave without making converts, and each successive time more and more people went to see them on the strength of word of mouth. Thus The Who built an American audience without the aid of the standard media myth makers. Their initial following consisted of the first rock underground, the kids who were looking for something more than what was offered on the AM radio.
Their strength was in their performance, a vibrancy that made a lasting impression on audience, made them come back to see the group again and again, made them want to get as close as possible. Here was power -- partly in the music itself, which was overwhelmingly loud and irresistibly driving, and partly in the genius of the group, in the sensitivity of Townshend's compositions primarily, but also the theatricality of the group on stage. The Who were always the ideal image of a rock band, each member contributing his unique part that added up to a strangely complimentary image -- Townshend's schizophrenic awareness, Daltrey's arrogance, Moon's clownishness and Entwistle's cool made up a self-contained unit, perfectly balanced.
But the best thing about The Who was that they never deserted their audience, they always came back. No English band can claim the distinction of being on the road as long and as consistently as The Who. They realized the primary importance of Rock wasn't in records, but in live performance, and they followed their instincts.
Finally, with the release of Tommy the publicity machine caught up with them and the rest of the world found out about The Who, "the group that did the rock opera." In America, Tommy was the best and worst friend The Who ever had, putting them at once in the limelight (when they would perform it) and on the spot (when they wouldn't). Before they could move on to their next goal, they had to make people forget Tommy. So the summer before the last night of the tour, telling the audience they wouldn't be back for a year.
They came back with a new act and a new album, appropriately entitled Who's Next. We interviewed them at their hotel in Chicago on the final day of their tour. [August 19, 1971, my note.] The first interview with John Entwistle, had been arranged for the night before, so Entwistle was expecting us. We found him quietly watching television in the outer room of his suite while he toyed with several plastic skeletons.
Interviewer: I'll ask you a really obvious question first: How did you get the nickname "The Ox?"
JE: Ah, since I was the biggest in the group. We all have sort of appropriate nicknames . . . Roger's nickname is "The Dip," which comes from Dippity Do, which he used to use on his hair to straighten it. Pete's nickname is "Bone" cause he's so tall and skinny. Keith's is "Sponge," or "Barney," like Barney Rubble of the Flintstones, he's always got five o' clock shadow.
I: Are these long standing names?
JE: Oh, yeah, about three or four years.
I: How did you get together the people that you were going to use on your solo album "Smash Your Head Against the Wall?" Was it a conscious decision that you needed this kind of drummer, or . . .
JE: I'd been puttin' off bookin' time for the album for quite some time cause I didn't feel that I had enough numbers to complete the album, so I kept hanging back and waiting to compose the rest of the material. And I went down to the office and Cyrano, the guitarist, works at Track because he 's too lazy to join a group, and he decided to give me a push to do the album while I was there. We were looking for a drummer but we just couldn't find one and he was pretty friendly with Jerry Shirley so we got hold of Jerry. He sounds a bit like Townshend. He plays that way because he's seen him so many times.
I: How long had you been planning to do an album? Had this been a long time idea of yours?
JE: Yeah, since Tommy, really, before we started recording Tommy we were thinking about doing solo albums . . . I'd never accumulated enough compositions 'cause I hadn't composed seriously until like six months before I started the album I suddenly got into composing a lot more stuff.
I: So you don't consider the stuff on the Happy Jack album serious?
JE: No, not really. It was just the first attempt at composing. "Whiskey Man" was like six different numbers all rolled into one that I sort of joined together. "Boris the Spider" took me about ten minutes to write, you know it was just a sort of a brainstorm I had - it just came at once, the tune and the words.
I: The themes of those two songs were more or less carried onto your album.
JE: Yeah. There's another drinking song, "Pick Me Up (Big Chicken)." It's only got that "Big Chicken" there because right, I think it's about the second verse the guitar goes ba-bppmh [he trumpets a chicken noise through his nose].
I: When did you decide to finally do the album, did you have to write a whole bunch of stuff to do it or did you finally come up with it.. . .
JE: No, I had about ten numbers of which I only sort of attempted to do about six, and, we were still short two numbers. During the time we recorded the backing tracks, I did quick demos, just wrote out the music for these two other songs I had in me head, but just never decided to sort of get them out. Another one, "My Size," was just written in the studio, we wrote the chord progressions and then I went home and composed the tune and the words.
I: There was a lot of death imagery in the album. People have accused you of being morbid in the past, though I'm not sure if that's quite what it is
JE: I've always been obsessed with the idea of Heaven and Hell. Not obsessed that it's true, but just obsessed that it's sort of legend, there's such a person as the devil. My family's not the sort of family to be serious about death anyway, we've got rather a sick sense of humor, the whole family, that is, my father, my grandfather before him . . .
I: It's hereditary.
JE: Yeah, it's hereditary, right. So I don't mind jokin' about death at all. I'd written this number quite a time ago called "Teddy's Funeral" which I retitled "Ted End" and changed a few of the words. That's about four years old, and I wrote "Heaven and Hell" about the same time, those two numbers are connected. They were written in the same sort of spirit, I was writing horror songs at that time, "Boris the Spider" etc.
I: Was "Ted End" inspired by someone you actually knew?"
JE: "Ted End" came from a conversation that my grandmother had with a neighbor. I changed the name, but all those things were more or less said, that his children had immigrated to Australia, they wouldn't come back 'cause they didn't have the money, and his wife got married again and wouldn't come either. He wasn't a very popular bloke 'cause he was pretty miserable. There's a whole section on the album that's connected one part to another, it starts off with "Heaven and Hell," then we've got the funeral section, then "You're Mine," which is like the devil saying "there's no such place as heaven anyway."
I: Isn't that song also saying that as long as you're human, "You're Mine," I mean as long as you have human feelings?"
JE: There just . . . isn't anybody that hasn't sinned in some way, I mean, everyone's trod on an ant before, and things, like that, and that means you've broken one of the commandments, so you go to the devil. The end of it, it's like the devil sayin' "Everybody's mine at some time . . . you'll enjoy your stay 'till you're reborn someday," it's like going to the devil . . .
I: "You're Mine" ties into "Number 29 (External Youth)" too -- is there a relationship between the two songs other than just that rhythmic passage?
JE: The only connection is that that's sort of an interval number, it's talkin' about tryin' to look young while you're alive, bringing it back to earth for awhile.
I: Bein' deceitful more or less? . . . not being truthful about what you really are?
JE: Ah, yes. Having plastic surgery and all things like that, putting a false thing over to the public.
I: What about things like "What Kind of People Are They" and "What Are We Doing Here?" They don't seem to fit in.
JE: Well, the actual shape of the album, when the numbers are associated with each other, that doesn't begin until "Heaven and Hell." The rest are just some of the recent things I wrote. On "What Are We Doing Here" the words were written in the States, they're very homesick words, we were stuck in Houston, Texas, the television had finished, there was no booze, we'd done a terrible show and I'd been away for four weeks and was startin' to get a bit homesick so I wrote those words. I wrote part of the tune when I got back, then I finally finished it when we were actually recording the album. On "What Kind of People Are They," the first thing I wrote was the brass section, the beginning, and then I'd written this song about people in uniforms because they always get so officious. Waiters and policemen, you know, I've been turned out of so many restaurants 'cause I didn't have a tie on. I've got so many parking tickets, I could wallpaper a room with 'em . . . traffic wardens. In every traffic jam in England, when you get to the front of it there's a policeman sort of directing things but he ends up causing a backup himself. So I had those three things in mind and I joined them together in different verses.
I: So the album is actually three or four more or less throw on cuts and then from "Heaven and Hell" on, one unified idea? How does the last song "I Believe in Everything" fit? It's bit of a ringer, it throws you off.
JE: I've been saying a lot of stuff that I didn't really believe in. I sort of wrote it for the heads, really, the people thinking, "ah, so that's where Entwistle's brain's at, he really sort of believes in the devil and hell and all that sort of business." So I wrote a number that touches on reincarnation, then goes into the absurd, with Father Christmas and the whole bit and right at the end just to prevent the heads from thinking that I did believe in everything like I was saying, 'cause they always seem to believe that you actually believe in your own words. I believe in some of them but not all of them, so I just wrote the joke in to throw them off, and it's done it.
I: Yes (laughing), it has. I think the overall image of the album, aside from "Heaven and Hell" and all that is like a description of middle class sensibility. There's something about the whole album that reeks of that- the idea of guys who can't go home because they're too drunk, which ties into that song "My Wife" from the new Who album. How do you relate to that whole thing now that you're sort of removed from it, you've finished the album.
JE: I don't really . . . my circle of friends isn't within the pop world, you know, when I'm not working I strictly divorce myself from the pop business unless there's something I wanted to go and see or if I want to go out to a club or something. But I try to stay away from it, just to give my head a rest. I do enough in my own studio at home to cater to my outside tastes.
I: You do what you would consider serious composing alone, at home, that you don't really intend to use for albums and stuff?
JE: Yeah, I've written a couple of classical things on manuscript.
I: You must have felt awfully frustrated at times with The Who.
JE: That's how it became, because I've got the two numbers on Tommy and I started to do a lot of writing during that year and I liked a lot of numbers when I'd written them, but then they suddenly seemed like rubbish to me. I got these all mounted up and cut them as demos in my own studio and then Tommy came along and I had to scrap all that stuff to do the two numbers for Tommy. Then we had that live album which gave me time to start composing again. Well, I just really started to get frustrated, if I hadn't done the solo album, which was the easiest way out for me, I might have left the band. It was getting that bad . . . It was the only thing for me to do because I had a reputation of being the quiet member, which I am on stage, visually.
JE: It [w]as the only way out for me, to let people know that I was an entity, I was a composer as well, I had my own musical brain. I wasn't a robot, I wasn't a cardboard cutout on stage. I had a mind there as well It was boredom. I could never . . . the only time I ever really enjoyed myself on stage was when I was allowed to do something free form. I didn't like playing set arrangements, I couldn't really get off of the other stuff. Tommy I grew to like. We played it some many times The group always accused me of falling asleep on stage and carrying on playing, they'd look and they'd see my eyes closed, and I'm leaning against the amplifiers. I must admit, some gigs I just don't remember doing, I'd just sort of get up there and play and then it's finished.
I: You didn't like Tommy at first?
JE: I think it's just an association of ideas really. It took us eight months altogether, six months recording, two months mixing. We had to do so many of the tracks again, because it took so long we had to keep going back and rejuvenating the numbers, that it just started to drive us mad, we were getting brainwashed by the whole thing, and I started to hate it. In fact I only ever played the record twice- ever. I don't think Tommy was all about [what] was on the record- I think it's on the stage. The message is much stronger on stage than on record.
I: The Who have always seemed to work that way. Recorded versions of songs don't take shape until played on stage for awhile.
JE: Yes, like on "Cobwebs and Strange," the brass band sort of thing really makes me crack up. Our manager at that time was completely nuts- he had us marching around in band formation around the studio because he wanted that going away and coming back sound. And like we were marching around this monitor speaker at one end of the studio, which already had the bass guitar, drums and guitar track on it, we'd done that already and were playing it back on the monitor speaker and marching around with Pete leading, playing a recorder, me playing a tuba, Roger was playing bum notes on a trombone behind me and Keith had two straps on two cymbals, doing that while marching around the studio. And every time we got to the monitor speaker we realized we were out of time because by the time we got to the other end of the studio we couldn't hear the backing track. If we'd worn cans we could have gotten tangled up, so we had to finally track it standing still but every time we play it live I'm reminded of that time marching around the studio.
I: When you were gonna do Tommy, how did your two songs fit into the larger concept of the thing, is it that Pete came to you and said "I have holes to be filled here" or something?
JE: No, Pete said that there were two characters that he thought he himself couldn't do as good a job as me in describing. One was a homosexual uncle and the other was a cruel cousin, which were supposed to be two of Tommy's traumatic experiences, that and the acid queen. I found it so easy that I'd written "Fiddle About," with the character of Uncle Ernie, by the time I'd got back to the room. If I've got a subject, an idea for a song, then it comes almost immediately.
I: What about the brass on your album? You originally played brass, so it's not something you decided to pick up to add to the sound.
JE: Right. The Who always wanted to use the whole brass sections on albums, played by me, but The Who had also always prided themselves on being able to play songs from the albums on stage. It is important, though, because the group would have busted up if we hadn't played on stage. Cause that's the only time we really had anything to do with each other, the only time we were really ever together. That's the only time we fit together because we're so completely different from each other. We don't socialize. In the studio we're always sort of grumpy, everyone pissed off and going in all sorts of opposite directions 'cause everyone's been to the pubs before the session. And it seems to me to be a hell of an existence, just going into the studio recording your latest album, then sitting back and wondering how it's gonna do. Instead of getting out and playing it for people, which is the only thing to do or else you get eaten away.
I: And, the album in front of you adds so much credibility to the new act, which must be important?
JE: Tommy had just been released when we played it quite a few times a while back during a tour of the states. At first, people were going "Yeah, too much," mostly because it was such a mammoth. But as we got on with the tour, it started to mean something to everybody, it started to work (At this point the telephone rings, and Entwistle picks it up. "Hello? Yes . . . ah, hello Mr. Fox [he's talking to the drummer for the James Gang, Jim Fox]. An Army problem? . . . Really? . . . Oh, Jesus Christ, ha! Yeah . . . I've got this fantastic knife if you want to cut your toe off, heh, heh." Entwistle hung up and explained to me that Jim Fox had just been drafted.)
I'm gonna try and keep guitar off my next album, if I can . . . There's quite a few numbers on this album where I haven't used electric guitar at all, like "What Are We Doing Here" just has acoustic guitar, "You're Mine" has just acoustic on it . . . On my numbers I prefer a piano texture, rather than a guitar. Mainly because I either write on bass guitar or in my head, just transfer it to manuscript paper, or piano. I write mainly on piano now, and I can't play lead guitar, so there isn't a guitar part on the demo and the whole number takes shape around piano, brass, and whatever other instruments I'm using, so the guitar just doesn't matter. If you play the same figures as on the demo, then you don't need the guitar. You can just stick an acoustic on the  thicken it out a bit, jangle wise.
I: What's your next album going to be like?
JE: It'll still be black humor but it won't be about death and funerals and so much. There might be a couple of numbers about old age. It's sort of instruments to be used that I'm looking forward to and the way it's going to be recorded, 'cause we've got our own engineer now, Glyn Johns. He's sort of signed to us, we don't need a producer, we need a sort of producer-engineer who can just sit in the box and give us the sound we want while we're outside, since we can't sit in the control booth and play at the same time.
But as I said, on the next album I want to try to get rid of the guitar almost completely. I bought some new instruments on this tour. I bought a French horn because my old one seized up, that's why I didn't use it on the album. I've bought a mellophonium which is like a French horn only it's easier to play -- it's like a French horn only it's straightened out, I bought a piccolo trumpet so I can get some sort of high range, and a bass trombone so I can get some trombone sounds.
I: You're gonna have to do a lot of tracking over . . .
JE: Oh, I did on this one too. On "No. 29" we used four tracks with stereo drums, bass guitar and rhythm guitar, then there were two electric piano tracks, four trombones, four trumpets and four voices. So on a 16 track we still had to mix down to get it all down. Oh yeah, also on all the vocal tracks we stuck on a percussion track as well.
I: That's getting a bit complex.
JE: Yeah. It took me three weeks to record.
I: It's amazing that it can keep so much life to it, doing that much overdubbing.
JE: If you get enough energy in the backing track, and if you don't relax when you're overdubbing, if you really sort of play with a lot more energy all the way through -- I mean, I must have drunk about fifty bottles of brandy doing that album . . . I'm gonna do a bass solo on the next album -- it's about time I did another bass solo . . .
I was struck by Entwistle's urbanity. Notwithstanding his notoriously morbid sense of humor, he behaved with the exacting intent of a rough Scottish nobleman. It seemed that of the four members of the group, Entwistle would be the one most approaching sanity.
I left John with a hearty handshake and walked down to Pete Townshend's suite. He answered the door with a smile and led us into the outside room, where a few friends were sitting. He gave one a guitar pick as they left, and after gazing intently at the color TV which had been silently presenting a film of people on horseback chasing each other through the snow, he reached over to switch it off and settled down on his couch
I: You're about to finish your first tour of America in a year, and the first tour after Tommy. Looking back on it, what do you think of your comeback?
PT: We came back with a very weird stand on things. The first part of the year we really spent trying to put together a film, which was basically gonna be the output of our troubles. In actual fact we spent a lot of time doing other things involved in music, stage act, hardware and things like that. Trying to improve ourselves so that when we finally did get to the point of making the film there would be a new, better Who, as it were, encased in that to give the film an added impact as well. And this proved to be probably the biggest waste of time the group's ever got into since the very beginning. Basically because it was a kind of aimless thing that we were involved in.
I: You mean too vague?
PT: Yeah. With this backlog of effort we feel now that we've worked probably harder in the last year than we ever have. Not only did we have to . . . I mean I've worked myself on something which you'll never see to the point of like nervous breakdown -- I've never 'ad, but I close, I've never come across something like this before -- I've always felt an abundance of energy, particularly if it's one of my projects, I've always thought "well, fuck it, it's my thing, I've got to push it through, convince everyone that it's good and so on" and put more energy into it than other people. But in this particular case it went on and on and on and on and the time limit, after about six months with no product, only problems, and only me involved in it and the rest of the group gettin' bored, John gettin' involved in makin' his own album, Roger ringing me up every day tryin' to dissuade me from doing the project, y'know, saying what we really need to do is to work on the road. Ah, we eventually gave up, and to put it quite frankly we just went back into the old mold. We went into the studio, I picked out a few of the numbers I'd had for the film project, recorded them . . .
I: Which ones?
PT: Eh, "Pure and Easy," "Gettin' in Tune," "Won't Get Fooled Again," "Love Ain't For Keeping," and "Behind Blue Eyes." We did a very straight album and then it naturally followed that we would do a very straight tour, for some reason, so we just came over and we toured, really having nothing to do except promote a new album.
I: Do you really think that Who's Next is that straight?
I: But the addition of the synthesizers brings about a change from The Who's former dynamic form?
PT: I like to think so. When we produce ourselves we might be a little bit embarrassed by our musical identities on record- we might not like particular things, idiosyncracies that make us more The Who. So this one's kind of like an un-Who record, in a lot of places on stuff like "Baba O'Riley" the lyrics man fuck-all, you know, but it's probably one of the best vocal performances I've ever heard Roger do, and yet he's singin' about nothin' -- that's very unfortunate, I think (laughter).
I: What do you mean, he's singing about nothing?
PT: He's singing . . . about nothing! . . . how's it go: "Out here in the fields I fight for my meals ", I mean, it's a bit o' the script it's a bit of the script of the movie which never 'appened.
I: Unless it's just me putting what I think about the group onto this, but I know I'm not alone in thinking this . . . I don't know what you were doing with that film, but the feeling of it translates itself to the album?
PT: That's good. We hoped it would do that because we figured . . . at first we were gonna do a double album . . . I'm gettin' around to the way we felt comin' back to the states (laughter) . . . we were gonna do a double album because we thought, well, this is eight months of our lives, right? For better or worse let's put it down . . . 'cause I've got a whole roomful of these really weird sounds and stuff, a lot of it in quadrophonics, which we want to use on the stage, special collage tape effects and everything.
The stuff on the album is quite unadventurous, and I mean they're not pure electric sounds, they're musical sound, they're rock sounds which celestially work on you. We were gonna do a whole thing, then we figured it would be far better, much more solid to just pick the best stuff out and make it a good, hard, rock solid album 'cause we were very, very afraid of doin' what The Beatles did, just layin' ourselves wide open like they did with their double albums and making it so that it was too much, too many unlinked ideas which to the public would look like untogetherness, despite the fact that it's always there in the background.
We decided on a single album because, really it was the straightest thing to do, basically every angle, every tangent that we went off on we eventually arrived back, if you like, to where the group used to be. The more times this happened the more times it reinforced Roger's stand which was that the group was perfectly allright as it was and that, basically I shouldn't tamper with it.
I: Were you tampering with the group itself?
PT: Oh yeah, I was actually . . . yeah, in a way. But if we want to go into that it's better to go into that as a separate thing. So really what my position is at the moment is . . . obviously very, very happy that the group got over the hump and that I had the guts to back down, if you like. It's a lot harder to back down sometimes than it is to back up. We're here and we're working and we've got an album out that is the culmination of all that effort. But comin' over to the states is worth the same thing. It's nice because we're here, because we're doin' it, but I still have the same needs inside of me, I still have the same . . .
PT: Frustrations, if you like, but more than that- ambitions for rock and roll and for the group. It makes me impatient to have to go through the tour and have to go through Who's Next and everything in order to arrive at where we're gonna have to arrive at if rock and roll is gonna continue and if The Who is gonna keep climbing. 'Cause you can't stop just because somebody's decided that that's a pinnacle.
I: Lots of groups do that. Lots of groups just say, "this is where are" and leave it at that. Tommy would have been- must have been at least one point a really inviting peak to ride along on.
PT: Not really, 'cause . . . it just made me feel maybe if we could do something like THAT, then we could do something with public performance, which is really what it's all about. I always used to imagine how potent something like Tommy would be if it was never a record, if it always was a stage performance. And I started to think in that sort of way, that recordings first and performances afterwards were somehow getting to be upside down. I still very much feel that.
I: Who albums have always seemed like blueprints for what the group was going to do on stage, and the stage versions of the stuff are usually so much better, but I don't know about Who's Next, 'cause now that you're putting synthesizers and stuff on it you're putting a great dividing line between the album material and the material on stage.
PT: One of the points about that is that we've always regarded albums as being jumping off points for the stage act . . . in actual fact the way we've gone around arriving at a stage act from Who's Next is very much the way we used to- we've taken the numbers that are practically possible on the stage and- the best and most adventurous being "Won't Get Fooled Again" and that, really, is the feather in my cap at the moment, that's what I'm really relying on because that was the basis, that was the first number that we did. But it has to be transcended, though right? "Won't Get Fooled Again" is great because it's the kind of stabbing rhythm that you can play to. Some of them are more subtle, but we'll learn them and we'll do 'em, because...
I: Do you eventually see that as . . .
PT: As, absolutely. Not only that but I definitely want to start using cartridge tapes on stage. You hit a foot button and you get the sound. And also processing the voice through the synthesizer and also settin' up synthesizers to play rhythms. They have these things called sequences on 'em. You do all the work before the show, you set the thing up then you start it going and play on top of that. Once the group establishes a way of monitoring the effects of the tapes or whatever, we're OK. The big problem of this first eight months of work, in a way, was that every technical bridge we came to was very hard to cross because we were trying to do everything all at once, trying to make the film, invent new Who, make incredibly big strides in music, write a whole new load of new numbers, I was tryin' to write a film script, we were trying to service a quadrophonic PA, we were up to our ears in it and getting really nowhere very fast.
I: And, you came out of it with "Won't Get Fooled Again."
PT: Yeah (laughter all around).
I: So you see the new Who -- I hesitate to use that phrase -- Who prime, perhaps, as a sort of electronic bath.
PT: We are electric musicians, after all. The guitar is a stepping off point . . . the guitar has become if you like the violin of rock orchestra. It's the instrument through which identities and personalities are established. You can much more identify a guitarist, even, than a violinist. . . it's become the instrument which is almost like a voice, there are different sort of sounds that are made from different ways of playing and it's like . . . you can recognize guitarists.
So there's always that bit of humanness, if you like, but it's only a breaking off point because a guitar is not that much just a guitar, but once it becomes electrified it's turned into a giant instrument which can play to 60,000 people. It can also do a lot of other things, a guitar can be the control center for a synthesizer . A guitar can go into a synthesizer and have it's sound taken apart and put back together again in a different form, so that you're playing the guitar, but the actual sound that comin' out is a completely different thing. On the album, on Who's Next, there's a very simple one which we use with the ARP synthesizer called an envelope follower, where you plug the guitar in and you get a sort of fuzzy wah-wah sound.
I: That's on Going Mobile." So that's how you get that incredible sound.
PT: But the guitar itself was controlling the amount of filter sweep. When you hit the note the filter went Bwaaumm! And when the string stopped the filter closed so you got nothing.
I: The synthesizer part on "Baba O'Riley" is supposed to be your personality chart or something, isn't it?
PT: Yeah. It's really difficult to explain because the intentions were good but the way it all came out was a bit cockeyed. I was trying to do what is really, I suppose, a very John Cage type thing which was to take . . . it was my "to make rock more reflective" crusade. We bypass all the bullshit and go straight down to the "soul" as it were, and get the music from there. In "Baba O'Riley that's about as near as I ever got to it.
I: The effect of "Baba O'Riley" is really strange. There's another song on the album that's strange too, and that's "Song is Over." Why is that, or how did you come by that?
PT: That was the very last song in the film. Basically what happens in the film script . . . It's an age when overpopulation and pollution and all that kind of stuff has forced man into a totally artificial existence. He lives out his experience in his life in a cocoon- it's a very stock science fiction idea called an experience suit. You put on a suit and you live programs, if you like, for your experience. Everyone's in tubes on the ground because up on top . . . there's an elite -- it costs a lot for an experience suit but it's regarded as the best thing to do for your kids -- get them an experience suit and they grow in it and they're away from the trouble of the surface. And on the surface, that's where all the bad things go down, that's where all the scum are, that's where all the hippies are and the farmers. The heroes of the thing are the scum of the surface which is meant to be the lower classes and the people in the experience suits.
The Festival Hall in London is taken over and various experiences take place like . . . orgies and football matches and everything you can conceive of. But this has become a kind of theatre -- like an art form in itself -- to provide good experiences for people on the experience suits. Art is taken way, way beyond what it is now, that is, something to be appreciated, for it IS life, it's what you GET.
And on the other hand is this guy who I called "Bobby," for a gag, who decides that it's all bullshit and that only one thing is gonna put everything right and that's rock and roll. And he's an old rock and roll musician, and he talks a lot about his memories of the old days which is basically just me, rapping. He was gonna put on a six month concert event which people came to and they put up a force field so that no one could get in, and then they just did it- indulged in a good old fashioned rock and roll concert. The people who come are regular people, but they're the scum off the surface, there's a few farmers there, that's where the thing from "Baba O'Riley" comes in.
What eventually happens is that the whole thing gets really big, the government decides that the concerts have to be stopped because they see it as a developing thing taking things out of their control, 'cause once people are in experience suits, they're under the government's control.
It ends up, basically, with an amazing day. Bobby gets everybody's pieces of music together and it turns into basically what was gonna be . . . I was gonna use "Baba O'Riley" for this which like started everybody going, started everybody dancing around, and the thing at the end . . . "Baba O'Riley" was originally thirty minutes long and the way you hear it now is all the high points just shoved together and there's lots and lots of passages in between which were just supposed to be shots of the dancing. The pitch gets bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger... the force field goes down at a given moment, the government troops come in and as they walk in, Bobby is up on the platform and he gets shot by the government official and he falls off the balcony. As he hits the ground, all the kids rush in to catch him and as he hits the ground they all disappear, and that was just gonna be the end of it, right? But the way it's written is that everybody that was taking part in the rock concert disappears but nobody else does and they're just standing there, looking, and they don't know what has happened to the people, right? They've gone. And that's when "Song is Over" starts. We had it played by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Da Band.
The whole point is that all the hardware that is used, that they use in the theatre, is the hardware that was used to program the experience suits, so everyone in the experience suits is dead because they've had no experience, no food, no nothing. The kids have disappeared, and the only people left are the farmers and the government official and a few scattered individuals, and it's just like a wasteland sort of thing. That's like a rough synopsis of what it's all about, and "Song is Over" was like the last song. That's why it's kind of weird, it's like a mixture of being sad and wistful but at the same time there's a high point.
I: There's a happiness to it. It's a feeling of release.
PT: Because you know basically that the kids have gone somewhere . . .
Writing it was good for me just to sort of say "well, really this is what I wanna see happen, this is what rock is capable of doing." But not in such an obvious science fiction-y sort of way. I mean, science fiction is today, if you like but I mean it's . . . it was the vehicle I chose to write around because I read mostly science fiction and I felt it enabled me to get away with preposterous statements.
I: Basically what you keep saying about rock is, "the magic is gone. Rock and roll can go up to a new point and what we're trying to do is get it there." You're trying to do what Bobby was trying to do in the story. . .
PT: Yeah, yeah. What we really feel is that . . . we have a big responsibility because we're capable of doing IT. Or moving towards it, I mean, I obviously don't care if anything quite as sensational as what happens in the script actually happens, but I do care about having an audience to play to, and I do care about them loving me and me loving them, I mean I do care about the experiences that I've had on the stage being very precious ones, and that, in America in particular I've known the deepest experiences on the stage, and I feel that slipping away because of the fact that rock is an accelerating medium. It's always accelerating, it's always moving faster and faster and faster and faster. As soon as it starts to level off and plane off, it might not decrease in speed, it might remain, alright so rock still does what it was doing last year, there's another rock opera, there's another this, there's another that, there's another superstar era and so on and so on and so on. But if it doesn't keep accelerating, it's not reflecting the changes in kids, because the kids are still accelerating, life accelerates, you wha' I mean? It doesn't ever stop going faster and faster and faster and faster. Evolution doesn't, evolution is on a logarithmically increasing sort of plan, and so is everything else, science does it, and Rock has to do it. And when Rock levels off and starts to rest on its laurels, that's when I start to feel pain, y'know . . .
I: We're in a dry period.
PT: Well, I don't mind the dry periods, they're very necessary . . .
I: Well it happens every now and then.
PT: A lot of people have accused me of probably what's a very real accusation is that I can't wait for the next bg thing to happen, and that also I'm afraid that it might not be The Who that is it. Both those are very true, but mostly the fact remains that we won't exist anywhere else other than in rock. And the only place where we CAN exist, now, is in front. For us, and for the audience and for everyone. We've pushed ourselves into this position, and there's only one way to go and that's further up. It's not really an upness, though, that I'm talking about, it's not a one-upmanship over the next man but it's like -- let's call it deeper, which is a better word.
I: What do you feel now in relation to this? It's been a year and you came back. A year is a long time to be gone, almost too long, but you came back I think in time, you know, to keep it going.
PT: Well, I think in some cases we came back in time but in others it wouldn't really matter if we hadn't, because, quite honestly I don't think there was anything to miss.
I: You just said that things keep accelerating . . .
PT: Well, right, but the group has to do what it's capable of. When we try to do what we're not capable of, we quite simply don't succeed. I think it's unfortunate, for example, that the Stones missed out on two years of American history, but it doesn't really matter . . .
I: To them?
PT: I dunno, I mean I don't think it really matters in the whole scheme of things. I don't think it really matter if The Who drop dead tomorrow. But I mean . . .
I: To The Who it matters.
PT: In a sense it does, but I mean the people it should really matter to is, y'know, the rock nation if y'like, because we stand to lose most by their loss. I think, basically, because we're the ones that take the somewhat flippant and sometimes very careless instabilities and insecurities of young people and live them out. And that can be very tough, you know what I mean? You're taking on a lot of frustrations of the people, but when the people are very, very frustrated the group becomes very, very, very frustrated. It's like one of those situations . . . you're not just reflecting, as such, you're also living out a very extreme case -- this is when you're on the road, obviously . . . this is why it's so great to be a fucking English band, because you can go home and you can look, and you can remember, and you can think and you can pull yourself back together again and get more strength.
I: There was something you said before that I wanted to jump on, but I forgot what it was . . . It has to do with your relation to the audience . . . your commitment . . .
PT: We understand it but it's really hard to talk about it, it's one of those things you have to do. We definitely developed a sixth sense about where the audience's heads are at a certain time, but we're gettin' turned around a bit at the moment because our sixth senses suddenly seem to be working in different ways. In other words, I might get up on stage and decide the audience are a bummer, and I might decide to use commando tactics on 'em. Roger might decide that this is a very pleasant evening and that he feels very much at home and that it's a nice, easy, friendly audience and that he's gonna play this one straight. Keith might decide that he feels a bit of lunacy is in order and so everybody decides to do a different sort of tactics. I think that indicates that the group are facing audiences much more as individuals at the moment, and much less as a group. That again brings us back to the point that to be a group, really, you have to be more fully intimidated by the audience, you have to be more fully pigeonholed by the audience. To be a group you have to be a group because the audience say you are a group. When the group gets bigger than the audience then they start findin' out about you as people and start watching for certain expressions and this and that they don't see you as a mass, they see you as four people that, that . . . are oversized . . . it's like having four great big . . . like having a man and a woman on stage that call themselves man and wife. Taking a tab of acid, if you like, right? And lookin' at them and seein' that there's no way these two people are really connected (laughing).
No way, whatsoever, that the whole thing is a complete and total joke, and that the connection which they are aiming at is way, way, way ahead in their future. But for the moment they're very separate but they happen to be walking in the same direction together . . . some of the time. And I feel very much under that kind of rock analysis, and one which is very very drug oriented. You're strongest when you're a group, and when you're working together, and when you're very sure of yourself, than in the state we are now. We know we're not gonna break up . . . ah . . . but we want to.
I: You want to break up.
PT: Yeah. I think there's that sort of thing with the band, y'know.
I: I thought that was alleviated when John put out his own album.
PT: No, I mean that . . . it's not that kind of breakin' up, like "we want to break up," we don't sit around and say I wish we could break up . . . d'y'know wha' I mean, we want to fly apart. Holding four guys together is like . . . it's three people that each member of the group has got to deal with and all the time on an everyday working basis and it just gets, it gets to be that you spend so much energy in holdin' a group together that you don't have that much left for facin' up to an audience on a positive basis. It's not like . . .
I: Do you feel now that you're in command, that you can dictate exactly to the audience?
PT: You were right the first time. I really get that- the feeling that we're strongest now, we do the best performances when we walk on stage and don't stand for any nonsense- "This is a rock and roll concert you mother-fuckers so shut and listen to the music," which is hardly rock and roll but it gets the best effect.
I: Let me take an example, and one that I know best, New York. Every time you've played there, it seems, something disastrous has happened, the first night. I mean, someone was killed last time. And then the Fillmore fire, Martin Luther King's assassination, something really disastrous happens each time. Can this just be coincidence?
PT: Ah . . . well, let's put it this way: I don't think that The Who playin' in New York had anything to do with Martin Luther King. But I think it definitely had to do with the death of the kid because, he was tryin' to get into the concert, or so I understand. So that obviously is on our shoulders. It's one of those things which happens in rock concerts.
The fire, in a way, was a weird thing, but then . . . there's a lot of rumors about that too, some say it was a firebomb that was aimed at the Fillmore, whereas Bill Graham says without a doubt, he know the history of the whole thing, that it was a protection thing for the store, there was a store next door, a betting firm or something- the guy was liquidating and he refused to pay the protection money and he let 'em blow the place up and collect on the insurance, right? Basically (laughing) that's the story of that one.
I: But it's so strange that this kind of stuff always happens in conjunction with The Who opening in New York.
PT: Well, a lot 'appens, I mean . . . when I'm an old grandad I'll 'ave a lot of stories to tell people- I mean rock and roll does to tend to go around, like . . . speeding up events a lot. If you're in a rock and roll group, right? Particularly if you're in The Who, it seems that you're
tryin' to live 80 years of your life in a very short period, right? At the time when you've got the most energy to do that and you reach maturity very very early but you're still very very young and it sort of balances out into a situation which is like almost an ideal of utopian existence which is a successful rock star who is happy, right? And without crooin' on and on for hours, The Who are very much in that position. In the light of that extreme of experience which you're going through, y'know with life flashing by so incredibly fast, meetin' lots and lots of people and dealin' with an incredible weight of karma all the time, tryin' to avoid relationships and make relationships and so on, tryin' to sort out relationships and deal with incredibly large numbers of people, you . . .a death of a politician seems very innocuous, seems like a sort of thing that should happen, it's like dropping a cap or a plane crash or . . . I mean on the Herman's Hermits tour the fucking plane crashed, and nobody whimpered, nobody said a word. Nobody. Nobody CARED. Crash landed . . . that was in the days of the Herman's Hermits tour but it's still insanity . . . you go in and you wait for the explosion and it comes- BANG! Keith's blown up his laboratory again, every day. And yet they still welcome us with open arms at Holiday Inns! This is the kind of thing -- I mean everybody said tragic things about the deaths of Hendrix and Joplin, but they had both lived a such an incredibly accelerated rate that their time had come. They were both very old and very very wise people.
I: The feeling I get from the new album is . . . there is a new goal and this is the first step. How much of a step is it?
PT: It's a big step, if you like, as Happy Jack ever was. It's hard to tell. I don't really know even, yet, what we're stepping toward. I decided on a title though, which I ain't gonna tell you, 'cause it's like the best title I've ever come up with for anything, ever. It's for the whole -- what we're gonna do . . . It came in Cleveland -- I had this flash, so I kind of know the direction I want to go in. A title is a reflection of a flash, if y'know wha' I mean. You have an idea and you get a conception of something and the title is merely an affirmation.
I: This title is positive?
PT: Yeah. I think we know where we're going.
I: You're not gonna do the movie now, the movie was bombed, right?
PT: Yeah. I tell you one of the problems, in fact, our biggest problem, is that our managers desperately want to make that movie, and they're very disorganized people. They started with The Who for the sole purpose of makin' a movie. And it's something that I think Kit Lambert desperately wants to do before he's ready to die, I think this is probably what keeps him alive. When I suggested to him that we might have another bash at talking about a movie of Tommy, I mean he literally jumped for joy and leapt around the room and kissed me and hugged me and took me out to dinner and started to talk to me again, y'know (laughter). I mean, when I said that it might be good if he directed it, he gave up everything he owned and gave it to me, brought it 'round in a big truck and dumped it on me doorstep and said that he'd be me servant for life. That's how much Kit wants to make a movie.
The Who really feel that too, I mean we want to make a fucking movie incredibly badly and it's just simply a movie- one of the reasons why I feel it's important is because it's still the only medium which can capture the largeness of rock, the bigness of it. Woodstock for example, you felt the bigness of the event. There's no other way you could have felt it, not through people talkin' about it or photographs or anything- the movie did it, and the movie can capture the bigness of rock and get the bigness of the sound, too. That's important, big speakers all 'round the theatre. And also it can capture the silliness -- the stuff that a lot of the kids don't see. You know, the reality, if you like, that lies behind but which is like all part of it. It's hard to talk about it without soundin' like were gonna make a documentary.
I: You want to make a movie about The Who?
PT: We wanna make a movie about what The Who are going to do -- what The Who do. We figure in terms of like changing rock performance, y'know, from our point of view, that we're gonna have to do it.
The whole essence of it is gonna be that rock can no longer service all the people that wanna see it. People are gonna have to BE rock, if y'like, and that rock is gonna have to be a different type of event, it's gonna have to be something where you go and live with it. I mean there's a lot of impractical things about it, but, there are things that have to be done. Whatever happens, whatever needs to be done we'll do, and we'll prove that we did it and we'll prove that it happened by the movie. And then no one will ever accept the way rock has to work, in the confines of what has been laid done by other types of music, other types of entertainment, by the ballet, by the opera, by the circus, by the football match, by other types of entertainment, 'cause rock is it's own, it needs it's own framework for working.
I: In a sense it becomes only a matter of personal scholarship whether you're there or not. As long as you can see it, and want to be it, you are it.
PT: Right. The other thing of course is that records are great because you can live with 'em. Video is gonna be great, too. There's too many preconceptions about the television shaped box, as it were. I don't like it at all . . . people are gonna want to project it, I think instead of watching it on television. In which case, it means that then rock can really do amazing things in terms of people makin' their own movies and musicians making movies for the people, and both getting their feedback through that means.
I: The one question I have to ask you, though, is this: this is obviously your trip, and Kit Lambert's Where does this leave the other members of The Who? I mean, where does John Entwistle fit into a movie?
PT: I dunno, really. I've never really, ever sat down with John and discussed where he fitted it. I've always just either written the music and asked him to play it, or . . .been his friend, really. With someone, for example, like Keith, you can get a certain level of enthusiasm from, I mean Keith's a real enthusiastic person. If you rap and you talk to him about a project he gets very excited and he wants to do it. Roger, again has got an incredible amount of energy -- it's reserved, right? In the same way that John is reserved, but it's different, he's . . . less ambitious, I think, more contented with wherever he happens to be. But John is just . . . we learned more about John from him making an album than we did in all the years he'd ever played bass with us. Really, because he DID it, and it spoke to us, it's like I was saying about feedback. I got a lot of feedback from John's record.
I: The reason I asked that is that when you talk about going into film, when you talk about extending the kind of sensory impression that you're gonna have on people, not just live but in a recorded way so it becomes, like, history, you change the definition of the group in a sense that's very far reaching. It's no longer just The Who, but a historical entity.
PT: I don't think it should just be The Who at all. I think whatever we do is gonna have to solve a lot of problems, in order to move forward from where we are now we've got to learn a lot of things about one another. I'll obviously have to give up a fantastic amount, but then so will the group, in terms of image and credit and stuff like this. But we'll gain a fantastic amount in the shape of audience, in the shape of feedback. Whether or not it will solidly bond together the group as more of a group, or whether it'll make us more individuals, I don't know, but we are becoming more individuals now and so in a way, whatever we do, I think if it is positive it will make The Who more The Who.
I see John's album to be very much a Who album, just like I feel Keith's odd nights with Bonzo Dog, or he's done this radio show with Viv Standshell (sic) in England and all this, and he'll probably make comedy albums and stuff and I feel that to be very much within the framework of The Who. I feel my Meher Baba record to be The Who in a lot of cases. I feel that to be The Who. I think all that is great so long as the group can use it. I think "My Wife" is the best new rock number on the album.
I: One last question. Can you tell me something about what's going to happen in the immediate future in relation to all this, 'cause it's still been kind of vague.
PT: Well, firstly, we're gonna try and give ourselves a break. I don't mean a holiday, I mean give ourselves a break with regard to keeping things solid and moving, and keep things belonging to The Who rather than becoming my personal fantasies. By going back and doing a lot of work on our stage act, we're gonna try and work on employing more tapes on stage, more effects . . . we're gonna try to improve the lights, which we're very, very unhappy with. With the amount of manpower involved, they're very tinny. We're gonna try and get the sound straightened out and try to get our heads together in that area, and we're gonna do a TV special which is going to be a documentary about us preparing to make the movie. The reason we want to do this, apart from the fact that we feel it could be incredibly interesting, is that we think it will catalyze a lot of action, it will actually make the thing happen, if you like. Do you know what I mean? Oh, and also an album . . .
I: Who's Next leaves too many loose ends if it's not going to be followed up. Just as Happy Jack/A Quick One was followed up by Sell Out which sort of concretized a lot of things which were yashing [my note, hashing] around in there, it would seem that you'd sort of have to follow Who's Next with something a little more definitive of what The Who's next actually is.
PT: Well, I think natural evolution of the band's sound will do a lot of that- an increasing positivity will also do that. But most of all, what'll do it will be tyin' up the loose ends that are involved in it. Knowing that Who's Next is the result of an unsolved problem, when we solve the problem Who's Next will take on a different meaning. It will be part of the problem and will be more interesting in a way, once we've done what we want to do, I think.
It's hard to follow an interview with Peter Townshend. He seems completely at home right from the beginning, attempts to be helpful as he can, and generally controls the interview himself, answering most of your questions before you can even ask them.
By contrast, Roger Daltrey seems very uncomfortable. We found him in his room, sitting with a few friends. He was hoarse, constantly sucking on some mints for his throat and alternating that with nervous puffs on a menthol cigarette. He was incredibly nice, but on alien ground.
I: How do you feel, getting back to touring?
RD: Getting too old, man. Too old to do it and play. Just need them days off here and there, these one nighters every night are gettin' to be too much.
I: Pete was talking about a movie that the group was planning to do in the future as the next step. How do you fit into that- what the group is going to do now?
RD: Depends on what it's gonna be . . . I like wha' the group's doing now . . . basically an idea . . . I can't really talk about it, I don't wanna talk about it, actually . . . I mean, basically it's just about rock and roll, simple as that. We're gonna try to make the first rock and roll film ever made.
I: Are you gonna write some material for it?
RD: I'm writin' too, but it's not suited to The Who, y'know?
I: You have been writing things?
RD: Yeah, all the time . . . s'just not suited to The Who. And I don't wanna do my own album. Maybe when it's all over and finished, perhaps. As far as I can see the whole thing is to keep it together, so I just devote all of my time just to keep 'em together.
I: Has it been threatening to fall apart?
RD: Oh, we've come nearer to breaking up than ever.
I: John said that he was ready to leave the group up until the time that he made his album, which made him . . .
RD: John's always been leaving the group. Perhaps that's the problem, y'know, perhaps John doesn't wanna be in the group, I dunno (he laughs rather emptily).
I: Pete said that it's going in so many different directions that it wants to fly apart, but can't because the whole . . . is so important.
RD: Eh . . . Me and Pete have been gettin' on better'n ever! I think one of the reasons we still are together . . . There's a few things been going on but we can't sort it out here, we'll sort it out when we get back to England.
I: A lot of people write in analyses of the group on stage, that often you're used as a spokesman for Pete's views or whatever . . .
RD: Well, it's obviously true.
I: How much of you actually goes into it?
RD: Oh, quite a lot. Pete's always written songs that I believe in so that gets over 'alf the battle. It's easy to sing about something you believe in. And as long as I keep believin', I can go on singin'. Quite a lot of me does go into it, I assure you. I think a lot of Pete's songwritin' comes from me anyway. A lot of ideas come from me, but then he can put it to words whereas I can't. Pete's always wanted to be me in some ways, I think.
I: Do you actually, like, sit down, and . . .
RD: Oh, no. He writes the song and I sing it. He makes a tape of it one way and I sing it another way.
I: His voice has very little power, but . . .
RD: Yeah, he uses it in a nice way, usually it works out well. What do you think of the new act, now?
I: Well I think the act has a little more maturity now, in the sense that songs like "Won't Get Fooled Again" have gotten down. In the beginning there were soundups, but it now seems all on the same wavelength.
RD: We're gonna experiment more with tapes, actually, they're very good. The only thing is not to get tied to it too much you know, this is where me and Pete are always at loggerheads. But there again Pete's a little more adventurous now, but I would prefer that the group doing it's thing, then laying the tape on the top, rather than doing a thing around the tape, which is what happened on "Won't Get Fooled Again" -- the whole number's around the tape, which I think is completely wrong. Well, it works very well, it's alright for one number, but . . . no more.
I: Do you feel that in the time you've been gone from America, the audience has somehow changed?
RD: Yeah. It changed a lot. Seems to be much more teenybopper oriented now.
I: How do you feel about that?
RD: Ah, weird, I haven't thought about it that much. I don't do much thinkin' in hotel rooms- bad for ya . . . It's probably a good thing, y'know, teenyboppers grow up and get better taste, just 'cause you're . . . we've played to teenyboppers before.
I: What has happened, I think, is that there's a big gap, and an awful lot of really hungry kids are walking around looking for something. But there hasn't been anything- that's why I was enthused about The Who coming back, but now that I actually sit down and talk with you about it, nobody quite knows . . . everybody seems very reserved about the whole thing.
RD: This is when we go back home to think about the next project.
I: It doesn't seem like the consensus from the band was that this was a successful tour. There's something that seems to be bothering everybody.
RD: Yeah, I don't think it was very successful -- I mean, we didn't gain any ground, I don't feel.
I: Well, did you set out to gain ground?
RD: Not really. We set out just to bloody let people see that we were still alive and thinking about them. So I suppose we've done what we set out to do. But it's still been hard doin' it.
Sure. I've always thought we should never have gone away. We should have built on what we could do best rather than try to send it away, which's what we tried to do. The only problem that annoys me within the band -- it's no serious problem, it's just that . . . I feel that I'm singin' better now than ever and I'm really enjoying it and really getting good feelings off audiences. Pete's been playing well . . . I think the size of the group has kind of gotten to their heads a bit. Don't put that in (laughing). It's all right if you say you think it, might do dome good. 'Cause I tell him all the time and I get laughed at. Pete's really tried, and I'm really trying 'cause -- I don't think we've made it.
I: What do you mean?
RD: Well, the situation's not that desperate, I mean it's just a matter of people ownin' up y'know . . . let's face it, nobody's playin' that bad -- most people wouldn't even notice. But we notice, I notice, and what I wanna do is get better, not worse. As far as I'm concerned, I've only been singing well for like, maybe two years, it's startin' to go my way, now. As far as I'm concerned we just bloody started. That's what's so weird. I mean in England we played the best gigs of our lives right before we came here. When we first went back on the road, after the project, they were the best gigs we've ever played, ever. Everybody really played well. Then, I dunno . . .
I: Rock and roll is so basically contradictory. I mean, you're dealing with a . . .
RD: That's the fucking trouble with it, it couldn't be.
I: Well as long as you have a situation wherein people feel that five dollars entitles them to something which can't always happen -- it's going to be contradictory, because there's the idea of "Rock as Theatre," and, you know- "Rock as Professional Entertainment," and contrasted with the idea of rock as some really vital force that transcends all that, the contradictions are pointed up on an everyday, mundane, day to day level. Only after a long period of distancing does "only the good things" stand out.
RD: They don't stand out any more than the five dollars in the pocket. Really. That's how I look at it, anyway . . . do you understand me? . . .See, I mean . . . that's the trouble with rock, that kids have to pay five dollars to see it and they think they've got to get their five dollars worth. That's the trouble with it, but it's nothin' to do with us. We give all we've got . . . we really do. And you can't give anymore, I mean if that's not enough . . . I mean to five dollars . . . I mean I've, we've been poor for fucking years now, we're just startin' to make money. It still means fuck-all to me. When it comes down to that, I mean I'd pay five dollars to see The Beatles back together. I'd pay a hundred dollars to see them back together. (He laughs). I'd pay a thousand dollars, actually. 'Cause the money means fuck-all, it's just to see them. Most kids don't look at it that way today . . . Plus the fact that you get all the phlonzes in the business. I mean the agents and all the crap, boastin' about how much money they're makin', which is bollocks . . .
I: What do you see in the immediate future?
RD: Travel, I dunno. This idea that Pete's got I think is incredible. I'm behind him all the way.
I: And you thing (sic, think) it can be brought off?
RD: It's the way he wants to make it work that gives this the advantage over the other one. His other idea was great, too. Unfortunately, he tried to run before he could walk. I could see it, and everybody else . . . I get a lot of advice off of our road mangers because they . . . they're not musicians and they can see a lot more than we see. They can see the audience because they're not in the lights. They hear the complete sound. I talk to them all the time about things and I get a lot of ideas about the act from them. Even they couldn't figure out this thing of Pete's to work, the way he had it written down. So I wasn't just being dogmatic for the sake of it. I just knew that it wouldn't work and what we should have been doin' is what we're doin' now, but maybe we're doin' it too late. That album should have been out much earlier.
I: Yeah. The album should have preceded you a couple of months so that people could get used to it, 'cause the stuff is just too new. There's something out there that you're going after
RD: Yeah. I know what it is . . .we'll get it. I'm not gonna say anything about this idea, I know you're trying to fish it out of me but I'm not gonna. . .
I: Nobody will say anything about it, it must be really good.
RD: It is.
Leaving Roger, we went to visit the suite on the ninth floor where Keith Moon was staying. Now Keith Moon is well known for his antics -- he is one of the most famous clown figures in rock. And certainly when we walked into his suite this image was fulfilled. Compared to the neat complacency of the other three suites, Moon's was chaos. A card table sat in the center of the room, covered with bunches of empty and half-empty glasses and assorted debris. The television's sound was very audible from the inside room, providing a constant electronic reminder to all present. Keith himself was grand, greeting us with a flourish and offering a glass of brandy.
But like so many clowns before him Keith was no fool, rather a clever wielder of masks and postures, all the while very sure he was giving you nothing he didn't want to. I found myself gradually posturing back at him until the interview started to dip into the sensibility of a drawing room battle of wits.
I: I'll start with a very direct and straightforward question. How do you see your role within The Who?
KM: Um . . . sort of drummer, middleman and . . . sort of kept lunatic. (From within the television announces The Avengers theme). Great Guns, The Avengers have started? Coming, Mrs. Peal . . . Oh, yes, excuse me, I'm sorry, er, ah
I: Obviously, now you've gotten to the point where you're a big group, and you have success, but . . . do you feel there's something driving you towards new heights?
KM: More success! Ah, well it's ah . . . I feel that the amount of talent and power in the group, you know, is such that it hasn't really reached its natural conclusion as yet. There's still a lot that we have to do -- a lot of things we're doin' now which we could do better.
I: With Who's Next I feel that there's something out there that you've just starting to point at . . .
KM: This is true. When we were working on Happy Jack and the mini opera thing, we really didn't know anything about Tommy, we didn't know it was working out that way until we finished Tommy. This is true now, we're using a lot more electronics . . . synthesizers and different instruments.
I: Well, how do you relate to that as Keith Moon, drummer for The Who?
KM: Well, that's it, as Keith Moon, drummer for The 'oo. That's how you do it.
I: You just react to it, totally feeling fully, no thinking about it or anything?
KM: Thinking about it just gets in the way.
I: Yeah, I can see that. It's a contrast to, say, Pete, who appears to think about it constantly. You don't seem to think about it, but . . . well, let me put it this way -- occasionally, when "Won't Get Fooled Again" starts, you lose the beat.
I: I mean, like it is a strange position. Do you feel weird having to play to an accompaniment of a tape?
KM: No, it's, ah . . . because it's metronomic, the very rigid time pattern. It doesn't fluctuate at all, you have to think robotically. It lacks interest. It's just adopting a concept and working within that concept, that shape. It's a much more comfortable shape now than it was. I moved in a few pieces of furniture and had the place carpeted. I find it a lot easier to work within it now. In the beginning it was just sort of uncomfortable.
I: When did you pick up on the headphones?
KM: 'Bout halfway through the tour. The big problem was not being able to hear the tape. So we've got John and Pete blasting away and this tape, which is important because they take their thing off of me. I get mine off the tape so if I don't get that, we all go and lose it.
I: Yeah right. Pete says that he plays with your top kit and John plays with your bass.
KM: Right. And I play with the tape. If the tape isn't there, none of us are there. So we got the earphone idea, we were playin' some theatres where the monitors just couldn't be heard at all. It happened that first night at Forest Hills.
I had a couple of pairs catch fire. I was wearing them and Bob came rushing over halfway through "Won't Get Fooled Again" with a bucket of water. He looked as if he was gonna throw it at me. So I started to move around, turned me head and there was smoke pouring off my headphones, and the bloody thing was alight. That's what I call pyrotechnics . . .
I: How do you like the new act? There is a big difference . . .
KM: Yeah. It's kinda gettin' nicer now, we've been playin' it a lot -- it's much more familiar, we can relax a lot. When you start it off you have to concentrate on gettin' the numbers right, so you can't have fun and relax and the audience can feel this. It's got this newness about it, and, ah, now it's sort of relaxed . . . we can just play the music, sort of subconsciously . . .
I: Don't you feel that you had to put in so many new numbers to make a significant enough break with the acts of the past, Tommy, etc.?
KM: We don't like to drop any numbers of any particular period the group was at -- we like to keep them in, but the main material has to be the new stuff.
I: Do you all sit down before the tour and work out the order of the numbers, etc.?
KM: Yeah. We just say which ones work on stage and which ones don't work. And then we just sort of get a runnin' order for 'em, this one would work there, this one wouldn't. So we've got quite a storehouse of songs, so we can fairly interchange one song for another.
I: One thing that really surprised me in talking with the other three is that there seems to be a bit of disappointment with the tour and how it developed, stemming in part from failure of equipment.
KM: Yeah. It's been a bit of a problem. The audiences . . . were incredible, they've been great so far. It's affected . . . Pete and John . . . and, ah, Roger, more than me (starts laughing). So I'm the only acoustic one in the band . . . well, Roger, but he's got more equipment than anyone else.
I: You mean the P.A.
KM: Yes, the P.A., monster that it is . . . We're doin' an act that we're not totally familiar with, y'know, and we've got this goin' on at the same time, so it's very hard to get off with that sort of thing goin' on. You need to rely on your hardware, but of course it's not always there -- in some halls you've got a five amp shaver socket in the dressing room and you have to run ten and a half tons of equipment through it. So at this theatre we had to run in power lines from the street lamps outside . . . Would you like a shot of brandy?
I: Sure . . .What do you think of this new idea of Pete's to do a movie?
KM: I don't know, what is his new idea? Play it back, will you? He hasn't told me about it yet . . . I think, ah, we've got to do quite a lot sitting around and rapping when we get back, 'cause there's a lot of ideas comin' out of this tour that were used, so when we get back, we'll have a couple of weeks off, John will take his dogs out for a walk, then we'll all sort of get together in a boozer, all sort of get drunk and decide absolutely nothing . . . but eventually it'll all get thrown together, that's how we wrote most of Tommy, in a pub opposite the recording studio. (Then, abruptly) I think I'll have to pack me gear and get down to the Ox's room . . .
We left Moon just in time to get down to the theatre for the show. The Who were in great spirits and played a blistering final set, resounding with the sense of their own ascendency. They had come back successfully, on their own terms, and proved themselves once again.
The high point of the night was the feature number, "Won't Get Fooled Again," Townshend's introduction ran down a history of The Who and finished with a flourish: "We've seen you do this," he gave a clenched fist, "we've seen you do this," a peace sign, "so we just do what's in between . . .This." He raised his outstretched arm in a Nazi salute. "It's a natural development, y'know . . .," he said. Then, in a much louder voice, "This one, the number we're about to play, puts all that rubbish . . . right. This is a rock and roll song." There were cheers from the audience. " ... which is the salvation . . . of our society . . . Today!" Now screaming as loud as he could, "Won't . . . Get . . . Fooled . . .Agaaaiiinnn!"