Peter Townshend by Daniel Fields
Pete is interviewed during his first visit to America. Discusses The Who, and "things in general".
The elaborate lunch for Herman's Hermits was just about over, and the hotel ballroom was a dismal vista of plastic décor and messy, empty tables. Some young men I hadn't seen before were sitting silently around a littered table trying to appear unconnected with the general Hermania. One had a face that made you think of Italian princes in dark green velvet—a wild, sinister, elegant, powerful, strange face. What's more, it was a face that didn't depend on hair to make it great, which is a remarkable achievement for a face nowadays.
Then I recognized the face. Peter Townshend of "The Who" was being unrecognized and ignored, and man, was he hating it.
"I don't know why I'm here, at somebody else's luncheon, at Herman's luncheon. I didn't want to come, but there were going to be all these important recording people here, and we have to see them. We're in New York for two days, to sign contracts and papers, not the others in the group, just me and our manager. Two of your lousy record companies haven't been able to get us a hit in America. Without a hit record we can't get a visa to perform. I'm a commercial bloke, I want the money. Herman?! No one in England has ever heard of him. Dave Clark?! Dave Clark is actually a top group here, isn't it? Fantastic! What are they worth? American money…well I guess that's something."
We were interrupted by some chick who had a whole story about how her brother wanted Keith Moon's drumsticks.
"He's not here," Peter said, not looking at the girl. "And if he were, I'm quite sure he wouldn't give you his drumsticks."
An Important Executive took Peter's elbow and began rapping about deals and promotions. Peter stared at the man with distaste, nodding occasionally, not really listening.
"You see what I mean?" Peter said to me when the man released him. He was getting up-tight now, and was putting down everything with absolute adolescent arrogance.
"Just who does he think he is?" a girl asked me.
"Right," I told her.
He was sitting alone on [sic?] a table when I joined him a few minutes later. In the interim I had resolved to stop playing the annoying reporter, and I guess he had decided that he'd done enough of the angry superstar. He was responsive, relaxed, honest. He talked about The Who, and about things in general:
"We're trying to advance music. To that end we employ physical and visual violence in our act. There's conflict when we play…tension. We want to smash everything; it's part of what's happening to us and to our audiences. We gave one concert where the whole stage exploded, damn near blew some bloke's leg off, hah!
"There's a feeling you get, it's the most important thing. It's musical and it's visual. Look, you and I can say more by looking at each other than two old professors who talk for hours. Words don't matter any more, it's the feeling of everything that matters.
"Everyone in England is talking about this Warhol bloke, what he's done, how he's changed everyone's idea of what things look like, and what time is, and what feeling is, and style.
"Dylan writes 'quality' folk songs. He's trying to impress everyone with how much he doesn't care. I care. If they tried to ban any of my songs in England I'd fight them. Dylan didn't say anything, he made no effort to explain his lyrics. I want to be heard. I'd apologize to the Establishment if I had to, but now I want to be heard. First let me get going, then I'll do what I want.
"Nothing is automatic in America, I mean, every fan letter we get, for example, we can trace to something specific, like a spot on Action, or the record being played in a certain city. In England it's more constant, it just keeps happening for us. I can't walk down the street there. We're very rich boys in Europe. But America, oh the myth of America, where they make Herman and Dave Clark stars. It's such a peculiar thing, all we need is that record so we can come over here. I hope they can work everything out.
"You know, the important people, groups, artists, they leave a wound somehow. An open wound. Then you know something has happened."
We left the ballroom together, Peter Townshend and his managers and I. Out in the hall the Herman fans had gathered and had been waiting there for hours. Some of them recognized Peter Townshend of The Who, some of them even abandoned the Herman-vigil and followed Townshend down into the lobby, talking to him, asking him questions. He smiled at them, and he smiled to himself.
It was his first time in America, and maybe he could see the beginnings of what will surely happen.