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Article Archive › Rolling Stone Interview (1968)

1968 Rolling Stone Interview (by Jann Wenner)

For his first full-length Rolling Stone Interview, Jann Wenner picked Pete Townshend, and for good reasons. "The Who," he says, "were one of Rolling Stone's original favorite bands. I saw them at their American debut at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, and later that year at the Cow Palace in San Francisco." The Who were still comparatively unknown in the United States and Wenner recalls the band being "squashed in the middle of a rather dumpy concert, one of those eight-act packages that used to tour the country." After the show, he interviewed Townshend for an article in issue number four.

In the fall of 1968, the Who were back. By now they were a sensation, and this would be their second time headlining a three-night stand that year in San Francisco (first, in February, at the old Fillmore; now, in August, at the Fillmore West). This time, Townshend did the Rolling Stone Interview.

"Peter Townshend was twenty-three years old when we sat talking at my house in San Francisco into the dawn hours," Wenner has written. "And a year or two later, Townshend told me that during our interview he articulated to himself, for the first time comprehensively, the basic plan for what became Tommy. And that brought back to my mind a remark he had made at the time, which I had edited out. We'd been drinking orange juice, and in the middle of a long and wandering answer he asked if I had spiked his drink. Those were the halcyon hip days in San Francisco, and when I asked him what he meant by 'spiked,' he said he felt as though he were beginning an LSD trip. I hadn't slipped him anything."

THE WHO {guitarist Pete Townshend, singer Roger Daltrey, drummer Keith Moon and bass guitarist John Entwistle} are the most brilliant expression of the most influential "youth movement" ever to take Great Britain, the Mods. Their career began in Shepherd's Bush, a lower-class suburb of London, and took them through such places as Brighton-by-the-Sea, scene of the great Mod-Rocker battles of the early Sixties. Their first big recording was "My Generation." Pete Townshend, the well-known guitarist, is the group's main force, the author of most of the material, the composer of most of the music and the impetus behind the Who's stylistic stance.

The Who's generation has gotten older, and the change is seen in their records: "The Kids are Alright" to "Happy Jack"; and from "Happy Jack" to girls and boys with perspiration, pimple and bad breath problems. And, as can be seen from the interview, the changes continue.

This interview began at 2:00 a.m., after the Who's second 1968 appearance at the Fillmore West in San Francisco. Nobody quite remembers under what circumstances it was concluded.

********************************

WENNER: The end of your act goes to "My Generation," like you usually do, and that's where you usually smash your guitar. You didn't tonight - why not?

TOWNSHEND: Well, there is a reason, not really anything that's really worth talking about. But I'll explain the pattern of thought which went into it.

I've obviously broken a lot of guitars, and I've brought eight or nine of that particular guitar I was using tonight and I could very easily have broken it and have plenty more for the future. But I just suddenly decided before I went on that if there was anywhere in the world I should be able to walk off the stage without breaking a guitar if I didn't want to, it would be the Fillmore.

I decided in advance that I didn't want to smash the guitar, so I didn't, not because I liked it or because I've decided I'm going to stop doing it or anything. I just kind of decided about the actual situation; it forced me to see if I could have gotten away with it in advance. And I think that's why "My Generation" was such a down number at the end. I didn't really want to play it, you know, at all. I didn't even want people to expect it to happen, because I just wasn't going to do it.

WENNER: But Keith still dumped over his drum kit like he usually does.

TOWNSHEND: Yeah, but it was an incredible personal thing with me. I've often gone on the stage and said, "Tonight, I'm not going to smash a guitar and I don't give a shit" - you know what the pressure is on me - whether I feel like doing it musically or whatever, I'm just not going to do it. And I've gone on, and every time I've done it. The actual performance has always been bigger than my own personal patterns of thought.

Tonight, for some reason, I went on and I said, "I'm not going to break it," and I didn't. And I don't know how, I don't really know why I didn't. But I didn't, you know, and it's the first time. I mean, I've said it millions of times before, and nothing has happened.

WENNER: I imagine it gets to be a drag talking about why you smash your guitar.

TOWNSHEND: No, it doesn't get to be a drag to talk about it. Sometimes it gets a drag to do it. I can explain it, I can justify it and I can enhance it, and I can do a lot of things, dramatize it and literalize it. Basically it's a gesture which happens on the spur of the moment. I think, with guitar smashing, just like the performance itself; it's a performance, it's an act, it's an instant and it really is meaningless.

WENNER: When did you start smashing guitars?

TOWNSHEND: It happened by complete accident the first time. We were just kicking around in a club which we played every Tuesday, and I was playing the guitar and it hit the ceiling. It broke, and it kind of shocked me 'cause I wasn't ready for it to go. I didn't particularly want it to go, but it went.

And I was expecting an incredible thing, it being so precious to me, and I was expecting everybody to go, "Wow, he's broken his guitar, he's broken his guitar," but nobody did anything, which made me angry in a way and determined to get this precious event noticed by the audience. I proceeded to make a big thing of breaking the guitar. I pounded all over the stage with it, and I threw the bits on the stage, and I picked up my spare guitar and carried on as though I really meant to do it.

WENNER: Were you happy about it?

TOWNSHEND: Deep inside I was very unhappy because the thing had got broken. It got around, and the next week the people came, and they came up to me and they said, "Oh, we heard all about it, man; it's 'bout time someone gave it to a guitar," and all this kind of stuff. It kind of grew from there; we'd go to another town and people would say, "Oh yeah, we heard that you smashed a guitar." It built and built and built and built and built and built until one day, a very important daily newspaper came to see us and said, "Oh, we hear you're the group that smashes their guitars up. Well, we hope you're going to do it tonight because we're from the Daily Mail. If you do, you'll probably make the front pages."

This was only going to be like the second guitar I'd ever broken, seriously. I went to my manage, Kit Lambert, and I said, you know, "Can we afford it, can we afford it, it's for publicity." He said, "Yes, we can afford it, if we can get the Daily Mail." I did it, and of course the Daily Mail didn't buy the photograph and didn't want to know about the story. After that I was into it up to my neck and have been doing it since.

WENNER: Was it inevitable that you were going to start smashing guitars?

TOWNSHEND: It was due to happen because I was getting to the point where I'd play and I'd play, and I mean, I still can't play how I'd like to play. Then was worse. I couldn't play the guitar; I'd listen to great music, I'd listen to all the people I dug, time and time again. When the Who first started we were playing blues, and I dug the blues and I knew what I was supposed to be playing, but I couldn't play it. I couldn't get it out. I knew what I had to play; it was in my head. I could hear the notes in my head, but I couldn't get them out on the guitar. I knew the music, and I knew the feeling of the thing and the drive and the direction and everything.

It used to frustrate me incredibly. I used to try and make up visually for what I couldn't play as a musician. I used to get into very incredible visual things where in order just to make one chord more lethal, I'd make it a really lethal-looking thing, whereas really, it's just going to be picked normally. I'd hold my arm up in the air and bring it down so it really looked lethal, even if it didn't sound too lethal. Anyway, this got bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger until eventually I was setting myself incredible tasks.

WENNER: How did this affect your guitar playing?

TOWNSHEND: Instead I said, "All right, you're not capable of doing it musically, you've got to do it visually." I became a huge, visual thing. In fact, I forgot all about the guitar because my visual thing was more about my music than the actual guitar. I got to jump about, and the guitar became unimportant. I banged it and I let it feed back and scraped it and rubbed it up against the microphone, did anything; it wasn't part of my act, even. It didn't deserve any credit or any respect. I used to bang it and hit it against walls and throw it on the floor at the end of the act.

And one day it broke. It just wasn't part of my thing, and ever since them I've never really regarded myself as a guitarist. When people come up to me and say like, "Who's your favourite guitarist?" I say, "I know who my favourite guitarist is, but asking me, as a guitarist, forget it because I don't make guitar-type comments. I don't talk guitar talk, I just throw the thing around." Today still, I'm learning. If I play a solo, it's a game to me because I can't play what I want to play. That's the thing: I can't get it out because I don't practice. When I should be practicing, I'm writing songs, and when I'm writing songs, I should be practicing.

WENNER: You said you spend most of your time writing songs in your basement.

TOWNSHEND: A lot of writing I do on tour. I do a lot on airplanes. At home, I write a lot, obviously. When I write a song, what I usually do is work the lyric out first from some basic idea that I had, and then I get an acoustic guitar and I sit by the tape recorder and try to band it out as it comes. Try to let the music come with the lyrics. If I dig it, I want to add things to it, like I'll add bass guitar or drums or another voice. This is really for my own amusement that I do this.

The reason "I Can See For Miles" came out good was because I sat down and made it good from the beginning. The fact that I did a lot of work on arrangements and stuff like that doesn't really count. I think that unless the actual song itself is good, you know, you can do all kinds of incredible things to it, but you're never gonna get it, not unless the meat and potatoes are there. Although I do fuck around in home studios and things like that, I think it's of no importance; I don't think it's really got anything to do with what makes the Who the Who.

WENNER: Does what you write in your home studio ever out on records?

TOWNSHEND: Most of it gets out, but the recordings I make myself in my own studio don't. They might in the future, but they would only come out if they had the Who on them. To put out a record of me banging away on a guitar or bass drums collectively and generally being a one-man band wouldn't be a very good idea. I'd like to use my studio to record the group because interesting things happen in small environmental sound-recording situations like Sony tape recorders, for example, which don't happen in studios. It's a well-known fact.

WENNER: When you work out an arrangement and figure out the bass line and the various voices, is that just directly translated onto a record that would be released?

TOWNSHEND: More or less, but then we don't really take it that grimly; I mean, what happens is I will suggest the bass riff on the demonstration record; John takes up and goes from there. But the bass (line) I would suggest on the demo, as I said earlier, would be very simple; it would be economical, tasteful and just a vehicle for the song, making the bass line, and, if I use the them, the piano or drum, as simple and effective as possible in putting the song across to the group.

Instead of me hacking my songs around to billions of publishers trying to get them to dig them, what I've got to do is get the rest of the band to dig my number. If I've got a number that I dig, I know that I've got to present it to them in the best light. That's why I make my own recordings so when they first hear, it's not me stoned out of my mind plunking away on a guitar trying to get my latest number across. It's a finished work that might take me all night to get together, but nevertheless it's gonna win them over.

I'm working on the lyrics now for the next album. When we get through that, all the lyrics cleaned out, we'll start to work through the album. We'll probably have do to it in short sections, like fifteen-minute sections. Ideally, I'd like to record one backing track for the whole album whether it lasts for two hours or two days. We sit down and we do it in one go, and then okay, we spend the next two years adding tarty voices or whatever it is that it takes to sell the record. But at least you know what's happening in the background is real meat and immediate meat, and it's part of the present.

The whole thing about recording is that a man feels slightly cheated anyway, because he's getting a recording of something which has happened, so he feels like he's getting something secondhand. If he thinks he's being fucked around already, this is a whole different thing. A lot of people, I'm convinced, that buy records don't realize what happens when a group records on an eight-track machine. They don't realize that they record half of it one time, and then another eighth of it another time. They record it in eighths at different locations, and this ceases to become music to me.

WENNER: What other ideas in this field do you have?

TOWNSHEND: Well, the album concept in general is complex. I don't know if I can explain it in my condition, at the moment. But it's derived as a result of quite a few things. We've been talking about doing an opera, we've been talking about doing like albums, we've been talking about a whole lot of things, and what has basically happened is that we've condensed all of these ideas, all this energy and all these gimmicks, and whatever we've decided on for future albums, into one juicy package. The package I hope is going to be called "Deaf, Dumb and Blind Boy." It's a story about a kid that's born deaf, dumb and blind and what happens to him throughout his life. The deaf, dumb and blind boy is played by the Who, the musical entity. He's represented musically, represented by a theme which we play, which starts off the opera itself, and then there's a song describing the deaf, dumb and blind boy. But what it's really all about is the fact that because the boy is "D, D & B," he's seeing things basically as vibrations which we translate as music. That's really what we want to do: create this feeling that when you listen to the music you can actually become aware of the boy, and aware of what he is all about, because we are creating him as we play.

Yes, it's a pretty far-out thing, actually. But it's very, very endearing to me because the thing is . . . inside; the boy sees things musically and in dreams, and nothing has got any weight at all. He is touched from the outside, and he feels his mother's touch, he feels his father's touch, but he just interprets them as music. His father gets pretty upset that his kid is deaf, dumb and blind. He wants a kid that will play football and God knows what.

One night he comes in and he's drunk, and he sits over the kid's bed and he looks at him and he starts to talk to him, and the kid just smiles up, and his father is trying to get through to him, telling him about how the other dads have a kid that they can take to football and all this kind of crap, and he starts to say, "Can you hear me?" The kid, of course, can't hear him. He's groovin' in this musical thing, this incredible musical thing; he'll be out of his mind. Then there's his father outside, outside of his body, and this song is going to be written by John. I hope John will write this song about the father who is really uptight now.

The kid won't respond, he just smiles. The father starts to hit him, and at this moment the whole thing becomes incredibly realistic. On one side you have the dreamy music of the boy wasting through his nothing life. And on the other you have the reality of the father outside, uptight, but now you've got blows, you've got communication. The father is hitting the kid; musically then I want the thing to break out, hand it over to Keith - "This is your scene man, take it from here."

And the kid doesn't catch the violence. He just knows that some sensation is happening. He doesn't feel the pain, he doesn't associate it with anything. He just accepts it.

A similar situation happens later on in the opera, where the father starts to get the mother to take the kid away from home to an uncle. The uncle is a bit of a perv, you know. He plays with the kid's body while the kid is out. And at this particular time the child has heard his own name; his mother called him. And he managed to hear the word: "Tommy." He's really got this big thing about his name, whatever his name is going to be, you know, "Tommy." And he gets really hung up on his own name. He decides that this is the king and this is the goal. Tommy is the thing, man.

He's going through this, and the uncle comes in and starts to go through a scene with the kid's body, you know, and the boy experiences sexual vibrations, you know, sexual experience, and again it's just basic music; it's interpreted as music, and it is nothing more than music. It's got no association with sleaziness or with undercover or with any of the things normally associated with sex. None of the romance, none of the visual stimulus, none of the sound stimulus. Just basic touch. It's meaningless. Or not meaningless; you just don't react, you know. Slowly but surely the kid starts to get it together, out of his simplicity, this incredible simplicity in his mind. He starts to realize that he can see, and he can hear, and he can speak; they are there, and they are happening all the time. And that all the time he has been able to hear and see. All the time it's been there in front of him, for him to see.

This is the difficult jump. It's going to be extremely difficult, but we want to try to do it musically. At this point, the theme, which has been the boy, starts to change. You start to realize that he is coming to the point where he is going to get over the top, he's going to get over his hang-ups. You're gonna stop monkeying around with songs about people being tinkered with, and with Father's getting uptight, with Mother's getting precious and things, and you're gonna get down to the fact of what is going to happen to the kid.

The music has got to explain what happens, that the boy elevates and finds something which is incredible. To us, it's nothing to be able to see and hear and speak, but to him, it's absolutely incredible and overwhelming; this is what we want to do musically. Lyrically, it's quite easy to do it; in fact, I've written it out several times. It makes great poetry, but so much depends on the music, so much. I'm hoping that we can do it. The lyrics are going to be okay, but every pitfall of what we're trying to say lies in the music, lies in the way we play the music, the way we interpret, the way things are going during the opera.

The main characters are going to be the boy and his musical things; he's got a mother and father and an uncle. There is a doctor involved who tries to do some psychiatric treatment on the kid which is only partly successful. The first two big events are when he hears his mother calling him and hears the word "Tommy," and he devotes a whole part of his life to this one word. The second important event is when he sees himself in a mirror, suddenly seeing himself for the first time: He takes an immediate back step, bases his whole life around his own image. The whole thing then becomes incredibly introverted. The music and the lyrics become introverted, and he starts to talk about himself, starts to talk about his beauty. Not knowing, of course, that what he saw was him but still regarding it as something which belonged to him, and of course it did all of the time anyway.

It's a very complex thing, and I don't know if I'm getting it across.

WENNER: You are.

TOWNSHEND: Because I don't feel at all together.

WENNER: I know you don't look it, but you're coming on very together.

TOWNSHEND: Good.

WENNER: This theme, not so dramatically, seems to be repeated in so many songs that you've written and the Who have performed - a young cat, our age, becoming an outcast from a very ordinary sort of circumstance. Not a "Desolation Row" scene, but a very common set of middle-class situations. Why does this repeat itself?

TOWNSHEND: I don't know. I never really thought about that.

WENNER: There's a boy with pimple problems and a chick with perspiration problems and so on.

TOWNSHEND: Most of these things just come from me. Like this idea I'm talking about right now, comes from me. These things are my ideas, it's probably why they all come out the same; they've all got the same fuckups, I'm sure.

I can't get my family together, you see. My family were musicians. There were essentially middle class, they were musicians, and I spent a lot of time with them when other kids' parents were at work, and I spent a lot of time away from them when other kids had parents, you know. That was the only way it came together. They were always out for long periods. But they were always home for long periods, too. They were always very respectable - nobody ever stopped making me play the guitar and nobody ever stopped me smoking pot, although they advised me against it.

They didn't stop me from doing anything that I wanted to do. I had my first fuck in the drawing room of my mother's house. The whole incredible thing about my parents is that I just can't place their effect on me, and yet I know that it's there. I can't say how they affected me. When people find out that my parents are musicians, they ask how it affected me. Fucked if I know; musically, I can't place it, and I can't place it in any other way. But I don't even feel myself aware of a class structure, or an age structure, and yet I perpetually write about age structures and class structures. On the surface I feel much more concerned with racial problems and politics. Inside I'm much more into basic stuff.

WENNER: You must have thought about where it comes from if it's not your parents. Was it the scene around you when you were young?

TOWNSHEND: One of the things which has impressed me most in life was the Mod movement in England, which was an incredible youthful thing. It was a movement of young people, much bigger than the hippie thing, the underground and all these things. It was an army, a powerful, aggressive army of teenagers with transport. Man, with these scooters and with their own way of dressing. It was acceptable, this was important; their way of dressing was hip, it was fashionable, it was clean and it was groovy. You could be a bank clerk, man, it was acceptable. You got them on your own ground. They thought, "Well, there's a smart young lad." And also you were hip, you didn't get people uptight. That was the good thing about it. To be a mod, you had to have short hair, money enough to buy a real smart suit, good shoes, good shirts; you had to be able to dance like a madman. You had to be in possession of plenty of pills all the time and always be pilled up. You had to have a scooter covered in lamps. You had to have like an army anourak to wear on the scooter. And that was being a mod, and that was the end of the story.

The groups that you liked when you were a mod were the Who. That's the story of why I dig the mods, man, because we were mods and that's how we happened. That's my generation, that's how the song "My Generation" happened, because of the mods. The mods could appreciate the Beatles' taste. They could appreciate their haircuts, their peculiar kinky things that they had going at the time.

What would happen is that the phenomena of the Who could invoke action. The sheer fact that four mods could actually form themselves into a group which sounded quite good, considering that most mods were lower-class garbagemen, you know, with enough money to buy himself Sunday best, you know, their people. Nowadays, okay, there are quite a few mod groups. But mods aren't the kind of people that could play the guitar, and it was just groovy for them to have a group. Our music at the time was representative of what the mods dug, and it was meaningless rubbish.

We used to play, for example, "Heat Wave," a very long version of "Smokestack Lightning," and that song we sang tonight, "Young Man Blues," fairly inconsequential kind of music which they could identify with and perhaps something where you banged your feet on the third beat or clapped your hands on the fifth beat, something so that you get the things to go by. I mean, they used to like all kinds of things. They were mods and we're mods and we dig them. We used to make sure that if there was a riot, a mod-rocker riot, we would begin playing in that area. That was a place called Brighton.

WENNER: By the sea?

TOWNSHEND: Yes. That's where they used to assemble. We'd always be playing there. And we got associated with the whole thing, and we got into the spirit of the whole thing. And, of course, rock & roll, the words wouldn't even be mentioned; the fact that music would have any part of the movement was terrible. The music would come from the actual drive of the youth combination itself.

You see, as individuals these people were nothing. They were the lower, they were England's lowest common denominators. Not only were they young, they were also lower-class young. They had to submit to the middle class way of dressing and way of speaking and way of acting in order to get the very jobs which kept them alive. They had to do everything in terms of what existed already around them. That made their way of getting something across that much more latently effective, the fact that they were hip and yet still, as far as Granddad was concerned, exactly the same. It made the whole gesture so much more vital. It was incredible. As a force, they were unbelievable. That was the Bulge, that was England's Bulge; all the war babies, all the old soldiers coming back from war and screwing until they were blue in the face - this was the result. Thousands and thousands of kids, too many kids, not enough teachers, not enough parents, not enough pills to go around. Everybody just grooving on being a mod.

WENNER: How do you think that compares with what's called today the American hippie scene?

TOWNSHEND: I think it compares. I think the hippie thing compares favorably, but it's a different motivation. There are beloved figures. There is pot, there is acid, and there is the Maharishi, there is the Beatles, where is being anti-the-U.S.A., there are a whole lot of red herrings, which aren't what it's all about. What it is all about is the hippies, you know, what's what it's all about. The people, the actions, not the events, not the tripping out or the latest fad or the latest record or the latest trip or the latest thing to groove to. The thing is people.

This is what they seem to overlook. You see, this is the thing about the media barrage - you become aware only of the products around you because they're glorified, and so that when somebody gets stoned, what they do is that they don't groove to themselves, really, they just sit around and they dig everything that's around them. They perhaps dig other people. They dig the way the room looks. The way the flowers look, the way the music sounds, the way the group performs, how good the Beatles are. "How nice that is." This is the whole thing: they're far too abject in outlook, they're far too concerned with what is feeding into them and not so much with what they are. This is the difference between the mod thing in England and the hippie thing over here. The hippies are waiting for information, because information is perpetually coming in, and they sit there and wait for it.

This is the incredible thing about the States, man. To get stoned in England is an entirely different trip. I'm not saying that you get stoned and you dig yourself or anything. What you would do is you would get stoned, perhaps you'd walk out and look at a tree or a matchstick or something and come back and have a cup of tea and then go to bed, man. But over here, you just carry on regardless. You to go Orange Julius and you have an Orange Julius, and you watch TV and then you listen to some records, played very, very loud, and you know, it's a whole different pattern, a whole different way.

The acceptance of what one already has is the thing. Whereas the mod thing was the rejection of everything one already had. You didn't want to know about the fucking TV. "Take it away," you know. You didn't want to know about the politicians, you didn't want to know about the war. If there had been a draft, man, they would have just disappeared. If there had been a draft, there wouldn't have been mods, because something like that - the thing was that it was a sterile situation, it was perfect. It was almost too perfect.

Over here it's imperfect, it's not a sterile situation. The group themselves can't become powerful because they can be weakened at so many points. They can be weakened by their education, by their spirituality, by their intelligence, by the sheer fact that Americans are more highly educated. The average American and the average Englishman, and the Englishmen I'm talking about are the people that probably left school when they were fourteen or fifteen. Some of them can't even read or write. But yet they were mods, they were like - you see something nearer, I suppose, in what it's like to be a Hell's Angel, but not as much flash, not as much gimmicking, much less part of a huge machine.

WENNER: Can you pin down some of the elements that make rock & roll what it is, starting with the basic elements . . . it's got the beat.

TOWNSHEND: It's a bigger thing than that. The reason it's got to have a beat is the fact that rock & roll music has got to have bounce; it's got to have that thing to make you swing; it's got to swing in an old-fashioned sense; in other words, it's got to undulate. It's got to have a rhythm which undulates. It can't be a rhythm which you count down in a long drone like classical music. It doesn't have to be physical because when you think of a lot of Beatles music, it's very non-physical. Like Sgt. Pepper's is an incredibly nonphysical album. If I hear something like the Electric Flag album, I jump up and dance, and I hardly get to hear the music because I'm so busy jumping up dancing.

But when I hear something like "Summertime Blues," then I do both, then I'm into rock & roll; then I'm into a way of life, into that thing about being that age and grooving to that thing that he's talking about which is, like, summertime and, like, not being able to get off work early and not being able to get out in the sunshine and not being able to borrow the car because Dad's in a foul mood. All those frustrations of summer so wonderfully and so simply, so poetically, put in this incredible package, the package being rock & roll.

There's the package, there's the vehicle. Not only is it about some incredible poignant experiences, but it's also a gas. The whole thing about rock & roll dynamism, in many ways, is the fact that if it does slow down, if it does start to review itself, if it takes any sort of perspective on life at all, it falls. As soon as someone makes any comment, for example, musically on something they've done before, they collapse.

WENNER: You talked about maturing and settling down. How has this affected you?

TOWNSHEND: It gives me a far more logical time aspect on the group. I'm not as frantically working as I used to. I always used to work with the thought in my mind that the Who were gonna last precisely another two minutes. If the tax man didn't get us, then our own personality clashes would. I never would have believed that the Who would still be together today and, of course, I'm delighted and love it. Nothing can be better really than waking up in the morning and everything is still the same as it was the day before. That's the best kind of thing you can have in life, consistency of some kind.

It always amazes me. As an individual, it's given me incredible freedom and all. I know that I don't have to do things like I used to Our manage will create artificial pressures to try and get me to operate, but I know they are artificial so they don't work like they used to. "My Generation" was written under pressure; someone came to me and said, "Make a statement, make a statement, make a statement, make a statement, make a statement," and I'm going "Oh, okay, okay, okay," and I get "My Generation" together very quickly, like in a night - it feels like that. It's a very blustering kind of blurting thing. A lot of our early records were. "I Can't Explain" was a blurter and a bluster, and "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere," which was our second record, was just a brag, like, you know, nothing more. "Substitute" was a takeoff on Mick Jagger or something equally banal.

The whole structure of our early songs was very, very simple. Now, with less pressure, I have to create pressures for myself. I have to excite myself by myself. I have to say this is what we're going to do, this is what you mustn't so, this is what the Who are going to do, this is what you've got to get the Who to do, this is what you've got to ask the Who to do for you. You set yourself these pressures so that now the important thing is that the Who are the impetus behind the ideas, rather than the pressure of pop music being the impetus behind the music that we used to play, whereas now our music is far more realistically geared to the time in which our audience moves.

Pop audiences and pop musicians are geared to different time structures; they lead different lives entirely. They say it's very difficult to go and see a group and feel totally in with that they're doing because they're on a different time trip. They are doing one gig out of a hundred gigs, whereas to the fan this is a very important occasion, like this is the only chance he's gonna get to see, say, the Cream and never again in his life.

For the group, it's another gig, and they're going to be on the road in another ten minutes, and the fan is going to catch a section of something which as a whole is a complicated network to them. This is important to us in our compositions. The point is not to belittle each thing. It's all very well to say, "Oh, well, it's good to have the pressure because it's the pressure that makes the music move and wild and groovy," but the music becomes thrown-out, tossed-out ideas which aren't really good. They are as much as you can give out. They are not a hundred percent.

If you slow down just a little bit and gear yourself to your audience, you can give them once hundred percent. If you do a slightly longer set on the stage, you can give all instead of having to cram a lot of unused energy into guitar smashing, for example. Unchanneled energy or misdirected energy is incredible in pop music, incredible. Like the Beatles know how to channel their fucking energy. I'm convinced that there's not a lot actually coming out, it's just that we get all of it. We get a hundred perfect Beatles album. We don't get any halves; they know that they are in a position and they're got it together and they do.

WENNER: What groups do you enjoy the most?

TOWNSHEND: It's difficult to say. I always forget the groups that I really dig. I like to watch a band with a punch, with drive, who know what they're doing, with a tight sound. I used to like to watch Jimi Hendrix; sometimes he worries me now because he often gets amplifier hang-ups and stuff. I can't stand that, it kills me. I used to like to watch Cream until they got sad and fucked up. I still dig to watch a group like the Young Rascals, who just walk on with their incredibly perfect sound and their incredibly lovely organ and they're so easy, the way their numbers flow out, just to watch a group stand and go through their thing so beautifully. I dig that. I dig a guy like Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin. She's been standing still and singing the blues all night, and then when she's really into it she'll do a tiny little dance and just get her little feet going, very slightly; just a little jog, and in terms of what she's doing with her voice, it's an incredible gesture and really goes mad. I dig Mick Jagger, who I think is an incredible show, and Arthur Brown I think is an incredible show, too. What I dig in a performance, in an event, is essentially to be communicated to, to feel part of an audience. I always feel like an audience because I am an audience if I am watching anything, but I like to feel alongside the other members of the things, I like to feel a part of the audience; I like to feel that I'm being effective as a member of the audience. I don't mind being asked to clap my fucking hands, let's get that straight. I like to clap my hands, and it doesn't get my uptight if someone says clap or sing or shout or scream or do what you want to do. That's exactly what I want to do, and if I feel like jumping up and down and dancing, I don't want everyone telling me that I'm bringing them down or that they can't listen to the music or something. People should be an audience, and if it's time-to-get-up-and-dance-time, everybody should do it at the same time.

This happened when Otis Redding appeared, that's what happened. When he wanted them to sit down he said, "And now we're going to play a soulful tune," and sang in a soulful way and was dead still, and when he wanted them to get up and dance he said, "Come on, clap your hands, get up and dance," and they did, man, grooved right along with him.

When you're listening to Ravi Shankar, you know what you've got to do. When you're in the Who's audience, you know - I like to know where I am. I like to go and see a group and know what my role is. I like to know whether or not I'm supposed to listen attentively, whether I'm supposed to groove, whether I'm supposed to do anything constructive, whether I'm invited up to jam or what. I like to know where I'm am. It's usually the most professional groups that give you this feeling.

WENNER: Performers like Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Mick Jagger, Jimi Hendrix, the Who, all are tremendously physical, tremendously sensual, tremendously involved with very sexual things. Does this characterize rock & roll?

TOWNSHEND: It must! It must. I mean, it does. Period. It embodies it, it's part of its life. Life revolves, of not around it, within it, if not within it, without it, but definitely along with it. Something about rock & roll has to do with sex and everything to do with sex, like becoming together and the parting and this kind of thing. The whole thing about polluting a chick and then waving goodbye. The whole process of sex is embodied in just the rock & roll rhythm - like gospel music or like native chants or something. Just banging on the table is like it's the demand, and it's also the satiation as well. You bang on the table and in the same process you masturbate, you know. At the end of the show you're finished, you know, you've had it. You've come your lot, and the show's over.

"Rock me baby until my back ain't got no bone." That is the line. Man, it's such a funny line, I can never believe it. I imagine some very skinny, wizened old Negro blues singer singing that in a very frail old voice: "Rock me baby 'til my back ain't got no bone."

WENNER: I forget if I read this or whether it is something Glyn Johns told me. You and the group came out of this rough, tough area, were very restless and had this thing: You were going to show everybody; you were a kid with a big nose, and you were going to make all these people love it, love your big nose.

TOWNSHEND: That was probably a mixture of what Glyn Johns told you and an article I wrote. In fact, Glyn was exactly the kind of person I wanted to show. Glyn used to be one of the people who, right when I walked in, he'd be on the stage singing. I'd walk in because I dug his group. I'd often go to see him, and he would announce through the microphone, "Look at the bloke in the audience with that huge nose" and of course the whole audience would turn around and look at me, and that would be acknowledgement from Glyn.

When I was in school the geezers that were snappy dressers and got chicks like years before I ever even thought they existed would always like to talk about my nose. This seemed to be the biggest thing in my life: my fucking nose, man. Whenever my dad got drunk, he'd come up to me and say, "Look, son, you know, looks aren't everything," and shit like this. He's getting drunk, and he's ashamed of me because I've got a huge nose, and he's trying to make me feel good. I know it's huge, and of course it became incredible, and I became an enemy of society. I had to get over this thing. I've done it, and I never believe it to this day, but I do not think about my nose anymore. And if I had said this when I was a kid, if I ever said to myself, "One of these days you'll go through a whole day without once thinking that your nose is the biggest in the world, man" - you know, I'd have laughed.

It was huge. At that time, it was the reason I did everything. It's the reason I played the guitar - because of my nose. The reason I wrote songs was because of my nose, everything, so much. I eventually admitted something in an article where I summed it up far more logically in terms of what I do today. I said that what I wanted to do was distract attention away from my nose to my body and make people look at my body instead of at my face - turn my body into a machine. But by the time I was into visual things like that, anyway, I'd forgotten all about my nose and a big ego trip, and I thought, well, if I've got a big nose, it's a groove and it's the greatest thing that can happen because, I don't know, it's like a lighthouse or something. The whole trip had changed by then, anyway.

WENNER: What is your life like today?

TOWNSHEND: Mainly laughs, actually, mainly laughs. The Who on tour is a very difficult trip: it's a delicate one, and it could be dangerous. So it's best to keep this on the humorous side. If we take this situation seriously, we tend to feedback. Like one person gets a slight down and the rest of us get a slight down, and so we have to keep spirits up even if it's false, even if it's jokes that aren't funny, just in order to get someone to laugh. That is what it's all about to me now.

WENNER: What is going to happen to rock & roll?

TOWNSHEND: I'm looking to a couple of people. I've heard some of the Rolling Stones' tracks, and although I dig them I don't think they're anything more than what they are which in incredible, delicious and wonderful rock & roll and well overdue from them. The Rolling Stones should always be a nonprogressive group. I don't think that the Rolling Stones should be concerned with what they're doing in pop. That's what I dig about them.

Dylan, for example, could create a new thing. I think if he made his next record with the Big Pink, that could be interesting. That might create some new things in rock & roll. Dylan's thing about writing the lyric and then picking up the guitar up and just pumping out the song as it comes out is a direct guide to what will happen in music.

People are going to want music to be more realistic, more honest and more of a gift from the heart, rather than a gift from the lungs, as it were. Instead of wanting to go and watch Ginger Baker run six miles before your very eyes, you'd rather dig what he's doing. I think this is what's happening.

WENNER: People are always trying to find a parallel with jazz. Do you see what happened to jazz, happening here?

TOWNSHEND: No. Jazz totally absolutely boiled down to a different kettle of fish. Because of the audiences. Audiences were a different breed entirely. If you're talking about the days when the people used to do the Black Bottom, then maybe you're getting nearer to what pop music is equivalent to today.

Pop is more than the Black Bottom; pop is more than short skirts. The effect pop has on society is incredible. It's a power thing. It's now in a position that if everyone that was thinking in pop music terms were to stand end to end, they'd go around the world ten times. This is what pop music is about. Pop music is basically big. It concerns far more than the twenty-year-olds. It concerns everybody now. It's lasted too long.

Jazz, in its entirety - modern jazz, progressive jazz - hasn't had the effect on the world in fucking twenty-five years that pop has had in a year today. Geniuses like Charlie Parker are completely unrecognized by the world, and yet groups like the Rolling Stones - very normal, very regular guys - are incredibly well known. This is true of everything. The whole system is a different thing entirely. The audiences then were smaller; they became snobbish, racist. They were pompous jazz audiences. They became slow to catch on to new ideas. They became prejudiced, dogmatic, everything bad. While pop music is everything good.

Pop is everything; it's all sugar and spice, it really is. Pop audiences are the cream of today's music-listening audiences. They're not the classical snobs who sit by their poxy Fisher amplifiers and listen to Leonard Bernstein conducting. Not knowing that Leonard Bernstein is completely stoned out of his crust and grooving to high heaven, thinking, "What a fine, excellent recording this is, really fine," and not knowing what the fucking hell is going on.

This is what the jazz listener was like. Okay, he'd have a few beers and he'd go down to the fucking Village Gate and shout one "yeah" in a night, when he thought that someone had played something quite clever. But he didn't know what they were into. I just about know what they're into today, listening to some recordings that Charlie Parker made nearly twenty-five years ago. God knows what people thought then.

Pop's audience is right alongside; they know what's happening. Pop hasn't confused anybody, it really hasn't. it's kept with the people, it's kept in time with the people. It's going out now; the panic now is that the people feel it going out of step. They felt it go out of step in England and completely rebelled.

People just felt that pop was getting out of their hands; groups like the Pink Floyd were appearing, scary group, psychedelic. So they completely freaked out. Nothing like the down-home Rolling Stones who used to have a good old-fashioned piss against a good old-fashioned garage attendant. This Pink Floyd - what were they all about? With their flashing lights and all taking trips and one of them's psycho. "What's this all about? That's not my bag."

So they all turn over to good old Engelbert Humperdinck who is a phenomenon of out age in England. Yet it's a sign of the revolt; it's a sign of the fact that the music got out of step with the people.

WENNER: Why did it happen in England?

TOWNSHEND: Europe is a piss place for music, and it's a complete incredible fluke that England has got all the bad points of Nazi Germany, all the pompous pride of France, all the old-fashioned patriotism of the old Order of the Empire. It's got everything that's got nothing to do with music. All the European qualities which should enhance, which should come out in music, England should be able to benefit by, but it doesn't.

And just all of a sudden, bang! wack! zap-swock out of nowhere. There it is: the Beatles. Incredible. How did they ever appear then on the poxy little shit-stained island? Out of the Germans you can accept Wagner; out of the French you can accept Debussy; and even out of the Russians you can accept Tchaikovsky. All these incredible people. Who's England got? Purcell? He's a gas, but he's one of the only guys we've got, and Benjamin Britten today who copies Purcell. There's so few people.

And all of a sudden there's the Beatles, with their little funny "we write our own songs." "Don't you have ghost writers?"

It's difficult to talk about rock & roll. It's difficult because it's essentially a category and a category which embodies something which transcends the category. The category itself becomes meaningless. The words "rock & roll" don't begin to conjure up any form of conversation in my mind because they are so puny compared to what they are applied to. But "rock & roll" is by far a better expression than "pop." It means nothing.

It's a good thing you've got a machine, a radio that puts out good rock & roll songs, and it makes you groove through the day. That's the game, of course: When you are listening to a rock & roll song the way you listen to "Jumpin' Jack Flash," or something similar, that's the way you should really spend your whole life. That's how you should be all the time: just grooving to something simple, something basically good, something effective and something not too big. That's what life is.

Rock & roll is one of the keys, one of the many, many keys to a very complex life. Don't get fucked up with all the many keys. Groove to rock & roll, and then you'll probably find one of the best keys of all.

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