October 20, 2020

’78 Melody Maker Interview with Pete Townshend

Pete talks about Keith’s death and the future of The Who

"Roger and I haver really got to get together and thrash out…not a compromise, but what is really gonna work.  And if we can’t do it so that it will work, then we should knock it on the head".

Pete Townshend, speaking for the first time about Keith Moon’s death and the future of The Who this week, told MM that if the band performed again it would be with an extended line-up featuring keyboards and brass, as well as a new drummer. Talking on the set of Quadrophenia, which has been filming in Brighton, Townshend said that The Who would have to expand because he also wanted the sound level on stage to be quieter.

"The amplifier levels that we use at the moment are really deafening. If I’m careful now I’ll only go deaf when I’m 50, but if I’m not careful it’ll be when I’m 40. There’s no option, unless they dream something up in the next couple of years."

Although Townshend, Entwistle and Daltrey have had two meetings since Keith Moon died early in September, these were to discuss his estate, and so far there is no broad agreement on their future together.

If, as is likely, The Who do continue in some form, it could be a kind of rebirth. It was no secret that Moon held them back in some respects. He was not an adaptable drummer, and his health had become suspect; the recording of ‘Who Are You’ was plagued by Moon’s attempts to sustain his work in the studio.

Speaking of Moon, Townshend said that much of the drummer’s problem lay in his belief that he was indestructible: "It was his big mistake. I think he’d burned out a lot of reserves of energy, but he was on a positive up at the time, and I think the weird thing for Keith was that he couldn’t actually get used to the fact that he was starting to feel quite comfortable with life – maybe that made him feel quite uncomfortable, I dunno."

Whatever their future as a group, The Who are still involved with many projects that should keep their name before the public well into the 1980s. They include the film of Quadrophenia, directed by Franc Roddam, who made the award-winning TV play, Dummy; The Kids Are Alright, which is largely composed of footage shot throughout various stages of The Who’s career; and further films based upon the life of celebrated ex-criminal, "Big" John McVicar, and on Townshend’s six-year-old script of Lifehouse, the futuristic fantasy that was to be the follow-up to Tommy at one time.

Townshend is also writing a musical play for television, and previously unreleased tracks by The Who are to appear on an album whose proceeds will go to charity.

Aside from the doubts about The Who’s exact future, Townshend confesses he’s very happy with life right now, and says that if The Who split up he would continue to make solo albums, do production, run a record label and write. The only regrets he would have about not performing would be that it deprived him of the chance to dance publicly – "which is pretty sick," he laughed.

"Exhibitionism is a habit as much as anything else. You do need it, but there’s various ways it can be got out apart from being on a stage.

"Now I feel very comfortable feeling comfortable. I’ve had a very good three years since the ’76 tour.

"Then I just felt burnt-out, clap-ridden and alcoholic. I suppose I felt I hadn’t created anything, that’s what for me was the problem.

"I also had nothing to fall back on. When the band split up I felt, ‘Right, where’s the next bar, the next club, the next tart, the next limousine.

"I remember when I got home I was wearing this military uniform that I’d worn quite happily for two months every day.

"And I went through the door of the house and the two kids looked at me and screamed. It was then I started to come to.

"I realised The Who had done a hell of a lot of work and had no album. I didn’t have any songs or any subject matter apart from the same old stuff that had brought forth all the dreary ‘Who By Numbers’ material – alcoholic degradation.

"And can you get away with it twice? No. So I made up my mind then – I’ve gotta get my priorities right. And one priority that I sorted out was that I needed stability and I needed my family, and I needed that more than anything else."

So relaxed has he since become that he quite willingly agreed to perform on Paul McCartney’s super-session last Tuesday, which was to have included a "cutting" guitar line-up of Page, Clapton, Hank Marvin and himself. On the day, though, Clapton and Page didn’t show: "I think they were both scared," says Pete.

Eventually about 40 musicians assembled and were filmed for the session. Townshend stayed nine hours and pronounced it, "Amazing, absolutely amazing.

"Dave Gilmour was next to me, with an enormous beer gut. Bonham was there; he had a big beer gut as well. He played amazingly, incredible.

"Plant didn’t come, but there was Kenny Jones, and John Paul Jones was doing keyboards. Denny was there, and Hank Marvin – that was a weird one. Speedy Acquaye, Ronnie Lane…it was pretty difficult to distinguish between instruments."

For all his good humour, however, Townshend still wrestles with the question that has obsessed him constantly in recent years: can he come to terms, as a rock’n’roller, with getting older?

The answer, he feels, is no: that it’s impossible.

"I’ve just heard so much shit spouted about it, and nobody has any clue at all. I’ve heard people like Jagger say the most stupid things, and Roger and I have said the most stupid things."

But Chuck Berry, he is gently reminded, is 52 and still going strong. "1 don’t wanna be like him." he replies.

There is still life after 30, it’s suggested.

"Yeah, but strangely enough, a lot of what The Who have done and said has not been about life, really.

"I think the thing that I find most difficult is when people say, ‘You’re as old as you feel, you can get on the stage and jump about. You mustn’t be preoccupied with growing old.’

"Well, I’ve always felt old, I’ve always felt serious, and I’ve always identified with ‘black’ problems – with frustration, depression, teenage displacement, alcoholism and drug addiction. This is what fuckin’ rock’n’roll songs are all about! When somebody turns round to me and says, ‘You’re only as young as you feel’ – I’ve been a boring old fart since I was 15! And equally, if they say that rock’n’roll is fun or should be fun, that just makes me laugh; it just shows to me a fundamental misunderstanding of what rock music is, good rock music.

"I mean, listening to Bruce Springsteen, tor example – it’s not fun, it’s fucking triumph! To actually hear the problems laid out in front of you, to know that he was and probably still is, to a great extent, a kid from New Jersey, and he’s absolutely broken out of that and taken the guitar and the pen and used them as weapons. To call that fun is trivialising. The Bay City Rollers are fun.

"Age just becomes a practical problem, that’s all, About two years ago I was swinging on a rope at my house holding one of the kids when I slipped off. I didn’t want her to hit the ground so I put my elbows back and landed on one elbow. But it hasn’t healed; it still hurts.

"And then I think of what I’ve done to myself onstage in the last ten years. I’ve put me face through a plate-glass window, jumped off the top of me amps and landed on me knees and shattered the ball of me toe and it was all better three days later.

"You just change physically. When you get older you cannot argue with the passing of time."