Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne on the Who: 'They Had Superhuman Strength'

"It's almost like the four of them communicated together on a psychic level. They also probably did a lot of speed"

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Wayne Coyne; The Who
The Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne pays tribute to the Who and remembers his first time seeing them, which changed his life. Emiliano Granado/Redux, Jacques Haillot/Corbis

The Who are currently trekking across North America on their "The Who Hits 50!" tour, which Roger Daltrey has described as the beginning of the group's "long goodbye." The band has influenced countless musicians who have followed in its footsteps, including the Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne, who shares his thoughts on the Who below.

I grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and big bands like the Who didn't usually come into town until about the third or fourth legs of the tour, if they came at all. But in March of 1976, the Who booked a show at the Myriad Gardens Convention Center in downtown, their first time in the state since 1968. I was 15 and really only knew a few Who songs from Tommy that my older brother and his friends used to play. They were really psyched about the show, but I wasn't that interested. The day before someone told my brother he couldn't go, so they invited me.

I'd seen Alice Cooper and some teeny-bopper concerts, but this was on a whole different level. I know now they weren't even at the peak of their powers by then, but to me and everyone else there it was mind-blowing. The intensity and emotion was unreal. It turned out that was their last tour with Keith Moon, so seeing them any time afterward couldn't have even compared to it. 

Pete Townshend obviously writes the Who's songs, but they got pushed through Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle and Keith Moon. That dynamic turns them into something completely different than just a Pete Townshend song. The four of them is what made their music so unique, so powerful and so insane. Everyone in that group is just a fuckin' badass. 

They created chaos together. It all began with Keith, but it was made more chaotic by John. He was like a distorted lead-guitar bass player over there. Then Pete adds all this energy to it. And then there's Roger Daltrey. From what I can tell, he could always sing perfectly in pitch, no matter what was happening. Many singers would be unable to front that group. Whatever they wanted a song to sound like, Roger could always deliver. 

It's almost like the four of them communicated together on a psychic level. They also probably did a lot of speed. In the early 1970s, it seemed like they had superhuman strength. Everything was so amped up. They paid for this in later days. There's only so much overdrive you can put on yourself without doing some damage to yourself. They were just all just insane. There's no way a normal person is going to arrive at that music, and then one of them is fucking Keith Moon. Fuck. He's insane. You don't want to be in a band with him because you'd have to be at that same level.

Pete Townshed; The Who
Pete Townshend in his home studio, circa 1970 Chris Morphet/Getty

Live at Leeds is my favorite album, but you can't listen to that with a bunch of girls around. You know nobody else understands what the fuck is going on. But I could drive around and listen to that album forever. I think the peak of their intensity was around Woodstock with Tommy.  

I go back and forth, but my favorite Who song is probably "See Me/Feel Me." Seeing them play that song in 1976 was life-changing. That's when the lasers came out. It didn't seem like it could get louder or better, but then it got louder and better. I though that the ceiling of the arena was going to cave in, but we didn't care.

It's 40 years later and they're still touring. I'm glad that Pete is able to do whatever he wants to do. He has a beautiful spirit and is a great artist and just a cool, creative person. What they're doing now is not what they were doing back then, but it's on a different level. It doesn't surprise me he's 70 and still doing this. Pete has said that the current lineup of the Who is almost like a tribute band featuring two original members. Bands always become tributes to their younger selves. There's nothing you can do about that. Music is always bigger than you are. 

I think back a lot to that night I saw them in 1976. It wasn't until a long time afterwards that I saw a show that satisfied me like that. It wasn't until I saw punk-rock groups like Black Flag up close there I saw that sort of intensity and people just possessed by music. That's what made me want to be in a band. Seeing the Who really altered something in me, for sure. 

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