How The Who's Breakup Shatters Roger Daltrey's Illusions About The Power of Rock

Parting with the Who hasn't been painless, but Daltrey just released his fourth solo album and is pursuing an acting career

roger daltrey 1984
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Roger Daltrey
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W ith the release of Parting Should Be Painless, his first solo album since the demise of the Who, Roger Daltrey is clearly a changed man. His clothes are more dapper. His aura is more – should we say? – mature. But the biggest difference appears to be in Daltrey's attitude; the former lead singer of the Who, one of the most idealistic bands in the history of rock & roll, is now a pragmatist, first and foremost.    

"I don't have any illusions anymore," says the forty-year-old Daltrey. "The illusion that rock & roll could change anything – I don't believe that. That the Who was this strange machine that could do anything – I don't believe that. I've changed. Who would have ever thought that I'd end up saying I want to be an all-round entertainer? But that's what I want to be. Not that I ever want to go to Vegas. . . ." Daltrey thinks for a second. "Although one day I might do it – just for a laugh."

It is significant that in Britain Daltrey has become almost better known as an actor than as a singer. During the last two years, he has made his Shakespearean debut in a television presentation of The Comedy of Errors; has played MacHeath in The Beggar's Opera, which was directed by Jonathan Miller, one of Britain's leading theatrical figures; and has starred in a short film called Bitter Cherry. And now, while he sits in his manager's London office, Daltrey's main concern appears to be how he can raise the final 2 million pounds needed to begin his pet project, directing a film about the Kray twins, Britain's most notorious gangland figures.

One can't help but wonder if singing has become an afterthought in Daltrey's life. "I love singing, and I don't want to stop," he says. "My solo career during the Who was like a hobby, because the Who's schedule was simply never enough for me, and there are all kinds of music I like to sing that the Who didn't cover. Now I've got the freedom to do what I like, when I like."

Parting Should Be Painless, Daltrey's fourth solo album, demonstrates his eclectic tastes – it includes a track written by Eurythmics ("Somebody Told Me") and one penned by Bryan Ferry ("Going Strong") – but its overall feel steers it toward the AOR and easylistening markets.

Musically, says Daltrey, the LP covers areas he had wanted the Who to pursue. "Pete [Towns-hend] and I both said the Who was an alternative to heavy metal, but toward the end, John got more into that and Pete and I further away from it. Because we were compromising so much, we ended up just settling into what we knew how to do best. It bored me to tears, and I know it bored Pete to tears, too." 

Photos: WHO is Roger Daltrey?

Even though he acknowledges that the Who had not really recorded a good album since the death of Keith Moon in 1978 and that the group had toured "to death," Daltrey, perhaps even more than Townshend, continues to believe that the Who had a symbolic importance greater than the fruits of their work. "We kept our ideals, a sense of fairness and giving people hope, and for that reason the Who was a valid thing to keep going," he says. "I was very upset when it finished. Pleased for Pete, because he's now free to do what he wants, but upset because my vision of the Who and other people's visions were obviously different."    

Still, Daltrey's illusion that the Who could change the world was finally shattered by Townshend's increasing involvement with drugs and his eventual battle to overcome his addiction in 1981. "For years, Pete had been responsible for keeping me away from all that; I'd always been taught by him that everything is within you. And then, when he became a drug addict himself, I suddenly thought, 'Fuck me, we're human.' It really distressed me to see a man I love very dearly doing that to himself, because heroin changes people permanently, even when they come off it."  

Daltrey says he has hardly seen Townshend since the group played its last show in Toronto in December 1982. "He's stuck himself into a different world, and he's not really very communicative these days. Townshend's best stuff always came out of his worst problems – I've always said it, and he's always denied it. But now that he's dried up a little bit as a writer, he's come to realize I'm right. But I'd hate to think he'd have to go through more hell just to write songs. I just hope he's happy; that's the only diing I care about."

For his own part, Daltrey appears to have come out of the group in the best position of all. His acting and singing careers are intact, and he seems healthy and well adjusted. "I miss the Who very much," says Daltrey. "But it's over for good now, and you can't live in the past. I've got my own life to get on with."

This story is from the May 24, 1984 issue of Rolling Stone.

From The Archives Issue 422: May 24, 1984