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Pete Townshend on 'Empty Glass,' Cincinnati, And the Who's Future

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In terms of affection?
In terms of affection, and also remembering constantly that they are human beings – and not just people in rows. And I hope the reverse: that people who come to see the band will know that we're human beings too, and not this myth you were talking about earlier.

I mean, I watched Roger Daltrey cry his eyes out after that show. I didn't, but he did. But now, whenever a fucking journalist – sorry – asks you about Cincinnati, they expect you to come up with a fucking theatrical tear in your eye! You know: "Have you got anything to say about Cincinnati?" "Oh, we were deeply moved, terrible tragedy, the horror, loss of life, arrrrghh –" What do you do? We did all the things we thought were right to do at the time: sent flowers to the fucking funerals. All . . . wasted. I think when people are dead they're dead.

When I was in England a couple of months ago, there was constant talk of youth-culture violence, particularly from skinheads, and there seemed to be a general feeling that the violence was increasing. Geoff Travis of Rough Trade [a record shop and label in the Notting Hill area of London] spoke of the violence, in his store and on the street, as a day-to-day fact. I asked him why he thought this was happening, and he gave me various explanations having to do with the economic and political situation in Britain – but he also said that he thought Quadrophenia, the movie, had had an effect. He thought that the movie glamorized violence between youth movements, and also very much exaggerated the mod-rocker violence that did take place in the early- to mid-Sixties, when the movie is set – that the violence was nowhere near so intense as the movie shows it to be. What do you think about that?
Well – I'm sorry to say that I suppose in a way I think he's right. It's very difficult when you make a film – when you produce a film – because in the last analysis you have to hand it over to the director. I wrote the script, originally – the first draft screenplay I wrote with Chris Stamp – and there was no riot scene at all. Not at all. For me, Quadrophenia was about the fights, and the riots, happening in the kid's head. The threat: "I'll do anything, I'll go anywhere" – and what you're dealing with is a little wimp. Who's fucking useless. Who couldn't fight anybody. He had his few pills, and his bottle of gin, and he felt like he could.

It was a study in spiritual desperation: the fact that all that desperation and frustration leads somebody to the point where for the first time in their life they realize that the only important thing is to open their heart. It wasn't about blood and guts and thunder – in the way that the film turned out to be.

It wasn't about the clash of youth cultures.
No. I suppose the director. Franc Roddam, thought it would make good cinema. And I think to some extent it's possible [the film] has sharpened [the violence] up, but I think it runs a bit deeper. A lot of skins would naturally go and see Quadrophenia, but the thing that makes skinheads violent is that – well, fundamentally they're fascists. They despise everybody – who isn't like them. It's a kind of toy fascism, fed by organized fascism: fed by Martin Webster and the National Front.

You know, I'm not afraid to say that I think fascism stinks, and I think a lot of skins stink. But I suppose I think any violence stinks, and if you pin down any of these kids, you could actually get it across to them that neither their violence nor their out their outfits nor their stance is going to change anything in British society. But most of all, they're wrong anyway: there's nothing wrong with our society. It's perfectly all right as it is. The way all societies are is that some people get, and some people don't. And if you don't fucking get, you don't go around slashing people on the face because you've not got enough money to buy a car. You hear it with dignity. The problem to some extent – when you've got a film like Quadrophenia – is that it's exploited something that's already there: the violence was already there. I don't know quite where the responsibility lies – maybe you could use the same terms I used for Cincinnati: I suppose the responsibility lies in direct proportion to everybody who makes money out of it.

Earlier, we were talking about the different strains of music that exist in Britain now, and you said each was jagged, challenging, didn't fit easily into the social order – and that things didn't seem to be that way in America. In America, when a problem becomes evident, it's common to hear. "Oh, it's just a problem in communications" – as if there couldn't really be anything that truly divides people. Whereas in Britain, the class system is recognizably the basis of the way the country works – it's part of the way this country works, too, but not recognizably – and, in Britain, there is an understanding that real things can divide people: that, inevitably, they do. That, to me, is one of the reasons you can have intensely different audiences and musics, each "jagged," not because one form of music simplistically represents a given class, but because the idea of clashing, of being separated, is part of the society itself: it's not the slightly unreal concept it often is in America. Such conflict implies change, and yet you're saying society as it is right now is just fine–perfect. I'm quite taken aback to hear you say that. It seems to me you're saying a lot more than that it's pointless to try and change society.
I'm saying it's pointless to try and change it through violence. And it's pointless to try and change it through complaint. Probably anarchy . . . Anarchy in organized society means standing up and saying, "Listen, I don't fit in, and I refuse to fit in" – and, presumably, you end up in jail. But you don't necessarily have to hurt anyone by being an anarchist; the old image of the anarchist walking around with a bomb, about to blow up the British Museum, is dated.

No – I don't think society's perfect at all. What I'm saying is that a lot of the problems that lead to violence, that occur within separatist youth movements in Britain, come from resentment that somebody is better off than they are, and they can't understand the reason why. And they then feel that if this person is better off than they – if there's a Rolls Royce to be had, and it happens to be driven by a Pakistani, then he doesn't deserve it: it belongs to me. Charlie Wilkins from Camden Town. With his Dr. Marten boots with steel-toe caps, and his hair shaved off. He probably works for the GPO – and has probably got an IQ of four. And deserves a Rolls Royce as much as a kick in the head. I mean, he deserves nothing, is what I'm saying.

Why do British rock movements last so long? Then are still Teds, or the Ted-rockabilly subculture; there are mods again; there are still skinheads, after more than a decade. London and towns outside it are full of very young kids in pure 1977 Sid Vicious regalia. Why do these movements last so long, and without developing?
I don't know. There is that deeply ingrained sense of class, and it shatters down now into separatism – but it goes a little bit deeper. There's a need for uniforms; and to some extent it doesn't matter which uniform you choose, just so long as you choose a uniform.

A lot of skins are just kids that like the look. They like football, they like to go and jostle at football matches, get involved in a few punch-outs, but not kill people. Not slash people. It's something like getting involved in a fight, and going down to the pub the next day as the hero, with a black eye.

What's important about the uniforms is that they're so extreme. You adopt the heavy-metal uniform: you wear a denim jacket, you cover it with badges of this band and that band – UFO – you take your cardboard guitar, and you go down to the Roundhouse, and you wave your long, greasy hair –

Cardboard guitars? To mime playing along?
Right. Then rockabilly: bright pink jackets, with velvet collars; drapes that go halfway down your legs, great big brothel creepers –

Brothel creepers?
Shoes with great, thick crepe soles. And drainpipe trousers, pink socks. Punk: people with beehive, pointed hair, their legs chained together, girls going to clubs with no skirts on. Mod: short, clean haircuts, military clothes –

They're all so fucking extreme: I think it invites a them-and-us situation, wherever it occurs. The way Franc Roddam tried to justify the sensationalist violence in Quadrophenia was by analyzing the relationship between the two friends; Kevin, who was the rocker, and Jimmy, who was the mod. Despite the fact that they were friends, and had a hell of a lot in common, and could have gone on to become closer, Jimmy ends up finding himself beating his own friend up, simply because he's wearing the wrong clothes.

It's so clear who are "they" and who are "us" – animosity comes quite naturally. Quite why there is the need for uniforms, I don't know. I'm still trying to work that out.

This story is from the June 26th, 1980 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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