Pete Townshend: On Sex, Crying, and Pretending to be Drunk

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There are a few interesting uses of the Who's catalog at the moment. I thought it was strange that you let them use "Bargain" in the Nissan car ad, given that the song is so very much not about that.
Yeah, but not many people know that [laughs].

Well, correct me if I'm interpreting it wrong, but the song is saying that you are prepared to give yourself up for enlightenment or spiritual satisfaction and that this bargain is the best you've ever had.
That's right. Yeah.

Which is about as anti-materialistic a message as one could think of.
[Mock-snarling] So, what's your point?

My point is that it is now being used to sell shiny new motorcars.
I still don't get your point – you haven't completed the argument.

Well, I'll complete it, then. The suggestion of the ad is that one might buy a super new Nissan car that is the best one for the finest price, and that that's the bargain.
Well, that's their suggestion, isn't it? If that's what they think is their campaign, and that's what you think is their campaign, then that's their campaign. I haven't seen the ads. "Going Mobile" is not about mobile phones. I mean, "Who Are You" is used constantly by all different kinds of people for all different kinds of reasons. For about ten years I really resisted any kind of licensing because Roger had got so upset when somebody had used "Pinball Wizard" for a bank thing. And they hadn't used the Who master – and what he was angry about was, he said that I was exploiting the Who's heritage but denying him the right to earn. Who fans will often think, "This is my song, it belongs to me, it reminds me of the first time that I kissed Susie, and you can't sell it." And the fact is that I can and I will and I have. I don't give a fuck about the first time you kissed Susie.

But surely you care about some of the deep, personal meanings in the songs?
If they've arrived, if they've landed, if they've been received, then the message is there, if there's a message to be received. I think the other thing is, though – and I'm not trying to sideswipe this, this is not the reason why I license these songs, it's not the reason why I licensed "Bargain" to Nissan – it was an obviously shallow misreading of the song. It was so obvious that I felt anybody who loved the song would dismiss it out of hand. And the only argument that they could have about the whole thing was with me, and as long as I'm not ready to enter the argument, we don't argue. Well, I'm not ready to argue about it. It's my song. I do what the fuck I like with it.

Do you have any envy over Mick Jagger's recent knighthood?
No. I'm absolutely amazed that he got one, though [laughs]. I'm kind of pleased for him, really. I think he actually seems quite pleased, doesn't he?

Why are you amazed?
I suppose, like everybody else I thought, "He'll never get one. If they give him one, they'll have to give Keith Richards one."

Which is the last Who album you're unequivocally proud of?

That's a long time ago.
1973. But I've done lots of other things since then that I'm pleased with. You have to remember, I do think that the Who's halcyon years were short. And most bands' were. . . . [Last week] I said to [touring keyboard player] Rabbit [Bundrick], "Wouldn't it be great if we could produce a Who album that was like Who's Next?" A few wild, edgy little bits; we could absorb a few visits from a few passing celebrities that weren't Lenny Kravitz. Bless him. I love him. But it's him and me on everything currently this year. We're on everything.

These days, you're a keen sailor. I think people who don't know may think it's a very strange thing for you to have taken up.
It is a bit strange, I suppose, but I think it comes straight from the river, and an affinity with the river and an affinity with water. I love boats. It's the only area of my life where I've actually felt competitive, when I'm racing. And the only sport I win at. I just think, it seems like son of a nice, gentlemanly way to race, that whole thing that you can be racing intensely and yet only traveling at sort of half a mile an hour. There's something about that that I just love. I'm not a natural sailor. I was around on boats when I was about ten or twelve, and my father and I bought a boat together when I was about twenty, but I don't regard myself as a sort of a natural, born-on-boats sort of sailor. But I do sail with people like that. I know if you want to win races what you do is you get a few of those guys around and you put one on the helm. But I understand the wind, I understand hydronautics, I understand a lot about what kind of boats are likely to win and what aren't, I know about teamwork, I know about putting together a team. I just won my very first race in Antibes this year with a new boat. We put it in the water, we raced it and we won.

You've always been guarded when discussing how fluid or otherwise your sexuality has been. I was interested and somewhat surprised to read in [In Their Own Write: Adventures in the Music Press] recently Danny Fields [Doors publicist and Ramones manager] referring rather casually to the two of you as on-and-off boyfriends in the late Sixties.
You know, I don't know what that's about. We were friends, you know? We were friends in a circle with Linda McCartney, but I just don't know what he's talking about. He can say what he likes, I just don't know what he is fucking talking about. I have no idea.

So that's definitely not the case?
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. [Pauses] What is definitely not the case? I haven't read what he said.

That presumably the two of you were physically intimate.
Oh, no. Physical intimacy, quite possibly, yeah. I can't remember.

Sexual intimacy?
So what? Yeah. Physical, sexual intimacy, yeah, quite possibly. There's whole chunks of my life I can't remember. But "boyfriend"? [Shakes his head] Once. But twice, it's not possible. It's just not actually possible, that I wouldn't remember it twice. I can accept I might not remember it once, but I can't really deal with the fact that I couldn't remember it twice. Or three times or four times. I don't get it. You know, he was a fucking good friend of mine. It's very difficult for me. I haven't spoken to him since this has come out. I'll just look him in the eye and say, "What the fuck are you talking about? Please tell me."

Have you had many physical encounters with men over the years?
No. [Laughs] No, I haven't.

But it's not something that you're completely closed to?
No. I'm from the Sixties. You know, we tried everything. But . . .

Did or do you consider yourself fundamentally bisexual?
No, I don't. I know that I've got – and this has got nothing to do with anything I've actually done, or not done – a very, very feminine side. I think my creative side is very feminine. And I went so far as to say in that interview [with Timothy White in 1989, when Townshend was misunderstood as referring to his bisexuality] that I often feel like a woman; I can see what a woman feels – the whole act of submission sexually. But, in a sense, what I was talking about was the act of submission sexually in a male-female relationship, that you can swap roles. But that's very common and corny now, in a sense, to even bring it up. And I suppose what I'm doing is taking all of the feminine attributes and regarding them as being passive, gentle, submissive or whatever. But in the sense that my creative side is archly feminine, it is "I want the baby and I want it now!" it's biological. It's absolute. It's the feminine side that says to you [raises voice], "If I need to take heroin, I'll fucking take heroin – who are you to even raise an eyebrow? If I need to give birth, I shall do it!" But it's got nothing to do with my sexuality.

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