Pete Townshend Talks Mods, Recording, and Smashing Guitars

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We were talking about Mods and the army of Mods, the rock and roll army. Obviously you've thought about it a lot and obviously it's connected with music some way. You said that the group you liked was The Who, and you could did the Beatles and music, styles set in music, fashions set in music. What is the role of rock and roll in this youth movement?
Music was as much a fashion as the fashion it created. It was an incredibly flippant fashion. It was as flippant as the girls in the group drinking liebfraumilch in the 1920's. It was as flippant as that. Music was just a feather. You went from record to record and you went from group to group, but you always dug The Who, because they were always down at the local dance. They were mods and we're mods and we dig them. We used to make sure that if there was a riot, a mod-rocker riot, we would be paying in the area. That was a place called Brighton.

By the sea?
Yes. that's where they used to assemble. We'd always be playing there. And we got associated with the whole thing and we got into the spirit of the whole thing. And, of course, rock and roll, the words wouldn't even be mentioned; the fact that music would have any part of the movement was terrible. The music would have come from the actual drive of the youth combination itself.

You see, as individuals these people were nothing. They were the lowest, they were England's lowest common denominators. Not only were were they young, they were also lower class young. They had to submit to the middle classes' way of dressing and way of speaking and way of acting in order to get the very jobs which kept them alive. They had to do everything in terms of what existed already around them. That made their way of getting something across that much more latently effective, the fact that they were hip and yet still, as far as grandad was concerned, exactly the same. It made the whole gesture so much more vital. It was incredible. As a force, they were unbelievable. That was the Bulge, that was England's Bulge; all the war babies, all the old soldiers coming back from war and screwing until they were blue in the face–this was the result. Thousands and thousands of kids, too many kids, not enough teachers, not enough parents, not enough pills to go around. Everybody just grooving on being a mod.

It seemed to find its highest form of transcendence in music.
I don't think that's so. I think it found its highest form of transcendence in the actual event of being a mod. It's difficult for you to know because you weren't one. I know where I'm at now, I know what it's like to be a member of a successful group. I know what it's like to be a member of a group that it's difficult to be a member of. It's a great feeling to be in a group that's happening of any kind.

But I also know the feeling of what it's like to be a mod among two million mods and it's incredible. It's like being, it's like being – suddenly you're the only white man in the Apollo. Someone comes up and touches you and you become black. It's like that moment, that incredible feeling of being part of something which is really something much bigger than race and much bigger than – it was impetus. It covered everybody, everybody looked the same, and everybody acted the same and everybody wanted to be the same.

It was the first move that I have ever seen in the history of youth towards unity, towards unity of thought, unity of drive and unity of motive. Youth has always got some leader or other, some head man. The head man was Mr. Mod. It could be anyone. Any kid, you know, however ugly or however fucked up, if he had the right hair-cut and the right clothes and the right motorbike, he was a mod. He was mod! There was no big Fred Mod or something. You could get all the equipment at the local store, you get the haircut at the barber's; there was nothing special. You just needed a job in order to get you into the stuff, and that was the only equipment you needed. It was an incredible youthful drive. It really affected me in an incredible way because it teases me all the time because whenever I think "Oh, you know, Youth today is just never gonna make it." I just think of that fucking gesture that happened in England. It was the closest to patriotism that I've ever felt.

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