Pete Townshend Talks Mods, Recording, and Smashing Guitars

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How do you think that compares with what's called today the American hippie scene?
I think it compares. I think the hippie thing compares favorably, but it's a different motivation. There are beloved figures. There is pot, there is acid, there is the Marharishi, there is the Beatles, there is being anti-the-U.S.A., there are a whole lot of red herrings, which aren't what it's all about. What it is all about is the hippies, you know, that's what it's all about. The people, the actions, not the events, not the tripping-out or the latest fad or the latest record or the latest trip or the latest thing to groove to. The thing is people.

This is what they seem to overlook. You see this is the thing about the media barrage – you become aware only of the products around you because they're glorified, and so that when somebody gets stoned, what they do is that they don't groove to themselves really, they just sit around and they dig everything that's around them. They perhaps dig other people. They dig the way the room looks. The way the flowers look, the way the music sounds, the way that the group performs, how good the Beatles are. "How nice that is," they never say "how fantastic am I." This is the whole thing: they're far too abject in outlook, they're far too concerned with what is feeding into them and not so much with what they are. This is the difference between the mod thing in England and the hippie thing over here. The hippies are waiting for information, because information is perpetually coming in and they sit there and wait for it.

This is the incredible thing about the states, man. To get stoned in England is an entirely different trip. I'm not saying that you get stoned and you dig yourself or anything. What you would do is you would get stoned, perhaps you'd walk out and look at a tree or a matchstick or something and come back and have a cup of tea and then go to bed, man. But over here, you just carry on regardless. You go to Orange Julius and you have an Orange Julius and you watch TV and then you listen to some records, played very, very loud, and you know, it's a whole different pattern, a whole different way.

The acceptance of what one already has is the thing. Whereas the mod thing was the rejection of everything one already had. You didn't want to know about the fucking TV. "Take it away," you know. You didn't want to know about the politicians, you didn't want to know about the war. If there had been a draft, man, they would have just disappeared. If there had been a draft there wouldn't have been mods, because something like that – the thing was that it was a sterile situation, it was perfect. It was almost too perfect.

Over here it's imperfect, it's not a sterile situation. The group themselves can't become powerful because they can be weakened at so many points. They can be weakened by their education, by their spirituality, by their intelligence, by the sheer fact that Americans are more highly educated. The average American and the average Englishman and the Englishmen I'm talking about are people that probably left school when they were fourteen or fifteen. Some of them can't even read or write. But yet there were mods, they were like–you see something nearer, I suppose, in what it's like to be a Hell's Angel, but not as much flash, not as much gimmicking, much less part of a huge machine.

A lot of people, in a lot of new groups–not necessarily good ones at all–have tried to imbue rock and roll with a tremendous amount of spirituality and transfer on to it very deep meaning. What do you think of this tendency?
I don't want that record to dictate to me, to say, well, "this is where your head should be while you're listening to this record, you should be a in a spiritual groove." The thing is that you can take anything – you can take "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas" at any spiritual level if you want to. It is, in effect, a spiritual song, and it's effective on every spiritual level and it's a complete and wonderful musical effort because it can't be criticized; it's got to be accepted for what it is, it's a piece of pure existence. It's a piece of wonderful existence, so you get beyond it and when it gets down to justifying music or preloading it, saying "this is going to be a spiritual thing," or "this is going to have any kind of color," what you've got to do is work from the lowest level, and let, let the spiritual people get the spiritual bag out of what you're doing.

Primarily, by itself – it's going to seem incredible – but the record's got to entertain; it's so simple and so beautiful. That's the whole thing: It's just a piece of entertainment, like life itself. If life ceases to entertain, what do you want to do? You want to commit suicide. It's got to entertain. Whether it be badly or nicely, it shouldn't dictate, it should never dictate.

What do you think are the implications of the so-called rock and roll revival – the songs like on the Stones' new album. Are people now fed up with the bullshitty pretentious phenomena of the last year? Are they getting back to the values of rock and roll?
Let's hope so. To me, what is really happening is that rock and roll is being completely mischanneled. The whole effect of pop music was being followed though. What pop music was doing to people was something incredibly big, and so all the musicians that were creating rock and roll are saying, "Wow, it's doing something incredibly big, we're gonna follow this through."

And they were incapable of following through anything as big as rock and roll. You can't create something as huge as rock and roll and then come along and say, "Well, I'm going to do the follow up, now, which is going to be spirituality." You can't do it, rock and roll is enormous. It's one of the biggest musical events in history. It's equal to the classical music. It's equal and it's transcending slowly but surely because of the impetus, the weight of the feeling.

It's like saying, "Get all the pop music, put it into a cartridge, put the cap on it and fire the gun." You don't care whether those ten or 15 numbers sound roughly the same. You don't care what periods they were written in, what they mean, what they're all about. It's the bloody explosion that they create when you let the gun off. It's the event. That's what rock and roll is. That is why rock and roll is powerful. It is a single force. It is a single impetus and it's a single force which threatens a lot of the crap which is around at the moment in the middle class and in the middle-aged politics or philosophy.

It blasts it, out of its sheer brashness, it's sheer realisticness. It's like suddenly everybody getting hung up on a bum trip: mother has just fallen down the stairs, dad's lost all his money at the dog track, the baby's got TB. In comes the kid, man, with his transistor radio, grooving to Chuck Berry. He doesn't give a shit about mom falling down the stairs. He's with rock and roll.

That's what rock and roll says to life: It says, you know, I'm hip, I'm happy, forget your troubles and just enjoy! And, of course, this is the biggest thing it has to offer, the biggest single thing it has to offer. At the same time it can have content if, if one desires content in something as incredible as it is already. The rock and roll songs I like, of course, are songs like "Summertime Blues," man that's beautiful. It says everything: don't have the blues, it's summertime; summertime, you don't get the blues in summertime! There is no such thing. That's why there's no cure for them.

Can you pin down some of the elements that make rock and roll what it is, starting with the basic elements . . . it's got the beat.
It's a bigger thing than that. The reason it's got to have a beat is the fact that rock and roll music has got to have that bounce; it's got to have that thing to make you swing; it's got to swing in an old-fashioned sense; in other words, it's got to undulate. It's got to have a rhythm which undulates. It can't be a rhythm which you count down in a long drone like classical music. It doesn't have to be physical because when you think of a lot of Beatles music, it's very non-physical. Like Sgt. Pepper's is an incredibly non-physical album. If I hear something like the Electric Flag album, I jump up and dance and I hardly get to hear the music because I'm so busy jumping up dancing.

But when I hear something like "Summertime Blues," then I do both, then I'm into rock and roll, then I'm into a way of life, into that thing about being that age and being this age and grooving to that thing that he's talking about which is, like, summertime and, like not being able to get off work early and not being able to get out in the sunshine and not being able to borrow the car because dad's in a foul mood. All those frustrations of summer so wonderfully and so simply, so poetically, put in this incredible package, the package being rock and roll.

There's the package, there's the vehicle. Not only is it about some incredible poignant experiences, but it's also a gas. The whole thing about rock and roll dynamism, in many ways, is the fact that if it does slow down, if it does start to review itself, if it takes any sort of perspective on life at all, it falls. As soon as someone makes any comment, for example, musically on something they've done before, they collapse.

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