This is the conclusion of the Rolling Stone Interview with Pete Townshend, guitarist, composer and leader of the Who. In the first part of the interview he spoke of his guitar smashing techniques, why he does it, the mod revolution in England and narrated the story of his next record, an opera titled Deaf, Dumb and Blind Boy.
The interview was conducted by Jann Wenner one night after the Who's recent appearance at the Fillmore West.
The subject again returns to rock and roll in general, as the questions and answers meander in and out from his personal life to his public life. It always gets back to the main theme: what is it? "It concerns far more than 20-year-olds. It's lasted too long," says Townshend, "it concerns everybody now."
You talked about maturing and settling down. How has this affected you?
It gives me a far more logical time aspect on the group. I'm not as frantically working as I used to. I always used to work with the thought in my mind that The Who were gonna last precisely another two minutes. If the tax man didn't get us, then our own personality clashes would. I never would have believed that The Who would still be together today and, of course, I'm delighted and love it. Nothing can be better really than waking up in the morning and everything is still the same as it was the day before. That's the best thing you can have in life, consistency of some kind.
It always amazes me. As an individual, it's given me an incredible freedom and all. I know that I don't have to do things like I used to. Our manager will create artificial pressures to try and get me to operate, but I know they are artificial so they don't work like they used to. "My Generation" was written under pressure, someone came to me and said, "Make a statement, make a statement, make a statement, make a statement, make a statement," and I'm going "Oh, okay, okay, okay," and I get "My Generation" together very quickly, like in a night – it feels like that. It's a very blustering kind of blurting thing. A lot of our early records were. "I Can't Explain" was a blurter and a bluster, and "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere," which was our second record, was just a brag, like, you know, nothing more. "Substitute" was a take off on Mick Jagger or something equally banal.
The whole structure of our early songs was very, very simple. Now, with less pressure, I have to create the pressures for myself. I have to excite myself by myself. I have to say this is what we're going to do, this is what you mustn't do, this is what The Who are going to do, this is what you've got to get The Who to do, this is what you've got to ask The Who to do for you. You set yourself these pressures so that now the important thing is that The Who are the impetus behind the ideas rather than the pressure of pop music being the impetus behind the ideas and not even the ideas. The fact was that pressure was the impetus behind the music that we used to play, whereas now our music is far more realistically geared to the time in which our audience moves.
Pop audiences and pop musicians are geared to different time structures, they lead different lives entirely. They say it's very difficult to go and see a group and feel totally in with what they're doing because they're on a different time trip. They are doing one gig out of a hundred gigs, whereas to the fan this is a very important occasion, like this is the only chance he's gonna get to see, say The Cream and never again in his life.
For the group, it's another gig, and they're going to be on the road in another ten minutes, and the fan is going to catch a section of something which as a whole is a complicated network to them. This is important to us in our compositions. The point is not to belittle each thing. It's all very well to say, "Oh well, it's good to have the pressure because it's the pressure that makes the music move and wild and groovy," but the music becomes thrown out, tossed out ideas which aren't really good. They are as much as you can give out. They are not a hundred per cent.
If you slow down just a little bit and gear yourself to your audience you can give them one hundred per cent. If you do a slightly longer set on the stage you can give all instead of having to cram a lot of unused energy into guitar smashing, for example. Unchanneled energy or misdirected energy is incredible in pop music, incredible. Like the Beatles know how to channel their fucking energy. I'm convinced that there's not a lot actually coming out, it's just that we get all of it. We get a hundred per cent Beatles album. We don't get any halves, they know that they are in a position and they've got it together and they do.
What groups do you enjoy the most?
It's difficult to say. I always forget the groups that I really dig. I like to watch a band with a punch, with drive, who know what they're doing, with a tight sound. I used to like to watch Jimi Hendrix; sometimes he worries me now because he often gets amplifier hangups and stuff, I can't stand that, it kills me. I used to like to watch Cream until they got sad, and fucked up. I still dig to watch a group like the Young Rascals, who just walk on with their incredibly perfect sound and their lovely organ and they're so easy, the way their numbers flow out, just to watch a group stand and go through their thing so beautifully. I dig that. I dig a guy like Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin. She's been standing still and singing the blues all night and then when she's really into it she'll do a tiny little dance and just get her little feet going, very slightly; just a little jog, and in terms of what she's doing with her voice, it's an incredible gesture and really goes mad. I dig Mick Jagger, who I think is an incredible show, and Arthur Brown I think is an incredible show, too. What I dig in a performance, in an event, is essentially to be communicated to, to feel part of an audience. I always feel like an audience because I am an audience if I am watching anything, but I like to feel alongside the other members of things, I like to feel a part of the audience; I like to feel that I'm being effective as a member of the audience. I don't mind being asked to clap my fucking hands, let's get that straight. I like to clap my hands and it doesn't get me uptight if someone says clap or sing or shout or scream or do what you want to do. That's exactly what I want to do and if I feel like jumping up and down and dancing, I don't want everyone telling me that I'm bringing them down or that they can't listen to the music or something. People should be an audience and if it's time to get up and dance-time, everybody should do it at the same time.
This happened when Otis Redding appeared, that's what happened. When he wanted them to sit down he said "And now we're going to play a soulful tune," and sang in a soulful way and was dead still and when he wanted them to get up and dance he said, "Come on clap your hands, get up and dance," and they did, man, grooved right along with him.
When you're listening to Ravi Shankar, you know what you've got to do. When you're in The Who's audience, you know – I like to know where I am. I like to go and see a group and know what my role is. I like to know whether or not I'm supposed to listen attentively, whether I'm supposed to groove, whether I'm supposed to do anything constructive, whether I'm invited up to jam or what. I like to know where I'm at. It's usually the most professional groups that give you this feeling.
The performers that you mentioned and that we have touched on from time to time all have tremendous sensuality: Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Mick Jagger, Jimi Hendrix, The Who. All of them are tremendously physical, tremendously sensual, tremendously involved with very sexual things. Does this characterize rock and roll?
It must! It must, I mean, it does. Period. It embodies it, it's part of its life. Life revolves, if not around it, within it, if not within it, without it, but definitely along with it. Something about rock and roll has to do with sex and everything to do with sex like becoming together and the parting and this kind of thing. The whole thing about pulling a chick and then waving goodbye and about. The whole process of sex is embodied in just the rock and roll rhythm – like gospel music or like native chants or something. Just banging the table is like it's the demand and it's also the satiation as well. You bang on the table and in the same process you masturbate, you know. At the end of the show you're finished, you know, you've had it. You've come your lot and the show's over.
"Rock me baby until my back ain't got no bone." That is the line. Man it's such a funny line, I can never believe it. I imagine some very skinny, wizened, old Negro blues singer singing that in a very frail old voice: "Rock me baby, 'til my back ain't got no bone."
Did you read the thing in Rolling Stone with Booker T. & the M.G.'s?
Fantastic. It was in such a relaxing and realistic manner. It was very nice. Being such a huge fan of Steve Cropper, I expected the first article about him that I ever saw to be incredible: "It's going to be incredible; here he's been all your life, folks, on your Otis Redding albums, on your Booker T. specials. Here he's been, Steve Cropper, hiding from you, the most incredible guitarist in history.
This is how I imagined the thing was going to go. And of course it goes, "When I first played the guitar I used to use quite heavy strings . . . " and it's kind of very basic interview about how they got the ideas together for "Knock On Wood."
This is how they were when I met them. They were straight and they were beautiful. I went up to Booker T. – I'd really like to see this in print – I went up to Booker T., who was my absolute idol, my absolute (he was my top man, the group, no music gives me as much pleasure as listening to Booker T., like "Green Onions" is my ultimate record of all time, practically and the guitar work is so tasteful; it's everything that I want to do); I went up to Booker T. and I said, "Hey, I'm a big fan of yours, it's really good to meet you" and he said, "Oh thank you. What is your name?" and I said "Pete Townshend" and he said "Pete Townshend," and he put his finger in a kind of a slanted position and made a very thoughtful face and said "I must remember that," and just walked off.
And I thought "he will remember my name." I laughed like a little teeny bopper. I couldn't believe it and I suddenly figured later on, that I was running round that guy like a child and he just treated me like, the way I treat a teeny bopper fan and yet I heard at a later date that they just never, never, never got that kind of treatment. They never had anyone run up to them and freak out in front of them, let alone a 22-year old man come up and start frothing all over them. They just didn't know what was happening. And of course he took it absolutely, perfectly straight. He was soulful and very gentlemanly about it and that was the whole situation. This was a most peculiar situation and he was approaching it sanely, steadily, cooly and politely.
They're so soulful without knowing it. It's the truth, it's the truth. They are playing exactly the right things. They are playing them straight and they are playing them off-the-cuff, as they come, the sounds which appeal to them and the sounds which go down with them, things which they groove to, things which they think other people will groove to, too.
They just happen to be totally right.
They don't know this, because nobody expects to be totally right. We're not as straight as they are – we try, but we're not half as right as they are. And they're so straight and they communicate. They know that they're in a group to blow people's minds and everybody wants to get through to people, to do things for them. But they don't realize they're doing it because they can't see it in their own music, but they're always trying.
I forget if I read this or whether it is something Glyn Johns told me: You and the group came out of this rough tough area, were very restless and had this thing: you were going to show everybody, you were a kid with a big nose and you were going to make all these people love it, love your big nose.
That was probably a mixture of what Glyn told you and an article I wrote. In fact Glyn was exactly the kind of person I wanted to show. Glyn used to be one of the people who, right when I walked in, he'd be on the stage singing. I'd walk in because I dug his group. I'd often go to see him, and he would announce through the microphone, "Look at that bloke in the audience with that huge nose" and of course the whole audience would turn around and look at me, and that would be acknowledgement from Glyn.
When I was in school the geezers that were snappy dressers and got chicks like years before I ever even thought they existed, would always like to talk about my nose. This seemed to be the biggest thing in my life: my fucking nose, man. Whenever my dad got drunk, he'd come up to me and say, "Look son, you know looks aren't everything" and shit like this. He's getting drunk and he's ashamed of me because I've got a huge nose and he's trying to make me feel good. I know it's huge and of course it became incredible and I became an enemy of society. I had to get over this thing. I've done it, and I never believe it to this day, but I do not think about my nose any more. And if I had said this when I was a kid, if I ever said to myself "One of these days you'll go through a whole day without once thinking that your nose is the biggest in the world, man" – you know, I'd have laughed.
It was huge. At that time, it was the reason I did everything. It's the reason I played the guitar – because of my nose. The reason I wrote songs was because of my nose, everything, so much. I eventually admitted something in an article where I summed it up far more logically in terms of what I do today. I said that what I wanted to do was distract attention from my nose to my body and make people look at my body, instead of at my face – turn my body into a machine. But by the time I was into visual things like that anyway, I'd forgotten all about my nose and a big ego trip and I thought, well if I've got a big nose, it's a groove and it's the greatest thing that can happen because, I don't know, it's like a lighthouse or something. The whole trip had changed by then anyway.
What is interesting is the fact that it was me versus society, until I could convince them that there was more to me than what they thought.
Now it's incredible to think about it. But it's a very funny story, and it always makes me laugh at my parents, my father particularly. He was in a band whose leader was much richer than him, and the leader had shows of his own and a lovely house and my dad still rents a house, never had a house of his own.
The leader of my dad's band was always a bit of a red herring to my dad: they both started together and went to the same school and all this and he used to say – and this guy, the leader of the band, happened to have a huge nose, absolutely huge, "Look at Ronny, look at Ronny; he's the leader of a famous orchestra; he's got a beautiful wife, a beautiful house, a lovely car. What more can you want? He makes music all his life, he's a respected man. What more can you want in life? He's got a huge nose, Peter."
I mean, I used to be completely speechless, of course that's what I'm gonna have: I'm gonna have a huge car, a beautiful wife and all these things. And I have! It's so much like a fucking fairy tale in many ways. When I first told the story, I just had to tell it a different way, I just had to say something about how I got hung up on my nose, and so I swung my arm around or something. The real truth is this. And it happens to be a very good story.
What is your life like today?
Mainly laughs actually, mainly laughs, The Who on tour is a very difficult trip; it's a delicate one and it could be dangerous. So it's best to keep this on the humorous side. If we take this situation seriously, we tend to feedback. Like one person gets a slight down and the rest of us get a slight down and so we have to keep spirits up even if it's false, even if it's jokes that aren't funny, just in order to get someone to laugh. This is what it's all about to me now.
This is not that the whole life is a false joke, but life is fun and it's fun because we make it fun. Playing is enjoyable because we make it enjoyable. We're experienced at enjoying life as it is for us now. Whether we do a bad show to a bad audience or a good show to a good audience or whether we can't make the gig or whether we can make the gig or whether we play on someone else's amplifiers or whether our clothes didn't come from the cleaners or whether we've just heard that our whole families have been wiped out in a car crash. We still know how to enjoy life.
That's the most incredible thing about being able to go on stage and forget. Some people say to be a performer what you got to do is to go on the stage and be able to have that technique of being able to forget all your troubles and go up there and smile. It's a privilege, man, to be able to do that – when you're down, to be able to go on the stage and forget and elevate yourself back to what it's all about, to basic simple communication. To not get hung-up in your own pathetic little scenes that you're hung-up in, but rather into a very pure thing which at the time is real and pure and very simple and uncomplicated. And it is an honor for someone who is on a fucked-up trip to be able to get on a stage and do something simple and basic and honest and good.
To put it in my own terms, I think that people who are known as entertainers or gifted performers are just damn lucky to have the chance. It's a perfect way of enjoying life, when you're on the stage. Nothing, nothing goes wrong. Life is just heaven on the stage. "Life is heaven on stage with The Who" – that would be true actually.
How is it to be a rock and roll star, people coming on all the time, people that want to lay their trip on you?
It can be a big drag man. One of the hangups is that people won't be normal and if they won't be normal, they won't be themselves. You can sense it. You can sense professional groupies because they're at ease. Me, personally, I don't want to know about them, anyway. They're always very relaxed, a professional groupie is, because they know that you want them to be relaxed.
It's the kids mostly and the inexperienced people that have preconceptions about you, that have read articles by you or seen what you've said or what you've written and put weight on your words which isn't there or which is there maybe. But they expect it followed up when they meet you, and things like this.
Pre-loaded, pre-emphasized meetings, incredible things where suddenly . . . Like tonight, when I walk out of an auditorium and there's a thousand kids left in the place and one of them turns around and says "Hey, you're Peter Townshend," and sticks out his fucking hand and gets hold of my hand so tight that I know I'm not going to get away. He obviously knows exactly who I am, but I don't know who he is. But he knows me and everything about me. It's a weird feeling. I have to sus out whether or not he's being straight with me. I know that I'm being straight with him. How do I know whether he's in good form?
I had an incredible conversation once with Paul McCartney. The difference between the way Lennon and McCartney behave with the people that are around them is incredible. What Lennon does is he sits down, immediately acknowledges the fact that he's John Lennon and that everything for the rest of the night is going to revolve around him. He completely relaxes and let's everybody feel at ease and just speaks dribble little jokes, little rubbish like he's got, In His Own Write and little things. Like he'll start to dribble on and get stoned and do silly things and generally have a good time. Of course everybody gets into his thing and also has a generally good time.
But Paul McCartney worries, he wants a genuine conversation, a genuine relationship, starting off from square one: "We've got to get it straight that we both know where we're both at before we begin." One of them is fucking Paul McCartney, a Beatle, the other one is me, a huge monumental Beatle fan who still gets a kick out of sitting and talking to Paul McCartney. And he's starting to tell me that he digs me and that we're on an even par so that we can begin the conversation which completely makes me even a bigger fan. That's all it serves to do. The conversation comes to no purpose and all he serves to do is to confuse himself. He's trying to say, "Oh, you know, you know where you're at. I know where I'm at, we're both really just us and let's talk." So what do you say? "I'm a fantastic fan of yours, man." He really tries to get it together often and you've got to relax, you've got to take people . . .
Can you break it down in somebody? If you see it happening in somebody can you break it down?
Sometimes. If you just blatantly snap people out of it and say, "Look man, no need to put on a phony English accent for me," because you know the best thing to say is "It gets me uptight." On the other hand you say to yourself, "Well, okay the guy's putting on a phony English accent, he thinks it's cool, he's on a new trip." He may be pretending, but in a minute it's going to be reality: the conversation is going to be under way and it's going to be no joke and he'll probably drop the accent in a minute and they often do. It's not that every kid that comes up to me tries to talk in an English accent.
It's just one of the things, the unreality you get from a lot of kids. They don't know what you're all about; their first words are test questions. Questions they know the answers to. Questions they've read the answers to a million times in every fucking, god-forsaken paper in the world, they've seen it. "Why do you break the guitar?" They know why. "Do you really break them?" They know. "What were the words to this?" They know the fucking words. "What's your latest record" and they already read it. Test questions to see if you're really interested in knowing anything about them, in telling them anything, in performing any kind of service outside of performing on the stage.
You can very quickly manipulate them down to a very logical, straight-forward conversation until eventually they would be quite demanding, and even take a dominant role. I've often ended up in conversations with people who, if my first words to them were "Fuck off, I don't want to talk to any little creep like you," they would have gone. But in fact, because I sat down and talked to them, they ended up telling me that I'm a fool and an idiot and they're going to go and get a coke. This can happen. It just depends on the way the conversations go or what you talk about or what their main aim is. If they want talk, then you can talk, if you've got the time or the energy.
What kind of people do you like?
The breed of people that I like the most – ignoring the people I don't like the most – people I like the most around me, in music, are the ones from whom I get what I would call – I know this is a weird thing but I've had it before – what I would call a "Positive Assistance vibration," as though you were getting some kind of positive buzz from somebody. It's very negative concept, but it is the difference between someone having a role in what you're doing and being there as an ornament or as an object of the performance or as a result of an engagement or something, rather than people who have a purpose.
There's got to be a purpose behind everything. In pop, the purpose is the whole thing, the whole thing with the people, people in the industry and everything unified and coming together and working together in one form towards one direction and everything. It's got to eliminate all the shit. What I'm trying to avoid saying is the fact that the whole problem with the groupies is that they're supposed to be playing a part in the role of pop music. But they're not. It's not just the group they're riding along with, they're riding along with pop itself.
The audience out there, on the other hand, are playing a part. And we're playing a part because we're the fucking group and you're playing a part because your writing an article about it. But they seem to have no role at all and I can never understand it. How can anyone be content to just act as the parasities of the glory, parasites of the booze, parasites of the grass, parasites of the lust, you know and everything. They're just total parasites and I couldn't dig it. I couldn't get into it. I could never understand them. They're a breed apart from me. Once a fucking groupie gets together and does something constructive, then I'm back with 'em again.
Does everybody have to have a purpose for this meeting and this conversation? Is there no aimlessness?
Oh, shit no. The positive relationships are going to manifest themselves as positive relationships. And the ones which are destined to be fruitless, I'm not going to even embark on that kind. That's the way I go. If I think something isn't going to come together or isn't going to make any kind of buzz, any explosion at all, I don't bother.
I'm not a total believer, to be quite honest, in the "world turns and everything comes together." I think the world turns if you turn it and that if you don't turn it it's going to fucking sit there, and you can wait for eons, you can wait for eons for judgement day and it's never going to come. You've got to get to it yourself. And it's the same thing with relationships. You've got to sort out the ones which are going to be fruitful to you and to the other parties involved, and you got to enjoy them and make the most of them and get something out of them.
There a whole lot of people that just do that. I don't need entertainment. What I need and what I think everybody needs is to be able to forget about the entertainment; for the entertainment to be so choice and so unique and so perfect that one could completely forget about it. Actually get on with the living. To be entertained is just to live, to be entertained is just to look at life around one.
The act of entertainment is a pecular thing. It's certainly not peculiar to life. Life is entertainment and the gesture of entertainment is something which should be realistic and natural, an unnatural forced relationship, of any kind, or any kind of non-productive relationship, one which hasn't got a purpose, becomes non-entertaining to me.
What is going to happen to rock and roll?
I'm looking to a couple of people. I've heard some of the Rolling Stones' tracks and although I dig them I don't think they're anything more than what they are which is incredible, delicious and wonderful rock and roll and well overdue from them. The Rolling Stones should always be a nonprogressive group. I don't think that the Rolling Stones should be concerned with what they're doing in pop. That's what I dig about them.
Dylan for example, could create a new thing. I think if he made his next record with the Big Pink that could be interesting. That might create some new things in rock and roll. Dylan's thing about writing the lyric and then picking the guitar up and just pumping out the song as it comes out, is a direct guide to what will happen in music.
People are going to want music to be more realistic, more honest, and more of a gift from the heart rather than a gift from the lungs, as it were. Instead of wanting to go and watch Ginger Baker run six miles before your very eyes, you'd rather dig what he's doing. I think this is what's happening.
It's going to be the case that the Stones are going to groove along. A lot of other groups are going to groove along and make good music, in a transitional period, but they're going to be part of the transition and the transition is going to be very delicate. It's going to be, believe it or not, into a kind of a broad, unified thing. Rock and Roll is going to embody itself.
It's so hard to explain. I'm trying to talk about a change, knowing that there isn't going to be a change, trying to describe how I feel a change is going to come about. There's go-going to be no visible change, the structure of the music will change. I don't think the way the people perform is going to change. The lyrics won't change or anything, but rock and roll is going to change. It might be that new artists come along; anything can happen. But it's going to be something noticeable, something big. It's going to be something which comes within terms of pop now.
In the past things have changed. There has got to be a landmark, a milestone before one could get anything together. Something will emerge out of what already exists in music. In other words, instead of having to say "Well, we're going to have to competely scrap what we've got and get a completely new bag together," rock and roll gives us the ingredients for the next major musical crisis, to encounter the next musical crisis or musical starvation or whatever is happening.
Rock and roll is going to be the answer to the musical situation that exists and this is apart from any kind of clever lyricism or any kind of clever stage presentation or anything like that. Music is going to swing, is going to be simple, is going to be impulsive. People are far more concerned now with honesty, with quite simply someone playing what they dig and with playing impulsively and realistically, than with people's hang-ups and people's image, with people's so-called talent or genius. So okay, poor Eric is going to be a god again.
But he was born to be a god and he always will be and he plays like one, but his thing is on the way out. That thing of worshipping Elvis Presley, worshipping Eric Clapton--it's gonna go.
What's going to happen is it's going to be "pick up the guitar Sally and play a rock and roll song." Rock and roll is going to become down home, it's gonna become realistic. It's going to become the answer to the day's problems. It's going to become part of everybody's life from now on. You can't switch it off, you can't change what it is so far. You can't change the old classics, you can't stop the classics being born.
You can say the way you're going to receive the new stuff. You say "This is how I want my music from now on – I don't want any bullshit about you being a god and I won't want any bullshit about you being a genius and I don't want any bullshit about 'Opera,' Townshend, or any of that bullshit or spirituality. I don't want to be preached to I've got my own bag. I'm a Methodist, and go every Sunday. I don't want to be told about my sex life. I don't want to be glittered at. I don't want a guitar smashed over my fingers. I don't want any of that shit. What I want is music and you're going to give it to me. If you don't give it me then fuck off."
This is what everybody is beginning to demand. You're amazed by the amount of absurdity that groups can start with: gimmick after gimmick after gimmick after gimmick. By gimmick I don't mean what most people mean by gimmick; I don't mean a plastic nose or guitar smashing; I mean ideas, an impetus, power and enthusiasm. How could all these groups all be so enthusiastic? How can they all be so hung up in their own bags? How can a group honestly say "We have a new thing"? This is what people are getting fed up with, fed up with having to acknowledge everyone that comes along and say "Oh yeah, you've got a new thing, too, and you're more significant than they are." It's getting like a catalogue.
What's going to happen now is that while all this bullshit is going on, they're going to turn around and they're going to say "Hey man, have you heard Buck Owens?"
"Oh, you're an incredible significant group."
"Yeah, he just plays the guitar and he just plunks away."
"Oh, he's a gas, oh yeah. Most significant group I've ever heard, since you know."
In the meantime, they're going to be listening to Country and Western records or whatever. But they're going to be listening to Chuck Berry or something.
What are the modern classics? What are the classic rock and roll songs since the Beatles?
"Wild Thing," "I've Got You Babe," "Satisfaction," ''My Generation." There's lots more, lots more. I'm just trying to think. "Eleanor Rigby," "Reachout I'll Be There" I thought was incredible. It's difficult to say, because everything is so fucking good. There are a lot of classics and there is a lot of good rock and roll and it is one of the reasons it's going to have enough impetus to carry it through to the next transition.
People are always trying to find a parallel with jazz. Do you see what happened to jazz, happening here?
No. Jazz totally absoutely boiled down to a different kettle of fish. Because of the audiences. Audiences were a different breed entirely. If you're talking about the days when the people used to do the Blackbottom, then maybe you're getting nearer to what pop music is equivalent to today.
Pop is more than the Blackbottom; pop is more than short skirts. The effect pop has on society is incredible. It's a power thing. It's now in a position that if everyone that was thinking in pop music terms were to stand end to end, they'd go around the world ten times. This is what pop music is about. Pop music is basically big. It concerns far more than the 20-year-olds. It concerns everybody now. It's lasted too long.
Jazz, in it's entirety – modern jazz, progressive jazz – hasn't had the effect on the world in fucking 25 years that pop has had in a year today. Geniuses like Charlie Parker are completely unrecognized by the world and yet groups like the Rolling Stones – very normal, very regular guys – are incredibly well known. This is true of everything. The whole system is a different thing entirely. The audiences then were smaller, they became snobbish, racist. They were pompous jazz audiences. They became slow to catch on to new ideas. They became prejudiced, dogmatic, everything bad. While pop music is everything good.
Pop is everything; it's all sugar and spice, it really is. Pop audiences are the cream of today's music listening audiences. They're not the classical snobs who sit by their poxy Fisher amplifiers and listen to Leonard Bernstein conducting. Not knowing that Leonard Bernstein is completely stoned out of his crust and grooving to high heaven, thinking "What a fine, excellent recording this is, what a fine conductor Leonard Bernstein is, really fine" and not knowing what the fucking hell is going on.
This is what the jazz listener was like. Okay, he'd have a few beers and he'd go down to the fucking Village Gate and shout out one "yeah" in a night, when he thought that someone had played something quite clever. But he didn't know what they were into. I just about know what they're into today, listening to some recordings that Charlie Parker made nearly 25 years ago. God knows what people thought then.
Pop's audience is right alongside; they know what's happening. Pop hasn't yet confused anybody, it really hasn't. It's kept with the people, it's kept in time with the people. It's going out now; the panic now is that the people feel it going out of step. They felt it go out of step in England and completely rebelled.
People just felt that pop was getting out of their hands; groups like the Pink Floyd were appearing, scary groups, psychedelic. So they completely freaked out. Nothing like the down-home Rolling Stones who used to have a good old-fashioned piss against a good old-fashioned garage attendant. This Pink Floyd – what were they all about? With their flashing lights and all taking trips and one of them's psycho. "What's this all about? That's not my bag."
So they all turn over to good old Englebert Humperdink who is a phenomena of our age in England. Yet it's a sign of the revolt; it's a sign of the fact that the music got out of step with the people.
Why did it happen in England?
Europe is a piss place for music and it's a complete incredible fluke that England ever got it together. England has got all the bad points of Nazi Germany, all the pompous pride of France, all the old fashioned patriotism of the old Order Of The Empire. It's got everything that's got nothing to do with music. All the European qualities which should enhance, which should come out in music, England should be able to benefit by, but it doesn't.
And just all of a sudden, bang! wack! zap-swock out of nowhere. There it is: the Beatles. Incredible. How did they ever appear then on the poxy little shit-stained island. Out of the Germans you can accept Wagner; out of the French you can accept Debussy and even out of the Russians you can accept Tchiakovsky. All these incredible people. Who's England got? Purcell? He's a gas but he's one of the only guys we've got and Benjamin Britten today who copies Purcell. There's so few people.
And all of a sudden there's the Beatles, with their little funny "we write our own songs." "Don't you have ghost writers?"
It's difficult to talk about rock and roll. It's difficult because it's essentially a category and a category which embodies something which transcends the category. The category itself becomes meaningless. The words "rock and roll" don't begin to conjure up any form of conversation in my mind because they are so puny compared to what they are applied to. But "rock and roll" is by far the better expression than "pop." It means nothing.
It's a good thing that you've got a machine, a radio that puts out good rock and roll songs and it makes you groove through the day. That's the game, of course: When you are listening to a rock and roll song the way you listen to "Jumping Jack Flash," or something similar, that's the way you should really spend your whole life. That's how you should be all the time: just grooving to something simple, something basically good, something effective and something not too big. That's what life is.
Rock and roll is one of the keys, one of the many, many keys to a very complex life. Don't get fucked up with all the many keys. Groove to rock and roll and then you'll probably find one of the best keys of all.
This story appeared in the September 28, 1968 issue of Rolling Stone.