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.
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