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 . . .
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