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Pete Townshend: The Who's Final Days

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How different is Lennon's sort of seclusion from that of someone like Eric Clapton? He seems pretty inaccessible, too.
I don't know what Eric really wants out of life anymore. I know that some of the things Eric finds very important, I don't give a damn about. You know, he was very hurt when he stopped being voted number-one guitar player in various guitar magazines. And I thought, "Well, how shallow." But that was important to him. I think he thinks of himself far more as a musician then as a "star." He's self-conscious of his image, I think, and, to a degree, his responsibility. But he's much more complex than appears on the outside.

Clapton duets with Jeff Beck on the Secret Policeman's Other Ball album, and although neither of them seems to be trying too hard, Beck seems to walk all over Clapton. I think Eric's admirers wish he would step out and play a lot more.
Yeah, I do think Eric's made some fundamental mistakes that he can't reverse. You can't change the past, unfortunately. He was a heroin addict for two years. He lost two years of his life and career. And, unfortunately, a lot of the effects of heroin are irreversible, as you can see by reading William Burroughs. You know; Page one, crap. Page two, more crap. Page three, more crap. And the more the disciples gather 'round and read the crap, the more of that crap comes out of the man.

I really do love Eric a lot, otherwise I wouldn't have involved my life with him so much. And I don't see him doing anything wrong at all. I really enjoy what he does. I don't think it's necessarily the maximum of his potential, but then I don't see why he should work at the maximum of his potential, because that's not what he's pursuing. He's pursuing a kind of music that has more to do with finding a groove or expressing an emotion. Jeff, I think, is a much more troubled individual, much more torn, because he's capable of expressing anything, practically. Without doubt, the finest expressive rock player we've got – and yet, he seems to have nothing to express [laughs].

Robert Fripp once told me he admired Jimi Hendrix because Hendrix had it all inside and his struggle was to get it out, whereas Fripp has all the technique to get it out but has a problem finding it inside.
What a wonderful thing to say, because it would hurt me to say it about somebody as nice as Robert Fripp, but, I mean, it's true. And I don't think I've ever really gotten to the bottom of what happens when I play the guitar.

More and more bands, particularly English ones, are dispensing with guitars in favor of synthesizers.
Yes. I think the guitar will be gone within ten years, myself. Microchips.

I've been listening to Tug of War, Paul McCartney's new album. It may be the best thing he's done in a while – it sounds real nice. But it seems to have virtually nothing to do with rock & roll.
Do you think he ever really had anything to do with rock & roll?

Well . . . .
No, he never did. You know, I could sit down and have a conversation with Paul about rock & roll, and we'd be talking about two different things. He's got a couple of years on me, but it could be ten years, we're so different. If he talks about rock & roll, I think he is talking about Little Richard. Whereas I don't think Little Richard mattered, you know?

But one of the reasons I'm excited about Paul's latest project is because it's him and George Martin working together again; because he's making a conscious effort to really get into serious record-making, rather than pissin' about in home studios – which I, for one, think he's terrible at. When "Ebony and Ivory" came out, everybody was saying, "Christ, have you heard it? It's terrible." Well, I heard it, and I thought it was fuckin' amazing! I thought, "That's it, that's McCartney!" He's actually taken black and white, put a bit of tinsel around it, managed by hook or by crook to get Stevie Wonder to sing it, sit on black and white piano keys on a video . . . . It's wonderful! It's gauche! It's Paul McCartney!

I've always said that I've never been a big fan of the Beatles: to me rock was the Stones, and before that Chuck Berry, and before that, maybe a few people who lived in fields in Louisiana. But I can't really include the Beatles in that. The Beatles were over with Herman's Hermits. That's not rock & roll. I was always very confused about the American attitude of thinking that the Beatles were rock & roll. Because they were such a big pop phenomenon. I've always enjoyed some of their stuff as light music, with occasional masterpieces thrown in. But with a lot of their things, you can't dig very deep. Either you come up against Lennon's deliberately evading what it is that he's trying to say, so it's inscrutable, or Paul McCartney's self-imposed shallowness, because he sees music as being . . . I mean, he's a great believer in pop music, I think. But I wonder whether McCartney, perhaps, rests a little bit on the laurels of the Beatles.

Even an ostensibly glitzy group like Abba seems to me much more tied to rock & roll.
Absolutely. I remember hearing "S.O.S." on the radio in the States and realizing that it was Abba. But it was too late, because I was already transported by it. I just thought it was such a great sound, you know – great bass drum and the whole thing. They make great records. Also, what's quite interesting is that Abba was one of the first big, international bands to actually deal with sort of middle-aged problems in their songwriting. And it was quite obviously what was going on among them – that song, "Knowing Me, Knowing You."

Are you familiar with any of the Oibands, the postpunk skinhead groups? Some of them have apparently been co-opted by the neofascist National Front, and Oi fans played a part in last summer's youth riots in Brixton.
Possibly, but who would you call an Oi band?

Cocksparrer, Infa-Riot, any of those bands on Strength Through Oi!
Yeah, see, I probably just haven't heard any of that. I mean, if somebody gave me an Oi record to play, I probably just wouldn't play it. Because I object a little bit to . . . . I know that there are a lot of little kids with their hair shaved off who wouldn't know who Hitler was if you put him to bed with them.

Yeah, that's what's so insidious about it: the music grabs you viscerally, but the message – not always, but sometimes – is horrifying.
This is the thing. There's a lot of people who are unfortunately putting into practice what Jerry Rubin and John Sinclair and Abbie Hoffman were talking about back in the late Sixties. Which was: "We're gonna use music for the revolution." And they believed that they were right, and that rock music should be used for what they thought needed to be done. But rock can be used for anything. It's a very, very powerful and potent force, and it can also be used for fairly distasteful purposes. I remember being hortified seeing Alice Cooper beheading live chickens on stage. And it didn't really redeem him that I had smashed guitars, you know? Somewhere, there was a line. I don't know whether it was just because it was live, or because it was real blood. But the fact that he later went on to make some great records didn't redeem him, either. He's sick, tragic, pathetic – and will always be that way. I'll say hello to him in the street, but I'll never tip my hat to him.

The pathetic thing about Oi music is that if it's supposed to be helping their cause, then I'm afraid it isn't working, folks. Because there you go, I won't even play their records. If I see an interview in the paper, I flip past it. So they're not gonna get to me with their bullshit, because I just don't even read it.

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Song Stories

“Bird on a Wire”

Leonard Cohen | 1969

While living on the Greek island of Hydra, Cohen was battling a lingering depression when his girlfriend handed him a guitar and suggested he play something. After spotting a bird on a telephone wire, Cohen wrote this prayer-like song of guilt. First recorded by Judy Collins, it would be performed numerous times by artists incuding Johnny Cash, Joe Cocker and Rita Coolidge. "I'm always knocked out when I hear my songs covered or used in some situation," Cohen told Rolling Stone. "I've never gotten over the fact that people out there like my music."

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