Pete Townshend: The Who's Final Days

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Simon Napier-Bell, who managed the original Yardbirds and also John's Children – Marc Bolan's first band – has been shopping a book around New York recently about the British music business in the Sixties. It's sort of strange – Bell's thesis is that many of the managers in those days were actually homosexuals who were in it for the unending supply of young boys.
I think there's an element of truth in that. I've always liked Simon Napier-Bell, but his gay side is probably the least wholesome part of him. As it was with Kit Lambert. And just for the record, if Kit Lambert was gettin' into rock music 'cause he was looking for boys, there was certainly no approach made to any individual in the Who – ever, under any circumstances. Maybe we weren't his type. And I only know of one boy who was seduced by him, in the very early part of our career, and that was a boy from Shepherd's Bush who was gay anyway. I mean, Simon Napier-Bell, mind you, is a different story – a very different story. Because I think Marc Bolan had a very suspicious history. A lot of the early mods – which Marc claimed he was – used to stand outside the Scene, used to be homosexual prostitutes to raise money to buy leapers [amphetamines]. And if Marc was there at the time he said he was, then it's unfortunately inevitable that he was one of those prostitutes.

I thought John's Children were a bit shallow. But Simon Napier-Bell is probably one of the few people who really did understand what Kit was going through, and the fact that Kit, as a homosexual in a very macho area of rock & roll, couldn't really display his homosexuality, couldn't find that very, very important person, that opposite, to fall in love with. Which, more recently, Elton John has publicly professed has been one of his problems.

In the fiction that you're writing, do you hope to reflect your time at all, your period?
Yeah, very much. I feel that I've woken up from a bit of a dream, with all my faculties operatin' and my sixth sense operatin', and I do know that there's something very wrong going on. And it has to be talked about and dealt with, and I think, as always, writers are the first people to start to express that.

Do you think it's a political or a spiritual malaise?
It's a combination of things. I really feel a disconcerting feeling that, suddenly, the responsibility for the planet is in my hands. Not mine exclusively – mine and yours and everybody's.

Your generation's.
Yeah. It's like it's not somebody else's problem. Suddenly, it's mine. I realize that I can't work in a capsule anymore. I've got to be conscious of what's happening in the world, I think it's never too late – and never too soon – to start something like that. I'm not just talking about the need for a global, intuitive reaction against nuclear weapons, or the need for a kind of global stance on ecology. They're important issues. But it's something else, in a sense. I feel something else happening. I feel like there's an opportunity out there at the moment that mustn't be missed. I don't know quite what it is, it's just something I feel in me bones.

What about the European antinuclear movement, which argues that the presence of American missiles here could turn Europe into a battleground between two remote superpowers – that the battle itself might have little to do with Europe. Why not just forbid America to put any more missiles in Europe?
Now how can you do that? America is our ally. How can we forget what happened in the last two wars? Can we suddenly turn around and say, "Sorry, we don't need you anymore"? You know, people came all the way over from America on ships and got shot in the hundreds of thousands to save Europe. People have got too short a memory. A lot of the people who are out doin' these disarmament parades and things are two generations away from that. They don't realize – particularly the German nuclear campaigners – that Europe is only there by the grace of God and America. I don't want to be too passionate and patriotic about it, but I think so much shit is spoken about America and American politics. America is responsible for the free world and continues to be. I mean, however socialist I take myself to be, I also enjoy my life as it is, you know? I enjoy living in the West. I was born here, and I like it the way it is. I don't mind if it changes slowly, and I'm not averse to the idea of creeping socialism or creeping communism – but slow, slow, slow. Let life and let the world evolve. Eventually, of course, everybody will have to be living at the lowest common denominator – I think communism is absolutely inevitable.

But it's time to start really working on this buildup of global consciousness. This is not gettin' cosmic, or hippie-spaced-out, man. Everybody's got to start thinkin', I mean, start with prayer and work downward, you know? Because there's not very much else that's in our hands. I just say that I do not like what I see. It's not to say that I can put it right. Not only do I not know how to put it right, but I'm impotent – completely impotent. Really, what our generation has suddenly woken up and realized, I think, is that we are the generation with no balls. And I'm gonna keep repeatin' that until somebody shows me differently.

How could that be demonstrated?
Well, I don't know. I suppose by everybody acting as one, for once. Perhaps Europe's preoccupation with its own security is drawing people together in a way that should be taken advantage of. To end with a nice epigram: this song on my album, "The Sea Refuses No River," has not got anything to do with my preoccupation with oceans. It's the Townshend family motto. My daughters Emma and Minta and I went to see a friend called Mark McCauley, who's a London socialite, runs the Embassy Club. Minta was fascinated with his posh accent and all that, and asked him whether he had family portraits on the wall, and whether he had a family crest. And he said, "Why, of course I do. Everybody has a family crest, don't they, Pete?" I said, "Yeah, yeah, of course." And she said, "Where're our family portraits, and where's our family crest?" So I said, "Well, our family portraits, are in the desk cupboard, third drawer down – you know, the Kodak Instamatics. And the family motto is in the Book of Proverbs. All you have to do is look it up." So Emma looked in the Book of Proverbs, and with Karen's help came up with, "The sea refuses no river." Which I loved. I though it was great. It's just what this family's all about. And I got very involved in the idea, the true expression of the proverb and turned it into a song.

Later on, I had forgotten where it came from, and Emma went back and found it for me – in the Oxford Book of Proverbs, I think. And this bloody book opens up with "Wise men make the proverbs, fools repeat them." Which is a suitable epigram for the whole thing, really.

This story is from the June 24th, 1982 issue of Rolling Stone.

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