Roger Daltrey of the Who wants to pay back some of what he owes to teenagers.
On Friday, he was joined in Los Angeles by Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin to announce the launch of the UCLA Daltrey/Townshend Teen & Young Adult Cancer Program, in hopes of changing a medical culture that categorizes patients as either adults or children, with few special considerations for teens.
"Adolescent care up until now has been a teenage wasteland," Daltrey said, quoting from the Who's "Baba O'Riley." "Every generation of rock musician will understand that we wouldn't be anywhere without the support of teenagers buying the records. Just put yourself back on the line. It's very easy — just be there when they ask for you."
The announcement follows more than a decade of support by the Who and other major musicians for England's Teenage Cancer Trust, which has established 19 cancer units for teenagers across the U.K. Some of that support has come in the form of annual benefit concerts at the Royal Albert Hall and the hands-on efforts of Daltrey.
"Pete and I did little things over 10-12 years for charity, and it was doing quite well, but I just felt this needs grabbing by the scruff of the neck," Daltrey told Rolling Stone after the press conference. "Raising money is only one factor. Somebody has to give it a profile."
Housed at UCLA Medical Center, the program will treat teens separately from young children and adults and will focus on concerns of special resonance with teens diagnosed with cancer, from simple survival to getting back to school.
The Who's Pete Townshend planned on being at the press event, but an expired visa kept him back in England. Instead, the guitarist sent a videotaped statement, pointing to the success of the charity in the U.K. "Let's hope in the USA it can catch fire the way it did here, because it does save lives," Townshend said.
"He's here in spirit. We are a team," Daltrey said later.
On the small stage, Daltrey stood with an arm around Sarah Sterner, an Atlanta high school student and rock drummer diagnosed with a brain tumor when she was 15. She's been declared cancer-free for the last 18 months. "Look at her now, 17 years old," Daltrey said with a grin, "a complete success story."
Unveiled at the press gathering were artists' renderings of the planned center, showing brightly colored rooms with a pool table, couches, a coffee counter, games, computers and posters of the Ramones, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. "I look at that, and I just think, 'Man, I want to go there right now.' That looks awesome," Sterner said later. "If we can create that home away from home with the Teenage Trust, maybe it will take away some of the mental shock of being sick and having cancer."
After the announcement, Daltrey and Plant autographed a blue Stratocaster to be hung on the wall of the new center. As the two iconic rock singers stood in front of a crowd of photographers, Plant joked with Daltrey, "Do you like guitarists?"
"I love 'em," Daltrey said.
"Me too," said Plant.
After the press conference, Daltrey said of the Led Zeppelin frontman, "He's been supportive of this for years. He's done shows at the Albert Hall. It means a lot. He's a very well-respected guy, and there will be some fan out there who's in another band, who will say, 'Robert Plant's doing this? We will do it.' I'm hoping."
At the hospital, Daltrey exchanged long hugs with both patients and doctors. "They make me enjoy every second of my life. Every second," he said of the teens. "It's impossible to add it all up what they've given me."