Though he is, by his own admission, "road weary" after coming off the Who's Quadrophenia tour, frontman Roger Daltrey has a special gig booked Saturday at Southern California's O.C. Fair. The date was originally going to be played by late Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek, who passed away earlier this year. Daltrey, who has a corporate gig in Las Vegas this Monday, took over the date and is using it as a benefit to raise money for the Teen Cancer wing he is hoping to build at a nearby hospital in Irvine, California.
A few days before the gig, Rolling Stone met with Daltrey at the famed Sunset Marquis hotel. While the singer's focus was very much on his efforts for Teen Cancer America, he also spoke about the possibility of new music, how he is inspired by the teens he meets, and how you never get over the loss of a bandmate.
Tell us a little bit about what you're doing in terms of fundraising for the Teen Cancer America charity.
I'm just interested in getting the hospitals wanting to have it. That's my function. I can only light the fire over here – you guys have got to run it. We did it in Britain, and when it comes to getting artists over here, we're talking to Stand Up to Cancer, and they've got access to hundreds of artists. So I don't think it's going to be a problem. The biggest problem the last 10 years has actually been getting a foot in the door of the hospitals, getting them to recognize that they've got nothing for teenagers. It's a huge hole in the system.
How many hospitals do you have in the States thus far?
There's one at UCLA and an outpatient's being built at Yale, and Cleveland Children's Hospital, but we've got 22 others interested. The foundation's only been formed two years. It's really early days. The tough bit is getting the first one – took me 10 years. What you're asking them to do is take a very smooth-running system, throw it out in the air, and make them recognize a third group in the middle of children and adults. So it's incredibly complicated. It's not an easy thing to do. But I've got UCLA on board, and they've been fantastic. They're one of the leading centers in the United States. If they become the gold standard, which I hope they will be, it's only a matter of time before it rolls out. Why are our teenagers overlooked? They are not children and they are not adults. And when they get cancer they get some of the rarest, they get the most aggressive. And because they're growing so fast, they also suffer the most from late diagnosis. So you have to ask the question: "Why do you feel it's right to have a teddy bear for a child, and you got nothing that makes a teenager happy in the hospital?"
What started your involvement with this cause?
It started in Britain. Teenage Cancer Trust, and I was a patron, as were many people in the music business from day one. Our doctor was the guy who started it, and he was a music business doctor, and his wife. So we became patrons, quite simply because clearly without teenagers the music business would not exist. You wouldn't even be in a job, and me also, I'd be working in a factory. Without the music business Rolling Stone wouldn't have happened. It was the support of teenagers that put the music business where it is. So it's a common sense thing.
Have you had a chance to visit many of the kids?
Of course I do visit, and I've met hundreds of teenagers with cancer, and they never cease to inspire me. The courage of them is amazing. But I never feel sorry for them – it's amazing. I feel sorry for the parents. You really do get to know the terror in the eyes of the parents. It's one of the things you never forget. It's just the look that they have, you know what they're going through psychologically.
So what do you see your role as in this process?
We don't do medicine. We just try and make the hospital – which can be a daunting place, a lonely place, an isolating place – into somewhere friendly, where you can mix with other teenagers, where you can share the burden. That's what we're doing.
I'm sure from this you've heard a lot about the healing power of music.
I don't want to get into that [laughs]. That's far too Rolling Stone for me. It's subjective. Obviously it has enormous healing power, there's no doubt about that. It's scientifically proven. There's recent evidence that if you sing in a choir everybody achieves the same heart rate, which is extraordinary, isn't it? It's obviously much more of a powerful thing than we ever understood.
Did you know Manzarek?
It takes you a long time to know people. I've met thousands, but I know few [laughs]. I feel sorry for the other two guys left, Robby [Krieger] and John [Densmore]. It's hard when you lose a member of your band, and it doesn't go away for a long time.
There are pictures of you in the Morrison Gallery in the hotel, and you probably don't want to see them.
I don't look at anything we do. I don't listen to anything we do after we've done it. I don't watch anything, I don't read anything anybody writes. I don't give a shit. It's art. It doesn't matter. Once you've done it, you have to let go of it.
Are there songs, though, that stand out for you or have taken on a deeper meaning over time?
Any good song will do that. All of [Pete] Townshend's writing is like that. Good quality writing will always do that.
How do you pick material for a show like Saturday night?
I've been doing solo shows for the last three years. A singer has to sing. The Who don't do enough gigs for me. If I stop singing at the age I am now, my voice will be gone within two years. So I've got to keep it going. It's like a car engine you've got to keep running. I do solo shows and I love to sing Who songs. They're my songs as much as they are Pete's, in a way, and I have great fun doing them, love doing them. I'm a painter and decorator, what else do I do?
What other writers do the kind of quality writing you're talking about?
Dylan songs don't ever go away. Tom Waits, it's just class, and Springsteen. Good songs are really class. I find talking about music boring, I always have. It's something I want to be doing, not talking about.
Will there be any music from you in the future?
I'm looking at doing a solo album, mainly because I want to keep singing and I don't want to keep going out and doing Who songs, though that's what people want at the shows I do. I go out and do corporate gigs. I keep a band together and they pay the wages, so I would like to do an album. It's finding songs, because whatever I do the songs will be criticized unless they've got the Who's meat and potatoes, because I've sung Townshend all those years. If I can get the songs, I'll do something. I've got an idea that I'm working with. As for the Who, you never know. Pete's the kind of guy who could suddenly write a load of songs and he'll say, "Let's go in and record them." And then there'll be another album. The last one's, what, '82 to 2005 – 23 years [laughs]. I haven't got 23 years now, but you never know.