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Tea with Townshend: A Post-'Tommy' Chat on Rock 'N Roll, Recording

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How do you control the situation, then, if you don't want that?
Well, it's not a matter of being able to control it because it's a matter of it being always a situation where you're aware of the possibilities and you make a rough choice. Let's put it this way; I suppose it is controllable. The thing is, you can look at something like a song like "My Generation" and say that the intentions of that were quite obvious, it worked all the way down the line. It repulsed those it was supposed to repulse, and it drew a very thick line between the people who dug it and the people who wouldn't dig it. Well, what if we say we want to make that line disappear, and we don't want to repulse anyone, but what we do want to do is fuck everyone, as it were, what we want to do is to stimulate everyone and take away their preconceptions about us. We say, we're the Who, and we've been blah blah blah up to now, we've been guitar specialists, we've been people that wrote such and such type rock lyrics. But we want to get to a position where we want to break down people's conceptions of what we're doing by doing something like Tommy, right? This wasn't the original plan, it wasn't to do something like this, it was more of a heavy kind of neo-classical thing that I was into, thinking, just go from the sublime to the ridiculous, just completely twist.

And then just when everybody's like trotting up behind you, turn 'round and get out the whip, and say, "Right, now we've got you, now listen to this, because this is what's really happening." The only thing that happens is that you break down people's preconceptions, but as soon as their preconceptions are gone, it opens a door, and the thing which broke down their fucking preconceptions instigates a new lot. It really did escape me that in fact the first thing people are going to hear after listening to Tommy is, of course, Tommy again. So as soon as it breaks down what they know the Who to be, the Who take their next big step – what's next? Obviously we're not going to be able to make the record change immediately in nature and then present ourselves – ha ha! – out of the cupboard.

Well, maybe the best thing for the Who is just to embody what's going on, because that's apparently the way people finally take it.
Well, absolutely, I mean, the whole trick really of rock is to be a reflection of what's happening anyway.

Of course if what's happening is just chaotic, then you can't do much to change it, can you?
No, not really. But I mean, the thing is this: You can make an order out of chaos by calling it chaos – do you know what I mean? Say, well OK, everybody's fucked up, right, we're fucked up again – you know, that's it, and then everybody's quite happy to be fucked up. It's when you don't know what you are and when you don't know what situation you're in that you can't bear it, or when you're pretending to be something that you're not or pretending to be the other thing.

I really got very heavy over Tommy, I really thought I was doing the world a service at one stage. The thing that hit me about Tommy looking back on it, is that it wasn't very Who, you know. Let's face it, I could have walked up to any group, even a group like the Kinks or the Stones or the Beatles and said, "Look, here's Tommy with all the songs and the demos, just sort it out, Ringo sing this and blah blah – you know what I mean?

But the harmonies and the phrasing was all the Who?
Yeah, but I still resented slightly the way it came out, because I fell that the Who have got to be on top of it, otherwise they don't shine. You can't accept our recorded sound unless the group is really on top of what it's doing, because our recorded sound isn't good enough. We're getting on top of it slowly, but it's like so miserable waiting, like it was miserable waiting for the Stones to get on top of their recordings. But they did it, I think, with Beggars' Banquet, they were on top of it then, like when Charlie hit the deep tom-tom it sounded like a fucking deep tom-tom, and not like a cardboard box.

The production of our records has got nothing to do with sound. It's got to do with trying to keep Keith Moon on his fucking drum stool and keep him away from the booze. And through that period it was to do with keeping me from fucking out on some kind of other dope. I'm very good now, I sit there waiting for each tape, but there was a whole period when Kit Lambert was just keeping us from really fighting. We're a dreadful group to record.

How does Meher Baba come to be involved with your music?
It's getting to the point where the whole thing is relaxing quite a lot because I'm beginning to see something quite simple. If you want to get your head together, right, or your soul together, or whatever it is you're trying to get together, there is no necessity to go 'round changing the color of the walls and changing the carpet that you've got on the floor, and cutting your hair off, and stopping smoking or any of those trips, there's no need for that. It's the translation of what's happening and the way you get into what's happening that is the thing. And so I've just got to the point now when I've suddenly realized after a long time that writing and things like that shouldn't change; and subsequently this is why musically I feel I'm moving a little bit back to the position we were in before Tommy, which wasn't very healthy, actually.

It's kind of peculiar, in other words it's like going back into a position where we were in a decline. And I prefer that alternative rather than following up Tommy. I'm sure the Beatles were faced with it after the height that went on after Sergeant Pepper. I just feel that that's the best thing to do, you've just got to own up to what's happening, you can't fuck around. It would be very very difficult to follow up Tommy, and I don't want to do it, and I don't think people really want it anyway.

What's on your new live album?
This was incredibly lucky. On our last tour of the States we recorded every night on a stereo machine taking feeds from the guitars and the drum kit and the P.A. onto a rough stereo picture (the road manager was doing the balance), with the theory that in 80 performances, or whatever it was we had, we must get a good show. We go over there, we do like 80 fucking good shows, you know, some shows incredible shows. We come back, some of the tapes are bad, some of them are good, some of them sound all right. Suddenly someone realizes there are 240 hours of tape to be listened to. You know, now who's going to do this? So I said, well, fuck that, I'm not gonna sit through and listen, you'd get brainwashed, let's face it! So we just fucking scrapped the lot, and to reduce the risk of pirating we put the lot on a bonfire and just watched it all go and we said, right, let's get an eight track.

So we got a pye eight track and we said take it to Leeds, and we went to Leeds and it just happened to be a good show and it just happened to be like one of the greatest audiences we've ever played to in our whole career, just by chance. They were incredible and although you can't hear a lot of kind of shouting and screaming in the background, they're civilized but they're crazy, you know, they're fantastic. And we played it in their own hall. And the sound is all right, it's a good atmosphere.

Do you know what songs are on it?
Yeah, we've just gone for the hard stuff. The first number in the show, which was "Heaven and Hell," was something written by John Entwistle which was something I was very keen to get on, but it didn't come out well enough. So it starts off with "I Can't Explain," then it's got "Young Man Blues" and it might have "Fortune Teller" on it as well; "Young Man Blues," then "Substitute," "Summertime Blues," and "Shaking all Over" on one side. Then on the other side it's got a long version of "My Generation" and then an encore with "Magic Bus." It's kinda groovy actually. I like it. It's where we are today musically, and when you listen to it, it ain't very far, quite honestly!

What hits you when you listen to it is you realize how much you need to see the Who. You know, I've never seen the Who, but it makes me realize how much you need to. Because I know that people wouldn't rave about us so much if they could just hear that tape, but I'm sure what happens is that the kids that'll buy the live album will probably be kids that will be able to remember us when they've seen us and they'll compensate. But there's all kinds of bits where sticks are obviously in the air when they're supposed to be on the drums and arms are spinning when they're supposed to be playing solos. And there's a bit like when we are all doing "Dooby de doo doo" like scissor kicks and you can hear halfway through, where, although I'm playing in time, I'm landing in the middle of the beat. A kind of weird lumpy noise. They did a terrible job on the recording. They fucked it up incredibly. It's the pye Mobile set up. They did Air Force and Delaney and Bonnie and they did alright with them but they fucked up on ours, they got crackles all the way through, horribile crackles. But I'm just going to put it out anyway.

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