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

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People picked on the Who as the group to criticize because you demanded money, is that right?
That was because we were leaving the morning after, you see. I expected this as we were fucking asking for it. They were giving us such a lot of bullshit. This geezer said, "I invited you to play as a friend and now all this distrust," and we said, "Look, man, we've come from England to play your shows specially. We want our fucking money. Want to take it back and spend it. You know, we're in debt." And they said, "Well it's very difficult." They had to get a bank manager in the middle of the night to sign a check. So we did it, and then everyone else started to do it. They said, "What's the trouble?" So we said, "We just got our money, it's all cool." So Creedence did it, Grateful Dead did it, Santana did it, all the bands that were on the night we were tried it on. We went and the Jefferson Airplane came up and said, "Did you get your money in advance?" So we said, "Yeah and you should," so they said, "We already have. Paid six months ago."

Everyone felt it wasn't the spirit of the thing to ask for money.
Oh yeah, I mean in a way it wasn't the thing. Oh fucking hell; Woodstock wasn't what rock's about, not as far as I'm concerned. When the sun came up I just didn't believe it. I was giving a little prayer, you know, I was saying, "Look this is a disaster, we're playing and Abbie Hoffman and company are spreading their peculiar vibes about and I've done the wrong thing," and the vibes were well down. Tommy wasn't getting to anyone. Sly and the Family Stone had just whipped everyone into a frenzy and then kind of walked off. Everyone was just silent and then we went on and all the bad vibes, and all the photographers all over the stage. I had to kick about ten photographers off the stage to get on.

By this time I was just about awake. We were just listening to the music and all of a sudden, bang! The fucking sun comes up! It was just incredible. I really felt we didn't deserve it, in a way. We put out such bad vibes. But like it started for that bit and then we went into "Summertime Blues," "Shaking All Over," "My Generation," and as we finished it was daytime. And it was just incredible. We just walked off, got in the car and went back to the hotel. It was fucking fantastic. Still, if people offer us festivals now, we say no before we say yes.

What are you doing with the opera tours now? It that all over?
We pulled out of that really because it was we were going and playing in fucking opera houses, you know like thousands and thousands of kids were coming to see us and then only about a hundredth of the kids who wanted to see us could. And we'd go in and play and like the first 20 rows would be Polydor people. Or Prince Rainier and his royal family, and honestly it was such a bad scene. We were going to play the opera houses in Vienna, Moscow and the New York Metropolitan, but I just thought that was the biggest hype bullshit I'd ever heard of. We blew it out.

The thing I didn't dig about it is that we didn't play big enough places. The opera houses over there are very small. There are 1,500 people usually and you could see every face. But you can't win them over. Say there's an old guy in a bow tie out there, he's come to write up a review in some opera paper or some serious music paper and most of the night he sits there with his fingers in his ears. It's just impossible to work when someone's doing that.

You were talking about the next step for the Who.
Well, I was talking about it then in terms of a film and I think a film would be the ideal thing. A film, a bit in nature like the Stones' Rock and Roll Circus thing. Only a feature. Something which was about rock but was about a lot of people in rock. The Stones scooped, as far as England was concerned, Taj Mahal and Jethro Tull and people like that and at the same time gave a good reflection of the kind of music they dug, gave a good performance of their own and had some oldies but goodies like the Who on, and had some fun at the same time. If this could be done – but where the balance was one where you were actually filming something turning on its axis or doing a spiral upwards or doing something incredible, say a whole picture including a whole lot of groups, filmed from the viewpoint of the Who maybe or just using it as an excuse. I think this is yet to be done. It's very vague, but there are people, and I am one of them, who have got a lot of ideas in that direction, and I am one of them, who have got a lot of ideas in that direction, for a rock film which is not a documentary and not a story and not a comedy either but a fucking Rock Film. A film which is the equivalent of a rock song, only lasting an hour or longer.

Why did you write to The Sunday Telegraph about drugs?
Because the guy that wrote the article. Lionel Birch, who's a friend of mine, asked me to write a letter backing up saying that Meher Baba had caused some people to stop taking drugs, and I got into the letter and got carried away and wrote a lot of other stuff as well. I just feel that the whole thing is that if there is such a thing as a drug problem and if there are people who get fucked up because of drugs and there are many who don't but quite a lot who do take drugs get fucked up – it's because they're looking for something and they're desperate and even if they don't know they're desperate themselves, they are. I mean even if you're not taking drugs, you're still fucking desperate.

The first thing that hit me about stopping ... you see the first thing Meher Baba says, which is logical, is that drugs like acid and STP, the psychedelic drugs, right, are harmful mentally, physically, and spiritually. Fair enough. Who am I to say they are not? In fact it was probably the harm they did that I dug. But then he says that it is all right for a sincere seeker to have been stimulated by them but not to continue use of them in the light of that. In other words if you get a buzz from something and then you dwell on it, it's the equivalent of like getting in a mood. It's like seeing something fucking incredible like a daffodil and then just looking at it till it wilts and dies. Do you see what I mean? He just put it in a way which got to me.

And I just stopped using acid straight away, just the words got me. But I went on smoking pot, and coke, and I started to get heavily into coke and other things and then all of a sudden when I did that long Rolling Stone interview, I was very hyped up on coke because we went round to the Jefferson Airplane pad in the middle of the interview, which was a silly thing to do. The day after I did that interview, a Baba lover came to see me in San Francisco and he was talking about drugs and things and what Baba says about it, and he says, "Of course you're not still smoking dope, are you?" So I said, "Yes, sure. What's Baba said about dope?" "Didn't you know that it's been proved now that pot's an hallucinogenic drug, so it falls into Baba's teachings?" he said. So I just stopped. Just because I felt more keen about getting into Meher Baba than I felt about being stoned all my life.

And then as it started to go down I started to realize how much I credited to drugs. I used to think, "Well, man, I can't play the guitar unless I'm stoned, I can't write a song unless I'm stoned, I can't be happy unless I'm stoned, I can't listen to records unless I'm stoned, I can't do anything unless I'm stoned. Because if I'm not stoned it's not as good." Well, I've just kind of got out of that, and I get just as much now out of everything perpetually 24 hours a day as I used to out of that high. It's like that thing in the hearing, they call it A.G.C., like if you hear a very loud sound, very quiet sounds are inaudible, but if you play a very quiet sound, other sounds become audible. In other words if you've got the loudspeaker on, you don't hear the doorbell ring, but if you've got it on quietly then you do hear the doorbell ring. I think it's a lot like that with dope. When you're on dope, it's so extreme it dulls a lot of other aspects. You dig what you're focused on. but you miss what you're not focused on.

Well, your music works the other way. doesn't it?
What do you mean?

You go to a Who concert and couldn't hear the doorbell ring if you wanted to.
That is of course an old pre-dope thing, where in fact we used to be a mod group and we'd go on the fucking stage and we'd literally get heckled. You go and play a really tough town like Glasgow and you get bottle thrown at you, so the thing was you just turn up your amplifier. It's good, it's good, I still like it loud. We're not as loud as we were on the guitars, it's going down, but the P.A.'s going up. I mean, English groups just discovered the P.A. system.

This story is from the May 14th, 1970 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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