The Who Come To A Fork In The Road

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Roger Daltrey is probably the person most concerned with the absence of stage work, for Daltrey's peculiar skills come completely into play only onstage (in the studio, he keeps considerable distance, acting as an objective observer/adviser on the instrumental tracks, and recording his vocals alone with the producer). And this setback has come at a particularly unfortunate time for, as he admits. ''As a singer. I think I've grown up. I used to feel intimidated by Pete's demos. And on this album I just went out there and done my thing.''

Townshend said last year in Rolling Stone that he sometimes felt he was pushing ideas down the throat of the group, particularly Roger. But Daltrey denies it. ''I'm sure people can think it sounds like Pete pushing his thing on the rest of 'em. It isn't like that. I've always felt in tune with what the songs say. I'm a Pete Townshend fan, believe it or not.

''I understand what Pete's going through,'' Roger says. ''And I sympathize with it. But I don't agree with him. I've just got a feeling if we stop touring now, I know I shall regret it, and I know Pete will. That's the one thing that's always worried me about it. I never want to not do something and say, when I'm like forty, 'Oh fuck, I wish I'd done that. Wish I'd gigged.'''

There is another reason Daltrey feels the Who must tour. ''I've seen some things on television since I've been here, like that California Jam II. Fuckin' hell, man. Who was it, Santana? I just thought. 'Someone get out there and mean it, please.' The Who should get back on the road if that's what's around.

''All it is, is realizing love for other people. I mean the first time you start loving someone else other than you – you're at that point. If you ever reach a full peace, I don't know. But you do reach a level where you cease being so selfish.''

Finally, of course, if there is anything on which Townshend and Daltrey are in complete agreement, it is that the Who is an idealist band. ''I'll back Pete up one hundred percent on what he said about it helps you dance all over your problems.'' He pauses, as if wondering how to convey the next part of his thought.

''But it's the dancing that's important as well.''

Since the early days of the Who, whether scuffling on tour in America or being expelled from airplanes in Europe, Keith Moon has had the reputation of a rock & roll demiurge. But lately, according to all reports, his excesses have begun to catch up with him. He has been rumored to be hopelessly alcoholic, as well as several other sorts of mentally and physically ill. Moon claims that all this has been ''amazingly exaggerated.'' Nonetheless, back at the Navarro after Good Morning America, the first bottle of wine was poured before ten a.m.

100 Greatest Singers: Roger Daltrey

Moon has only recently returned to London after living for the better part of the period between LPs in Los Angeles, which he hated. But now, he says. ''I feel I've got a sense of purpose. In the two years off, I was really drifting away with no direction, no nothing. I'd try to do things and get involved in projects but nothing ever came close to the feeling I get when I'm working with the guys. Because it's fun, but at the same time I know I've gotta discipline myself again.

''I accept that. And also, it teaches me to take it as well as dish it out – that's rock. It's something you learn quickly in the Who.''

At first, Moon remembers, ''We'd thrash it out in a physical way. I'd fantasize that it was Pete's problem, or John's problem or Roger's problem. And it wasn't. It was my fault, cause I couldn't take it. So I've grown up, a little, from learning that.''

And, saying that, he gets up and blasts ''Surf City'' by Jan and Dean from his cassette recorder. Then he traipses over to the window to raise the blind. He gives it a tug and it springs back at him, hits the floor and rolls back up. He looks at the mess and laughs heartily.

Some people just have the knack.

That's as close as we may ever expect Keith Moon to come to baring the dark side of his soul. Indeed, such disclosures are reminiscent of Pete Townshend's famous interviews, full of recrimination and brutal self-analysis. That mood now permeates the Who.

On the placid side street of rock, cronyism is the highest virtue. Yet the Who have always been, as Daltrey admits, ''the one family in the street that fucks up the neighborhood.'' But now this bickering has taken on a new aspect: if the members are still far from reluctant to criticize themselves, they are genuinely solicitous of one another's feelings. It's as if they've finally realized that, however strong the ties that bind them, they are also fragile. ''And there's a weird thing happening at the moment,'' Daltrey says, ''We're suddenly finding great, great joy in realizing that in essence we're all very much the same.''

Who Are You is the result of that realization, but not the source of the change in attitude. The key to the latter is The Who by Numbers. Shortly after By Numbers' release in 1975, the group seemed to disavow it. The product of despair, its dead-end perspective might easily have been the end of the line for the band. There was a sense that, at any moment, it all could fly apart.

''That's the thirty-one-year-old's feeling: one wrong move and I'm out the window,'' Daltrey continues. ''It's the first time you realize there's a fuckin' hole in the ground waiting for you. You feel that you're mortal and you really do reevaluate. Peter obviously went through it before I did, because when By Numbers came out, I didn't associate with it at all.''

Townshend says that 1975 was not a period of personal bitterness but one of apathy. It began with a riotous series of interviews in the British press, in which Townshend took potshots at the sorry state of rock in general, and what he saw as the Who's utter failure to come up with another project as profoundly popular as Tommy. Most of all, he laid into Daltrey and Daltrey responded in kind. Seen in this context, Daltrey's anger probably did save the songs and the group.

''Pete was having all kinds of problems after [the film] Tommy,'' Daltrey says. ''I mean, he thanked me for doing it in the end. But it was hard to live with. Fuckin' hell, I knew how it was gonna hurt him, and I didn't want to hurt him that much. But I wanted to say, 'Look, for fuck's sake, get off your ass and let's get it together or let's give it all up, because you can't pussyfoot around with a band like the Who.''' It was precisely at this moment that the Sex Pistols arrived on the scene. They agreed that rock was completely fucked up and blamed a great deal of the problem on war-horse Sixties bands like the Who. Who Are You's title song is an oblique description of Pete's initial meeting with the Sex Pistols. Originally written as a secularized Sufi chant, the Sex Pistols tale was meant to be simply a frame, but the experience overwhelmed the song's spiritual message.

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