The Who: Last Time Around

The Who say goodbye before they get old, and hello to a very uncertain future

November 11, 1982
The Who, Issue 382
The Who
Annie Leibovitz

For nearly three years, Roger Daltrey watched Pete Townshend slowly killing himself with drugs and alcohol. It was almost a parody of rock-star decadence: Pete moved out on his wife and children and started making the rounds of trendy London clubs, slugging back brandy all night till he was nearly comatose, snorting cocaine to keep up the pace, dabbling in heroin and God knows what else. After twenty years together in a band that ultimately attained the heights of rock celebrity as the Who, Daltrey saw Townshend throwing away a life that apparently had come to mean more to Who fans than it did to Townshend himself. Finally, late last year, the tormented guitarist hit bottom. After a night of furious dissipation at London's Club for Heroes, Townshend suddenly turned blue and collapsed, and had to be rushed to the nearest hospital.

Daltrey couldn't take it anymore. Something drastic had to be done, and he knew, at last, what it was. One night during Townshend's extended convalescence, the Who held a meeting at their manager's house, and Daltrey dropped the bomb: "I don't want to tour anymore."

For a man who still loved the Who as passionately as he ever had in his teens – maybe more – those were the saddest words in the world. But if Townshend were to be stopped from following Who drummer Keith Moon into an early grave, Daltrey felt he had no other choice.

"See, Pete didn't want to tour for years there before Moonie died," he explains. "I was the instigator – I was responsible for getting him back on the road after 1978. And after three tours of America, he was a bloody junkie. I felt responsible for that. It was really hard to live with, and I just don't want to do it anymore. I mean, I think the world of that guy. I think enough of him to stop the Who."

Not stop it cold, of course. They could do one last world tour – as long as they called it that, and knew it was fini, they could deal with it. "I want to end the group in the right way," says Daltrey. "On top, before we become parodies of ourselves. Then we can give Pete some freedom, because he deserves it."

Townshend is still struck by Daltrey's selfless and loving gesture. The two have had many a well-publicized row over the years, and yet, says Pete, "Roger was the most vociferous member of the group in saying that he would do anything, give up anything – even give up the group – if it would make me happy, you know? If it would get me happiness."

The question now, of course, is: will it?

One week into the Who's last full-scale tour, all is quiet. Frankly, it's a little weird. Fifteen years ago, when Keith Moon was alive and destroying drum kits and hotel rooms with equal abandon, the Who's celebrated road antics earned them a lifetime ban from the Holiday Inns of America. But this afternoon, up on the sixth floor of the Greentree Marriott, near downtown Pittsburgh, a librarial silence prevails – you can almost hear the twiddling of thumbs behind each closed door. Can this be the same crazed band that exploded out of London's heady Mod scene in 1965?

No, of course not. One understands. This is the Who that survived into the Eighties, and its members, dispersed in their various suites, are conserving their no-longer-boundless energy for tonight's show at the 17,500-seat Civic Arena. There are eight tough weeks to go on this farewell tour, and looning takes a low priority.

Townshend has already caught a cold, which may explain the two sweaters he's wearing, if not the faded pink handkerchief that's knotted around his wrist. A copy of Nostromo, the Joseph Conrad novel, lies on a table near the sofa where he's sitting, and a stack of portable recording equipment – an adjunct to on-the-road songwriting – stands against a far wall. One year after nearly cashing in his chips, Townshend looks a little ragged, but he's obviously sober and straight. His only remaining vice is a penchant for miniature Indian cigarettes, which he smokes steadily.

"I do miss a drink before going onstage," he admits, raking a hand through his disheveled hair. "Even just a small brandy would always stop me from feeling nervous. But once I get on the stage now, I'm okay. I don't miss it," he says, waving the bad old days away. "I don't miss any of it."

And the days of big tours, big money, big roaring crowds – will he miss any of that? He stubs out a tiny butt and sighs. "I think there's a certain amount of relief about the fact that it's the last tour. There's a tremendous amount of sadness, though, as well, because I know it's not what everybody wants." Bassist John Entwistle, for example, loves being on the road more than any other aspect of his involvement in the Who. Therefore, Pete says, "I think John is probably . . . more than sad. He's not at all vocal, and that makes it very difficult, because he's actually sittin' and tryin' to work out how he feels half the time. But I think I know him well enough to know that he will probably mourn the Who more than anybody in the world. He's losing a vehicle for his talent and passion that he knows he'll never be able to find anywhere else."

It would, of course, be possible to accommodate Entwistle – keep the band in shape, maybe perform on some sort of reduced but semiregular annual schedule. Townshend stares down at his sizable feet, which are nestled in black velvet slippers with inscrutable golden crests, and he cradles his famous nose in a clump of Kleenex. "I very much doubt that will happen," he says with a soft honk.

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