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The Who Reunite For 25th Anniversary Tour

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So why did they recruit Kenney Jones and continue when Moon died shortly after the release of Who Are You? "We were on a treadmill," says Daltrey, "and when Keith died, we stayed on the treadmill. We should have taken the time and thought about what we were. But we just buried our heads in the sand and pretended that we were the same band. And we weren't."

In fact, they were a far different band with Kenney Jones, a solid timekeeper whose straightforward style contrasted sharply with the frenzied way in which Moon used to attack the drums. Jones played on the last two Who albums and the "final tour" in 1982, but he finally quit the band, tired of waiting for the Who to do something and angry at Townshend because Jones felt Townshend was taking the best songs for his solo albums. ("My response," says Townshend, "was 'Tough shit, the band's finished.'") Now Simon Phillips has taken over, bringing with him an assaultive drumming style reminiscent of Moon's. But these days the acrimonious split with Jones is rarely mentioned; Moon is the drummer who haunts this band.

"It's not that there's any such thing as real ghosts, and if there was, it wouldn't matter in this particular context," says Townshend. "But the fact of the matter is, there is a ghost. There's the ghost in the gap, the ghost of the gap. There's the ghost of the void which is left when the person is gone." He waxes biblical. "When we three gather in his name, he shall be there. And he is there."

Chances are, though, that the three won't gather in anybody's name much after this tour. "I don't think we have any future past this," says John Entwistle. "That's a good thing, in a way, because we haven't got any of those pressures that we used to have. At the moment we're just looking at it as if there's nothing in the future at all. And if something happens because of the tour, great But, I mean, even if we do an album, there's still gonna be no future after that. We're not a permanent band."

Instead, they'll go back to their own projects: Entwistle to a solo album, Daltrey back to the movies and Townshend to his current passion, Iron Man. Taken from a children's book by England's poet laureate, Ted Hughes (who was once married to the writer Sylvia Plath), Iron Man is a fairy tale about an initially threatening but ultimately friendly huge iron creature; in addition to the album, Townshend has also written a dramatic scenario, a libretto, an overture, recitatives and lots of songs that aren't on the record.

"I tried to construct a complete musical work which I could put into the Library of Congress and then anybody who wanted could do it," says Townshend. "It seems mad to spend two and a half years making a record which is in and out of the American shops in three months, so I just thought maybe I could write something which had a chance of having a long life. And I thought maybe I could make it have a longer life by giving it more depth, allowing it to touch a wider audience, allowing it to live in different ways and by not being so central and fundamental to it as an artist myself."

Townshend, however, is hardly peripheral to the Iron Man album. His name is on the cover, after all, and he sings the lead role in the varied, only occasionally rock-oriented musical. But veteran bluesman John Lee Hooker and pop singer Nina Simone also play major roles, and Townshend assembled a supporting cast that includes many musicians on the current Who tour and even – at the urging of his manager Bill Curbishley – the Who itself, doing a newly recorded version of "Fire," the Crazy World of Arthur Brown classic.

Townshend is deliberately keeping himself out of the first Iron Man video, which he checks on at a nearby animation studio after rehearsal. Director Matt Forrest is working painstakingly on the "Friend Is a Friend" clip, which will be part live action, part animation, part slow, laborious work with models. Townshend pores over the storyboards, examines a tiny model Iron Man and a series of small sets and looks at a videotape of the boy cast in the lead.

He's thinking, he tells Forrest, of showing the entire video on the big screens the Who will be taking with it on its stadium tour. "I can't wait to see the show," says Forrest in an exuberant Scottish brogue. "It's gonna be fantastic. It's gonna be brilliant."

Townshend frowns and studies his fingernails intently.

"Well," he says with a sigh, "it's gonna be long."

It's Pete Townshend's forty-fourth birthday, and in the hallway outside the Who's rehearsal hall, the strains of "Baba O'Riley" and "I Can't Explain" are mixing with a lighter, sunnier sound coming from the next studio. It turns out to be the Style Council, a band that in some ways parallels the Who: Style Council leader Paul Weller's first group, the Jam, was the most successful band to come out of the second great flowering of England's mods, and like Townshend and company, Weller now makes music using more people and fuller arrangements than he ever did with the three-piece Jam.

Hearing the Style Council play, Pete Townshend remembers a story. Not long ago, he says, Weller's father tried to persuade the Who to play a show at a soccer stadium in Ipswich, where he worked. But since the Who had no plans to tour in Britain – where, Townshend says, his band is "a dead duck" – the Who's leader had another suggestion.

"I said to Paul, 'Why don't you do the show?'" recalls Townshend. "And he said, 'We could never fill Ipswich.' I said, 'Well, you could if you re-formed the Jam.' And he said, 'Oh, man, I'd never do that Fucking hell, man, that would be going backwards! I'd never, ever, do that. I'm a modernist! Forward, forward, forward!'"

Townshend laughs. "When Paul said that," he says, "I suddenly felt that yeah, maybe that's what I'm doing: I'm moving backwards. But they, sometimes it takes a lot of courage to go backwards."

This story is from the July 13th, 1989 issue of Rolling Stone.

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

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Song Stories

“Whoomp! (There It Is)”

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