Rock & roll!" cried one lone voice, as Peter Townshend continued to explain where the upcoming song fit in his latest rock opera.
The Dallas Convention Center Arena is like the inside of a UFO, perfectly circular with concentric rings of lights in the ceiling. Down on the stage beneath 144 colored spotlights the Who were walking the tightrope of their first tour in two years, trying to put across songs from their first album in as long. After their US debut in San Francisco they'd decided the selections from Quadrophenia needed a bit of plot synopsis. The surprising thing is that only one cry of "Rock & roll!" split the air, to say nothing of the possible "Boogie!," "Party!" or "Get it on!" Because the story of Quadrophenia is not the fairytale triumph of a trebly-handicapped teenage guru.
"It's about growing up," Townshend explains. "At the end of the album the hero is in danger of maturing."
Maturity! Surely, some have theorized, rock & roll is about evading adulthood. Your classic rock star, though his face grow lined and his hair thin, continues to swagger out his teenage images of foot-loose cowboy, ghetto punk, or these days even pre-adolescent Peter Pan.
And only one voice shouted "Rock & roll!" Ten thousand college and high-school age Texans crowded the sold-out Arena November 25th to watch four men in their late 20s, including a singer and guitarist who are bywords for athleticism, perform powerful crashing music about . . . events in 1965, and their own possibly misspent youth.
Spooky, is the way Peter Townshend characterized the tour as of Philadelphia, nine days and six performances later.
"We've been getting differing audiences – differing like the reviews of Quadrophenia. Some don't respond to it. It doesn't have a resolved theme, a logical conclusion, and it's tough to expect an audience to go away . . . unsatiated.
"Quadrophenia has been getting blamed for our troubles this tour, but I don't think that anymore. I think the audience has changed. We've been so self-involved the last two years we've missed, I think for the first time, the changed experience of the audience. It wasn't till we got here to the US that we found out such acts as Alice Cooper have not only come but gone. Audiences seem more demanding, more skeptical, more level-headed – less likely to accept myths. There was a time when an audience would come to a concert and be satisfied with the myth of the Who, while we could be doing fuck-all in the way of music.
"We won't necessarily be going home unhappy, though there have been emotional outbursts among us that reflect a sense of dissatisfaction. The trouble is, we still want as much, maybe even more, out of a performance as the audience does. We want that direct connection to the audience. We'll be working more and getting into line next year."
Townshend's characteristically unsparing self-analysis refused to give the Who points for having survived the various hassles of this tour: Keith Moon's collapse onstage during the US debut, the theft of $30,000 of sound equipment in Los Angeles, seven hours in a Montreal jail following an amicable bit of room destruction, and a doctor's warning to Roger Daltrey of possible cancer of the vocal cords. And in fact audiences were not going away grumbling. Los Angeles, Chicago and Montreal had made extravagant demands for encores, and in some cities encores had been turned down for the sake of Daltrey's vocal cords.
But it was the tenth year of the Who, longest-lived of all British rock bands, and a time for ghosts. Spooky.
The story of Quadrophenia has become better known by now: A frustrated Mod kid, circa 1965, doesn't understand why his parents and his psychiatrist think he's crazy, he's not fully accepted by the Mod circle he moves in, and when it comes to it he can't even make a successful job of committing suicide. He isn't simply schizophrenic, he's got four personalities, each of which Townshend will explain (perhaps a little too neatly) as a reflection of the four members of the Who – and components of the personality of the rock generation.
"Jimmy – the name is a little joke," said Townshend with a quick smile, "I'm thinking of calling my next hero Bobby – Jimmy has made a sort of mistake in labeling, you see. He feels a failure because he thinks these Ace Faces, these Mods he admired who were the best dancers and fighters, had the bike, the birds, the most up-to-the-minute clothes, were really demi-gods because they had the things he wished he had. The exact kind of bike a fashionable Mod had to have, for instance, cost £300 and it took a working class kid a hell of a long time to scrape that lot together. But actually the people he was admiring weren't guys who were his own age who were better than him, they were a few years older and more experienced.
"He's a little late in the game. In a sense he's a failed Mod, because he's made the ultimate Mod mistake, bad timing. This is 1965 and the Mod scene is already falling apart – and what does he do but go to Brighton just to remember. The crazy days when 300,000 Mod kids from London descended on that little beach town were only three weeks ago, but already he's living on his past. And he meets an old Ace Face who's nowa bellhop, at the very hotel the Mods tore up. And he looks on Jimmy with a mixture of pity and contempt, really, and tells him, in effect, 'Look, my job is shit and my life is a tragedy. But you – look at you, you're dead.'
"'Dr. Jimmy' was meant to be a song which somehow gets across the explosive, abandoned wildness side of his character. Like a bull run amok in a china shop. He's damaging himself so badly so that he can get to the point where he's so desperate that he'll take a closer look at himself. All he knows is that things aren't right in the world and he blames everything else. And it's getting in a boat, going out to sea and sitting on a rock waiting for the waves to knock him off that makes him review himself. He ends up with the sum total of frustrated toughness, romanticism, religion, daredevil – desperation, but a starting point for anybody. He goes through a suicide crisis. He surrenders to the inevitable, and you know, you know, when it's over and he goes back to town he'll be going through the same shit, being in the same terrible family situation and so on, but he's moved up a level. He's weak still, but there's a strength in that weakness. He's in danger of maturing."
Is it a kind of exorcism of the Mod scene that the Who was associated with?
"Yeah, exactly. And also to explode the myths of the non-reality of the Mod and to give some insight into what I felt. In the US, you know, people never knew much about the Mods. They think of them as Carnaby poofs. But the Mods were a real movement. It cut across all class lines, but it was working-class London, originally. The Beatles were no more Mod than Elvis Presley. Mod clothes were nothing like Carnaby flash. They were fairly plain, but they had to be just so: the exact length of hair, the style of shoe. I can remember going out and buying a pair of Levis, three quid then; desert boots, about 50 bob; a Fred Perry shirt, another 50 bob; cycling jackets and so on. One outfit might be 12 quid, a weeks wages, and the next week, the next fucking week, you'd have to change the lot. Nobody ever figured out how the fashions started, any more than they ever figured out how it was decided that on a certain bank holiday all the Mod kids in London would converge on a certain beach town.
"I was a Mod in art school when I was dating Roger's younger sister. Being a Mod was a way of getting back my working-class roots. I was fascinated by working-class expressions like that. The Who were working too hard for me to get really involved, but sometimes I'd jump off the stage between sets and just disappear, though it was hard, being in a group. But there were times when I was able to disappear and in retrospect these were the moments I treasure most.
"It only lasted a couple of years, really. In '66 it got very locked into this television program called Ready Steady Go, where the producers just got the Ace Faces, the trendsetters, to go on television. It was a network show, so Mod fashions spread all through England overnight. And it wasn't the same any more, because in the real Mod scene nobody'd tell you. It wasn't just fashion detail, more of a hint of how they felt. There's something in the way the real Mod kids look at life even today that has a Mod stamp on it. They were poetic for working-class kids, always job-flitting. It was incestuous, secretive. Difficult to be a real up-to-the-minute Mod, 'cause no cunt'd tell you where to get the clothes. It wasn't something you decided to be, you just were.
"I've often said I was moved emotionally by Mods, and a lot of people think it's stupid to be hung-up on fashion and haircuts, but it was one thing that held me together, gave me a feeling of belonging. I always felt alienated by the Woodstock Generation, felt out of psychedelia, because like most pop musicians I was into it before the masses and when it became big I was extremely ill." Townshend laughed and swirled a glass of brandy.
"The other thing that has tended to throw me off a fantastic amount is – having an interest in pulling myself together spiritually – this religious fervor that's going on. When you come up against these Jesus freaks or followers of Guru what's-'is-name, I end up feeling maybe it'd be better to go back and join the Young Communists. It's that kind of alienation that makes me look back to the Who as a real figurehead, part of a sense of belonging and I wanted to find out what made the Who tick. So you go back and then come forward. It's ten years in an album, if you like."
As for the four faces of Jimmy, as reflected in the Who, Peter Townshend represents a component of spiritual yearning. Keith Moon is a manic sort of daredevil, and John Entwistle a tender, romantic type. Continuing the typecasting, Roger Daltrey represents an aggressive, violent character; but you can't take any of this too far.
"The part I have," said Roger in a Dallas hotel restaurant, "is like me eight years ago. Since then I've been all the other characters. We all have, we've all been through all the changes. People are puttin' the Mod label on it, but it's a timeless story, really. It's about hippies as well, about youth.
"When the Who started, I was a shit singer. They didn't need a singer in those days, they needed somebody who could fight, and that was me. Only in the last few years have I really started singing.
"So now I've had me own record out, and I'll have another one day, when we have the material for it. Choosing material is a bit of a delicate matter, because I'm kind of the front man for the Who, and I have a fairly distinctive voice. I don't sing rock & roll on me own, because why should I try to get a rock & roll band together when I already have the greatest band in the world behind me?"
Altogether, Quadrophenia took around a year to complete. Having tried most London studios, finding many sterile and being banned from several, the Who decided to have a shot at Jagger's Stargroves, using the Stones' mobile. It didn't work out, though they did discover that the best recording acoustics were to be found in the house's entrance hall – interesting but inconvenient. So it emerged that the most sensible plan was to build their own studio, bearing in mind that this album would need more facilities and time for experimentation than any previous Who project.
Work began on converting the Who's Warehouse into a studio – it had originally been a church hall. Time was slipping away, so before the conversion was anywhere near complete, recording had to start. For much of the early taping the Who had an audience of anxious young carpenters, painters and engineers. Ronnie Lane's mobile was used for the early tracks – with the control panel out on the sidewalk. Mixing was done at Townshend's second home, a pair of cottages in Goring: one for living in and one packed with equipment. To supervise the cutting, Peter flew to the Masters lab in Los Angeles.
The photo book that comes in the album was done by Ethan Russell. "Chad, the kid in the book," said Daltrey, "is Jimmy. He's a little old – 22 or so, been married and divorced – but he was a real rocker. A secretary at the studio found him in a pub and brought him round as a model. At first everybody said, 'No, no, get him out,' but then we ran out of models and finally said, 'Piss, let's use him' – and he was perfect. He was fucking up before, petty theft and vandalism, but that little bit of a pat on the back straightened him up and now he's doin' well. Now his friends point him out and say, 'That's in the record,' and it's made all the difference. He'd've been in jail if it weren't for that.
"The studio is in Battersea, the industrial part of West London. Real working-class people there – you might call them Brooklynites. The street he's driving down in his bike on the third page of the book – the one with the dirty great industrial smokestacks – that's the street the studio's on."
The first Who tour in two years was a sizable project. For the American leg of the tour they brought a sound and lighting crew of 12 all the way from England – the total crew on the job at any date would be 30 – and carried around 20 tons of equipment in three 45-foot vans. There were self-examination sessions for every concert – sometimes after-hours post-mortems, sometimes simple onstage fisticuffs – to evaluate how it was all working.
The British tour started with a provincial runup, stopping off first at Stoke on the grim Midlands October 28th. After seven days of rehearsal it was courageous, if unwise, to attempt the whole of Quadrophenia in concert, involving as it did a score or more of guitar changes. In a post-mortem it was agreed that five numbers should be cut, reducing the guitar handovers to a reasonable count. That seemed to iron out most of the sticky patches, and the following shows at Manchester were smooth enough. Bobby Pridden, the sound engineer, seemed to have worked out the critical balance between taped material – John Entwistle's multiple horn parts, the sea and rain sound effects, Townshend's banjo and fiddle playing and his Moog orchestrations – and the live sound.
At the next stop, Newcastle, it all fell apart. The hall's management had instructed the usherettes to shine a flashlight at anyone who so much as dared to stand up, a tactic that might almost have been designed specifically to needle the Who, as it's long been their policy to play to the front rows, those kids who had stood in line longest to get in earliest. So when the tape synch warning signal on Moon's headphones came in about 15 seconds out of step with the band and Townshend realized it couldn't be held together, he exploded – dragged Pridden over the sound desk, knocked an amp over and stormed offstage. After raging about the dressing room for nearly half an hour, he cooled off enough to come back onstage. But Quadrophenia was abandoned for the night, and instead the Who ran through a selection of their golden oldies.
Next day, wearing a hangdog expression, Peter lent a hand repairing the gear and even went on local television with Moon to explain the outburst. The next night's show at the 2000-seat hall was better and the remainder of the British tour went smoothly, except for the chaotic box office scenes at the London Lyceum. For their return to the Lyceum December 18th, 19th, 22nd and 23rd, tickets will be available only through the mail.
The first US concert, oddly, was in San Francisco. Oddly because the time zone difference from England was a full eight hours, rather than the merely disorienting five-hour difference if they'd come to the East Coast first. When Keith Moon collapsed during the concert, twice (Rolling Stone 150, Random Notes), the collapse was at first attributed to jet lag and "high living" in the day they'd had in California before the November 19th concert. Not drugs.
But it was drugs, in fact, according to the group, but involuntary drugs: PCP, that perennial on the counterfeit acid market. "It was somebody gave Keith a drink spiked with monkey tranquilizer," said Roger Daltrey. "There were two girls drinking with him that was even worse off – one of 'em came near dyin'. They took him down to the hospital after the show, you know. Usually he drinks like a fish, but he'd only been drinking just a bit when he came onstage and he was playing fine. Then after a while he starts dragging – it was really frightening to see it. And he just keeled over."
"If I catch who spiked me drink," said Moon in Dallas, "I'll break off both their arms and beat 'em to death."
After the first collapse, the audience was asked to have patience while Moon was revived in the shower. But when he collapsed the second time, Townshend called out for drummers in the audience and one Scott Halpin responded.
"That drummer," said Daltrey, "none of the papers picked it up, but he was good. He was a little stiff when he first came onstage, because he didn't know how different it sounds when you're onstage from when you're down in the audience. The sound's always going out, you see. You can't hear yourself right. So he was really banging on the drums to hear himself."
"When Keith collapsed," said Pete, "it was a shame. I had just been getting warmed up at that point. I'd felt closed up, like I couldn't let anything out. I didn't want to stop playing.
"It was also a shame for all the people who'd waited in line for eight hours."
The following Thursday in Los Angeles they played the "Fabulous" Forum, whence three days later a slick Pat Boone mass hymn-singing special would be broadcast. The show's adrenaline level took Peter to the point of smashing a guitar – something he hadn't done in years. Or planned to, either. "It was the only one budgeted for in the tour," he later explained somewhat sheepishly. The audience applauded for ten minutes steadily after the lights went up and finally got their encore. "For the first time we figured out how to play Los Angeles," Townshend remembered. "We hadn't realized before how many unexpected people go to rock concerts there – industry people, promotion people, arts people, Hollywood sorts. We'd never gotten so much response before."
In Los Angeles Daltrey and Townshend had started to include verbal transitions between the songs from Quadrophenia. "It was my idea," Roger said. "It helps people follow the new material. In a couple of months when everybody knows the album, we wouldn't have to explain."
"Roger and I have different ideas about Quadrophenia . . . we get different things out of it," said Peter, grimacing and gesturing as if pulling up handfuls of water to emphasize the difficulty of articulating the problem. "I think the story line isn't so complicated it bears much explaining. A kid sits on a rock and remembers the things that have happened in the last few days. I think if you explain the story line too much it demeans all the other things in the music, makes it too Tanglewood Tales. The story, after all, is just a peg to hang ideas on. When Roger gets too literal about the story, I have to cut in and make it lighter."
The practice continued, despite philosophical differences, throughout the tour. By the time of the Chicago Amphitheater concert, according to Al Rudis of the Chicago Sun-Times, Townshend was positively joking about "our new masterpiece" – and once when Roger was making a song introduction that had gone for perhaps two minutes, Entwistle stepped up to the mike and joshed, "Fuck it." In Detroit they were still telling the audience, "The performance is still evolving, bear with us." The crowd bore with Quadrophenia, in near silence, but at the end stood and applauded. Spooky, considering the lack of silence during the Who's oldies selection.
Townshend later called Montreal and Chicago "two of our solidest performances." Following the show in Montreal they put on another solid performance in the good old Who tradition – tearing up a hotel room. The reported $6000 damages inflicted at a wee-hours party were settled amicably with the Hotel Bonaventure. What the band still doesn't understand is why their whole party of 16 had to spend seven hours in jail, even utter innocents such as Roger Daltrey, who went to bed early every night of the tour to preserve his voice. No charges were pressed.
And so it went: Halls were sold out everywhere (in Detroit, for instance, there were eight applications for every seat), audiences respectful toward Quadrophenia. By Philadelphia Townshend was questioning whether the project, the Who's most ambitious ever, might have been too ambitious. "Every Who album has been a step," he said. "I wonder whether the step needn't be a monumental one."
"What the Mods taught us in the band was how to lead by following." Townshend was speaking in Dallas, the third city in the 11-city tour. "I mean, you'd look in the dance floor and see some bloke stop dancing the dance of the week and for some reason feel like doing some silly sort of step. And you'd notice some of the blokes around him looking out of the corners of their eyes and thinking, 'Is this the latest?' And on their own, without acknowledging the first fellow, a few of 'em would start dancing that way.
"And we'd be watching. By the time they looked up on the stage again, we'd be doing that dance, and they'd think the original one had been imitating us. And next week they'd come back and look to us for dances.
"That kind of feedback and interchange goes on in all the popular arts, I think, but particularly in rock & roll. Some kid writes in to me and says, 'I've got all your records and I listen to your music all day long and I look at your pictures all the time and I write to you and all I get is a bleedin' autographed picture. You don't know how much time I spend thinkin' about you lot.' I write him back and say, 'You don't know how much time I spend looking at and thinking about teenagers.' "
This story is from the January 3rd, 1974 issue of Rolling Stone.