Roger Daltrey says that making Tommy, the 1975 cinematic adaptation of the Who‘s like-titled rock opera, was a turning point in his life for a surprising reason. “When we filmed it, we worked with lots and lots of extremely disabled people in some of the scenes, and some of them were very young,” the singer says. “It took me back to my teenaged years. I remember that dreadful period where you don’t quite know who you are, where you’re going. You’re always insecure. In a way, you are deaf, dumb and blind to the world.”
Reflecting on that experience led him to want to help teenagers, and in 2000 it inspired his association with the U.K.’s Teenage Cancer Trust, a charity that supports hospitals in helping teenage patients, since most health facilities cater toward children and adults. In 2012, the singer and Who guitarist Pete Townshend helped found a U.S. component of the organization – Teen Cancer America – and they have led its fundraising efforts, which include benefit concerts and auctions.
They’re hosting their latest gala – dubbed Who Cares About the Next Generation – tonight in Los Angeles, where the Who will perform along with Eddie Vedder and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. They’re also hosting a live auction, run by auctioneer Howie Mandel. David Spade and Paul Stanley, among other celebrity guests, have agreed to make appearances. The organization is also holding an online silent auction, which includes items ranging from a pinball machine signed by the cast of the Tommy movie, including Jack Nicholson and Elton John, an autographed lithograph of the Beatles’ “Yesterday” lyrics, a signed Cream guitar and other items of memorabilia, as well as tickets to concerts and getaways.
Proceeds will benefit both Teen Cancer America and the UCLA Health Autism Treatment Program, the latter of which is the interest of the private individual who helped organize the event. “We’ve been involved with autism charities since way back early in the Seventies,” Daltrey says, “so I’m very happy we’re sharing the proceeds of this night with them.”
What kind of a performance will the Who be doing at the benefit? Will it be like your Who Hits 50 shows?
What do you want us to do? Climb ropes and swing on swings? I don’t know. It won’t be much different from what we’ve been doing every night on tour, maybe just a little bit quieter. These shows are fun and casual.
How does it feel to be winding down this portion of the Who Hits 50 tour?
I’m very pleased we’re ending in good form. We can’t replace John [Entwistle] and Keith [Moon], who died, but the quality of the music that we’re playing now and the way we’re playing it is as high as it’s ever been.
You still hit that high note in “Won’t Get Fooled Again” perfectly.
All that bloody singing and everyone remembers a scream. It’s brutal. It’s killing me. It’s the one song I want to drop every night.
It’s not the stuttering in “My Generation” that you want to drop after 50 years?
I try and rephrase the stutter every night. It’s a challenge. But the song doesn’t need the stutter so much as it needs the anger.
What are you looking forward to about the benefit?
Eddie Vedder’s gonna be there, and I just love Eddie. I’m sure he’ll come up and do some duets with us.
Eddie has sung with you over the years, and I don’t think he’s ever done the same duet twice with you.
[Laughs] Whatever he wants to sing with us, I’d be obliged. Let’s hope he doesn’t pick anything too obscure.
What would you like to hear him sing?
I just love to hear Eddie sing. I think he’s got such a distinctive, fabulous voice. He doesn’t copy, so that’s what I like; he does the Eddie Vedder version. It’s never easy to do because most people will just try and copy what the Who have done. He’s always himself.