Rolling Stone interviews Pete Townshend on plans after 'Tommy' - Rolling Stone
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Tea with Townshend: A Post-‘Tommy’ Chat on Rock ‘N Roll, Recording

“Don’t send me to war because I’m too busy fighting a battle with me”

Pete Townshend in his home recording studio.Pete Townshend in his home recording studio.

Pete Townshend in his home recording studio.

Chris Morphet/Redferns/Getty Images

Pete Townshend‘s quiet and unassuming 18th Century house stands on the Thames Embankment in Twickenham facing Eel Pie Island where, eight years ago, the Stones, Aynsley Dunbar, Acker Bilk, et al., first used to blast music out of the island’s club where the floors bounced in all directions. “Free were on the other night,” Townshend told us. “I opened the double frame windows and listened and they sounded good.”

The gardener was pruning the roses in front of the house when Jan Hodenfield and I arrived. Boats were grounded in the low tide riverbed, scores of gulls resting on them. “When spring comes, the birds fly to the sea,” he told us as we waited for Townshend to return home. It was one of those lazy afternoons when spring promises and river scents set you in the mood for an 18th Century English gardener to say something like “Sir, I for my part shall almost answer your hopes, but for this gentleman that you desire to see has stretched his legs up to town.”

Pete Townshend soon stretched his legs back down to the house, invited us into the living room where, hanging just above scores of little wooden animal figurines on the mantel, Meher Baba’s smile floated off the wall out through the windows across the river and into the island. Townshend made tea and then we talked about his plans and ideas since exhausting the performance possibilities of Tommy.

Afterwards, we went down the hall to Townshend’s home studio where he played us tapes: “A Normal Day for Brian, A Man Who Died Everyday,” which Townshend wrote and recorded just after Brian Jones’ death:

I used to play my guitar as a kid
Wishing that I could be like him
But today I changed my mind
I decided that I don’t want to die
But it was a normal day for Brian
Rock and roll’s that way
It was a normal day for Brian
A man who died every day

“Accidents,” a song from the forthcoming Thunderclap Newman album which Townshend produced and on which he plays bass, about “little kids having terrible accidents, falling down holes and being run over by cars”; “There’s a Fortune in Those Hills,” a slow wailing country song; “I Don’t Even Know Myself,” a dazzling song which begins with riffs out of “Gimmie Shelter,” shifting into a gentle mountain music chorus and brilliant instrumental solos. These last two songs will appear, re-orchestrated and including the other members of the Who, on the second of the Who’s forthcoming two LPs, the first one being The Who Live at Leeds.

Townshend explained how he recorded these songs in his studio: “This is just a two-track tape recorder, but it’s got self-synching on it. I can put something on one track and then put something on the other directly parallel to it. Then I can get those two tracks, which were in this case voice and acoustic on one track and drums on the other, mix them together adding a bass guitar and put it onto one track of another tape recorder. Then on the other recorder I’ve got guitar, voice, drums, and bass together and I put a piano on the next track of that recorder. And then I mix those two tracks down onto the other recorder again in stereo, adding a guitar.” Which is how Townshend becomes his own one man band.

When we left, Townshend presented us with a privately released Meher Baba birthday LP featuring Allen Cohen, Ron Geesin, and Pete Townshend singing solo: “The Seeker,” “Day of Silence,” “The Love Man,” and, if you can believe it, Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine.”

What are your next plans?
Pretty complicated, actually. We kicked Tommy out of the stage act. We’re doing rehearsals and recordings for the next two months to get some new numbers into the stage act and record them for a new album at the same time. We’ll probably keep some of our numbers from Tommy like “Pinball Wizard” and stuff like that. We’re doing some shows in England during this period, the next couple of months, to try it all out. And then we’ve got a fairly short tour, which’ll be the first one we’re promoting ourselves, in the States for four weeks, and we’re going to try following some of the success that the Stones had in playing theaters, play some bigger theaters, you know, because we’ve always shied away from them in the past, because we felt we just couldn’t get the contact, you know. Also we want something to put ourselves on the spot, so that we don’t get in the position where we’re just going through the motions.

You’re not going to do any free concerts?
There are some considered, but only concerts for causes. When we were last over there, there was a Bust Fund for the Berkeley Park thing, which we considered doing if it came at the right time. All kinds of bust funds. Good way to give Abbie Hoffman another punch in the stomach would be to give him the returns from a bust fund. I think I’d do it for him if he asked me. We think we might do one or two – we’ve got to be really careful, that’s the only thing, I mean after that Altamont thing, I’m a little bit worried.

Can you give an idea specifically of the songs you’re going to be playing?
Well, I’m still on a kind of a Self with a capital S trip, you know. It’s a bit difficult, writing heavy when you really want to write light or when you really want to write devotional, you know? It’s like a period which I know lots of other people have already gone through. I know the Beatles went through it, and quite possibly the Stones for a while. I’ve just done a thing of getting out of that trip, Tommy got it out of my system. I’m getting a balance now between “straight head” and “clear head,” getting back to the point now where I realize that if you want to get anything done you’ve got to actually do it, you know, with a capital D, and not wait. So the kind of stuff we’re doing at the moment – have you heard “The Seeker”? It’s a bit like back-to-the-womb Who, not particularly very good, but it’s a nice side, it’s good because it’s probably the only kind of thing we could do after something like Tommy, something which talks a little bit about spiritual ethics, blah blah blah, but at the same time is recapturing the basic gist of the thing.

The first thing I associate with self and quiet in terms of rock are groups like the Incredible String Band or Donovan. That’s where the tone of the thing equals the content, right? Whereas the Who is a rock and roll sound basically.
Yeah, but it’s roughly the same thing, it’s just that I’m saying it in a different way. I’ve written something quite similar called “I Don’t Know Myself,” which is kind of blaming the world because you’re fucked up. It’s very much like “The Seeker” in a way. I kind of dig that, I think that, you know, the world is responsible. You can blame a lot on society, and you can blame a lot on yourself in society, and that’s good, but I rather think of myself as something tender which has got to be sorted out and be found. I think that the self is an enemy that’s got to be kicked out the fucking way so that you can really get down to it. Most of the songs that I’m writing now are a bit like that – “Don’t pretend that you know me because I don’t even know myself.” Things like, “don’t send me to war because I’m too busy fighting a battle with me,” that kind of thing.

Well, that can be an excuse too. It’s a half put-down of yourself, isn’t it?
Well, it’s a half put-down, but it’s only a half put-down, of one bit.

There are some people who think you really can get what you’re after. The idea of asking the Beatles and Timothy Leary for guidance because they’re “stars” might seem to some people just like reading a lot of newspapers. How do you feel about that guy in the “Seeker” song?
He’s just like a whirling dervish. It started off as being very much me, and then stopped being very much me. It’s very personal, but then the whole thing is that, as soon as you discover that songs are personal, you reject them. It’s what happened with “I Can See for Miles.” I wrote it as a personal song at first, and as soon as I sussed out that that was what was going on, I completely pushed it away.

Quite loosely, “The Seeker” was just a thing about what I call Divine Desperation, or just Desperation. And what it does to people. It just kind of covers a whole area where the guy’s being fantastically tough and ruthless and nasty and he’s being incredibly selfish and he’s hurting people, wrecking people’s homes, abusing his heroes, he’s accusing everyone of doing nothing for him and yet at the same time he’s making a fairly valid statement, he’s getting nowhere, he’s doing nothing and the only thing he really can’t be sure of is his death, and that at least dead, he’s going to get what he wants. He thinks!

I wrote it when I was drunk in Florida. We were in the middle of an American tour and me and the production manager went out to Tom Wright’s father’s pad in the middle of the jungle to get some sun, and because we were only there for like five days, this guy was a very good friend of mine, he got in lots of steaks and lots of booze, and he like to overdid everything and it ended up with us, him and the production manager getting completely stoned every night and me being the only person that could stand up, playing, and we were just standing amid the sand spurs one day, I was just covered in sand spurs, I kept on falling and they stick in your skin and you can’t get them out, screaming with pain and singing this song and it just came out, “I’m looking for me, you’re looking for you, we’re looking at each other and we don’t know what to do.”

Sometimes there’s three of you in a room, it happens very rarely, three or four people maybe, and you get to a certain state, you might all be on completely different trips but what you really want to do is like hug one another. But you know it wouldn’t do any good, all you want to say is, “You know, I think you’re really a great guy.” You know that drunken thing that you might go through when it makes that come out. Makes a stranger your friend. It just was a good way of expressing it. Tom Wright was going, “It’s gotta be your next single.” It is. And they carried on to do the rest of the verses. By some miracle I remembered it all.

Was “The Seeker” done here or in – ?
I did a version of “The Seeker” which appears on an album which we did for Meher Baba’s birthday celebrations, which I still dig more than the version done by the Who. But I normally do, in an egotistical way I always prefer my demos to what the Who does. But. this is just my own trip. Usually you find that when the Who does it, it’s completely heavier, whereas with “The Seeker,” I felt that the group was just being whipped into shape, and that what I really want to do when we record in the future is to allow the song to emerge as we’re actually recording it, something which I’ve threatened for years and years and years.

You see, recording is really, it’s the recording of a process of discovery. It’s shifted, it shouldn’t be just a performance going down on the tape, it should also be people discovering lyrics for the first time or maybe a song evolving. It’s like when I listen to something like, say, the very first demo of “My Generation,” the second demo of “My Generation,” the third demo of “My Generation,” the group’s first try at it, the group’s second try at it, and then the final try, you know. Then the reduction of that try and then the cut of that try, and then the pressed recording of that try, and you listen to the two things together and they’re worlds apart. One has class; it’s ridiculous, but I mean the finished thing is kind of polished and slick and it hasn’t got too many bum notes in it, that kind of thing. But the demo, it’s scruffy, it’s hissy, it’s lousy, it’s distorted, and nobody would be able to listen to it; but none the less, it’s got something which the finished one hasn’t, and vice versa. The thing is to bridge that gap.

And I mean, no matter what people say about the Band – I know a lot of people really think they’re kind of frigid – but I think the reason why so many people dig them is because they’ve done that. I mean, while they’re making sounds they’re discovering things, they’re practically writing as they’re going along, and it’s all being recorded as they’re doing it. It’s like someone picking up a guitar in a room and playing something. Well no, it’s not like someone picking up a guitar in a room at all, I mean they’re conscious of a heavy performance trip.

Have you ever thought of putting out one side of a record with all the takes of a particular song? You’d put it in free as a bonus record.
Yeah, I tried it once. I did this thing with a friend of mine who’s a lecturer at an art college, he – said come down and play some tapes. And everyone was on holiday. I took a system down and I took a load of tapes, and I was going on about the thing that I’ve been going on about, the difference between the finished thing and the demo, and trying to bridge the gap, just talking about the difference in generations, as it were, in copy dullness that you get between an artist having his work printed and a musician having his work recorded and then fucked about with and perhaps copied and then buggered about with in other countries and so on. And I was playing them this song that’s on the Thunderclap Newman album, it’s called “Accidents.” The original demo’s just a guy with a twelve-string going and someone was hitting a cardboard box in the background. But I mean, the first time I heard it, it completely blew my mind. I just knew it was incredible. Then it went into another phase and then into another phase and then a kind of a crisp recording, and I played them all three. And they flipped for the finished thing. Nobody even mentioned the early one.

It sounds like they’re brainwashed to me – terrible. Maybe you’re right: Maybe if you did allow people the time to digest – no, that’s wrong, it’s wrong, it’s not true. The thing is, if you give them three versions, they’re going to make a choice. If you give them the one version, let’s face it, I was lucky, because first I heard the first version, got hip to that; then I heard the second version, got hip to that: then I heard the final version, so now I’m hip to them all. You play them all bang-bang-bang – like that – and it doesn’t happen. There’s no evolution there, because you’re not working towards anything, it’s all finished material. I don’t think it would work. Young musicians would find it interesting, maybe, to see how songs evolved.

How much interested are you in the effect your songs have? Like the effect of Tommy on people listening to it?
I’m very worried about the effect of Tommy because we wanted to avoid so many of the things that actually happened with people. I don’t mind, for example, a kid coming up and saying, “Something very incredible happened to me while I was listening to Tommy and I felt a spiritual awakening” or anything – I mean, that’s cool, because if I could have got at someone like Dylan or the Beatles in the past, or in my case it would probably have been the Stones, I probably would have said similar things to them, particularly to Brian Jones, whom I used to see a lot, who used to come and look at me with boss eyes and wonder what I was talking about. I don’t mind that, but what I do mind is a situation when people hear about that kind of thing and expect it to happen part and parcel with the music. I don’t think kids take that kind of journalism seriously, but you’ve got to admit that most of the stuff that was written about Tommy was fantastically unbalanced, without exception, it was all unbalanced. I think the thing is that there was nothing real about the criticism of it. but there was something very real about what we were trying to do; we were trying to fuck the criticism from the word go, so that the whole thing was watertight.

But because the structure was loose, a lot of things could be read into it, too.
Exactly, I mean, this is what I suddenly realized. The thing was we wanted it to work on lots of levels. We said, well, you know, we want to turn on the spiritually hip, we want to turn on the fuckers and the streetfighters and everyone, we just want to turn on the whole gang. We want to turn on the opera lovers but also we want to turn on other people as well. And we succeeded in turning on a lot of people that weren’t included before, but what we also succeeded in doing was confusing a lot of people. Let’s face it, the Who were the Who before they did that, and that’s the key, that’s where the thing clearly went out of balance. It’s very strange to be talking about something like Tommy as a kind of a failure, but I think the thing itself, everything we intended to do, we did.

I believe rock can do anything, it’s the ultimate vehicle for everything. It’s the ultimate vehicle for saying anything, for putting down anything, for building up anything, for killing and creating. It’s the absolute ultimate vehicle for selfdestruction, which is the most incredible thing, because there’s nothing as effective as that, not in terms of art, anyway, or what we call art. You just can’t be as effectively self-destructive if you’re a writer, for example, or a painter, you just can’t make sure that you’re never going to fucking raise your head again; whereas if you’re a rock star you really can. And of course, all this choice is always there. There’s always musicians who say, “Well, I’ve had enough.” There’s always somebody there saying, “Really?”

How do you control the situation, then, if you don’t want that?
Well, it’s not a matter of being able to control it because it’s a matter of it being always a situation where you’re aware of the possibilities and you make a rough choice. Let’s put it this way; I suppose it is controllable. The thing is, you can look at something like a song like “My Generation” and say that the intentions of that were quite obvious, it worked all the way down the line. It repulsed those it was supposed to repulse, and it drew a very thick line between the people who dug it and the people who wouldn’t dig it. Well, what if we say we want to make that line disappear, and we don’t want to repulse anyone, but what we do want to do is fuck everyone, as it were, what we want to do is to stimulate everyone and take away their preconceptions about us. We say, we’re the Who, and we’ve been blah blah blah up to now, we’ve been guitar specialists, we’ve been people that wrote such and such type rock lyrics. But we want to get to a position where we want to break down people’s conceptions of what we’re doing by doing something like Tommy, right? This wasn’t the original plan, it wasn’t to do something like this, it was more of a heavy kind of neo-classical thing that I was into, thinking, just go from the sublime to the ridiculous, just completely twist.

And then just when everybody’s like trotting up behind you, turn ’round and get out the whip, and say, “Right, now we’ve got you, now listen to this, because this is what’s really happening.” The only thing that happens is that you break down people’s preconceptions, but as soon as their preconceptions are gone, it opens a door, and the thing which broke down their fucking preconceptions instigates a new lot. It really did escape me that in fact the first thing people are going to hear after listening to Tommy is, of course, Tommy again. So as soon as it breaks down what they know the Who to be, the Who take their next big step – what’s next? Obviously we’re not going to be able to make the record change immediately in nature and then present ourselves – ha ha! – out of the cupboard.

Well, maybe the best thing for the Who is just to embody what’s going on, because that’s apparently the way people finally take it.
Well, absolutely, I mean, the whole trick really of rock is to be a reflection of what’s happening anyway.

Of course if what’s happening is just chaotic, then you can’t do much to change it, can you?
No, not really. But I mean, the thing is this: You can make an order out of chaos by calling it chaos – do you know what I mean? Say, well OK, everybody’s fucked up, right, we’re fucked up again – you know, that’s it, and then everybody’s quite happy to be fucked up. It’s when you don’t know what you are and when you don’t know what situation you’re in that you can’t bear it, or when you’re pretending to be something that you’re not or pretending to be the other thing.

I really got very heavy over Tommy, I really thought I was doing the world a service at one stage. The thing that hit me about Tommy looking back on it, is that it wasn’t very Who, you know. Let’s face it, I could have walked up to any group, even a group like the Kinks or the Stones or the Beatles and said, “Look, here’s Tommy with all the songs and the demos, just sort it out, Ringo sing this and blah blah – you know what I mean?

But the harmonies and the phrasing was all the Who?
Yeah, but I still resented slightly the way it came out, because I fell that the Who have got to be on top of it, otherwise they don’t shine. You can’t accept our recorded sound unless the group is really on top of what it’s doing, because our recorded sound isn’t good enough. We’re getting on top of it slowly, but it’s like so miserable waiting, like it was miserable waiting for the Stones to get on top of their recordings. But they did it, I think, with Beggars’ Banquet, they were on top of it then, like when Charlie hit the deep tom-tom it sounded like a fucking deep tom-tom, and not like a cardboard box.

The production of our records has got nothing to do with sound. It’s got to do with trying to keep Keith Moon on his fucking drum stool and keep him away from the booze. And through that period it was to do with keeping me from fucking out on some kind of other dope. I’m very good now, I sit there waiting for each tape, but there was a whole period when Kit Lambert was just keeping us from really fighting. We’re a dreadful group to record.

How does Meher Baba come to be involved with your music?
It’s getting to the point where the whole thing is relaxing quite a lot because I’m beginning to see something quite simple. If you want to get your head together, right, or your soul together, or whatever it is you’re trying to get together, there is no necessity to go ’round changing the color of the walls and changing the carpet that you’ve got on the floor, and cutting your hair off, and stopping smoking or any of those trips, there’s no need for that. It’s the translation of what’s happening and the way you get into what’s happening that is the thing. And so I’ve just got to the point now when I’ve suddenly realized after a long time that writing and things like that shouldn’t change; and subsequently this is why musically I feel I’m moving a little bit back to the position we were in before Tommy, which wasn’t very healthy, actually.

It’s kind of peculiar, in other words it’s like going back into a position where we were in a decline. And I prefer that alternative rather than following up Tommy. I’m sure the Beatles were faced with it after the height that went on after Sergeant Pepper. I just feel that that’s the best thing to do, you’ve just got to own up to what’s happening, you can’t fuck around. It would be very very difficult to follow up Tommy, and I don’t want to do it, and I don’t think people really want it anyway.

What’s on your new live album?
This was incredibly lucky. On our last tour of the States we recorded every night on a stereo machine taking feeds from the guitars and the drum kit and the P.A. onto a rough stereo picture (the road manager was doing the balance), with the theory that in 80 performances, or whatever it was we had, we must get a good show. We go over there, we do like 80 fucking good shows, you know, some shows incredible shows. We come back, some of the tapes are bad, some of them are good, some of them sound all right. Suddenly someone realizes there are 240 hours of tape to be listened to. You know, now who’s going to do this? So I said, well, fuck that, I’m not gonna sit through and listen, you’d get brainwashed, let’s face it! So we just fucking scrapped the lot, and to reduce the risk of pirating we put the lot on a bonfire and just watched it all go and we said, right, let’s get an eight track.

So we got a pye eight track and we said take it to Leeds, and we went to Leeds and it just happened to be a good show and it just happened to be like one of the greatest audiences we’ve ever played to in our whole career, just by chance. They were incredible and although you can’t hear a lot of kind of shouting and screaming in the background, they’re civilized but they’re crazy, you know, they’re fantastic. And we played it in their own hall. And the sound is all right, it’s a good atmosphere.

Do you know what songs are on it?
Yeah, we’ve just gone for the hard stuff. The first number in the show, which was “Heaven and Hell,” was something written by John Entwistle which was something I was very keen to get on, but it didn’t come out well enough. So it starts off with “I Can’t Explain,” then it’s got “Young Man Blues” and it might have “Fortune Teller” on it as well; “Young Man Blues,” then “Substitute,” “Summertime Blues,” and “Shaking all Over” on one side. Then on the other side it’s got a long version of “My Generation” and then an encore with “Magic Bus.” It’s kinda groovy actually. I like it. It’s where we are today musically, and when you listen to it, it ain’t very far, quite honestly!

What hits you when you listen to it is you realize how much you need to see the Who. You know, I’ve never seen the Who, but it makes me realize how much you need to. Because I know that people wouldn’t rave about us so much if they could just hear that tape, but I’m sure what happens is that the kids that’ll buy the live album will probably be kids that will be able to remember us when they’ve seen us and they’ll compensate. But there’s all kinds of bits where sticks are obviously in the air when they’re supposed to be on the drums and arms are spinning when they’re supposed to be playing solos. And there’s a bit like when we are all doing “Dooby de doo doo” like scissor kicks and you can hear halfway through, where, although I’m playing in time, I’m landing in the middle of the beat. A kind of weird lumpy noise. They did a terrible job on the recording. They fucked it up incredibly. It’s the pye Mobile set up. They did Air Force and Delaney and Bonnie and they did alright with them but they fucked up on ours, they got crackles all the way through, horribile crackles. But I’m just going to put it out anyway.

Can you say anything about the record Brian Jones made in Morocco that Track is supposed to release?
I haven’t heard it, but I remember when he was making it. He’s done a lot of film music as well you know, which I heard tracks of, for some French guy or some Dutch guy, which he did with all these weird instruments which he used to play. You know there’s something really escapes people now, and I miss it when I hear Mick Jagger play the harmonica, and that’s Brian Jones’ harmonica playing. Brian really was a good harmonica player. He was into quite a lot of ethnic stuff. I wrote a song about Brian Jones dying. A lot of people on the day he died rang ’round and said, “What have you got to say ’bout it?” And I got one from Peter Cole of the Daily Express and it was about ten o’clock in the morning and I didn’t really think about what I was saying, it was the first I’d heard of it and it just seemed very normal you know – well. Brian Jones has died, rock singer’s death, good stuff, you know, he had to go and like he was dead already kind of thing, so I just said “Oh, it’s a normal day for Brian, like he died every day, you know,” and he said, “Thank you very much,” put down the phone and I thought, “Fucking hell,” then I got a phone call from the Rolling Stones’ publicity man, Les Perrin, saying, “This is terrible,” so on and so on. And I got all upset about it and to back up my words I wrote this song, “A Normal Day for Brian, the Man who Died Every Day,” and it really came out very good.

You’re not going to release it are you?
I don’t think I will, but I think it might not be too late. I did it and recorded it so I could put it out that day.

Maybe it’s too soon.
Yeah, perhaps. I used to know him quite well. Fairly well. I know a lot about the vibes that were about. The Stones have always been a group that I really dug very much. Dug all the dodgy aspects of them as well, and Brian Jones has always been what I’ve regarded as one of the dodgy aspects. They way he fitted in there and the way he didn’t fit in, I always felt was one of the strong dynamics of the group. And I felt that when he stopped playing with them that dynamic was going to be missing, but somehow it seems to be still there. I credited him with a lot. I think the thing is that the Stones have just managed by some miracle to kind of replace him somehow. Not with Mick Taylor, I mean, he’s like a musician, but they’ve kind of filled the hole. Either that or the fact that he’s dead has made that dynamic that was there when he was alive kind of permanent. I don’t know.

What about the Keith Moon episode, the chauffeur business?
Keith is going to come back from his holiday to a bit of a shock, because he’s been charged with drunken driving and being in charge of a vehicle without a license. His solicitor says that the police did it so he gets the chance to clear his name, which sounds very suspicious. But they kind of did the inquest or whatever it is, and it made him feel better because nobody actually pointed a finger at him and said, “You killed your best friend.” But that was the thing that went through his head, and it took a lot of heavy thinking on his part to straighten himself out. Because what basically he must have felt like is that there was trouble and he ran away, which is the exact opposite of what was true. I mean, he thought in fact that this guy had run ahead and he was actually driving ahead to get him. But it was just pointless, the whole thing was pointless.

Especially coming after Altamont.
Yeah, it was probably some kind of moon thing going on.

How do you feel about Altamont and Woodstock now?
Well, the Woodstock thing I’m still very unhappy about. Altamont I don’t know about, because I wasn’t there. At first I was a bit repulsed by the way Rolling Stone wrote about it, because I felt like it was written by a whole batch of writers who seemed to be unanimous in the decision that it was the fault of rock and roll or the fault of the Stones. But what I really felt was wrong with the whole thing was the fact that there were murderers in there. And I mean I know there’s murderers everywhere. I think it’s just as silly for Keith Richard to say it wouldn’t happen in this country, because, let’s face it, it did happen to Keith Moon’s chauffeur. Somebody killed him; somebody kicked him under the fucking car. They arrested what, like four-14-year-old boys? There are reasons why kids do things and there are reasons why grown men do things, and they’ve all got a lot more to do with rock and roll than they’ve got to do with anything else. But at the same time I felt that with a little bit of care, a little bit of thought in advance, you can avoid things like that.

What didn’t you like about Woodstock?
Quite honestly, I mean knock for knock everything Abbie Hoffman said was very fair. Because I did hit him, he must have felt it for a couple of months after. I didn’t like Woodstock for one reason because I took my wife and the baby, and you know when women are pregnant they go through a whole thing where if they get in a crowd they freak out. Well, I was kind of like that, paternally, people coming up to me – “You’re going to Woodstock? You’re crazy. Turn back, go home, there’s millions of people there, the food’s poisonous and the water …” Well, I immediately got into an incredible state and I rejected everyone, I wouldn’t talk to anyone. And I was telling really nice people like Richie Havens to fuck off and things like that. And it just got to a point where when we finally did get out of the helicopter and the helicopter never arrived and we eventually got in a queue of cars it took about six hours to get there. Well, we got there and then we waited another ten hours in the mud; the first cup of coffee I had had acid in it. I could fucking taste it. I took one sip and threw it away because I really can’t play if I’m tripping. Can’t trip if I’m playing, as it happens. Like I thought I was going to be up by the time the trip had gone through, it was only a little trip, you know, a very bad one incidentally, but I mean it’s just a little thing, went up/down in the space of say three or four hours. But there was another six hours to wait before we got on the stage and we got there at eight o’clock at night.

And people came up and said “It’s alright for you fucking rock groups, flying in by helicopter,” but we had to walk a mile through the mud from the car, then we got there and just started to pick up vibes that were just great. I must admit if you went out of the section where the musicians were, forgot that you were there to work, it was great, but every now and then you’d think, “I’m part of the sideshow, I’m selling the soft drinks here” – No one else was doing his fucking job – no one was supplying water, no one was cleaning the lavatories, no one was supplying food. But the groups played. I know that’s what people were there for, but it’s a whole trip.

People picked on the Who as the group to criticize because you demanded money, is that right?
That was because we were leaving the morning after, you see. I expected this as we were fucking asking for it. They were giving us such a lot of bullshit. This geezer said, “I invited you to play as a friend and now all this distrust,” and we said, “Look, man, we’ve come from England to play your shows specially. We want our fucking money. Want to take it back and spend it. You know, we’re in debt.” And they said, “Well it’s very difficult.” They had to get a bank manager in the middle of the night to sign a check. So we did it, and then everyone else started to do it. They said, “What’s the trouble?” So we said, “We just got our money, it’s all cool.” So Creedence did it, Grateful Dead did it, Santana did it, all the bands that were on the night we were tried it on. We went and the Jefferson Airplane came up and said, “Did you get your money in advance?” So we said, “Yeah and you should,” so they said, “We already have. Paid six months ago.”

Everyone felt it wasn’t the spirit of the thing to ask for money.
Oh yeah, I mean in a way it wasn’t the thing. Oh fucking hell; Woodstock wasn’t what rock’s about, not as far as I’m concerned. When the sun came up I just didn’t believe it. I was giving a little prayer, you know, I was saying, “Look this is a disaster, we’re playing and Abbie Hoffman and company are spreading their peculiar vibes about and I’ve done the wrong thing,” and the vibes were well down. Tommy wasn’t getting to anyone. Sly and the Family Stone had just whipped everyone into a frenzy and then kind of walked off. Everyone was just silent and then we went on and all the bad vibes, and all the photographers all over the stage. I had to kick about ten photographers off the stage to get on.

By this time I was just about awake. We were just listening to the music and all of a sudden, bang! The fucking sun comes up! It was just incredible. I really felt we didn’t deserve it, in a way. We put out such bad vibes. But like it started for that bit and then we went into “Summertime Blues,” “Shaking All Over,” “My Generation,” and as we finished it was daytime. And it was just incredible. We just walked off, got in the car and went back to the hotel. It was fucking fantastic. Still, if people offer us festivals now, we say no before we say yes.

What are you doing with the opera tours now? It that all over?
We pulled out of that really because it was we were going and playing in fucking opera houses, you know like thousands and thousands of kids were coming to see us and then only about a hundredth of the kids who wanted to see us could. And we’d go in and play and like the first 20 rows would be Polydor people. Or Prince Rainier and his royal family, and honestly it was such a bad scene. We were going to play the opera houses in Vienna, Moscow and the New York Metropolitan, but I just thought that was the biggest hype bullshit I’d ever heard of. We blew it out.

The thing I didn’t dig about it is that we didn’t play big enough places. The opera houses over there are very small. There are 1,500 people usually and you could see every face. But you can’t win them over. Say there’s an old guy in a bow tie out there, he’s come to write up a review in some opera paper or some serious music paper and most of the night he sits there with his fingers in his ears. It’s just impossible to work when someone’s doing that.

You were talking about the next step for the Who.
Well, I was talking about it then in terms of a film and I think a film would be the ideal thing. A film, a bit in nature like the Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus thing. Only a feature. Something which was about rock but was about a lot of people in rock. The Stones scooped, as far as England was concerned, Taj Mahal and Jethro Tull and people like that and at the same time gave a good reflection of the kind of music they dug, gave a good performance of their own and had some oldies but goodies like the Who on, and had some fun at the same time. If this could be done – but where the balance was one where you were actually filming something turning on its axis or doing a spiral upwards or doing something incredible, say a whole picture including a whole lot of groups, filmed from the viewpoint of the Who maybe or just using it as an excuse. I think this is yet to be done. It’s very vague, but there are people, and I am one of them, who have got a lot of ideas in that direction, and I am one of them, who have got a lot of ideas in that direction, for a rock film which is not a documentary and not a story and not a comedy either but a fucking Rock Film. A film which is the equivalent of a rock song, only lasting an hour or longer.

Why did you write to The Sunday Telegraph about drugs?
Because the guy that wrote the article. Lionel Birch, who’s a friend of mine, asked me to write a letter backing up saying that Meher Baba had caused some people to stop taking drugs, and I got into the letter and got carried away and wrote a lot of other stuff as well. I just feel that the whole thing is that if there is such a thing as a drug problem and if there are people who get fucked up because of drugs and there are many who don’t but quite a lot who do take drugs get fucked up – it’s because they’re looking for something and they’re desperate and even if they don’t know they’re desperate themselves, they are. I mean even if you’re not taking drugs, you’re still fucking desperate.

The first thing that hit me about stopping … you see the first thing Meher Baba says, which is logical, is that drugs like acid and STP, the psychedelic drugs, right, are harmful mentally, physically, and spiritually. Fair enough. Who am I to say they are not? In fact it was probably the harm they did that I dug. But then he says that it is all right for a sincere seeker to have been stimulated by them but not to continue use of them in the light of that. In other words if you get a buzz from something and then you dwell on it, it’s the equivalent of like getting in a mood. It’s like seeing something fucking incredible like a daffodil and then just looking at it till it wilts and dies. Do you see what I mean? He just put it in a way which got to me.

And I just stopped using acid straight away, just the words got me. But I went on smoking pot, and coke, and I started to get heavily into coke and other things and then all of a sudden when I did that long Rolling Stone interview, I was very hyped up on coke because we went round to the Jefferson Airplane pad in the middle of the interview, which was a silly thing to do. The day after I did that interview, a Baba lover came to see me in San Francisco and he was talking about drugs and things and what Baba says about it, and he says, “Of course you’re not still smoking dope, are you?” So I said, “Yes, sure. What’s Baba said about dope?” “Didn’t you know that it’s been proved now that pot’s an hallucinogenic drug, so it falls into Baba’s teachings?” he said. So I just stopped. Just because I felt more keen about getting into Meher Baba than I felt about being stoned all my life.

And then as it started to go down I started to realize how much I credited to drugs. I used to think, “Well, man, I can’t play the guitar unless I’m stoned, I can’t write a song unless I’m stoned, I can’t be happy unless I’m stoned, I can’t listen to records unless I’m stoned, I can’t do anything unless I’m stoned. Because if I’m not stoned it’s not as good.” Well, I’ve just kind of got out of that, and I get just as much now out of everything perpetually 24 hours a day as I used to out of that high. It’s like that thing in the hearing, they call it A.G.C., like if you hear a very loud sound, very quiet sounds are inaudible, but if you play a very quiet sound, other sounds become audible. In other words if you’ve got the loudspeaker on, you don’t hear the doorbell ring, but if you’ve got it on quietly then you do hear the doorbell ring. I think it’s a lot like that with dope. When you’re on dope, it’s so extreme it dulls a lot of other aspects. You dig what you’re focused on. but you miss what you’re not focused on.

Well, your music works the other way. doesn’t it?
What do you mean?

You go to a Who concert and couldn’t hear the doorbell ring if you wanted to.
That is of course an old pre-dope thing, where in fact we used to be a mod group and we’d go on the fucking stage and we’d literally get heckled. You go and play a really tough town like Glasgow and you get bottle thrown at you, so the thing was you just turn up your amplifier. It’s good, it’s good, I still like it loud. We’re not as loud as we were on the guitars, it’s going down, but the P.A.’s going up. I mean, English groups just discovered the P.A. system.

This story is from the May 14th, 1970 issue of Rolling Stone.


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