On May 19th, a day before the Who’s 50th-anniversary tour arrives at Nassau Coliseum on Long Island, Pete Townshend will celebrate his 70th birthday. “I’m not going to make a big deal out of it,” he says, before adding, somewhat mysteriously, “I’ve made a few promises to myself that I want to keep private. I think I owe myself quite a lot now.”
It’s two days before kickoff, and Townshend is calling from London, where he has settled into his comfortable pre-tour routine. Each morning, he gets picked up at his home in Richmond by his security man Mark Squires, who takes him to a rehearsal space at Pinewood Studios, a historic studio 40 minutes away. There, he is greeted by familiar faces. “When I walk in every day, I see Bobby Pridden at the sound board,” Townshend says. “He’s been with the Who for 45 years and is one of my oldest and dearest friends. Then there’s Alan Rogan, who looks after my guitars and the band, which includes my brother Simon, who I don’t see enough of.”
Townshend says he enjoys this camaraderie more than actually performing. “It’s like being back in a family,” he says. “People are happy to see me. They know I’m going to be no trouble and I’m going to make them a lot of money.” (Roger Daltrey, as he often does, has a more traditional view: “The shows are a joy.”)
The Who are billing this as their last major tour, an idea that Daltrey has repeated in recent interviews. But Townshend can’t seem to stop himself from undermining it a little. “I don’t want to badmouth [the tour’s promoters] AEG, because they gave us a load of money and they obviously want the tickets to sell,” he says. “But we’ve been in this place before. We must’ve done three fucking last farewell tours in our career. I don’t know what’s going to happen next.” He did take close to two hours, however, to talk about the Who’s epic career, what fans can expect this time out and the future of his life in music.
This is a long tour. What is motivating you at this stage?
My first song that charted with the Who, “I Can’t Explain,” came out in December of 1964, but it didn’t get high in the charts until the beginning of 1965. That means this is the 50th anniversary of the band and for me as a songwriter. It feels to me like something that I couldn’t just let go by. Also, this isn’t just about me, and it’s not just about Roger. It was important to give some sense of the measure of the commitment, and I suppose the gratitude, that we feel to the fans. We’re still here, and so many people aren’t.
This week in the U.K., they’re showing a documentary about [early Who managers] Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, who are both dead. Keith Moon is gone, and John Entwistle went. Roger and I — although we’re feeling our age — have a great sense of delight in the fact that we’re still here, a kind of relief. It’s possible that I feel a bit less sanguine about my health than Roger does. I’m very healthy, but I have to know that if I jump off a high wall I’m going to break my ankle.