26 Sep 2011
Pete Townshend Fan Interview: Part 1 of 2
Oldawg: Nearly 30 years after its release I find Itâ€™s Hard to be very representative (unfortunately) of what is happening in the world today. In particular John’s Dangerous, Eminence Front and Cooks County. How do you feel about Itâ€™s Hard today?
P.T.: Itâ€™s Hard is the only record the Who made where the individual members of the band agreed on a brief beforehand. I was having trouble working out what kind of songs to write for The Who, and asked everyone to give me some guidance. The response was clear â€“ everyone in the band wanted to write about the fact that the post war dream, one that rock had partly helped to promise, hadnâ€™t been delivered. Iâ€™m really not sure what I think now about Itâ€™s Hard. When I started work on it in early 1982 I had only just landed on my feet after a month long Ativan detox programme, and when I got home the band were already in the studio without me with Andy Fairweather Low standing in on guitar. I felt forced to get to work immediately, and I felt very rushed especially as I had to finish off my solo album Chinese Eyes at the same time. Both albums seem different from my perspective. To me, they belong together in a sense. They were never perceived this way by critics, fans or even the other members of The Who.
Clashwho: You’ve recently said that you’re having difficulty writing new material, due to feeling uneasy when treading familiar territory. This reminded me of Bono saying of an Edge guitar lick, “We can’t use that, it sounds too much like U2!” The Edge replied, “Fuck it. We ARE U2.” Any chance you’ll have a similar epiphany?
P.T.: I donâ€™t think the context of the way I was quoted is quite right. My friend Cynthia Fox, disk jockey with KLOS in L.A. asked me the same question recently. I replied:
I kind of recognise the thing I said (along with the recently vaunted: ‘I can’t write hit songs any more’) but the context was different, I feel pretty sure of that.
I think in the case of the latter statement it was that I can’t BRING MYSELF to try to write hit songs any more. Diane Warrren is a case in point â€“ that is what she sets out to do, and what she does very well. I did that for a few of the early years, then started to serve the Who and its audience more specifically. We didn’t need hits. In some cases attempting to get hits would have been the wrong way for me to create.
In the case of the former (a desire always to innovate) I find it hard to write (songs) â€“ PERIOD. If it was as easy as Julia Cameron tried to make it seem we would all be great (song) writers. You know that when you sent me her book The Artists Way it really helped me, so I am still a fan of hers. I think she just wants us to GET STARTED!! But you may have heard my pitch: CREATIVITY is getting started. ART is finishing things.
I was taught a art college that every artist needs a cause (and I suppose that pure, aimless creativity could be that cause). But I was also taught that every artist needs a patron (so he won’t starve) and a brief (to know what to do for that patron). In The Who I got all three boxes ticked. I was very lucky I think.
Today, I can see no point me trotting out music that is not innovative or challenging to me at some level. It’s what I love to do. It’s the gift I give myself if I can. Don’t worry, I still walk in the park!
A11who: Pete, how is Floss going? Has it evolved from your original comments on the project on this site two years ago – do you still plan for it to be primarily realised through live performances?
P.T.: Floss is still a work-in-progress. It has evolved quite a bit yes. However, I still see it as composition and story aimed at a live event rather than an album.
Spamhead: I really love listening to your 1993 solo LP Psychoderelict. Did you enjoy making Psychoderelict and touring the U.S. promoting it?
P.T.: I loved every minute of it. The final show (at Jones Beach in NY) was probably the best rock show Iâ€™ve ever done outside The Who. Iâ€™m also very proud of the album. It was the last occasion when my old friend Richard Barnes and I worked together, and although he may have edited my initial script a little too much, and added a few too many corny gags, as a director with Wayne Cilento (choreographer of Tommy on Broadway) he brought the stage show together wonderfully I thought.
Behindblueeyes: Pete, I remember in the not too distant past you mentioned the possibility of doing a Lifehouse concert utilizing the music created by the “sitters” of the Lifehouse website. Curious as to whether that is a project in the works, something that we might someday see come to fruition?
P.T.: If I donâ€™t die first it will happen. I think about it often.
Billybill: There have been hints of performances of Quadrophenia in 2012. In a previous fan interview after the last performance of it at the RAH in 2010 you mentioned some issues you now had with the presentation/narrative of that version. Do you still feel the same way, and when/if you and Roger perform it in the future do you plan on revamping it in some way?
P.T.: I havenâ€™t ever had any issues with that version. Roger has, which is why we didnâ€™t go on to tour it that fall, or this year either. Perhaps I was trying to speak on his behalf if I said I had problems, or â€˜weâ€™ had problems. Roger says he can fix the problems he sees, but Iâ€™m not entirely sure what they are. I think Roger feels he is now too old to be identified with Jimmy as a young man. But I have always felt we are merely performing Jimmyâ€™s story, telling it for him really. Roger is giving this some very deep thought while he takes his solo version of Tommy around the world. I may get bored of waiting. But to be fair, Roger once used to get bored of waiting for meâ€¦â€¦.. Heâ€™s having fun I think. That has to be cool.
Freeddom18x: Are there any plans for the performance of Quadrophenia at the Royal Albert Hall in 2010 for the Teenage Cancer Trust to be released on CD and/or DVD?
P.T.: Sorry, I canâ€™t answer this question. Iâ€™m sure there is probably a legal reason. Perhaps our webmaster could take it to Who manager Robert Rosenberg for an answer***? I would love for this epochal concert to be on DVD, I felt it was triumphant. There is a lobby of opinion that suggests the two string players were impossible to hear, but my opinion is that that particular lobby should have stayed in the lobby.
***Who Manager R.R.: We already have one DVD of Quadrophenia Live on release – the 2005 release of the show from the 1996/7 tour – and cannot release another one until this contract expires in 2015.
Grego23: I look forward to reading your autobiography. Any chance you’ll do a book tour after the book is published?
P.T.: I will do a book tour of sorts yes. However right now the deal is not signedâ€¦â€¦.. still haggling. You may know I have quite a bit of the book written already. I spent part of the summer vacation reading it, and thinking of ways to spice it up. I really like it, and I think you will too.
Roughmix: Have you other projects written with your own “voice” such as The Horse’s Neck?
P.T.: Yes I think I have. In fact some of the stories and essays Iâ€™ve written over the years could find their way into my autobiography as side-bar writing. Floss is a case in point, I have written a short novel telling the story. Itâ€™s really very entertaining, but like The Boy Who Heard Music crafted to inspire and support song-writing, not to stand up as a conventional novel.
There is a point to make here about the use of the term â€˜voiceâ€™, and that is that my editor on Horseâ€™s Neck Robert McCrum encouraged me to make all the stories I had submitted to him about myself, and put my name where the narrator or the central character might have been. In their original form my stories were fictional, but obviously drawn from my life and experiences. He felt that people would try to find â€˜Peteâ€™ in every story. I am a musician not an author after all, and Robert suggested fans would tend to attribute every story to me, even if it were entirely fictional. I agreed he was probably right.
Dixonu: Have you considered an “unplugged” tour with Roger? You certainly have a wealth of material that would lend itself to that format and I would love to see the 2 of you together in an intimate theatre/club setting.
P.T.: No I havenâ€™t. I donâ€™t like working with Roger in this way, though I know fans enjoy it. I feel as if I am merely accompanying Roger in that context, because he likes to play guitar himself, and reinterpret my songs in a new way acoustically in his own way. I do that myself of course, and as individuals it works for both of us when we reinterpret old Who songs in a new way when performing acoustically. But when we stand together, I think the music demands to be honoured in the way it was born â€“ and I feel uneasy when Roger starts to loosen up songs like Who Are You or Behind Blue Eyes. But only when Iâ€™m trying to play with him. As a solo artist he has the right to anything he likes.
One other really important point. Roger and I, for all our new alliances and rekindled friendship, do not share great intimacy as performers. We work on different levels. Roger looks out to the back rows, I look down to the front. We rarely catch each otherâ€™s eye.
Mrwisty: What, if anything, do you think of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets?
P.T.: Hiya, MrWisty, my old buddyâ€¦â€¦.I think this is a question for Roger. I like your photographs. Why donâ€™t you post some on the who website? Start a trend.
Getitgoin: We want to hear (and own) every demo you’ve ever recorded, every studio outtake on tape by The Who, every Who rehearsal ever recorded, and every single Who concert that you have in your archive. So what’s the hold up?
P.T.: You live in a dream my friend. I want to hear that too.
END OF PART ONE