Who's Who

Legendary guitarist muses about his life and legacy

by Mike Osegueda

McClatchy Newspapers

26 February 2007

 

Who? Of all the questions Pete Townshend gets, that’s probably not one of them.

As the guitarist for legendary rock band The Who, Townshend is a music icon.

Along with the band’s last surviving original member, vocalist Roger Daltrey, Townshend is taking The Who back on the road again, launching a new leg of the band’s nearly year-long, jet-setting world tour.

Townshend participated in an e-mail question-and-answer session with The Fresno Bee.

Question: At this point, what keeps you guys touring? Hunger? A love for traveling? Money? Knowing there are cities you’ve never played?

Answer: Money does have something to do with it, perhaps not for the reasons most people would imagine. I have never amassed money. I live well and so do all my dependents and a number of lovable freeloaders.

I can’t imagine what it must feel like to be a Paul Allen or David Geffen with multiple billions of dollars and to love music. I’d want to sign and fly every good band that came along. Both these guys are people I know and like, but they must live in stratified air to some extent.

So I suppose I must have a hunger to stay connected to people at street level. A lot of my spare cash goes on what others might describe as charity, but it feels more like an engagement with real life to me because I usually try to do things that give me an actual personal role.

Q: When you’ve performed a song so many times - as you guys have with many of your hits - how do you keep it fresh and not get bored with it?

A: It’s not about us, it’s about the audience. It’s not that we feed on their energy, at least I don’t; it is more about feeling that we have a function - all of us gather on stage and in the crowd to connect, to align, to focus and to celebrate our survival and our hope for the future.

If this ever got boring I would have to stop, and that has happened to me in the past. At the moment, I am having fun on stage with The Who for the first time.

Q: What do you say to fans who are sketchy about seeing the show since it’s only half of the original band?

A: Wait a little longer; Roger and I will both die, then you’ll be able to save even more money relying on your ancient memories.

In Russian, according to Tarkovsky, nostalgia can be translated to mean “sickness,” a kind of diseased longing for the old country, the old values, the old smells.

Q: How do you re-create the chemistry of the band with replacement members. Or can you?

A: That’s not what we are doing. We are reinventing, revisiting. Zak Starkey is a disciple of Keith Moon, but he is, in my opinion, a better conventional drummer. Pino Palladino makes not the slightest attempt to sound like John Entwistle. That sound, that definitive four-man Who sound of “Live at Leeds,” died when Keith died.

What we do now is honor and celebrate the music, the songs. But we bring them into the present. I have appeared to sneer sometimes at the smugness of some of my peers, but we are, most of us, quite extraordinary, even if infuriating. We were all key players in building an entirely new way of making and using music.

Q: As a band with so much history, how do you go about amassing a set list for a concert?

A: I leave it to Roger. He needs to put a list together that works for him, his voice and his sense of what the audience needs.

Q: If you were to mentor a brand new band, what’s the No. 1 piece of advice you would give the members about the music industry?

A: Be happy. Find the zone. Always play, on and off stage. The industry will follow. That said, I like to think that an audience uses music. So musicians have to be realistic and humble about their talent. Yes, you need teeth and arrogance, confidence and audacity. Maybe even anger if it fits. But you need these things to be provisional; once you are up and rolling, you must remember to set them aside except when you are play-acting your old youthful role.

Rappers and R&B acts seem to know how to do this best. They get rich, get the bling and the corporation, then settle down to be movie stars. Depends what you want, doesn’t it? I want to see the music I play raise people’s spirit, and I never want to stop being able to do it - it makes me feel I have a reason to be.

Q: Humor me here: There’s always much debate about the idea of who is the greatest rock band of all time. Yours is always in the mix. So, if you were making the call, who is the greatest rock band of all time?

A: A lot depends on when we draw the straws and whether we make the judgment based on concerts or recordings. Every band has its day. Every band at least has its moment. Rock is such a simple form, everyone should be able to do it well at least once.

The Who seem to have had a number of good days, but very few of them were on record. The Band had many good days on record, some quintessential. They were almost pre-rock in some ways, and when they worked with Bob Dylan, they became subject to his desire to constantly reshuffle the pack.

A British band called The Pirates was probably the best band I’ve ever seen live. Just three guys, driving the stage out through the crowd like it was on wheels.

I never claimed we were the best. Some tour promoter came up with it. Probably the same guy who made the claim for the Stones the week before.

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