In Which I Appear in Playboy

Or at least some of my questions do.

A high school buddy of mine interviewed Pete Townshend via e-mail, and gave me the chance to submit some questions. The full interview is here, my buddy’s website is here. Below are my (somewhat edited) questions and his answers, with a couple comments. Some fans believe that you and your peers, like the Rolling Stones and Neil Young, are still turning out fantastic work that is being ignored by radio. Do you think there is any truth to that?

Townshend: I have no complaints about this. About six songs of ours were in the top 10 airplay charts in the U.S.A. for so long I think a lot of people got sick of them. Strangely, those six songs are now used a lot in movies and ads, probably because of their almost subliminal value in affecting the boomers who grew up with them. If they were on the radio they probably wouldn’t get used elsewhere, and those uses pay huge money to our record company and publishers — some of which reaches us, of course. When our music was on the radio we didn’t earn much from airplay. BMI executives just sent me loads of framed awards and went to the Bahamas on vacation. While you write the songs, we’ve heard that Roger often selects which ones go on the album. What happens to the ones you like that don’t make the cut? Do you have a favorite solo track that you presented to the Who, but they didn’t like?

Townshend: Right now, there are several songs left off the Who album which form part of the material for a theater musical in workshop called The Boy Who Heard Music. Roger doesn’t so much select what goes on the album as decides what he feels he can sing the best. He has often surprised me in his choices. On It’s Hard he took the vocal on “One Life’s Enough,” a song I had thought he wouldn’t touch because it was quite like a show tune. He did a great job. On Tommy we thought he would never be able to sing “See Me, Feel Me” simply because his voice was so gruff. One day he came in the studio and sang like a choirboy. He is full of surprises, always has been. One of my best songs is “Empty Glass.” The Who actually tried to record that for Who Are You and couldn’t crack it. It became the title song on my most successful solo album, and I still think it sums up the mood of the post-punk period of dissolution and self-immolation that characterized the fall of so many souls around me at that time. The last Who album, Endless Wire, features a lot of acoustic guitar picking, and more of it is in non-standard tunings. How do you feel your guitar playing has evolved over the course of your career?

Townshend: I’ve always worked on acoustic, and probably written most of my most well known songs on acoustic, rarely electric guitar. I think my cycling accident in 1991 was a point of change. My right wrist was smashed and has metal bars in it. I had to find a new way to play, both guitar and piano. I find it hard now to play drums, which I used to love. I didn’t intend to practice to become faster or more fluid or adept, I just wanted a new way to play. It turned out to be faster and more fluid, and I am more adept.

I was really hoping he would talk more about the tunings. I always find it dissapointing that so little of music journalism and interviewing is about the actual music. Why did you change keys here, why the horn section there, etc.? In the new film, we learn that you felt reenergized creatively after reuniting and touring in 1999. Do you still get a rush from performing in public?

Townshend: I am one of those strange performers that doesn’t get a rush on stage. Never have. I have come to relax and enjoy performing a little more than I used to. It’s not that I have never liked my job; it’s just that I have always felt it was a vocation, a fate I could not avoid. I’ve tried to get the best out of it, but often found it hard to enjoy. I’ve never been keen on groupies, drugs or the company of loutish men on tour. I am not a saint, or a snob, I just always wanted to live a good family life, and be classy and cool, like my elegant musician father. Twenty or 30 years ago I didn’t have the resources or knowledge to look after myself the way I can today. I am lucky. I don’t travel in tour buses, and I don’t travel alone. Now I am elegant and classy. My father would be proud of me.

Bull. You never get a rush on stage, my aunt Matilda. You have stated many times that your various addictions were at least partially trying to continue the high you got onstage, offstage. Get real. Maybe it’s not a rush anymore, but there’s no way to pretend that it never was.

Anyhow, that’s probably the closest I’ll get to meeting my musical idol. Come to think of it, probably the closest I’ll get to meeting a Playmate also. That’s a twofer!

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