The Who: Interview with Pete Townshend
GW Do you think Kit felt alienated from the project?
TOWNSHEND Yeah. He had a problem with it. At that time I was still having great difficulty with my role in the band. I had taken over creative control, but I wasn’t willing to pay the price of the alienation that came with it.
GW Lifehouse was your first roadblock as a working composer. You were the guiding force for the Who, and I wonder, did that change you dynamic with the band? They had looked to you to be the one who brought the creative materials, to came up with the ideas, and then you had this setback. Did it shake their faith in you?
TOWNSHEND No, it affected me much more than them. You know, all I can say about the band—and even Kit—is that everybody was just fantastically supportive. You know, I think I just took on too much. I took on far too much.
GW Looking back at Who’s Next as the net result of Lifehouse—it seems to me a fair outcome. It’s a great album; many would say it’s the Who’s best. All things considered, were you happy with it?
TOWNSHEND Yeah. I was delighted with it. I was relieved to have anything at all, and it felt like the Who’s first proper album. It felt uncomplicated and simple, and I didn’t care that the story had been lost. And I just loved the way the songs sat together.
GW Compared to Lifehouse, Quadrophenia is a much simpler storyline: a few days in the life of an alienated London boy—a Mod, like the Who’s earliest fans. Did your problems achieving Lifehouse affect your decision to keep Quadrophenia’s plot and character “closer to home,” so to speak?
TOWNSHEND Yeah, very much. The fact of the matter is that when I wrote Quadrophenia, I was writing with the benefit of hindsight. In Tommy, I had failed to nail down, properly in the songs, the drama. It needed explaining, and there were some holes in it which had to be filled in. And in Lifehouse, I just fuckin’ failed, period.
So with Quadrophenia, I decided to get a much more loose line. I did that thing that one does if one’s working on a short story, to take a glimpse, a slice of life, and say, “This is three days in the life of a boy. That is all, and that will do.” And inasmuch as I was trying to deal with the whole notion of the music reflecting the audience, as I had in Lifehouse, in Quadrophenia it was absolutely literal: The kid sees the four members of the band, and he sees something of himself in each one. The band reflects something—four facets—to him. And there you have it. That’s the musical analogy.
And that what’s really going on for Jimmy. He’s going through a very normal, very unspectacular childhood, taking a load of drugs, getting off his head, being a complete shit in many ways, but finding himself on a rock in the middle of the sea at the end, looking for God, asking—crying—for help, for something to happen to him that is of value, because he feels that nothing that around him really means anything.
GW Does Quadrophenia reflect your own feelings of alienation, either as a child or after your problems with Kit Lambert on Lifehouse?
TOWNSHEND No, no. I don’t think so. I’ve never felt alienation to that extreme level of Quadrophenia, but I could see it all around me. A lot of the boys that used to come and hang out around the Who in the early days were so-called Mods. But you know, they became Mods because they felt so alone. And some of them were emigrees, some of them were kids from Ireland that had been sent over at 16 to make money.
GW To send back home?
TOWNSHEND Yeah. And you’d find out that, not only was the dad gone but the mother was gone as well, and they were living with an uncle or an aunt or a grandfather. Weird shit. Or you find out that both parents have been killed in the war. That kind of thing. And they were all drawn together by this disaffection, by this—damage.
And my sense of alienation, what enabled me to write for them, was that I could see how it would turn into anger for a lot of them. My dad was still alive, and he was a nice guy. And I loved him, and adored and worshipped him to some extent. But I never realized that he was a classic post-war emotionally unavailable male. My dad was a soldier. He was in the RAF, and when the war was over, he ran into romance and escape, and music and laughter and fun. I just kind of got left behind.
And that leads to a lot of anger, as well as misogyny, because we look to the women in our lives to deliver everything that we haven’t had from our fathers. And when it fails, we blame mom. My mom was there, and although she fucked up all over the place, and she said things to me that were very hurtful and careless, you know, when I look back, I see somebody that was very much involved in my life.
So what Quadrophenia is about, to some extent, is that men may be abusive toward women. But the abuse lies in the fact that the people that we’re in contact with where we’re particularly young tend to be women. And if those women are damaged by men, we inherit the damage.
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