Pete Townshend – An Exclusive Interview

Pete Townshend is charming to meet and talk to. He’s a complete contrast to his image on stage, where he seems the height of aggression. He’s quiet, polite and very intense. He moves in a careless way and while talking often twists and shifts his legs and arms around, as if to take up the most appropriate position for what he is about to say.

I used to tell him he seemed to know all the answers to every question about the Beatles and usually those answers were always amazing and sometimes controversial.

This is why, I suppose he agreed to this interview that will finally reply to the ever-present dilemma, were the Beatles really the greatest?

I can remember you for some comments that you made about Paul McCartney, which Paul himself called that “Paul McCartney is an idiot stuff”. What caused you to say those things?

I remember saying I don’t think he is a true Rock & Roll writer, but an idiot? McCartney is a sentimental pop song writer. He has had his moments however, “Eleanor Rigby”, “We Can Work It Out”, “Get Back”. But I have never liked the early Beatles albums like “With The Beatles” or “Revolver”. I think they are too old fashioned sounding. But Paul writes great melodies. My views on Rock are very precious I’m afraid, I don’t think even the who did very much on record that I could call definitive Rock & Roll.

Did The Who’s success owe anything to the Beatles? Were you inspired by them?

The Who owed part of their success to the Beatles who were the first band to succeed playing earthy R & B music. The Beatles’ success paved the way for The Stones, The Kinks and later – The Who. My favourite Beatles album is “Sgt. Peppers”. It inspired me to write “Tommy”. But then The Who’s second album “A Quick One” inspired the Beatles to put Sergeant Pepper’s together. (Paul Told me that once himself).

Did the Beatles and the Who socialise much together during the sixties?

Not me. Keith Moon knew Lennon and Ringo.I knew Paul a bit – but I have known Linda for a long time and I love her a lot. I think that she and Paul are a very special couple. I like to think of them as friends; we have our differences; but I admire their great love and stable family life. Paul seems very wise with money too, although he did pay for dinner last time we went out together.

Have you a favourite Beatles album?

After “Sgt Peppers” – “Abbey Road”. I loved hearing the Moog synthesiser. It enchanted me. I bought my own large synthesiser a year later to use on “Who’s Next”. I used it better, but they – as usual – were the first.

How did you rate the Beatles as live performers? Did they pale in comparison to bands such as The Who and The Stones, as many rock critics have stated?

They were never audible because of all the screaming I can’t comment. We backed them at Blackpool once and they were great I thought. The Stones were more exciting perhaps, but the Beatles were a phenomenon.

In the light of Paul’s recent collaboration with many of today’s biggest names, would you take up an offer to work with him if approached?

I have worked with him on on Rockestra. I would not work with him again. He (or his manager) kept Ronnie Lane and me waiting for six hours at the Hammersmith Odeon for the Kampuchea concerts then tried to get me to wear a silly silver lamé jacket. Paul has always loved the fun side of pop – the circus -I don’t like lamé, I don’t like circus and I will never be a cabaret performer. “Ebony & Ivory” is a kitsch idea that only Paul could pull off as well as he did – if I did it, it would fail. We are different. I don’t intend to play side-man to anyone ever again. But I would simply love to be asked: I might change my mind.

Do you think George Harrison is right to bring religion into his songs?

Yes. He and I share an enormous area of interest in Eastern mysticism. I follow Meher Baba, he Krishna – but we both love reading about all religions, faiths and thinking about God.

Yoko Ono managed to incorporate a wide variety of musical styles into her albums over the years, but is only now managing to shake off the label of “avant grade weirdo”, what do you think of her music?

I love it. I used to hate her experimental films and shows in the sixties. Now I enjoy her work. “Walking On Thin Ice” is a masterpiece. She has great dignity. She will go on to greater things once she has got her life organised.

Paul McCartney believes that Cannabis should be decriminalised. He has stated that use of this “soft” drug does not encourage people to experiment with harder drugs such as heroin. In the light of your own highly publicised experiences with drugs how do you view this attitude?

Paul is wrong: Cannabis use does lead to hard drugs sometimes. But he is also right! He said that alcohol also leads to hard drugs. Both do. Ultimately, the individual must decide. Paul confines his pot-smoking to his own life and demands the right to do what he wants, that I admire. I hate all drugs now, angrily and perhaps indiscriminately. I admire me too! Sadly, the drug users always seem to win.

Interview by Anna Camera.

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