here was a strange chemical makeup to our band. It thrived on friction. We were very aggressive. In some ways, we were probably the first male-focused rock'n'roll band. Before us, groups were popular first with girls. The Who was more popular with men, basically because we were so aggressive. Men like a good rugby song, and that was the atmosphere the Who created.
How we were and what we turned out to be just happened. When we first started out, we did like all bands did, we copied what was in the Top 20. Then we started to develop more obscure kinds of music, like blues and the Motown sound, which was unheard of in England. Boredom with what we had been hearing led us to experiment. And the more we experimented -- Keith Moon, for example, used to do these incredible things on his drums -- the more positive feedback we got. And it grew every night.
It was extraordinary. We were playing seven nights a week, and you could see the progression from week to week. The Who was never planned. It just grew, and that is probably why it was so successful.
It was the same with Pete Townshend's guitar smashing. It just happened. When his guitar broke, as it did onstage one night, it made this incredible noise, like an elephant in heat. Now Pete, being the kind of showman he is, decided after he saw the neck of the guitar break -- he just started smashing the rest of it. Well, the crowd went bananas. And because Moonie didn't want to be upstaged, he started thrashing at his drums a hundred times harder than he usually hit them, which was hard enough in the first place.
Our Mod look was engineered by our first manager, a very bright boy named Peter Meaden. At that time in England, 90 percent of the bands resembled either the Rolling Stones or the Beatles. If anything, we were similar to the Stones. We had long hair, and we played a scruffy kind of blues music. It was Peter who made us aware that the whole thing was more than just music. It was about image, too.
He said, "Everybody had long hair. Get yours cut." That was an incredibly dangerous thing to do because kids with long hair over their collars were dying to get thrown out of school. To walk in with short hair was taking a very big chance, but it worked.
The Mod look was very clean-cut, Ivy League, fashion conscious, which was exactly opposite from the Stones. Peter told us to do it, and he was right. Our personalities didn't change, we were still a bunch of rotten, dirty-boy rock'n'rollers, but kids began identifying with our short hair and Ivy League clothes, and it just took off from there.
When we hit with "My Generation," which was a statement -- an anthem, really -- it showed the public that we were a lot more than just another pop group. The only trouble was, it was very hard to top "My Generation." I don't know if we ever did.
We were a weird mixture. I believe Pete and I aimed for the same thing, only from different angles. Pete was either the angry young man or the seeker of truth. I think I was more down to earth. John Entwistle was always the quiet one. He never said much, but he added a lot of humor. And Moon was our comedy, and also very creative in the studio. He would come up with the wackiest ideas, and somehow they came off.
The idea for Tommy actually began with Kit Lambert. He had it in his head that we should do a rock opera. Kit's father was a conductor and very well-known in classical music circles. Kit had this thing about rock not being belittled or downtrodden. Kit was "from the other side," as we used to call it. He was proud of rock'n'roll, and he wanted it to be accepted as an art form. And one of the ways to break that barrier, he said, was to do a rock opera.
So Pete came up with a song called "Amazing Journey," which was about a guy going through life deaf, dumb and blind. All his experiences were through his sense of touch. Tommy grew from that song. But most of the pushing was done by Kit. He had a hell of a lot to do with it.
It was shocking when Keith died. In a way, though, it gave us a lot of strength because we had been fraying at the edges before he died. His death had a kind of pulling-together effect. It made us determined not to let the band die. If we had let the band go then, it would have made two tragedies out of one. We got through it. We probably made a lot of mistakes, but Keith's death gave us an incredible amount of freedom, which I think we threw away.
And then Cincinnati, with people getting trampled to death, was an unbelievable thing to live through. I don't know if people outside the business are aware of what happens when a group like the Who goes out on tour. Your whole life is magnified, and yet you are trapped in this little insular group. Everything is out of proportion. You become more important than you are. You can't see anything other than the Who. When you're in the papers, or shown on the telly, it's like being in never-never land.
And then you walk away from a tour six weeks later, and you suddenly realize that it wasn't important at all. But when you're doing it, it's like Third World War.
Maybe the only way to beat it is to not give a shit about it, but we were never like that. If anything, the Who cared too much, and it made things very hard. Touring was no longer much fun. That was what was so great about Keith. He could always pull the light switch. If there was too much pressure, there was Moon taking the top off the lid and letting the air out. But once he died, it was very difficult.
I am not bitter. I had a great time, and I'm proud of it. We were a great band. We were lucky, we tried our best, and I think in most areas we succeeded. We washed our laundry in public, and people liked that. We wore our hearts on our sleeves, and people could identify with that. Mostly, we tried, and I think we gave people through the Seventies a lot of optimism for the future.
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