Pete Townshend: I Hated The Who's Rock 'n' Roll Carnage — but It Made Us Famous

"People still say that I should never have smashed instruments. F— off. It's how I got you to listen to me," the rocker tells The Big Issue

Throughout the ’60s and early-’70s, there wasn’t a single hotel manager in the world who didn’t break into a cold sweat at the slightest mention of The Who.

Yet guitarist Pete Townshend was just as annoyed by the band’s legendary room-trashing as the countless chambermaids who were left to literally pick up the pieces.

“As the television went through the window, I would look at Keith Moon and go, what a f—ing prat,” Townshend tells The Big Issue magazine about the antics of the band’s legendary drummer, who died in September 1978. “What a waste of time.”

While Townshend also hurled his fair share of sets through the glass — he readily admits doing it “two or three times” and feeling “a f—ing prat!” himself afterward — the guitarist wanted the band to channel their rage into their performances. Not least, because he knew the spectacle would both excite the audience and generate huge publicity.

“People still say that I should never have smashed instruments. F— off. It’s how I got you to listen to me,” adds Townshend, whose guitar and amplifier-destruction was a regular feature of a Who gig.

“I was in it for the art,” he adds. “I felt we should confine our antics to the stage. Getting into auto-destruction was straight out of art college.”

Matt Kent

Yet it didn’t go all his own way: looking back at the chaos and destruction of touring with Moon, singer Roger Daltrey and bassist John Entwistle — who died of a cocaine overdose in June 2002 — the Pinball Wizard songwriter regrets The Who and their contemporaries didn’t channel the ’60s vibe into something more permanent and influential.

“My generation felt disenfranchised,” Townshend tells the Big Issue. “That is a complex word for feeling like we had nothing to live for.”

He continues, “It made us not so much angry as loose. We were loose living. And when psychedelic drugs and more importantly the pill came along, away we went. Then we took power. But I think we misused the power to a great extent. The hippy era could have turned into something much better than it did.”

Later this month, Townshend and singer Daltrey are releasing WHO, the first The Who album in 13 years. A single from the album — the politically charged “Ball and Chain” — debuted in October.

The Who will then tour Britain and Ireland in Spring 2020, ending with a home town gig at The SSE Arena in London on April 8.

“I think we’ve made our best album since Quadrophenia in 1973,” Daltrey said in a statement. “Pete hasn’t lost it. He’s still a fabulous songwriter, and he’s still got that cutting edge.”

Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey of the band "The Who"
Theo Wargo/Getty

As for Townshend: he’s happy to reflect on his life and the near-miracle that he’s still alive to make music at all.

“My life is really great at the moment and I seem to spend a huge amount of time thinking back to the times when my main mission seemed to be to f— it all up,” Townshend tells the Big Issue about “driving 180 miles per hour in a Ferrari” and the “drunken cocaine-fueled day” he first took heroin.

Looking back, he says he would advise himself to have had a moral code, particularly sexually.

“But I wouldn’t advise myself that it would have been better to live like a monk,” he adds. “I spent so much of my life between being 16 and 30 being really true to my marriage. Whereas I watched my friend Eric Clapton every day with a different beautiful model…”

The Big Issue is sold by vendors to lift themselves out of poverty and homelessness.

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