Pete Townshend on 'Quadrophenia,' The Who's 'Last Great Album'
With a recent theatrical production, a forthcoming orchestral version and movie sequel, a pair of upgraded reissues and a possible tour in 2012, Pete Townshend says he's understandably "had 'Quadrophenia' on the brain now for quite some time." And he doesn't mind a bit since it's the Who album he's claimed to be most proud of.
"The reason why the album is so important to me is that I think it' the Who's last great album, really," Townshend tells Billboard.com about the ambitious 1973 rock opera, which peaked at No. 2 on both the Billboard 200 and U.K. charts. It comes out Nov. 15 as a Deluxe Edition, featuring eight demos in addition to the album, and as a lavish "Quadrophenia: The Director's Cut" box set with two CDs of demos -- including nine songs that didn't make the final cut -- an eight-track 5.1 DVD EP, a 100-page hardcover book featuring a new essay by Townshend as well as his track-by-track annotations and other goodies.
Townshend says that he feels the Who "never recorded anything that was so ambitious or audacious again. And it was kind of the last album where Keith Moon was in a fit state to be a working member of a band. He kind of went off into space after that, so it's a poignant album for me. It's a precious album for me, and it's a kind of a turning point album for me as well."
Townshend says he's optimistic that he and Who singer Roger Daltrey will join forces again to bring "Quadrophenia" to the stage -- as they did in 1996-97 with the late bassist John Entwistle, an expanded band and guests such as Billy Idol, Gary Glitter and P.J. Proby -- "probably in the winter of 2012." They last performed it together during a Teenage Cancer Trust benefit concert in March of 2010 at London's Royal Albert Hall.
"I thought that (concert) was just fabulous, and I felt it was time to revisit it," says Townshend, though he's aware that Daltrey has been somewhat cautious about committing to any firm plans. "I know that Roger wants to make a few changes to the way it's presented and some of the film images we use, but I'm very happy with the way it is," Townshend notes. "I think the music comes across beautifully. So I've kind of been waiting patiently...
"This is a role reversal because usually Roger is the one who wants to go on tour and I'm the one who's like, 'Hey, hold up. I've got this to write and this to do...' I'm usually the one that is being nagged, and it's been the other way around. I've been nagging Roger now for quite a time to get this show out, and it looks like now we will probably tour. I'm looking forward to it."
Townshend adds that the "Quadrophenia" production has even more appeal to him because "I don't think I could do a normal Who greatest hits show anymore" -- mostly due to his well-publicized hearing issues. "I like to catch fire on the stage," he explains. "I need to catch fire on the stage, and I know that if I let myself catch fire on stage too often, I would deafen myself."
Townshend says that the selection of demos that are part of both new "Quadrophenia" packages "explains my method, and I do think that my top songwriting method is most elegantly landed in 'Quadrophenia.' " There are striking differences in some of the songs, too, from the loose, polyrhythmic approach of "The Real Me's" demo to Townshend's woodshop treatment of the closing "Love Reign O'er Me." "(Townshend) saw it as kind of a gentle love song," Daltrey recalls, "whereas I saw it as a scream, a hear-wrenching, internal scream of frustration. The first time I played my (performance) of it to him, he didn't like it at all!"
Townshend and Daltrey aren't the only ones working on the "Quadrophenia" front, however. The Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama staged a theatrical rendition of the show in 2009 that Townshend has endorsed and calls "a very exciting, evolving show," while his girlfriend, Rachel Fuller, is working on an orchestral version of the music. Meanwhile, Townshend has given his blessing to Who manager Bill Curbishley's efforts to produce a sequel to the 1979 "Quadrophenia" film. "He's developing it with one of the writers on the (original) 'Quadrophenia' movie," Townshend reports. "It's a sequel to the film, not the album, and that's all I know, and I think it's going to go into production next year." Townshend adds that Richard Jobson of the Scottish New Wave band the Skids has been tapped to direct the sequel.
Beyond "Quadrophenia," Townshend and Daltrey, along with Robert Plant, were recently in Los Angeles to announce the opening of the Daltrey/Townshend Teen & Young Adult Cancer Program -- an outgrowth of the Teenage Cancer Trust that Daltrey has helped to spearhead in the U.K. -- at the UCLA Medical Center. Meanwhile, Townshend continues to work on two major creative projects. He says the musical "Floss" is "hanging on a nail at the moment. Nobody has heard anything yet except my music publisher...and I was very gratified to hear later that he went and told his buddies that it was a masterpiece in the making." Townshend plans to pick it up again after March, when he's scheduled to finish his memoir, "Who He?"
"I'm enjoying writing this book," Townshend says. "I'm surrounded by boxes full of press clippings and diaries and letters and photos and all kinds of stuff, and it's kind of fun. At some times I find it quite hard. Writing the book is a cathartic process, but it's also something that takes me back to crazier times. Sometimes I just have to sit and just kind of let myself off the hook and say, 'Listen, everybody knows this stuff. All I'm doing is giving my point of view.' But I'm halfway through and I'm getting good reactions from my editor and I'm really enjoying it."