On the occasion the Nov. 3 premiere of the official Who documentary “Amazing Journey” (and its DVD release three days later) the band’s guitarist/songwriter Pete Townshend shared his thoughts with Billboard on capturing the Who’s history from early club gigs to later tragedies, his evolving relationship with Roger Daltrey and the future of live music online.
“We decided the film was really about the journey to the top,” producer Nigel Sinclair previously told Billboard about the film. “You really see these four young people putting it together. Then, the band becomes successful and many things happen: some good and some bad. We discerned from it that the most interesting thing was the evolution of Pete and Roger’s relationship. The fact that these two are able to continue as the Who, it is almost like it was meant to be that way.”
What was the impetus behind getting ‘Amazing Journey’ made now?
I didn’t have anything to do with it, really. I didn’t even want it to be made, but tried not to get in the way. I’m now glad I was passive.
A lot of previously unseen footage was unearthed for the film. What was it like watching long-lost moments like the 1964 Railway Hotel gig?_
I’d seen that before, soon after it was made, and remembered it well. What was great this time was hearing Roger voice, and seeing complete songs. I think Roger had such a great R&B voice pre-“Tommy.” And although his post-“Tommy” voice is the epic voice we’ve come to see as a great rock voice, it’s great to hear where he came from.
The 1979 fan trampling deaths at the Who show in Cincinnati and both drummer Keith Moon’s and bassist John Entwistle’s passings are covered in the film. Was is difficult to delve into those aspects of the Who’s history?
At last we can admit we should have stayed there after the Cincinnati tragedy. This didn’t happen to us, it happened to those who died and were injured and their families. We were so frightened and shaken by the tragedy that we got drunk after the show and cried a lot. But that wasn’t really what we needed to do. We needed to accept that this was not our fault, not our doing, not the fault of rock’n’roll. But nonetheless [it was] something that we were a part of and we needed to be counted, and counted on. What happened was we ran away, went on tour, the show must go on.
As for Keith and John, their deaths have to be accepted as part of our reality. In this case these deaths did indeed happen to us, to Roger and me, and our families. We need to be able to mourn in our own way.
A band that started out as four guys who, it’s pointed out in the film, were so strikingly different from each other, is now centered on two personalities. You talk about how you have learned to love and work within your differences. Is that what has made it so compelling to continue making music together?
The love follows action, it doesn’t lead. We aren’t teenagers falling in love, we are old men discovering we are alike in many ways. Maybe we were — all four of us — more alike than we felt was cool to confess.
“Amazing Journey” is “authorized,” and you are interviewed, but was that the extent of your involvement? What material came out of your personal archives?
99% came from archives I look after, although as a result of this film I have now let go of that job. It nearly made me nuts.
What was left on the editing-room floor? What would you like to have seen explained more fully?
I think too much is explained already.
In the film, Eddie Vedder, Noel Gallagher, the Edge, and others talk about the influence the Who has had on the music that followed. Can you hear yourself in their music?
I can hear many bands in the music of those guys.
When you spoke at South ny Southwest this year, you touched on the idea that there wasn’t enough live music online and your “In the Attic” series found you putting yourself out there live. What would you most like to see happen online?
I’d like to see more live (in real time) music on the web. I’m sick of recorded clips. The web is not a library; it’s a channel.
You told us last year that there were a number of songs written for the recent Who album, “Endless Wire,” that didn’t make the cut and you hinted that they might they surface on a forthcoming solo album if you felt you “could support it.” With the “Amazing Journey” project afoot, are you any closer to releasing them or making a new solo record in general? What’s next?
These songs are now in workshop with a music theatre production of “The Boy Who Heard Music.” Strangely, people are saying they are my best work, and quite a few people are saying Roger could do a great job with them.
It’s worth noting that the film is a feast for anyone who loves the Who or who cares about rock history.
Roger hasn’t watched it, but I have. What I like is that, at last, there is a film that gives Roger real scope to tell his story, show who he is. For once it’s not all about Keith Moon being crazy and me being dour.