“Your circumstances don’t matter,” cautions Quadrophenia composer Pete Townshend of The Who. “It’s what you feel inside… Some of the most poignant and powerful letters of identification I’ve ever had on the subject of Quadrophenia have come from Californians. Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam) is a good example. He was a kid who lived on a surfing beach. He saw himself as ‘Jimmy’, he identified with ‘Jimmy’, this kid who lived in a working-class area in a tiny house with no money and a tranquilizer-addicted mother, a drunken father, no prospects of a job, in a sh*thole of a place in a sh*thole of a city in a sh*thole of a world. And there he (Eddie Vedder ) is, he’s living on a beach on the back of a surfboard.”As surprising as it may seem, not all famous rock’n’roll musicians are comfortable talking about their pasts, even involving their times of greatest creative accomplishment, fame, and fortune. The reasons can be myriad, and not immediately obvious. Recalling your naive exploits, often at a time barely out your teens, can be awkward from the current perspective of a 50, 60, or 70 year old. Frequently the songs, albums, and tours are tied inextricably to behind-the-scenes issues of personnel defections, firings, sour business deals, lawsuits, and personal loss which are painful to re-examine. Some fading stars whose careers are struggling now are loathe to revisit past glories simply because it underscores for them just how far from grace they’ve fallen. And more than one famous rock star simply cannot remember key periods in their lives due to memory blackouts, a frightening and unfortunately permanent result of alcoholism or drug abuse.
Pete Townshend of The Who has no such reservations, or at least none apparent in multiple lengthy conversations with me. He can discuss easily the merits of The Who’s music from 1964’s “I Can’t Explain” right up to their Super Bowl halftime performance, as well as their demerits for the band’s behavior along the way. As The Who’s recognized Quadrophenia auteur, Townshend has assessed their over half-century of musical creation and found it to be good. Pete is a delightful, witty, thoughtful, and refreshingly honest conversationalist who, in this conclusion of my two=part classic rock interview, can easily and effectively examine The Who’s epic 1973 opus Quadrophenia through a slightly-detached, objective eye which only the passage of time and maturity can provide. -Redbeard