Today, "Five Questions" are, once again, put to Mat Snow, author of the new book The Who: 50 Years Of My Generation, out now on Quarto Books. Mat is also the author of the book U2: Revolution and is the award-winning former editor of the world-renowned Mojo magazine.
Your last book was “U2: Revolution.” Your latest is an illustrated history of fifty years of The Who. They are both iconic, generational bands with long-lasting careers: what are the similarities?
Obviously the drums/bass/guitar/singer rock format, whose high-impact stage and visual simplicity became starkly obvious with The Who, and thereafter Led Zeppelin, Free, The Stooges, Bowie's Spiders From Mars, The Ramones, Sex Pistols and then U2. Then there is each band's profound sense of conscious engagement with their audiences, seeking consciously to articulate the thoughts and feelings of the fans, sometimes in advance of the fans thinking and feeling those things for themselves until articulated first by the bands on their behalf.
Both bands are very conscious of their exalted position as cultural and, for want of a better word, philosophical leaders for their fans. And both bands have embraced digital technology in the creation, presentation and distribution of their music and ideas — with mixed results.
The Who are one of those bands chock full of legendary stories and well-known antics. Are there any new stories we should know about in this book?
Contrary to his reputation as a born bad boy, Roger Daltrey was a bright, eager and clever child, good at school work, games and music. It was being made to feel like a working-class 'oik' by the teachers and kids at a new school from the age of 11 that disaffected him and made him a rebel handy with his fists. Pete Townshend was encouraged to go to art school by a neighbour whose cartoon strip about the home life of a Basset hound remains a very popular newspaper favourite in the UK. Months before the band was founded, Moon and Entwistle named Led Zeppelin and conceived the artwork for their first album without realising that their jocular ideas would be acted on by Jimmy Page. Keith Moon seldom practised and had to 'relearn' how to play drums after any long lay-off between recording or touring.
Lots more. Read it to find out!
While John Lydon might throw a pint glass at my head, what do you make of the notion that The Who was “punk” before there was a punk rock movement?
Correct. It was manager Andrew Loog Oldham who in 1964 styled the Stones as the rebellious anti-Beatles, and the success of that image defined two camps within British bands: the squeaky-cleans, like The Hollies, Peter & Gordon and Herman's Hermits, or the rougher, tougher boys like The Animals, Kinks, Pretty Things, Them and, not having to try too hard to be sullen and violent, The Who. But they were friends and rivals rather than a movement with a consciously common agenda.
The '70s punk rock movement exemplified by the Sex Pistols was always a possibility after the writer and musician Lenny Kaye in the early '70s coined the term to describe the sullen, rebellious US garage bands of the mid-'60s inspired by the Stones, Pretty Things, Them etc. Punk in the '70s was a self-conscious and rehearsed movement created out of the belief that the '60s moment when those bands and their imitators looked seriously dangerous and confrontational was all too fleeting, overtaken within two years by the new mood of psychedelia and the Summer of Love. The Who got into flower power, but with no conviction, though Pete's discovery of Meher Baba in 1967 was to prove lastingly influential on his outlook and thinking. Despite the Summer of Love, The Who still smashed their gear and performed "My Generation," and even while Tommy addressed spiritual themes, during that period The Who had honed themselves into as adrenalising, confrontational and simmeringly violent band as rock has ever birthed. When punk came along, The Who were rightly revered as godfathers who had never lost their essential punk spirit.
Pete coined the nickname “The Chest” for Roger after their Woodstock appearance, where a very fit Daltrey appeared shirtless. For whatever reason, that performance catapulted the band into a whole other level. What is Pete and Roger’s relationship these days?
Word has it that in private Roger continues to moan about Pete, his egotism and posturing, and on stage the pair parody their legendary lack of compatibility in amusing banter. But in their public statements they are mutually supportive and respectful, nor is that insincere. Opposite but complementary, they are the original married couple.
Finally, one can’t help but laugh at the irony of “My Generation” and the fact that Pete and Roger are still out there at 70. Pete has to regret that one: should they just retire that song and get on with it?
The moment to retire “My Generation” has long gone. Nor was it even strictly true at the time. "Not trying to cause a big sensation"??? Back in 1965 causing a big sensation was right at the top of their to-do list!