Pete Townshend On Keith Moon & John Entwistle: “Thank God They’re Gone”

Pete Townshend is a pivotal figure within rock history. As the primary songwriter of the Who, Townshend helped will genres like punk and metal into existence. He invented the guitar windmill and the rock opera. He’s arguably the person who first figured out how synthesizers could work in a rock context. He’s also a notoriously egotistical dick. And now he’s just out here saying that he’s glad he doesn’t have to deal with his dead bandmates anymore.

The Who are about to release a new album called Who — their first album in 13 years and their second in 37. The album is, by all accounts, pretty surprisingly good, even though the Who did not record it as a band. (Townshend and his sole surviving bandmate, singer Roger Daltrey, recorded their parts separately, with separate producers. They were almost never in the same place at the same time, and they spoke with each other only with intermediaries.) On the occasion of the new LP’s release, Rolling Stone profiled the band. And in that article, Townshend, if I’m interpreting it right, said that he’s glad Keith Moon and John Entwistle are dead.

Keith Moon, the Who’s beloved wildman drummer, died in 1978 at the age of 32 after overdosing on a drug that treated his alcohol withdrawal. John Entwistle, the band’s stoic bassist, died in 2002 at the age of 57 after suffering a cocaine-induced heart attack. In that Rolling Stone feature, writer Stephen Rodrick, noting that Moon and Entwistle both appear via video screen in the Who’s current tour, asks Townshend if he ever gets nostalgic looking at that old footage. Townshend does not. Here’s Townshend’s response:

It’s not going to make Who fans very happy, but thank God they’re gone…

Because they were fucking difficult to play with. They never, ever managed to create bands for themselves. I think my musical discipline, my musical efficiency as a rhythm player, held the band together…

John’s bass sound was like a Messiaen organ. Every note, every harmonic in the sky. When he passed away and I did the first few shows without him, with Pino [Palladino] on bass, he was playing without all that stuf… I said, “Wow, I have a job.”…

With Keith, my job was keeping time, because he didn’t do that. So when he passed away, it was like, “Oh, I don’t have to keep time anymore.”

Fuck, man. You can read that feature here.

UPDATE (11/27): Pete Townshend has issued a clarification about his Rolling Stone comment on his Facebook page, first by addressing himself (“PETE! FOR FUCK’S SAKE PUT A LID ON IT!”) and then going on to write about Moon and Entwistle’s place in the band.

“No one can ever know how much I miss Keith and John, as people, as friends and as musicians,” he wrote. “The alchemy we used to share in the studio is missing from the new album, and it always feels wrong to try to summon it up without them, but I suppose we will always be tempted to try. To this day I am angry at Keith and John for dying. Sometimes it shows. It’s selfish, but it’s how I feel.”

Here’s the full post:

My interview with Rolling Stone. Headline: ‘Pete Townshend says “thanks God” Moon, John Entwistle are dead; they were fucking difficult to play with”’.

This was said as part of an interview in response to a series of questions about Who history, the early days and how it is today.

PETE! FOR FUCK’S SAKE PUT A LID ON IT!

No one can ever know how much I miss Keith and John, as people, as friends and as musicians. The alchemy we used to share in the studio is missing from the new album, and it always feels wrong to try to summon it up without them, but I suppose we will always be tempted to try. To this day I am angry at Keith and John for dying. Sometimes it shows. It’s selfish, but it’s how I feel.

But I am sincerely grateful to have had these second and third incarnations as a member of what we still dare to call The Who – once after Keith passed, then again after John passed. I do thank God for this, but I was being ironic in my own English way by suggesting it is something I am glad about. I can be grateful to be free as a player and writer, but sad about losing old friends. It does feel ironic, and it also makes me angry. Towards the end of my mother Betty’s life she drove me barmy, and there was a huge sense of relief when she finally passed, but I miss her very much. Love has so many facets.

I understand that a lot of long-time Who fans will be hurt by the way it comes across as a headline. I only hope that they know me well enough that I tell the truth as much as I can, but I also tell both sides and the upside is missing in the headlines.

Writing for Roger, and performing with him, is easier than the early days with the old four-piece band. Many of you will have heard me say that working with Roger these days can be tricky, and challenging, but that ultimately I find it “easy”. John and Keith were so eccentric and individual as musicians. They literally did take up so much musical and sonic space. As a guitar player I never learned to shred because there was never any space for it. On Live At Leeds and bootlegs from that time you can often hear me stop the music to noodle around, partly so I could think!

The upside with Keith and John was that on tour and in the studio we had so much fun. Playing with them was hard, but both Roger and I spent a lot of time doubled up in joy and laughter even though we could have benefitted from a quieter life sometimes. It was a riot.

To those family members of Keith and John, especially Chris Entwistle and Mandy Moon, I apologise for the headlines – and for carelessly providing the words that were used – but in the past three months I have done so many interviews I am losing focus and patience. I forgive myself. I hope they can forgive me too. I loved their dads and still do.

Roger lost his rag at a press conference at Wembley about Brexit. I found it worrying, but I understood. We may be rock stars but we are also human. Roger and I have not changed very much over the years, but we do love and like each other these days. It’s really poignantly painful to imagine how things would have turned out had John and Keith had also been allowed to become older, kinder and wiser. The Who might have grown musically, or possibly just gone around in circles, but I assure you we would have deepened our love for each other as human beings and colleagues.

As musicians? Who knows?