The Who: Nostalgic but not slowing

Thursday, July 17, 2008

LOS ANGELES -- Roger Daltrey is smacking his head.

He's heard enough about how Pete Townshend was writing songs for a fresh album from the two surviving members of The Who. Or maybe Townshend is writing for another band. Or he isn't writing at all.

"Just let him get on with it. It's a cracked old record, isn't it?" Daltrey exclaims, leaning over to hit his forehead twice with an open palm. "It's been 35 years, I'm tired of it. What is the point? ... Give me a break!"

Which isn't to say Daltrey, 64, has given up on the possibility of following their last studio album, "Endless Wire," released in 2006.

"I still feel that he still will come up with perhaps his best work," Daltrey said of Townshend. "I still think that he's still got it in him. It's just whether he thinks that we're the instrument that he wants to do that on. Personally, I think he's mad to try and change it at this stage in his life. I mean, why fix something that's not broke?"

To prove the point, the band was the center of a tribute concert over the weekend in Los Angeles. Featuring performances from Tenacious D, Pearl Jam, The Flaming Lips and The Who themselves, it will air as a two-hour Rock Honors show tonight on VH1.

Wearing tennis shoes with blue socks, Daltrey in person shows little of the wear and tear you'd expect in a rock veteran of the '60s. He puts his own energy into booking charity concerts, small acting roles and the occasional venture back out onto the road. The Who will be touring Japan and the U.S. this fall.

Sure, it's been more than four decades since "My Generation." But Daltry and Townshend aren't ashamed of sparking fans' nostalgia. In fact, Daltrey says the memories of drummer Keith Moon (who died in 1978) and bassist John Entwistle (dead since 2002) still resonate when he and Townshend perform.

"We're left with ... the way they played, the way we reacted to the way they played. So that kind of stays in our subconscious forever," Daltrey said. "But the communication on the sublevel between Pete and I is the same as ever.

"And that's the bit that I get off on. Not particularly the formatted stuff that's written. It's just when it flies off at an angle and you're jamming. Because when it comes out of the air, it's wonderful, man."

The result may not be timeless, exactly, but it ages gracefully.

"You listen to 'Won't Get Fooled Again,' it still could be a new band," Daltrey said. "It's almost as old as The Platters. They still sound great, but it sounds dated. There are still young bands making our kinds of music. And our music holds up well with those young bands."

Daltrey calls himself a fan of Scottish band The Fratellis and English acts Razorlight and Metro. He hasn't yet listened to Coldplay's latest release, and is looking forward to something new from Amy Winehouse.

"She's something very, very special," he said. "I'm bored ... of that album [[OpenSingle]Back to Black']. And I hope she takes care of herself. She needs to really go and talk to some survivors. I'm sure she will."

Daltrey said he doesn't hear much about the U.S. presidential race in Britain but called Barack Obama the "obvious winner."

"Let's just hope to God he wins," he said. "Let's be honest, with the standing in the rest of the world of America today, with what George Bush has done to your country, it is inconceivable to me that Americans would vote in another Republican. It would be kind of really, really weird if they win again. You just sometimes wonder, what if, just what if (John) McCain did win. The signals that would send to the rest of the world!"

The Who recently licensed downloadable tracks for the video game "Rock Band." Daltrey said he tried it and got bored quickly. He laments the way technology has shifted how people regularly interact with music, saying the scrapping of long-play records signaled the death of the music industry.

"They've destroyed the form, as soon's it went digital. The CD was a confidence trick," Daltrey said. "It wasn't just music that people used to buy, it was a total art form. ... I think that's what people like. They like it personal. They like vinyl because if you scratch vinyl, it'll be scratched, but it'll be your scratch. It will only be on your record."

"Now for people, [music] is just not a big part of their lives. It's like background noise. There's just so much else going on, isn't there?" he said.

With a wistful but sly smile, Daltrey summons his own nostalgia for the time of "Baba O'Riley": "That's all we had was music. There was nothing else. There was cinema, music and sex. Life was better."

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