You ask the questions: Pete Townshend

(Such as: Are you a mod or are you a rocker? And what did you think of Pop Idol?)
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The Independent Online

The guitarist, composer and producer Pete Townshend was born on 19 May 1945. The son of two musicians, he attended Acton County Grammar School, where he became friends with his future bandmates John Entwistle and Roger Daltrey. In 1959, the trio formed a band, the Detours, with Townshend on guitar, Entwistle on bass and Daltrey on lead vocals. Three years later they hired the drummer Keith Moon, and the band released one single, "I'm the Face", as the High Numbers, before relaunching as The Who. Their first single, "I Can't Explain", reached the UK Top 10 in 1965.

The Who embraced the album market with Townshend's "rock operas" Tommy (1969) and Quadrophenia(1973). Moon died in 1978, and since the early Eighties the band have performed sporadically. In 1980, Townshend released his first solo album, Empty Glass. In 1983, he became associate editor at Faber & Faber, and in 1985 he published a collection of stories, White City. He still tours and records, both with The Who and as a solo artist. He has three children, and lives in Cornwall and Richmond.

You once publicly instructed the Rolling Stones not to grow old gracefully. What about Pete Townshend? Are you glad you didn't die before you got old?

Nick MacGregor, by e-mail

Ah hypocrisy! Does the questioner believe I am looking graceful? I feel like a wreck after five Who shows in the past week. Recently, I did my stint as an editor at Faber and Faber, and even that didn't feel graceful. How was I to know that the literary fraternity live harder, faster and more illicitly than rock stars?

Your rock opera Lifehouse predicted the internet in 1971. What's going to happen in 30 years' time?

Charlotte Harper, London

Easy. The internet will disappear and be replaced by religion. We will certainly have no need for wire.

What are your observations on your generation as it approaches its seventh decade?

Simon Johns, Great Yarmouth

As the young men on the street stealing younger boys' mobile phones are about the age of my grandchildren (if I had any), I think that my generation (and the one after it) weren't hard enough on bullying. Maybe this is something we felt was a good thing at the time because we are war babies, born in a climate of international bullying.

Pete Townshend: mod or rocker?

Nicole Greaves, by e-mail

Mod. Never ridden a motorbike. But I don't hate rockers, or bikers. I'm more interested in besuited style. I am a fashion victim to this day.

When you meet Keith Moon in the afterlife, what will your first words of greeting be?

John Kubow, Birmingham

You owe me £5,000 back-rent. (He died in a flat I rented for him from Harry Nilsson.)

Should The Who have disbanded after Keith's death?

Mike Godliman, Twickenham

Maybe. The swing of this question is wobbly, though. You see, we were in effect disbanded prior to Keith dying. He had proved himself quite unable to play the drums any more, live or in the studio. When he died we decided we might be able to get back together. It was a time I actually enjoyed playing and touring. But sadly, it was also a time I found I was drinking far too much.

Is it true that you're as deaf as a post?

Richard Ferguson, Perth

No. I left The Who in 1982 partly to protect what then remained of my hearing, which, like all musicians', was slightly damaged. It hasn't got much worse since. I can hear OK. I can also lip-read. So be careful what you say out in that audience.

Tommy, your rock opera, has been described as a flawed masterpiece. Are you one too?

Nicholas E Gough, Swindon

I've been waiting for this one. It's my Michael Jackson moment. God made me, so if I am flawed, then I am the way He wanted me to be. Perfectly imperfect.

With hindsight, could Tommy and Quadrophenia have been the blueprint for late-20th-century opera, or were they just a passing phase in rock music?

Richard Whitehouse, London

They are a part of rock. Twentieth-century opera exists, but in a different place entirely. Our real opera today is perhaps carried in movies and TV where music can sometimes be very important indeed. Rock – like theatre, even much derided music-theatre – requires you to get off your fat arse and show up.

What did Tommy see that led his mother to say: "You didn't hear it, you didn't see it, you won't say nothing to no one"?

Justin Stanton, by e-mail

He saw the man he thought was his father (his mother's lover) kill an intruder who he then realised had been his real father.

How many times, if any, have you visited your portrait in the National Gallery?

Gemma Findlay, by e-mail

I go every four hours if I can fit it in. It is a mistake to say I have a low opinion of my looks. I am probably the most beautiful and photogenic creature on the planet. Now. Which part of this reply is the joke?

Who do you regard as the greatest living or dead songwriter(s), and why?

Cameron Robertson, Glasgow

Brian Wilson. I didn't see him at the Royal Albert Hall, but everyone I've spoken to says he remains perfect pop – frozen in time. When I met him recently after a long period all I could say was: "I love you."

Can you still be passionate about pop music in the age of Pop Idol?

Julia De Silva, by e-mail

Yes. Even Pete Waterman has had a moment or two. He is a bit of factory lad, but there must be people out there who remember a Kylie song as their perfect moment. That's what makes pop so great.Pop Idol is a great idea.

What was the most expensive guitar you ever trashed?

Michael Gallagher, Nottingham

My first Rickenbacker. It was on hire-purchase and in 1964 cost £350. Since then I have never asked how much they are worth. I still don't get free guitars, but Rickenbacker, Fender and Gibson are all very kind – they donate guitars to me to sell for charity, and they do not seem to mind that I can raise the value of a donation 10-fold by smashing it.

I hear you want to get back into the studio with The Who. Will your new songs be for the kids or the young at heart?

Francis Blair, Hull

I don't want to get back into the studio with The Who. Roger does. I would like to make it possible for him. I have no idea what I might write. I've written nothing for The Who since 1982.

Pete Townshend's 'Lifehouse', recorded live at Sadler's Wells, London, in 2000, is released on video and DVD on 18 Feb

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