Talking About Two Generations

By | October 31, 2006

 Nothing captures the intersection between the old and the new worlds, as well as the ambivalence many of us must share about the direction, than this NYT piece (there’s a version in the IHT, but they edit out several key bits for space) about the tension between the remaining members of The Who, Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey (bassist John Entwistle died in 2002, original drummer Keith Moon in 1978):

Mr. Townshend, always interested in new technology, announced that the concerts would be Webcast, only to retract those plans a few days later at Mr. Daltrey’s insistence. Eventually, the band made a deal with Sirius Satellite Radio to broadcast the shows as part of an all-Who channel that will continue throughout the tour.

“I don’t particularly like the world technology has created,” Mr. Daltrey said. “Has anything really gotten better with the computer, or are you just doing more and more of less and less? I’m incredibly paranoid about it, especially after what happened to Pete. I think the Internet is just an advertising device of very dubious returns.

Daltrey is referring to Townshend’s arrest on charges of possessing child pornography. Daltrey could easily be characterized here as a reactionary Who Doesn’t Get It (that could be another album title, perhaps) but it’s more complex than that. Daltrey was never the creative engine of the band but there’s no denying his personality and voice are integral to its legend. But he also has a business acumen that doesn’t always sit well in this new media world, but cannot be ignored:

“Also, I haven’t got the luxury of throwing the kind of money at it that he can,” he continued, referring to Mr. Townshend’s songwriting revenue. “I haven’t got the publishing, I’m just the singer. So I have to look at it much more hard-nosed as a business and ask if I can put a million dollars into it, and the answer is no.”

Townshend, the artist (and presumably comfortably provided for with decades of publishing revenue under his belt) can afford to be the modern visionary:

Mr. Townshend responded: “Roger likes things that are finished, and with the Internet, everything is a work in progress. I try not to bludgeon him with this stuff, but I can’t help it; it’s my passion.”

Impressive that these two guys managed to stay together this long, and testament to both of them. But I guess is what is most interesting is that both guys have a point. I feel caught in both camps — I still think of artists as those who labor away in garrets, cellers, studios or mansions creating something of genius, something that really lifts us out of our time and age, before delivering it to us adoring and wowed fans.

This is no longer the case with new-media influenced art, and the contrast is nowhere clearer than in the perceptions of The Who’s two remaining men about their latest offering, Endless Wire:

For Mr. Daltrey, “Endless Wire” closes a door for the band that was left open after the death of the high-flying Mr. Moon (about whom he is developing a film project, with Mike Myers committed to the role). “We were ill equipped to deal with Keith’s problems at the time,” he said. “If we’d known then what we know now about rehabilitation, we wouldn’t have lost him. So it always felt that if that had really been the end, it wouldn’t have been right. With this album, now there can be an ending. I don’t want it to be, but it can be, and I’m at peace with that.”

Mr. Townshend, characteristically, disagreed with that assessment. “It doesn’t feel like closure; it feels completely new,” he said. “Closure implies that we couldn’t do it again, couldn’t do another album with the same quality and dignity.

Townshend is as impressive as he is combative. Perhaps he’s right. Or maybe while his passion is the impermanence of the Internet, Daltrey’s passion is that of a man looking back and seeing something that has gone, never to return.

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