Now, we’re not going to sit here and pretend that Pete Townshend, the principal songwriter and guitarist for The Who, is the first member of a band to harbour some ill feelings towards their own group. We’d put a large bet on most members of any band going through fleeting moments of revulsion when scouring the eccentric, ego-driven personalities that usually make up a group. But, Townshend’s disdain for his counterparts in The Who not only runs the entire length of their career as a band, but his contempt has even followed Keith Moon and John Entwistle into the afterlife.
One thing should be made clear as early as possible, The Who were not a harmonious group. In the 21st century, we like to think of our favourite bands as microcosms of pure creativity and artistic endeavour, underpinned by the feeling that should anything go awry, the band becomes a walking talking street gang, ready to defend each member of the group to the hilt. The truth is often a little left of this assertion but for The Who, it is completely incomprehensible.
Let’s get that first bit out of the way, shall we? The image of a band travelling around as a marauding street gang is perpetuated by the usual struggle bands face when starting out — touring. Operating out of a usually cramped transit van, blood bonds are often formed with every passing streetlight. When you add to that the weirdness of arriving in towns and cities as unknown troublemakers, something normally picked up on by the hotheads of said residence, the unit should surely intensify. However, for The Who, most of the fighting was brought in-house.
The band constantly fought with one another, with one particular moment almost seeing Roger Daltrey kicked out of the band. The singer got into an interaction with drummer Keith Moon after growing tired of his incessant drug use. After a show of terrible playing from the drummer, Daltrey found Moon’s stash of drugs and flushed it away in an attempt to make a serious point about his growing dependency. Naturally, Moon was not best pleased and was soon in the face of the singer.
As any Acton local will tell you, that’s enough to wind up with some new knuckle marks on your face and, sure enough, Daltrey let rip across Moon’s soon-to-be-bloodied nose with a heaving throw. “It took about five people to hold me off him,” the singer remembered in Roger Daltrey: The Biography. “It wasn’t just because I hated him; it was just because I loved the band so much and thought it was being destroyed by those pills.” Townshend and bassist John Entwhistle took the side of Moon during the debacle and agreed that Daltrey, by flushing Moon’s pills, had gone too far.
They fired him from the group with immediate effect and signalled the end of his career before he could really get started. He was hired back when ‘My Generation’ began finding some serious airplay.
While Daltrey and Moon were known for their on tour spats, Townshend seems to harbour the most disdain for the band. It may not have helped that he was the band’s principal songwriter and the ferocious lead guitarist, meaning he would bear a lot of the expectation on his shoulders, but it went further than that. In fact, it went so far that Townshend even made some bold claims about The Who’s departed rhythm section of Moon and Entwistle. “It’s not going to make Who fans very happy, but thank God they’re gone,” Townshend told Rolling Stone in a 2019 interview. “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.”
After some noted uproar, the guitarist apologised for his comments and bid a hasty retreat from the unwanted limelight. While his caustic views have often gotten the guitarist in hot bother (he has a particular dislike for Led Zeppelin), he prefers to spend his time making music, though admittedly not performing it very much. That’s because the main reason Pete Townshend hates The Who is usually on stage and smiling back at him. Of course, we mean Roger Daltrey.
The two musicians innately irritate each other. It may be because of their power dynamic within the band or simply because they operate in two different spheres. One perfect example of their opposite viewpoints came with the 2016 British referendum on EU membership. Speaking to The Telegraph, Townshend noted: “I’m a Remainer; he [Roger Daltrey] is a Brexiteer. I believe in God; he doesn’t.”
Townshend and Daltrey continue to fight during their live performances to this day, with a particular moment angering the guitarist more than most. It comes during the performance of ‘Sister Disco because “there is a point in which every time we’ve done it where Roger comes over to me, stands next to me and makes some kind of soppy smile, which is supposed to communicate some kind of Everly Brothers relationship we have for the audience, which isn’t actually there.”
The guitarist continues, “It’s supposed to be an act where I’m supposed to collude like ‘we know each other very well we look like enemies, but we are friends really’ kind of look. Often that will be the moment where I look him in the face and go ‘you fucking wanker’, and he gets angry when I do that,” he says amidst a fit of laughter. Speaking in 2014 about a then-upcoming Who tour and Townshend honestly reflect, “It seemed like a good idea about six months ago, but I hate performing and The Who and touring.”
So, why does Pete Townshend hate The Who? It seems as though he has the same dislike for the band as one might have for any job. It doesn’t really matter if you’re the greatest bricklayer of all time; if you’ve done it all your life, chances are you will still relish the opportunity to submerge it in angry rhetoric until the final bubbles of life pop on the surface.
The real question is perhaps why Townshend keeps coming back to the project? After all, he could easily start his own band or even go solo with The Who’s canon in his arsenal. Naturally, he has an answer for that one too: “I’m innately good at it. I don’t find it hard.” Simple as that.