The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne on The Who: Listening To You, I Get The Music
The Who appear on the current cover of Relix in a feature that includes an interview with Pete Townshend as well as many musicians’ memories of the group. We previously presented Widespread Panic bassist Dave Schools’ thoughts on John Enwistle, Phish drummer Jon Fishman’s take on Keith Moon and The Who and the memories of Bob Weir and Warren Haynes. Here is what The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne has to say about the group.
Photo by Anwar Hussein from Wayne Coyne’s first Who show.
The first time I saw The Who was at the Myriad Gardens Convention Center in Okalahoma City in 1976. I had seen Led Zeppelin, The Eagles, Yes—a lot of great stuff there. This was the one that defined what I was going to be after that.
Even though people will say it’s after their great peak, on the night I saw them, it was a mega show. It was the best show I’ll ever see. I’ve seen shows that were of that caliber but not ones
where you could completely have your mind blown away. That could never happen to me again.
There wasn’t any pose to the performance—they were so possessed. I’d seen Led Zeppelin before them and when you’re watching Led Zeppelin—even today, watching film stuff—there’s an element of it that’s a pose. I love Jimmy Page and I love that he poses. But with The Who, they’d gone further into playing off this psychic connection, especially between Pete Townshend and Keith Moon. They seemed to do that to the point where they could do it without even thinking about it. By the time I saw them, they could do that in their sleep.
I was drawn to their authenticity. They played like they meant it. I’d seen other groups and thought, “You know, this is fake. This is bullshit.” I wasn’t very old but I’d see a lot of things by then. I wasn’t convinced I was right about The Who [being the opposite of that]. Afterward, I’d say, “Why are they so good? Why do people like them?” And people would look at me like, “Dude, it’s The Who! Goddamn!”
At first, it was unexplainable. Now I know why: Pete is a very sensitive guy and he really does cry and feel. He had to express himself while Roger is such a tough motherfucker. There’s a great combination of power—it’s macho and it’s anti-macho at the same time. That’s why it’s so great.
Plus, the crowd was so in awe. Back then, The Who were probably the greatest group you could see where the audience would die for that group. When I saw Led Zeppelin, most of the people there were so zonked out on drugs, they didn’t even know if Led Zeppelin were playing or not.
I first met Pete at the O2 Wireless Festival in Leeds, England in 2006. The previous night, we had played a big festival in Ireland where Bob Dylan was the headliner and we played previous to him. Dylan does not want to talk anybody, he does not want to be part of anything—everybody has to clear the stage, they pull up in limousines, he plays, gets back into a limousine and drives off. It may as well be Barack Obama.
Early the next day, we’re at the Leeds Festival and we’re backstage and Pete’s right there. You can literally walk up to Pete Townshend and just say, “Wow, you’re Pete!” And he’s like, “Hey, it’s good to meet you.” Immediately I think, “I like Pete, he’s cool. Fuck Bob Dylan.” Not that I’ve met Bob Dylan—and I’m not dismissing his talent—I’m just saying on that level, I like Pete.
Once you’re around him, you see that if The Who were about Pete Townshend and Pete Townshend alone, then it would be a fragile thing. It wouldn’t be this big powerful, anthemic thing with guitars getting broken, drums getting kicked over—it wouldn’t be that. It would be him as the songwriter singing this stuff from his inner soul.
For me, that was good news because I know that secretly, without that, music isn’t really any good. No one is really singing because they’re tough. They’re singing because they’re dying inside. When you’re around Pete, he’s like that and he listens. When you talk, he listens to you. And then you’re like, “He’s Pete Townshend and he’s listening to me. Wow.” When you’re around people who are still alive and curious about the world, they’re looking and listening. They’re taking it in. They would be the last ones to say they know anything. Pete doesn’t have time to be fake. He wouldn’t even know what to do with that.
When you’re around someone like Pete and you get the luxury of someone being completely real and telling you the truth, he’s really saying, “You should do that, too. If you don’t do that—fuck you.” If everybody was like that, then it would be a wicked, cool world.
At the end of Tommy, on “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” it’s almost religious in the sense that it’s like you believe them. It’s like you’re seeing the light, you’re seeing the truth. I’m seeing a way to be, a way to live, a way through my insecurities.
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