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Pete Town­shend on Clas­sic Quadrophe­nia, now tour­ing the U.S. He doesn’t re­ally care if you don’t like it.

“I COULD spend eight months at a com­puter desk writ­ing a book, lyrics, po­ems—that’s what I love to do,” Pete Town­shend says. The fa­mously lit­er­ate rock star, who co-founded the Who in 1964, has al­ways been am­biva­lent about per­form­ing, de­spite the great-mo­ments-in-rock flour­ishes— wind­milling arms, power slides across the stage, gui­tar smash­ing, etc. Town­shend would just as soon be home, even if play­ing live does, in fact, come easy for him. “I must have cir­cus genes,” he says. “I know I’ll do a good job—i al­ways seem to—but I don’t know how the fuck I do it, be­cause my heart re­ally isn’t in it.”

And yet, here he is, on the road again. Town­shend’s lat­est ven­ture—be­tween those never-end­ing Who “fi­nal tour” tours—in­volves a dif­fer­ent sort of band: In Septem­ber, he will cross the U.S. per­form­ing the rock opera Quadrophe­nia, this time backed by Eng­land’s 90-piece Royal Phil­har­monic Orches­tra, a choir, Billy Idol and tenor Al­fie Boe (Ed­die Ved­der will be fea­tured at one date, in Illi­nois.) Clas­sic Quadrophe­nia was first per­formed in Lon­don in 2015, earn­ing stand­ing ova­tions (press re­views were mixed, lean­ing to­ward pos­i­tive) and an al­bum sold well in the U.K., de­spite be­ing banned from the clas­si­cal mu­sic chart for its ge­n­e­sis in rock mu­sic—to which the al­ways blunt Town­shend replied, “Fuck ’em.”

Quadrophe­nia, re­leased in 1973, was Town­shend’s at­tempt to save a dis­in­te­grat­ing Who (singer Roger Dal­trey, drum­mer Keith Moon and bassist John En­twistle) af­ter years of non­stop tour­ing, a tense breakup with their man­age­ment and Moon’s op­er­atic drug binges. On the sur­face, things looked good: The quar­tet’s 1969 al­bum, Tommy, its first rock opera, had been a huge suc­cess, and the next al­bum, 1971’s Who’s Next, yielded such clas­sics as “Baba O’ri­ley.” But, says Town­shend, “we were in ter­ri­ble trou­ble. The band had lost con­nec­tion with their neigh­bor­hood, with their au­di­ence. We’d be­come su­per­stars. We needed to be re­grounded.”

The dou­ble al­bum was a pro­fes­sional peak— the band’s high­est-chart­ing record. As for re­ground­ing the mem­bers, there wasn’t much that could be done for Moon: He was dead of an over­dose by 1978. (En­twistle, con­sid­ered by many to be rock’s great­est bassist, sur­vived longer, though his death, in 2002, was also drug re­lated.) But Quadrophe­nia still has the power to en­er­gize the two re­main­ing mem­bers of the Who, who have now per­formed it for decades. “Even when it’s just Roger and me,” says Town­shend, “we’re re­minded con­stantly where we’ve come from.”

Eng­land’s mod cul­ture was an early in­spi­ra­tion for the band, and for the al­bum. But the story tran­scended style and place. The opera cen­ters on Jimmy, a work­ing-class kid bat­tling his par­ents and the hope­less­ness of a rigid class sys­tem; Town­shend’s lyrics, with their fo­cus on iden­tity, be­came a touch­stone for count­less ado­les­cents then and later, with fan fic­tion con­tin­u­ing the story in the years since. “A lot of peo­ple feel they have a pro­pri­etary claim on it,” says Town­shend, who re­mains puz­zled by its power. “It’s quite sur­pris­ing the num­ber of peo­ple who have con­fessed to me that the record made a dif­fer­ence. That was never re­ally the idea. It wasn’t meant to be a rite of pas­sage.”

Clas­sic Quadrophe­nia is a new ver­sion but not a fresh in­ter­pre­ta­tion. The orig­i­nal al­bum was al­ready “pseudo-sym­phonic,” says Town­shend. But un­like the Who’s re­cent Quadrophe­nia tours, there’s no video or ad­di­tional di­a­logue, and the or­ches­tra­tions, by his long­time girl­friend Rachel Fuller, use only Town­shend’s orig­i­nal notes and chords. The most no­table dif­fer­ence will be Boe’s op­er­atic vi­brato, a sharp con­trast to Dal­trey’s driv­ing vo­cals. But Town­shend isn’t ex­pect­ing back­lash; he be­lieves Who fans “see our whole thing as an un­fold­ing saga, that they’re in­ter­ested in all of it.” And for those who might dis­agree? “Do you think I give a fuck?” he asks, and bursts into laugh­ter. “Of course I don’t care.”

+ WIND­MILL WIZ­ARD Town­shend with the Who in 2016. Op­po­site, the 1973 cover of Quadrophe­nia, the band’s sixth stu­dio al­bum.

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