PART TWO OF SIX:
Clashwho: You’ve said that FLOSS will be in the style of TOMMY and QUADROPHENIA. Does this mean no dialogue?
PT: I just meant it would be a big project for me. I have no idea at the moment what form it will take. An example of the difficulty answering this question is with respect to what I call the ‘soundscapes’. This is a sort of muddled and frightening music that the main character starts to hear whenever he sits to write a regular song. (This is not autobiographical I swear, I don’t hear soundscapes when I sit to write songs, I hear my damned tinnitus, and I’m sure you’re as bored with that as I am). The whole musical play uses these ‘soundscapes’ as a backbone at the moment, and I haven’t decided whether they should consist of narration, or impressionistic music, music concrete or just sound effects – or a mix of all of these. So there may be dialogue, there may not be.
Moonie63: Can’t wait to hear Floss. Forty years ago, you were writing about the angst and frustrations of the youth. In this new project, is it about the inevitable, getting into old age? Basically, what would be your current anti-thesis to “I hope I die before I get old”, now that you and we are getting up there?
PT: I can’t wait to hear it either, but part of the creative process is in fact learning to wait. I think I’m better at it than you or Roger. Floss deals with an aspect of old age that has been dealt with many times in classic literature, but not often (maybe not at all) in pop music. That is the ability of the old to continue to feel young, and behave as though they are young, even though they might look absurd. Performers may try to look young, and look absurd trying, but their work rarely betrays or conveys the fear of death some old people carry. “I hope I die before I get old” was written for you, my audience of the early 1960s. It was never an expression of any feeling I myself had. Fans should skip trying to be music critics; it’s easy to get caught out holding musicians to the manifestos that were written back in the days their youth.
The manifestos, if they were any good, will have lasted because they still hold true. There are young people today who would much prefer to feel the way I do at 65 than the way young people around me did at 18 when I wrote the song. They were convinced back then that looking for youthful joy in life was pointless when the Russian Bomb could drop at any moment. I feel younger today than I did when I was 35. Guess what, that Russian Bomb never dropped. But when we were 18 none of us thought we would get old. The line was written for people who already seemed to be dead and old inside, whether old or young in years, and you could tell they were dead from the way they behaved. There is no antithesis to real death, only to feeling that life is pointless. You have to battle, rage, against that feeling. Better to die young (spiritually speaking) than to live on and become old. So, not much has changed in the PT camp. How about in yours?
Whoputthebootin: At what stage of production is Floss? Are you still writing, is it at demo stage? Or are some tracks in the can? Is there a possible release date?
PT: For God’s sake stop nagging. Still writing. I have lots of tracks demoed, but few with vocals because I’m not sure yet if I want to sing every part or bring in character voices. No release date, as it will probably never be released as an album per se. If I were you I’d start saving for tickets to the premiere concert in 2025.
Bookworm: Do you plan to publish the story about “Floss” as a book?
PT: I am writing parts of it in book form, as I did with “The Boy Who Heard Music” for my own purposes, but it will not be published. I respect and admire Oprah for what she’s done for modern literature, but I don’t want to be on her show.
Lynda: When creating your musicals, do you first write out the story, then set the tone for the music score, then think of individual songs, or does it all fall into place together?
PT: Oh God! I sincerely hope it falls together. Floss is a combination of about five stories, one of them the story of an old girlfriend. This question actually frames the problem. If I wrote a story, then a score, and then some individual hit songs, would it be rock ‘n’ roll? I think not. It would be music theatre. With rock as it has evolved the best trick is to try to avoid dotting every ‘I’ and crossing every ‘t’. There has to be space for the individual audience member to live inside the work, and feel they can affect it, and make it their own because it does actually belong to them. So half the time, working on a new piece, I’m trying to work out how I can get people to understand what I’m trying to achieve without making it too clear-cut.
If it’s too clear-cut to begin with there is nowhere to go as a listener, and not much scope for a composer. I’m not Sondheim. I’m not trying to tell a smart story. I’m trying to create a journey that has operatic scope without actually being as stratified a business as an opera. Never fear! If you don’t understand Floss at first, Roger will probably fix it for you.
Chrisbx515: Hi Pete, I am looking forward to Floss. Can you confirm that there are no plans for a Quadrophenia 2?
PT: I really put my foot in it on this bloody website last year didn’t I by mentioning that I was working on a thing called Floss? All those jokes about teeth, ha, ha. By Q2 I assume you mean an updated re-release of the original Quadrophenia album. I stopped working on that in 2004 and licensed the rights to the theatrical producers who put on the six-month UK theatre tour in 2009. Their rights are good for a good while longer. If you mean more performances of what we just did at RAH for TCT, there may be some more performances of that show, but probably no conventional long tour.
Wafflepuncher: I was wondering about this for quite awhile now since I first listened to the Tommy album. My question is what did the mother and father do with the lover’s body after they killed him?
PT: I think you are taking things a little bit literally. However, I do have an answer. That’s because I thought of this first. I asked Ken Russell this question when we were working on the script for the film. He told me not to worry about it, but for the original album version I came up with this: the father simply replaced the lover after he had murdered him, and took on his identity. No big deal about the body. No one looked for it. Captain Walker was presumed dead. No one knew he had come back. I know that doesn’t answer your question. What did they actually do with the body? They ate the best bits and fed the rest to Uncle Ernie and Cousin Kevin. It’s a family affair. (See the frozen pea recipe section later on in the interview).
Elviejo: Will we hear anything about the continuing story of Ray High? We’ve got Lifehouse, Psychoderelict and Endless Wire, but there’s lots of points in between.
PT: I love old Ray. He appears as a shadow in Floss, but with a different name. Ray High is a rock star I would very much like to have been. He could handle the intrigue, and the manipulations of the music business and the press. I’ve survived all that, but not because I have the attributes of Ray High, who is a good, smart guy who can handle a drink and a Day on The Green smoking dope. (He reminds me of Willie Nelson a bit). I’ve survived because I’m made of fucking iron – and I don’t pick fights with men who buy their ink in barrels. (Benjamin Franklin).
Jstraszewski: Is there any chance of you resurrecting the Lifehouse project with another attempt at writing a movie of it or possibly re-recording some of the lost songs with the new line up?
PT: What new line up? You mean the touring band? One day someone will put this together; some big opera company will do it when I’m dead and buried and everyone will completely get it. I am past caring. However, I am proud of what I put together around Lifehouse. I did some of my best work as a composer. Not such good work on the plot, the characters or the general point of it all. It’s been picked apart and analysed far too much. It was a visionary idea, but I did not have the support or skills to do what needed to be done. I should ask Roger to fix it. (Ed: This joke is getting worn-out now, please desist.)
Towser1983: You’ve often spoken about writing to a brief. In the 13 year gap between Psychoderelict and Endless Wire, did your experience of song writing change? Were you less motivated, freer to experiment or did you continue in much the same way as when you had to fulfil a record contract with regular albums?
PT: In that 13 year gap as you describe it I took a proper break from the rigours of frontline rock. I learned the piano a little better, spent a lot of time with my son, started a new life as a single man, and did a bit of solo work. I didn’t write very much music, but I did play a lot at home around the house. From 1996 to 1999 I worked on my autobiography, now about half-finished.
I didn’t even think about song writing until one day I found myself singing REAL GOOD LOOKING BOY. It was such a good song, so personal, so angry and vengeful but also so forgiving, and also so universal, that when Roger came to me to ask me to go back out again with the Who to help John Entwistle avoid financial ruin (his fifty-six Rotweillers were hungry), I felt I might survive another attempt to make a real Who record. Roger was quickly able to make the song his own, so I knew it was a good one. Then there was John’s sudden and absurd death. Then there was a veritable explosion of quite joyful performance creativity with IN THE ATTIC with Rachel Fuller and Mikey Cuthbert and my brother Simon, the Lifehouse Method website with Lawrence Ball, and the long tour with the Who from 2006 up to Australia in the spring of 2009.
By the time I got to Endless Wire I had a very rich world of creativity and pain, and joy, to draw on. I got sucked back to song-writing for the Who “idea” and the Who “brand” by friendship, drama and trouble. So if you want another Who album, better pray for some friendly, dramatic and troublesome suction.
TO BE CONTINUED….
PART TWO OF SIX: