Pete Townshend has never shied away from talking about the most private parts of his life — his childhood sexual abuse, his cross-addiction to drugs and alcohol, and even his sexuality. During his recent chat with Rock Cellar magazine, the Who leader spoke about how he dealt with the stereotypical gender roles in the band’s early songs.
Townshend explained, “With ‘I’m A Boy,’ it’s the idea of masculinity and the way that men are seen to be at a time when I often forget, to be homosexual, to be pansexual, as I think I probably was, but not anymore. But I think I was ready to fall into bed with anybody that would have me. I think I forget that homosexuality was still illegal, so these adventures had to be couched in vignettes of humor and irony.”
He went on to say, “Y’know, that’s another one from the idea of vignettes, a character, possibly a presage of force for seeing of ‘Jimmy’ from Quadrophenia, a young man who doesn’t quite fit in, who feels that he has to do something in order to fit in, y’know, the whole theory of the misfit. But also the whole challenge to the idea of masculinity, which I touched on in ‘Pictures Of Lily’ because an admission of using pornography, whether it’s soft or hard or in between, is very un-masculine. It’s a sign of weakness. It’s still seen as a sign of weakness and now it’s seen as a sign of a moral collapse to a great extent because with the internet, it’s become something that’s very addictive.”
Pete Townshend told us that the Who was among the most versatile bands of their era, and that their musical talent freed him to write material that frequently covered many different genres: “The band the Who never gave me a clear brief. They never said to me, ‘We wanna be a comedy act,’ but if I gave them comedy songs they were brilliant at them. They never said to me, ‘We wanna be a girl-friendly band,’ but if I gave them a love song they would do it brilliantly. They never said ‘We want to be a heavy metal group’ — if I gave them a heavy metal song, they did it brilliantly. They could do anything — but they never gave me a brief. Where did I get my brief? I got my brief from the audience.”