The Who's singer still driven by magical 'Tommy'
For the first 15 minutes of a teleconference with Roger Daltrey, the phone connection continually breaks up.
On one end is Daltrey, who's promoting his tour of The Who's 1969 rock opera 'Tommy,' which performs Oct. 24 at the Rose Garden.
On the other end, a handful of reporters from around the country are on the verge of asking, 'Tommy, can you hear me?' when the line is finally stabilized.
During the next 45 minutes or so, Daltrey proves to be an agile interviewee, exploring a broad range of questions, from his role in creating the rock opera genre to his views on the current music scene.
The man who practically invented the full-throated bombastic rock god with his twirling microphone and primal screams, Daltrey has to be careful of his voice now, having battled a pre-cancerous throat condition for the last two years. As a result of 'a lot of surgery on my throat' he's 'ultra-allergic to any cigarette or pot smoke now.'
He laughs, and then adds that his more adventurous fans consider his current condition when bringing him, er, gifts.
'Can they please bring brownies now?'
Daltrey notes it's a possibility that he and Pete Townshend may reunite to tour next year, possibly to stage 'Quadrophenia,' but don't get too excited yet. 'We've got (audio) problems to solve 'cause Pete has terrible problems with his ears,' Daltrey says. 'I don't want Pete to lose his hearing for good.'
He quickly quashes any notion of The Who becoming a fixture in Las Vegas by staging an ongoing show, as some of his baby boomer counterparts have done.
'Vegas is an escapist place, and I don't know if our music hits the right note for Vegas,' he says, calling such pieces as 'Tommy' 'incredibly demanding' on an audience.
Yes, but aren't his baby boomer peers, Sir Elton John and Rod Stewart, cashing in by doing Vegas residencies?
'Most people like to see Elton John and Rod Stewart because it's a safe, entertaining night out.'
He also dismisses the idea of The Who playing the Olympics in London next summer. 'It seems to me we've kind of had our Super Bowl moment,' he says, referring to the halftime performance in 2010. 'If it was a soccer match I'd think I'd be more interested,' he adds with a chuckle.
Daltrey is performing 'Tommy' with: guitarist-vocalist Simon Townshend, younger brother of Pete; Frank Simes, who plays guitar and is also music director/arranger; Scott Deavours on drums; Jon Button on bass and Loren Gold on keyboards.
'I have a fabulous video behind the band, all produced by students,' Daltrey says. 'They kind of gave it a look for this generation, which I like.'
Daltrey notes he believes 'Tommy' continues to resonate with old fans, and gain new ones, because of its universal themes.
'It's a story about our spiritual journey, and the characters are just metaphors and devices,' he says. He calls the rock opera 'a very organic piece of work' and 'a journey through an adolescent's brain.'
Everyone has experienced a bully like Cousin Kevin, he says, and a 'wicked Uncle Ernie' has sexually abused more than a few people. Many of us have escaped into alcohol and drugs like the Acid Queen, and all of us, like Tommy, yearn to be seen, felt and touched, he adds.
Given the skepticism toward messianic movements 'Tommy' explores as well, Daltrey is a bit dodgy, however, when asked about how playing Tommy has shaped his own spiritual outlook. An atheist, he questions 'adulterated' religion's contemporary relevance, although he acknowledges its 'uses in the past' but then simply says, 'I'm a child of the universe - it's a very long journey.'
Odds 'n' Sods
Daltrey's favorite The Who album is 'The Who Sell Out.'
'It's a celebration of where we got our music in the '60s,' he says.
He opined on the current British music scene, saying it had become 'overexposed' with regular televising of live festivals 'taking all the mystique out.'
He also noted, 'I haven't heard anything that is absolutely different and ear-catching for a long time.'
But he's not just some aging rocker sneering at the younger crowd. He warmly praised such singers as Liam Gallagher and Florence Welch of Florence + The Machine for their work, and particularly cited Adele for praise.
'I think she's absolutely the real deal.'
When asked if he had any plans to do new music, he notes, 'I've had great trouble finding great songs,' and adds that working with Townshend sets a pretty high bar for any songwriter, including Daltrey.
'I'm not very good at 'I love you dooby dooby doo' type of songs,' he says with a chuckle.
Daltrey would love to find someone to collaborate with, and mentions Eddie Vedder as a possible partner. 'He's a great writer and a good pal.'
And for a man who once sang that he'd hoped he died before he got old, Daltrey sounds positively wistful about the past. You can tell he still misses drummer Keith Moon, whose death left the band 'shell-shocked,' and the late bassist John Entwistle, who Daltrey says possessed 'an angelic voice.'
Daltrey clearly relishes the fact his over-the-top band had free reign to create some of the most compelling rock music of all time.
'We didn't have any notion that we could fail,' he says. 'We just seemed driven.'