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Who’s Next? Blackie Lawless Talks To Jeff Kerby About Pete Townshend And the Debt Owed

By Jeff Kerby, Contributor
Monday, January 20, 2003 @ 12:40 AM

Blackie Lawless Addresses The

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On Friday, Blackie Lawless released a statement publicly defending an individual who has inspired him both musically and spiritually throughout his career. Even a most rudimentary reading of the aforementioned press release is sure to reveal both the feeling and admiration that Lawless certainly harbors for Pete Townshend—a man who has been continuously featured in the news recently after having been accused of downloading child pornography. There is no denying that Townshend’s musical career and his contributions to rock music is unparalleled, but there is also no denying that the stigma attached to pedophilia is stronger than that of any other single label that has ever existed. When it’s an individual of Townshend’s notoriety that is being accused of crossing this universally significant cultural taboo, the fallout can be considerable.

The press has been relentless in its coverage of this story since it was first exposed, and those who you could expect to come to his defense have been strangely silent. Lawless cites Elton John’s milquetoast statement on the Townshend controversy in his release, but even more damning is the fact that Roger Daltrey’s response also lacked the conviction one would expect when defending his longtime friend and band mate with whom he has shared the same stage for decades. That, of course, begs the question of why Blackie Lawless should be the one to chastise the media for its over zealousness and Townshend’s friends for their silence and apathy. The answer may be found in the realization that the guitarist for The Who truly has touched Lawless’ life, and since Blackie has never really had a problem with articulating his beliefs as he did in the eighties over the PMRC controversy, it isn’t surprising that he would feel an obligation to lend his voice to this matter either. A cynic would say that Blackie is just grandstanding and trying to get some publicity for a band who cancelled its own tour late last year, but the fact remains that no one is going to go into a record store and go, “Man, I need to buy a W.A.S.P. album because that Blackie Lawless guy is down with that old dude who was accused of downloading Internet kiddie porn.” It just isn’t realistic. Most people don’t even want to write about this much less lend their celebrity to it, so it is more than reasonable to assume that his commitment to this cause is authentic and that it moved him last week to not only issue a statement, but to also make himself available to the media almost immediately to expound further upon his previous comments on this matter.

KNAC.COM: Is there any label that carries a more negative connotation right now than that of “pedophile”?
LAWLESS: Has there ever been? In society, some things come in and out of vogue depending on the temperament of a generation, and hey, Jerry Lee Lewis married his twelve-year-old cousin—no one thought that was a big deal at the time. I guess it depends on what your definition of the actual word is.

KNAC.COM: Given that it is such a powerful term, it shouldn’t just be bandied about. What is it specifically about this issue that bothers you? I mean, Townshend admits to being on the site albeit for research. Why do you think the media has been unfair?
LAWLESS: When you look at the rock media, they’ve been pretty supportive. It’s been the bigger television stations and print media like The New York Times and Newsweek who have been the most aggressive because they don’t yet have their Iraqi war to cover. They’re just looking for something to do. That’s why I mentioned in the statement that this has turned into a circus and these are the same guys that took part in the crucifixion a couple of thousand years back. They’re the same guys. They just might have slightly different faces, but the attitude and the sensationalism are the same. If that war was going on already, no one would have even heard of this.

KNAC.COM: Why is it that you are inclined to believe Townshend’s explanation for why he was on the site? It doesn’t seem unbelievable to you in any way?
LAWLESS: Well, Pete is brutally honest. I mean, that’s the thing I learned from him. This guy, he doesn’t give a shit. If it’s something he feels, he’s gonna come out with it. Here’s a guy that if you look at his greatest works, Tommy, Quadrophenia and Who’s Next and you look at that period right there, that’s where he was discovering his spiritualism. He studied under an Indian guru and really became a convert of that stuff. Once you reach the fifth level of existence in life, which is spirituality or an understanding of who you are and that inner self-consciousness, you can’t go back. He was at that level thirty years ago. He’s also been an outspoken advocate of children’s rights. Now, you ask yourself why should somebody go to a site to research that stuff?
We’ve all got issues with our childhood, and for some of us it’s more severe than others. I think people who have been through that are constantly looking for answers that they’re never gonna find because that inner child that’s inside us never really grows up or goes away even after we become adults. The kid is always asking, “Why did this happen?” I used the religious slant on this talking about the Vatican and even the Catholics will tell you, “Give us a child until he’s seven, and we will set his ways for life.” Did he go on this site? He’s already admitted that he did, but if he says that he’s doing it for research, then I’m sure he was, but I think that if he was further honest, I think he’d say that he was looking for personal answers to his past. That’s only conjecture on my part though, but I think that for anyone to write a story of their own autobiography and participate in that type of self-exploration, you have to go to great depths.

KNAC.COM: You mentioned Elton John’s response to this issue in your press release, but didn’t you find Roger Daltrey’s statement even more disturbing?
LAWLESS: I thought it could have been a little more firm.

KNAC.COM: A little more definitive?
LAWLESS: Yes, but you have to understand that those are sensitive issues between band mates, and I do not want to create any more of a problem with band mates than I already have. What I’m trying to do with this statement is two things. The first is that I’m trying to get people to look at this honestly, so that this guy is not crucified in the world court of public opinion before he has even had his day because you know what the media does. Even when people are eventually exonerated, they have still been found guilty by the public.

KNAC.COM: He was arrested, but he hasn’t actually been charged with anything. Isn’t that correct?
LAWLESS: Yeah, but it’s not just that. He spent an hour down there, and he talked to them, and they released him. He’s handled by the same management company that handles W.A.S.P., so I have a pretty good insight into what’s going on, and the guy was only there for an hour. If they had really thought this was important, they wouldn’t have let him go that quickly. That doesn’t matter though, and again, that’s just conjecture. Besides trying to see that he doesn’t get tried by the public, I’m also trying to get people of credibility who know this man to come forward and state their opinion. It’s not just artists, it’s journalists as well. I just talked to one very high profile guitarist who has been influenced by Townshend, and he just told me that he’s tried to get journalists to talk about this, and they just don’t want to touch the subject right now because it’s such a hot topic. They think that anything they write now that might have a pro Townshend slant might have an impact on them. That being said, I want to thank you and all the other journalists that I’ve talked to for having the balls to even talk about this.

KNAC.COM: I also want to talk about the portion of your statement where you wrote that maybe Pete needs to assess his friends after this is over, but isn’t it true that most public people with fame and wealth have people around them whose intentions are purely self serving?
LAWESS: Yeah, but your mom taught you this when you were a kid when they told you that you could count your true friends on one hand.

KNAC.COM: What more should be expected then?
LAWLESS: Probably nothing more, but I do think that irregardless of whether they’re his friends or not, there is a generation of artists out there who have been influenced by this man. I wouldn’t even be talking to you right now if it wasn’t for him. My greatest work, The Crimson Idol, was directly inspired by him. There are a huge number of people out there who owe him, and a debt has to be paid. One of the things that really galls me or nerves me is when I see artists like this girl Avril Lavigne come on the other day and pronounce David Bowie’s name wrong. They don’t know who their predecessors were who pioneered all this stuff and took all the fucking heat so we could all make a living. I mean, you’ve got young black athletes too who don’t know who the fuck Jackie Robinson is. This shit is criminal. It’s like c’mon, fess up—these guys have paid an enormous price so you could make a living—step up to the plate and be heard.

KNAC.COM: Yeah, but we as a society enable them to be ignorant by still bestowing all the accoutrements of fame on them without many of them having to pay their share of the dues, haven’t we?
LAWLESS: True, but they should still have to remember those who came before them and educate themselves. That’s why we celebrate Memorial Day.

KNAC.COM: That specific problem seems to be getting much worse rather than better.
LAWLESS: You’re absolutely right. When I asked management what the response to this has been, he said that everything had been really positive except for one magazine who said that they thought I was being opportunistic. I told him, I said, “You go back there and tell them to go and fuck themselves as hard as they can.” I’m asked to do all kinds of things like public appearances, and I don’t come out of my hole for nothin’. I have been afforded to live a relatively introverted existence in the business that I’m in, and you don’t see me involved in a lot of things because I just choose not to be there. For me to come forward and do something like this is major for me.

KNAC.COM: That was actually going to be one of my questions because last week Henry Rollins questioned Bono’s motivations and timing for some of the humanitarian endeavors in which he has recently participated.
LAWLESS: Yeah, but is there anyone out there who thinks that Bono needs any more fucking publicity?

KNAC.COM: I don’t think he needs any more money either. When you turn the question around, you could ask Henry Rollins what his motivations are on commenting about Bono as well.
LAWLESS: Bingo. There’s another line and Biblical quote that I use in the statement, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” and “Judge not lest ye be judged.” I’m not trying to be Billy Graham or Jimmy Swaggart here, but there is something to be said for some of that stuff.

KNAC.COM: Yeah, but there would be a lot of quiet people on this Earth if we all adhered to that. It certainly wouldn’t sell papers make for good talk radio or television.
LAWLESS: It sure would be a nicer place to live though wouldn’t it?

KNAC.COM: Sure, sure it would. You mentioned in your statement that the Vatican has a rather large collection of pornography.
LAWLESS: Yeah, it’s documented that they have the largest collection of pornography and child pornography in the world, and it’s like that’s ok.

KNAC.COM: That’s what I’m going to ask you though—if it’s not a good idea for the Vatican to have it, isn’t it an error of judgment for Pete Townshend to have it?
LAWLESS: Yeah, but at the same time—I know it sounds like I’m his defense attorney—but how many guys say that they actually have this in their childhood past or that maybe they are trying to heal a wound?

KNAC.COM: Yeah, but if I was a cynic, I’d sit back and say, “They’re releasing this information about Pete now because pretty soon something is going to come out and that this is just damage control.”
LAWLESS: Maybe…the best defense is a good offense, but I don’t think he’s got anything to hide.

KNAC.COM: I guess my biggest problem with this and probably the problem that most have is that I don’t see why either the Vatican or Pete Townshend needs to possess kiddie porn regardless of the explanation.
LAWLESS: I don’t understand it at the Vatican, but if you look at what’s been going on for a long time with them just covering it up. With the recent history…you know what I’m talking about—I don’t have to go into detail because you know what I’m talking about.

KNAC.COM: Yeah, but the reason we don’t have to discuss it is because I do know what you’re talking about, and I don’t need to see pictures to illustrate it.
LAWLESS: That may be true, but have you ever had something in your past where you just needed to go back to some place to help in the healing process?

KNAC.COM: Yeah, maybe a location.
LAWLESS: Well, I think that maybe that’s what’s going on here. I could be totally wrong, but after having talked to him and studied his work, I’m just willing to go out and put my heart on my sleeve here. I’ve got nothing to gain. This just for someone who gave me so much—I just can’t sit by and watch this happen.

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