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GONZO MAGAZINE #265/6: Jon meets Tony Klinger to talk about The

During the second half of 1979, I was living in Canada; a suburb of Toronto, to be exact. I was staying with one bunch of relatives, and socialising with another bunch, who were nearer my age. Just to place this into context, that was the summer I turned 20.

Then, as now, the twin passions which fuelled my existence were rock and roll and the natural world. I spent much of my time wandering about the creeks and scrubland in the area, watching such delightful creatures as snapping turtles, mudpuppies, and spring peepers. I even had the opportunity to see the beginning of the North-South migration of the mighty monarch butterfly; something which will stay with me for the rest of my days. The sight of millions of these gaudily coloured insects heaped onto trees, whose branches were literally bowing down under the weight, is something that I will never forget. I love butterflies, and always have, but the sight of so many millions of them was highly disturbing.

One night, towards the end of my stay, one of my cousins took me to the cinema. There, we found ourselves attending the Canadian premiere of a movie called The Kids are Alright, a film which told the story of The Who; unarguably one of the greatest British rock bands of all time. Being in a huge movie theatre, many times larger than the Odeon in Bideford (which was the only cinema with which I was actually familiar) alongside several hundred boisterous, stoned and noisy young people, was an experience in itself. But when you add to that the glorious music and insane antics which were happening on the screen and being played through the cinema’s PA system at ear splitting volume, and it was truly like being at one of the best live gigs I had ever seen.

Since then, The Kids are Alright has always been my favourite music documentary (or should that be rockumentary) and even now I watch it at least once every year. The mixture of anarchy and finely-honed precision musicianship is an irresistible one. And there are almost as many smart arsed one liners in The Kids are Alright as there are in Spinal Tap.

So, it was with great interest (and not a little excitement) that I started work on a new edition of a book that was originally called Twilight of the Gods by legendary British film maker Tony Klinger. At a frighteningly young age, he had directed the Linda Thorson-era Avengers. He went on to make some classic adventure movies starring the likes of Roger Moore and Michael Caine, and in the late 1970s he found himself directing the movie which would – for many people – be the ultimate document of the career of a British rock and roll mega-group. But, over the years, he has been written out of the rock and roll history books. The film, these days, has been remembered as being the work of an American Who fan, called Jeff Stein, and this fascinating (and sometimes upsetting) book explains all the political ramifications behind the scenes which were painful to Klinger, but absolutely devastating to some of his colleagues.

In 1975 Stein approached Pete Townshend, the principle composer and guitarist of the band, about compiling a collection of film clips to provide a historical reference for the bands fans. Townshend initially rejected the idea, but was persuaded by the group’s management that this was a good idea. The tipping point was probably the fact that, at the time, Townshend was increasingly disillusioned with touring, and was impressed by Stein’s suggestion that the film could “do the touring” for the band. However, Stein had virtually no experience as a film-maker, and so The Who’s management approached Tony Klinger.

I have been a fan of The Who since my school days, and Pete Townshend has been one of my favourite songwriters, ever since I began to grasp the arcane reality of how rock and roll song writing works. But he doesn’t come over very well in this book; appearing as he does as a petulant and angry prima donna. John Entwistle comes over even worse. We had always known that Entwistle had presented a brutal and implacable façade to the world. But here, he comes over as an unpleasant, racist thug. 

Roger comes over as a consummate professional, but one who has developed such a thick shell over the years that one cannot actually break this façade to find out what the real Mr Daltrey is like. The only member of the band who actually came over sympathetically was poor, sweet, doomed Keith Moon. Klinger himself admits that Keith was the only member of the band with whom he had a pleasant relationship, but despite his Olympic levels of self-destructiveness, the portrait of Moon, which can be found in this book, comes over as a loveable (if terminally flawed) character.

As it is Christmas, and the editorial team behind this magazine believe that nothing illustrates the festive season more than a terminally drunk superstar drummer driving a Rolls Royce into a swimming pool, we decided that this was the perfect time to telephone Tony and get an exclusive interview about his time with The Who, and this book in particular.

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