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The Who’s Pete Townshend Calls iTunes a ‘Digital Vampire’

Pete Townshend
Elsa, Getty Images

The Who guitarist Pete Townshend would like to see digital retailer iTunes do more to help artists, especially new artists. During the inaugural John Peel Lecture on Monday night Townshend, as promised, questioned if music could survive the cyber world.

John Peel was a popular BBC radio DJ who took pride in introducing new sounds and new music to his listeners. Townshend admitted during his panegyric (editor’s note: “formal public speech”) that his band wasn’t always a favorite of Peel’s, but says he followed and admired the DJ’s career even though “John Peel played some records that were so bad that I thought he was taking the piss sometimes.”Peel died in 2004.

The guitarist and creative mind of The Who said he’d like to see iTunes act more like music publishers, supplying artists with editorial guidance, financial support, creative nurturing, manufacturing, publishing, marketing, distribution and payment of royalties. As it’s set up now, iTunes only offers the last two on this list.

“Now is there really any good reason why, just because iTunes exists in the wild west internet land of Facebook and Twitter, it can’t provide some aspect of these services to the artists whose work it bleeds like a digital vampire Northern Rock for its enormous commission?”

The complete text of Townshend’s speech was made available by The Guardian. It’s a honest assessment packed full of legitimate artistic concerns. Lost in his comments on iTunes and digital theft however, is the admission that his inner artist, who he humorously let “take over” for a brief portion of his speech, really doesn’t care about any of this:

“I don’t give a s–t about making money. I think rock music is junk. I am a genius. The Who were OK but without me they would have all ended up working in the flower market, or worse – in Led Zeppelin.” Then, to provide proper context, he added, “I really should put this inner artist guy back in his box yes? Have we got our newspaper headlines yet?”

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