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Who'll Stop the Noise?

June 25, 1989|Robert Hilburn

John Entwistle grins as he stares at the "house" on the left side of the Who's rehearsal stage at a film studio just outside of London. The wooded shed was built to help shield guitarist Pete Townshend from the massive noise of a Who show.

One of the band's aides has just suggested that if the late Keith Moon, the band's original, fun-loving drummer, were still alive, he'd be wanting his own house. "He'd take one look at that and demand his own house on stage, complete with a little swimming pool," the aide joked.

But the question hanging over the Who during the weeks of rehearsal was whether Townshend will feel comfortable standing inside the protective barrier in front of an audience--or will he discard it and risk further damage to his already troubled hearing?

Known for his whirling, windmill-like arm swings and soaring leaps into the air, the guitarist reportedly has been standing inside the shed at times during rehearsals, but he didn't do so during the taping of a promotional video for the tour. He was still uncertain about what would happen on the road.

"I was told as far back as 1974 to stop performing because of hearing problems, but I ignored it and further damaged my hearing," Townshend said. "Nowadays, as a byproduct, I get tinnitus, which is a loud ringing that comes from (excessive volume) and which is made worse by stress."

Though the problem apparently stems in part from the years of being part of one of the loudest shows in rock, Townshend also blames his own hearing difficulties on use of earphones--the hundreds of hours he has spent in the studio playing guitar through earphones."

Whether or not he uses the shed, Townshend hopes to reduce further aggravation by keeping the sound level on stage low--"which is possible with a big band like we are using."

Townshend is turning over lead guitar duties to Steve "Boltz" Bolton and employing extra musicians (the lineup will also include drummer Simon Phillips, keyboardist John "Rabbitt" Bundrick, five horn players and three backup singers).

"As strange as it seems," Townshend said, "the more musicians you have on stage, the softer you can play and still have a full sound. . . . This won't exactly be the Who the way many people remember them, but, then, that Who hasn't really existed for years, has it?"

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