Roger Daltrey On Knighthood, Fear, Death, Mr. Kibblewhite, Mario Andretti, His Own Epitaph
In Parts 1 and 2 of this exclusive interview series with The Who frontman Roger Daltrey, we covered a lot of ground, including his 10-year-old Teen Cancer America charity, his relationship with bandmate Pete Townshend, the “explosive” Keith Moon drum television episode of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, and more. Here, we discuss Daltrey’s recent memoir, luck, his feelings about fear, death and knighthood, driving in race cars and, of all things, his epitaph. Following are edited excerpts from a longer Zoom conversation.
Jim Clash: A number of British musicians have been knighted - Sir Paul McCartney, Sir Mick Jagger, Sir Elton John. Does that interest you?
Roger Daltrey: I don’t care about things like that, it’s not important in my life, Jim. I’ve probably been too political, too critical of our leaders to ever attain that kind of position. But I don’t give a crap. I say what I feel at the time. If I’m wrong, I’ll stand up and say, “Sorry, I was wrong.” I don’t really do social media. I don’t care what people say about me. Nobody’s going to like you all of the time. Some people will like you, some not, some will dislike you a whole lot, some will like you a whole lot [laughs]. I’m a human being, and none of us is perfect.
Clash: You used one of your old teachers in the title of your 2018 memoir, “Thanks A Lot, Mr. Kibblewhite.” He evidently threw you out of grammar school when you were 15 because you and some friends were caught shooting air rifles. Is Kibblewhite, by chance, still alive?
Daltrey: No, but I have been in touch with his daughter. The title of my book wasn’t a put-down, it was a real thank-you because maybe if he hadn’t said what he said, “You’ll never do anything with your life, Daltrey,” I wouldn’t have done the things I’ve done. It made me fearless in a way. I thought, “Well, I’ll show you!” It became that little thing in the back of my brain driving me all of the time.
Clash: Did you ever see Kibblewhite later, when you had become famous in The Who?
Daltrey: No. In the early days, I was too full of hatred of the school, and I was still suffering from a sore ass [laughs]. The caning he gave me, God did that hurt. It would take almost two weeks to heal up.
Clash: You always put the words “be lucky” at the end of your e-mails. Are you a lucky guy?
Daltrey: I do believe in that. It’s actually a saying I got from a friend, John McVicer, when I acted in a film about his life. He was a criminal, a bank robber. There was this North London saying that, when you used to go into a bank to rob it, be lucky, get away with it. You can either be someone who has a negative outlook on life, or someone who has a positive one. In the back of your head, if you think lucky, be lucky, it’s incredibly positive. And like attracts like, there’s no doubt about that.
Clash: How do you deal with fear, and what are you afraid of?
Daltrey: I’m afraid of the things that everybody else is. I’m not afraid of death, that’s for sure. I’ve been close to that too many times [laughs]. Things that really frighten me are what might hurt my family. They are the most important thing in my life. That really terrifies me, that they’ll have to go through a terrible time. How my parents got through the war, losing brothers and sisters, I don’t know. The pain must have been enormous. The pain never left them, I do know that. I regret not talking to them about it. But I lived in the ignorance of it - we all do when we’re young.
Clash: So you’re not afraid of death. Then I’ll ask you, What do you want your epitaph to be?
Daltrey: “Gone” [belly laugh]. In my will, it should say to put me in a paper bag and take me down to the dump. I’m a farmer. I love all of my animals dearly. But when they go off to market, I’m aware of where they’re going. So I have this thing about death. I do not believe anything leaves. I think it just moves. The universe will remain constant, and you move on. Your physical being will change, but some part of you can never leave, even if it’s just dust floating about in Nebula 1115XBXYZZ. You know what I’m saying? It’s basically beyond my comprehension. Worry doesn’t really produce anything anyway.
Clash: I know that you took a thrill ride in a two-seat lndy car with Mario Andretti at the Long Beach Grand Prix a few years back. What was that like?
Daltrey: Mario is one cool dude. That was such an honor. What can I say? I couldn’t believe I was doing it. Needless to say, you want to puke at the time [laughs]. In the early 1960s, there was no speed limit in England. They had just started laying out motorways, and there was almost no traffic. We had Aston Martins, E types [Jaguar], Ferraris. Everywhere we went, it was foot to the floor. I’ve also been around the Atlanta speedway in a stock car. I overtook the pace car, which upset them a bit. Mind you, it was only us two on the track, but he was too slow [laughs]. I also went out in a detuned Formula One car, around a Lotus track. Sir Jackie Stewart gave me some tips - ”keep the car balanced, keep the car balanced” - and I enjoyed it very much.
Clash: I take people around the Daytona speedway for the NASCAR Racing Experience. If you ever want to come down, I’ll take you out at 170 mph. We’ll let you drive, too. We can turn it into a fundraiser for Teen Cancer America.
Daltrey: I’d love to do it, love to do it [laughs].
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