Pete Townshend launched a withering attack upon iTunes and Apple as he delivered the inaugural John Peel Lecture at this year’s Radio Festival in Salford, stating that iTunes bled artists “like a digital vampire”.
He also revisited an interview in which he said that he “wanted to cut [Steve] Jobs’s balls off”. Townshend was quick to point out that he really likes his iPad, “loves to noodle with GarageBand” and that he thinks “the late Steve Jobs was one of the coolest guys on the planet”. However, he was also clear that while the inventor and businessman was multi-talented when it came to pioneering IT work, “he did not understand creativity”.
The lecture subject Townshend had been given was to ask if “John Peelism” – giving the listening public access to bands and tracks they had never heard before and, in many cases, would never come across again – would survive the internet?
He does not think that it will and believes that mainstream radio is dominated by a playlist of major artists. Where would you go to find the new John Peel, he asked? Instead, he suggested, more experimental listeners are finding music in the “long tail” of the internet – a great morass of music from every genre and country that exists outside the elite group of artists who dominate the charts.
The Who guitarist used his platform to take a couple of swipes at old rivals Led Zeppelin. Halfway through the lecture he took issue with the introductory film celebrating John Peel’s achievements and a note of thanks delivered by the band’s singer, Robert Plant: “Did he [Peel] really give Led Zeppelin their big break? I can’t see it myself.” He also cracked a rather nice gag when referring to his highly vocal “inner artist”, with whom he is in constant debate: “I don’t give a s**t about making money,” says the Townshend alter ego to his more famous self. “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.”
His bile vented upon the corporate greed and lack of artistic nurturing offered up by Apple and iTunes, Townshend closed the lecture with a warm reference to the BBC in these harsh post-Delivering Quality First times: “If the BBC were to start a website like Spotify, one thing would be certain – the musicians who were featured would get paid!” He left to rapturous applause and an audience very happy that he’d not died before he got old.