The Who have always had a special relationship with the youth, starting in the ’60s with anthems like “My Generation”. Regardless of time period, it always felt like you and your music were champions of the young, and recently you’ve taken that role even further. You’ve been a patron of the Teenage Cancer Trust in the U.K. for a long time, and now you’re bringing the organization to the United States with Teen Cancer America. Can you tell me about your involvement?
Yeah, I’ve been a patron in Britain, but I suppose in some ways I’m the founder of Teen Cancer America. I’ve found that your country is greatly lacking in how we care for this age group when they have cancer. I traveled around to a lot of your hospitals. I saw fantastic medical facilities and all that stuff, it’s all fantastic. But I saw virtually no space in any of the hospitals I saw -where hundreds of millions of pounds had been spent- where there was a place where a teen could feel at home and comfortable. Like, “This space in this place is for us.” There were spaces where children could feel like this was for them. There were spaces where adults could feel this was for them, but for a teen and a young adolescent, there was not one-square-foot. It seriously annoyed me. And the reason I’m so passionate about the music business getting behind this is because the music business as we know it today owe it to the support of teenagers. Even today with those young bands like One Direction and Justin Bieber, they all owe it to the support of young teenagers and young adolescents. And it’s an easy way of giving back. You’re not trying to cure cancer, you’re not trying to do anything like that. You’re trying to say that we care about you and if you get this dreadful disease at that age, where a spot on your nose is a big deal let alone losing your hair, maybe losing a leg, maybe losing your life, we’ll be there for you and make that journey as comfortable as we possibly can. I just think that our industry should stand up for the people who supported it, and in many ways paid for it to be created.
The conditions, even in high end hospitals, don’t cater towards adolescents?
They’re in total isolation. And it’s just wrong. It’s wrong. It’s fine to have their own room, but when they get out of that room, they shouldn’t just be in a hospital factory. They should get out of that room into a teen-friendly environment where they can dance, sit down with other teens going through possibly the same form of cancer, different stages of the treatment, meet other parents going through the same nightmare. You know, the parents meet the parents meet the parents…All of that is enormously supportive to these people. And it’s been totally f–king overlooked, and I’m f–king angry. But in Britain we’ve done it totally on charitable donations. We’re on our way to 33 hospital wards. Well, 14 years ago, we had 4 hospital wards. We’ve proved our worth, we’ve proved that people want us. Now, all we’ve got to do, of course, is raise the funds. And it’s not like medical funds that are a bottomless pit. Sure, these things will have to be maintained, and they’ll have to be restructured and as they get older they’ll have to get replaced, but you’re talking probably $1.52 million per unit to put in. It’s small change in medical terms, but it takes a lot of goodwill from the hospitals and the administration staff, and it takes demand from the parents and communities that have these youngsters going through this experience. It’s up to all those groups to make this happen. We’ll back for them, and we’re not going away. We will get this done.
Among your many other efforts, you’re helping to fund young cancer survivor Hernan Barangan’s trip across the country, during which he will film interviews with fellow teen cancer survivors in each of the fifty states. When he’s done, his plans is to edit them all together into a documentary “by cancer fighters FOR cancer fighters.”
Remember that this is a guy who had cancer twice as a teen and it’s left him paralyzed from the waist down. And here he is wanting to go around the whole country. And there are not many Americans that have been all around your country. It’s a bloody big place, I’ll tell you! I mean, it’s such a courageous thing that he’s going on to do here. And I just think he deserves to be supported. I mean, if you could give it any help there, I’d be really, really grateful because I think there’s a great story here. I think there’s a great story of humanity here and courage. I just think there’s a film to be made.
That would be an incredible documentary. He’s such an inspiration.
He is! He really is, because he gets it. When you hear these teens speak so eloquently of how they were isolated and how there was no one to talk to, how their parents had no one to talk to and unload, discuss and share; these are fixable things, but you’ve got to have an organization that’s fighting to put it there so there is a place where they can be heard. And we are going to be that place. Teen Cancer America will be the gold standard. It shouldn’t be a privilege, it should be a right. If it’s right for a child to have a children’s hospital, it should be right for a teenager to have their own space within either a children’s hospital or an adult hospital. But the trouble is, what people don’t realize with teenagers is that they suffer on all fronts because of their age and they’re growing bodies. Cancer is a growing cell, it’s an expanding cell out of control. So that’s magnified because of their age group. They’re bodies are growing so fast that the cancer’s magnified. They get late diagnoses because they’re playing sports and moaning about an aching leg, and doctors say, “Oh, you’ve hurt yourself playing soccer” or “You hurt yourself playing football.”And of course it’s something much more serious and six weeks goes by and the leg gets worse and then maybe they get a scan and then, “Oh, God, you’ve got sarcoma.” And they suffer from that more than children or adults.
It’s great that Hernan is drawing attention to them.
I really do believe there is a film of a film here to be done. I don’t know how you’d film it, because fifty states is a hell of a lot, but you’d get enough to cut that down to some very dramatic moments, I’m sure. It would be a hell of a roller coaster.
And it doesn’t have to be all down. You’d be surprised at how much fun some of these youngsters have. I mean, if you were in Britain next week, you could come to our shows that we run at the Albert Hall in London. I run a week of shows there every year, and we have teens all over the country every night with cancer. Man, they’re having a great time. And I know every year that there’s going to be quite a few of them that aren’t going to make the year. But they don’t miss a minute of their life.
They appreciate the little things, and take nothing for granted.
That’s what I mean. This record I’ve done with Wilko Johnson [Going Back Home]; he’s dying of pancreatic cancer. He should have been dead in October.
And we’ve made this record, and it’s a f–king great record, I’ve got to tell you. I was so pleased with it. It’s so simple, so fresh, so unpretentious. It’s just great. We did it for fun, and my share is going to Teen Cancer America. And he’s giving every minute of his life. He was asked, “What did the doctors say when you went back in November?” He said, “Well, I haven’t been back!” And that’s a great rock ‘n’roll legend. Because they said, “Well, you’ve got nine months to live, you got ’til October so enjoy yourself.” And that’s how it should be. We’re all on life’s edge. We’re all walking on an edge and we should realize it and then get on with it and stop trying to upset people and try to make the world a happier place.
Join Together With The Band! Please visit the Teen Cancer America website and donate to this inspiring cause.
[Photo: Getty Images]