NEW YORK — Roger Daltrey worries that the coronavirus pandemic will have a devastating effect on a special group of people in need — teens with cancer
The Who frontman, along with bandmate Pete Townsend, started the Teen Cancer America foundation in 2012 to deal with the specific needs of teenage cancer patients. The organization has funded specialized hospital wings and services for teens and their families.
But heading into June, which is National Cancer Survivors Month, the situation is looking bleak. Teen Cancer America funding depends in part on live performances, but with venues closed and touring postponed, the organization faces a potential shortfall in donations.
Recently, the 76-year Daltrey spoke to The Associated Press from his rural English farm to discuss the issue, as well as the future plans for The Who.
AP: How dire is the situation during the pandemic for young people with cancer?
Daltrey: It's devastating for them because every treatment that they have for cancer compromises their immune system.
AP: Tell me about Teen Cancer America.
Daltrey: We don't do medicine. But what we do is provide social and psychological care and specialized care and programs that are suited to this age group.
AP: What does the organization do?
Daltrey: We pay for that space in the hospital. We equip it. We maintain it. And we provide specialist nursing. That's what we do. And you have to remember that a lot of these youngsters who get cancer don't live near a big city. They might be miles out in the sticks. So we are starting outreach programs where we send specialized nursing, setting up web links so that they can link patients up.
AP: Is it important to keep teens together for moral support?
Daltrey: Yes. This group was suffering in silence. You know, a 15-year old boy could wake up in a bed next to a 2-year-old kid screaming after losing their leg. Adolescents and young adults are psychologically and socially completely and utterly different. That affects their spirit.
AP: As for the band, it seems you and Pete found a way to make it work. You curate the show, he writes the songs.
Daltrey: I seem to have an instinct for putting a show together that takes a crowd on a journey. I've seen too many rock shows where you get two or three songs played in the same key… I try and design the show like a three-act play, so go through an emotional roller coaster. Pete's writing — there's no one that writes songs like he writes out there. There all from a special place. But it can only be based on a deep respect for each other and an appreciation of what we both bring to the table.
AP: Since a big part of the money for the charity comes from live performances, would you consider a streaming concert, say like other benefits?
Daltrey: I've got to say about streaming: There's no money. (laughs) Ask any musician, man. The only ones making money are the streaming companies. You can have a billion streams and you'll get paid $5,000. Oh, man. It's cruel. It's crucifying. I don't know whether it would work for us, though. I mean, that music's very different.
AP: What are you doing about your voice in your down time?
Daltrey: I'm singing for myself just to keep my voice up. Who knows when we'll go back? I mean, and I'm 76 now. If we are let back next spring, I'll be 77 years old. I don't want to go back and be half as good as I was last year. I want to be as good as I was last year because The Who was better than ever last year.
AP: How much longer can you do this?
Daltrey: I think music is the thing that should go on as long as you can still do it. But once it does start to slide and lose any of its vivacity — any of that passion and ability to move an audience — then you have to say, 'We can't do it anymore.' But I'm going to continue. I don't know what else I would do, man.