Just finished reading Pete Townshend’s memoir Who I Am, which I got from Kerewin on my recent birthday.
Being a huge Who fan for at least a couple decades now and having read (or own) most of the Who bio-type books out there (Maximum R&B by Richard Barnes; Before I Get Old by Dave Marsh; Dear Boy: The Life of Keith Moon by Tony Fletcher; Full Moon by Peter “Dougal” Butler; countless other Mojo and similar articles) I’ve read a lot about them besides enjoying their music, and am familiar with much of their history, successes and demons over time.
But this book is quite different, no doubt intended that way by Townshend – it’s much more personal and revealing, and to me, not always in a good way – but again, as implied or outright stated by Townshend in the book in several places, that’s exactly the way he wanted it.
On the plus side, you get to see a fairly different view of The Who and its principal songwriter. The Keith Moon books (Butler, Fletcher) paint a varied picture of a semi-fulltime lunatic who played drums brilliantly at his peak, but sunk pretty low or perpetually lived in a fantasy land when not, often to the sometimes extreme detriment of those around him. There is no real book directly dealing with John Entwistle or Roger Daltrey that I know of, and as the former is sadly dead, besides possibly a book on his massively powerful and influential bass-playing, I suspect there won’t be – Roger of course can still write his and may be in fact doing so, not sure. Both Dave Marsh and Richard Barnes give a pretty good look at Roger in their books, however.
And so we come to Pete, who ended up being the creative driving force behind the band over time and arguably the real engine behind its success. In this book Pete tries to come to grips with many personal demons in explaining his life story and role in The Who’s peaks and valleys, and confesses to being a potential cause of several of the latter. And it was nice to see – say by comparison to the recent Ginger Baker movie I watched – that he usually takes responsibility for his failures, even if he doesn’t always learn from them (womanizing, drugs, booze). He even calls himself a self-obsessed prat at intervals depending on the story he’s telling.
For me a bit of downside came in all the womanizing – sure, he had a tough childhood – much tougher than I knew of, and fraught with loneliness and alienation from his flaky/lame parents – And surely being married at 25 with two kids amid crazy sudden fame and pressure to keep delivering hits might drive anyone mad. But, I still don’t see why he got married if he was going to carry on with groupies while on the road with the band? Surely any/all rock star womanizing isn’t ‘good’ anyway generally – but at least those who aren’t married aren’t kidding themselves (and those they fool around with), either? Just seems extremely lame to me.
The alcohol and drug abuse – pretty par for the court in the rock world of that time (and since), and most of Pete’s contemporaries went through much of the same, including most of The Who and its surrounding posse. But despite knowing a lot about and being a fan of Pete and The Who, this whole ‘user/abuser’ scenario is simply so outside my experience, I really can’t relate to it. I’m just glad he survived it, even if a lot of it was his own doing.
I guess I would have liked knowing more about his inner thinking when writing songs – I felt I got glimpses of it here and there but the book is more a story about experiences and consequence (to me, anyway) than about methods. And perhaps that stuff is too hard to put on paper, or simply too hard/too private to put in even a memoir. I would have also liked to know more about his usage and experimentation with sounds, synthesizers and the like – he mentions them all the time in passing, but doesn’t provide much detail.
I think the final conclusion for me is/was that Pete is very human, with all the positives and negatives that can come from same – I’m thankful for the great music he’s created with The Who, and still remain a huge fan – even at his worst – he still kicks a**!
Other thoughts on the book: