(Originally written on November 20, 2012):
“Pete Townshend’s autobiography is the real deal: that is to say it is authentic. Not ghost written, not tossed off in hurried fashion, not the personal justification of some literary poseur.
It is also extremely recent: the photo sections include shots of Townshend and fellow bandmate Roger Daltry performing at the closing ceremonies of the Olympics in London and that was barely 8 weeks ago as I write these words.
In some ways, the book holds few surprises. Townshend springs from a musical family, seared in the post-war hardships of London’s West End, a typical urban ne’r-do-well, or to use the slang of the period, a “yobbo.” His memoir is littered with names that comprise a Who’s Who of ’60’s and ’70’s Rock ‘n Roll: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Erik Clapton, Ron Wood, Rod Stewart, and countless others.
What may surprise readers – including long-time fans of The Who – is how much of his destructive on-stage antics were conscious attempts at literal “performance art” as opposed to sheer wanton destructiveness.
Also among the potential surprises: his suspicions he was a victim of sexual abuse as a very young boy; the depths of his collegial affection for band-mates Daltry, John Entwhistle, and Keith Moon; and how all of this (and much more) informed his inspiration to craft such ambitious compositions as “Tommy” and “Quadrophenia.”
It is ironic that the man who shared his professional life with three such skilled libertines as his band-mates insists that his own feet of clay paled in comparison. Perhaps. Townshend is one of the few writers in this genre I have found who insists that he was largely rejected by the band’s groupies. Okay, Pete, whatever you say, it’s your book, mate…
The fact that the author could not manage to forge a successful marriage after more than two decades of effort may tell us more about his internal demons than any shortcomings of personal moral fortitude.
Sometimes, we must ask ourselves whether every rock star memoir must wallow in the sordid details of drug and alcohol addiction. Yes, they were very much a part of the lifestyle, and yes, we should earnestly warn the impressionable to avoid such mistakes at all costs. But having said all that, these biographies begin to take on a drab and depressing sameness that sometimes overwhelms the rest of the author’s story.
Nevertheless, Townshend’s effort is a most remarkable one. He is an artistic icon and a survivor of his genre’s worst excesses. He is also an articulate and deeply-reasoned man of letters.
The book is a quick read and holds one’s interest throughout.
If, like me, The Who and their music served as some of the mileposts of your life, you will also want to read this book.
It is every bit as impressive as any power chord progression, windmilled and tossed into a stack of Marshall amplifiers.