Pete Townshend: Who I Am


I’ve been reading this a little at a time over the last week or two.  It’s a strange one.  Unlike, say Dylan or Keith Richard’s autobiographies, there’s no flamboyant writerly style in this book.  The prose is almost mundane in places, which is surprising given the skill and dedication of its author.  That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it.  The story of the Who, which dominates the first half of the book and never quite lets go during the second, is a great story.  What differentiates it, I think, from those other two books is that unlike Dylan and Richards, Townshend is struggling with his own story.

There are two big conflicts that run through it : how do you live a rock star lifestyle and still keep a strong and lasting marriage and family life?  How do you cope as an artist when your greatest achievements were in your twenties but the big project you thought would be your masterpiece – Lifehouse – never quite gets off the ground?  We read of Pete’s struggle with these questions but at the same time we get the feeling that he’s struggling with them in the act of writing; in fact writing the book is a form of self examination which feels very uncomfortable at times.

These themes are dominant to the exclusion of much that you might want to know about. You’ll find little here about the writing of My Generation, Won’t Get Fooled Again or Baba O’Riley (although there’s a good bit about Pinball Wizard). If you’re a fan of Tommy or Quadrophenia there’s more about them, and I was delighted that the album he did with Ronnie Lane, Rough Mix, which is one of my favourites, gets a couple of pages.

There are strangely unsatisfying moments – he’s so open about his feelings in some places, but  the death of Keith Moon is a closed book, as is the end of his marriage which is surprising given that he’s writing about it on every second page.  Strangest of all is when he actually dies – for a short time – in hospital:

I took Krissy out to a trendy club in Baker St where I was having a very good time – until I woke up in a Chelsea hospital with a six inch adrenalin needle sticking out my chest … I was technically dead, but luckily for me I’d been resuscitated in time.

‘Luckily for me’  Is that just understatement or … I don’t know. Anyway despite this he certainly comes over as  man of great honesty and decency  (and NOT a paedophile – his arrest, innocence  and despair is well documented).  You’ll find out a lot about Tommy, Quadrophenia, Woodstock, his tense friendship with Roger Daltrey and his life after most of us stopped following him closely: editorship at Faber, friendship and collaboration with Ted Hughes, and a love of boats and the sea.  And I hope that, like me, you’ll go back to listening to the music and not just the ones you know.

(But why is the Kindle version dearer than the hardback and paperback?)

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