book review: Who I Am

Who I Am by Pete Townshend. Publisher: Harper Collins (October 8, 2012). Memoir. Hardcover. 544 pages. ISBN: 978-0062127242

“My characteristic stance on stage—the leaping, the windmilling and wrecking of guitars—was by now a purely physical display of macho swagger, yet at a psychic level the Angry Yobbo, or hooligan, had seared himself into my soul, and I was still no wiser about where all that energy came from.”

Whenever I listen to The Who’s Greatest Hits while power-walking, I windmill during “My Generation” and “Who Are You.” Doesn’t everyone? It’s addictive to picture yourself onstage like guitarist Pete Townshend shredding away. On this website, Entertainment Realm, I mostly review music and books. This memoir seemed the perfect thing. Growing up after The Who achieved notoriety I wasn’t an avid fan and didn’t appreciate them until much more recently. I like The Who now. I’m not a fan of a lot of classic bands.

If you expect rampant tales of sex, drugs and rock and roll in this memoir you’ll be disappointed. It’s tame compared to other rocker memoirs. Townshend used this more as a meditation on his years with the band. In this memoir, Townshend focuses on how he developed as a musician, how he helped shape The Who into the powerhouse legendary band it became and how drugs and alcohol nearly made him lose everything. Keith Moon’s death only garners a sentence in the book. Of course he’s talented and wrote many memorable songs for The Who. He’s also immensely arrogant.

He includes details about his numerous side projects including developing a company to build home studios, working at a publishing company and writing for a music magazine. He ponders his difficult childhood and its effect on his adulthood [including a sting that got him arrested in a child pornography ring]. Who I Am will mostly appeal to die-hard The Who fans. It’s slow, tempered and not terribly juicy.

On Being a Londoner:

“I am British. I am a Londoner. I was born in West London just as the devastating World War came to a close.”

On abandonment:

“Denny’s feelings for me seemed vengeful, as did Mum’s abandonment. The deaths or disappearances of the beloved men in my life—my absent father and the recently departed George VI—seemed vengeful too. At the age of seven, love and leadership both felt bankrupt.”

Post-war creativity:

“For me these feelings coalesced in a conviction that amid the aftermath of war had to be confronted and expressed in all popular art—not just literature, poetry or Picasso’s Guernica. Music too. All good art cannot help but confront denial on its way to the truth.”

Creating songs:

“One notion kept coming into my head: I can’t explain. I can’t explain. This would be the title of my second song, and I was already doing something I would often do in the future: writing songs about music.”

“‘Happy Jack,’ a nonsense song I wrote about a village idiot from the Isle of Man. This is Paul McCartney’s favourite Who song—tellingly, because it was partly inspired by ‘Eleanor Rigby,’ which I thought was a small masterpiece.”

“One of the important documents I referred to while writing Tommy was a diagram I had sketched of the beginning and end of seven journeys involving rebirth.”

On Mick Jagger:

“Mick is the only man I’ve ever seriously wanted to fuck. He was wearing loose pyjama-style pants without underwear; as he leaned back I couldn’t help noticing the lines of his cock laying against the inside of his leg, long and plump. Mick was clearly very well-endowed.”

Personal issues:

“Years later I would discover that I really was struggling with some psychological anger that had always needed management, perhaps treatment.”

“Drinking was now necessary every day there was a show, but I knew when I got back to my family I could knuckle down and behave.”

Fan mail:

“If men sent photos they tended to be family-oriented, fathers and sons, or groups of men at rock shows or baseball games. Women’s photos were almost always solo, intended to trigger a connection.”

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from the publisher.

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