Who I Am by Pete Townshend Book Review

Books, Music

“Beatles or Rolling Stones?” is a common question among people just a bit older than I. When asked, I always answer, “The Who.” I love, love, love The Who. If I were to hold a Final Four of rock, they would be Pink Floyd, The Doors, U2, and The Who. In addition to my love of The Who, Pete Townshend and I share the same birthday, so I was pretty excited to read his autobiography.

In Who I Am: A Memoir, Townshend tells his story, a large part of it is with The Who, but this is a biography, not a history of the band. And there’s a huge cast of very interesting characters, as you could imagine.

He was raised in an England still reeling from the devastation of two world wars. Though his father was a successful musician, it was his aunt who encouraged him to play the guitar, and he also picked up the banjo. As a young teen he met John Entwistle and they played in a skiffle band. Eventually Roger Daltry asked them to join his band, The Detours. Later they changed the name to The Who, then to The High Numbers in reference to the Mod pecking system. (Leaders were called “faces” hence the band The Small Faces.) Then back to The Who when Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp took over management of the band.

Pete became the main songwriter though he encouraged others to write songs also. He’s not afraid of tooting his own horn on many subjects, but he also gives credit to others rather generously. Townshend is honest about his mistakes. He sounds much like a person who has learned a lot in his life. As to the conflicts in the band, he tends to claim they weren’t as bad as the media would make out. Though Roger did knock him out cold once, and he also hit Moon on another occasion. After that it was agreed that Roger should not use physical violence to make his point, and he didn’t.

Townshend went to art college, a breeding ground for rock stars: John Lennon, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Ronnie Wood, Ray Davies, Freddy Mercury, Syd Barrett, and many others went to art school. While there he felt somewhat divided, his artsy-fartsy friends on one hand, and his rock band people on the other. Part of what he picked up in art school is the idea of auto-destruction which fueled his destruction of equipment. Keith Moon didn’t have any artistic ideas, he just wasn’t to be outdone by anyone. Another of Townshend’s ideas was to make sure that people in the far back seats had a show, and one way to that was do be very active on stage, hence his jumping around, windmills, etc.

Offstage, Townshend himself was not one of the craziest people on tour in the 1970s, but The Who did manage to get themselves banned from Holiday Inn for life. He tells some stories and explains that he attempted to be faithful to his wife, even while out on tour, with varying degrees of success. He’s quite generous to her, as I think he should be, even though they split up after over 20 years of marriage. His bouts of depression, alcohol and drug use, and workaholism combined to drive a wedge between them, but he was the one to call it quits.

He talks about writing songs and the creation of his rock operas Tommy and Quadrophenia, and the making of the movies as well. I was very glad to find that he, like me, finds the cover of Who’s Next to be tacky.

There are a lot of details in the book that many people won’t care about like what kind of boats he owned, what section of London this or that house was in, etc. What day he signed with which record companies may be of use to future authors and researchers, but was pretty extraneous for me.

He tells great stories of several of the famous people he known, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Elton John, etc. Of course he covers his solo career and what he’s been doing for the last 30 years outside of The Who. Overall,Who I Amis a good read for fans of The Who or rock music.

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