photo & text by nacrowe
legendary songwriter, musician and THE WHO creative visionary PETE TOWNSHEND is a hard one to pin down, especially after having read his memoir WHO I AM (HARPER COLLINS, 2012). on one hand he is on a shortlist of songwriters (others being JOHN LENNON, PAUL MCCARTNEY, MICK JAGGER, KEITH RICHARDS and RAY DAVIES) that sparked the BRITISH INVASION in earnest and permanently transformed music in the ENGLISH speaking world in the 1960s. the scope and naked literary ambition of his rock operas including TOMMY and QUADROPHENIA sought to expand the concept of an album beyond a collection of songs that no doubt found adherents in everyone from PINK FLOYD to GREEN DAY. genius is thrown around quite a bit these days, but arguably the creative output by TOWNSHEND makes his case for him.
on the other hand he comes off repeatedly like a stuffy, pretentious, self-obsessed, pedantic, domineering asshole who literally goes on for hundreds of pages about the relevance of his solo albums and half-baked musical theater projects and, most damningly gives little to no space in this book to his bandmates. not to mention this mindset also led him to rationalize dumb decisions that led to his 2003 arrest for charges i wont go into. i don't know what to make of his devotion to ZOROASTRIAN mystic MEHER BABAR, who claimed to be god in human form. all i can say is that TOWNSHEND is a supremely gifted silly person, makes total sense why in later life he identified so much with BILLY CORGAN.
full disclosure: i am familiar with the main records by THE WHO, but by and large i am a bigger fan of their contemporaries THE BEATLES and THE KINKS. not even close. not trying to take anything away from TOWNSHEND's achievements, but all the same just wanted to let you know where my biases lie.
it would seem that most readers are searching for something beyond the recounting of events or achievements when consuming a memoir. they are looking for some insight into he mindset of the subject. TOWNSHEND painfully sets up his narrative by talking about the pain and isolation of being part of the post-WWII generation that had to break away from parents who, understandably, sought safety in conformity and limited ambitions after nearly being obliterated by the NAZIS abroad and at home. i would have loved for him to go into how his lyrical and musical content was impacted by such. his father was in a big band and TOWNSHEND as a child spent summers watching him play at beachside gigs for tourists. how did that affect his view of the audience/performer divide? was he jaded or excited by the act of performing?
there are so many enticing nuggets he throws out there only to be disregarded in a never-ending avalanche of details about real estate, money, cars and boats and will-he-or-wont-he get divorced that just drag on and on and on. for me this memoir unfortunately suffered from his ego, which he fully admits is huge, since it seems he is trying to settle for posterity his role in THE WHO and the history of western music in the 20th century. don't get me wrong, he's there as a prominent creative and deservedly so, but by denying the reader anything interesting concerning his bandmates or collaborators just diminishes the power of his own personal glory, which is undoubtedly his goal in this book. i also found his need throughout the book to root the value of his work by the judgement of ROCK CRITICS to be lame, especially when he would throw demos at them for feedback. the fact that he also contributed considerable funds to build the ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME is beyond pathetic. who gives a shit what JANN WERNER and his enablers think is good music. nobody cares about the ROCK HALL or THE ROLLING STONE magazine. good i got that out.
overall, this book was a bit of a disappointment. if you are looking to get an insight into the BRITISH INVASION era or rock history in general, i would highly suggest you consider KEITH RICHARD's excellent LIFE (LITTLE BROWN & CO, 2010) memoir (review linked HERE) which both recognizes the efforts of unsung and forgotten heroes (i.e. sideman) of ROCK AN ROLL and also soberly waxes poetic about the evolution of the form from a knowledgeable firsthand perspective.