Who I Am: Pete Townshend

24th January 2016

Pages: 554

Publisher: Harper

ISBN: 978-0-00-747916-0

I wish he’d called it something else. It reminds me of the Leonard Nimoy biographies, I Am Spock, etc. Too obvious and a little crass.

Nevertheless, this book is full. Full of incident and energy with a focus on the latter. Whether it relates to the band fighting among themselves or with other people, girls, drugs and lots and lots of general wreckage: emotional and physical. The books is revealing. I think the normal, and certainly cliched, term is ‘warts and all’.

Running from childhood upheavals and suggestions of sexual abuse to the early band days and ultimate stardom, Townshend leaves out nothing.

There’s even a tranche of the Keith Moon stories including Moon’s infamous 21st birthday celebration at the Holiday Inn in the USA. When Townshend arrived at the bash the cake covered Moon’s face, the floor and walls, a Lincoln Continental was half in the swimming pool, balancing on the edge (Moon had released the hand-brake and walked away as the car rolled towards the water). Moon was in a rage too, “…when a young man approached, asking for his autograph, Keith threw a lamp at him, hitting him in the head. Keith then managed to knock out his own teeth and it was only because he was hidden away at the dentist that he wasn’t arrested.”

And that is how The Who were banned from all Holiday Inn hotels for life.

Then there was the time when the band – or rather the sound man Bob Pridden – recorded 30 priceless live shows in the USA (plus another eight in the UK) during 1969 with a view to releasing a live album. They included the seven shows recorded during the Tommy week at the Fillmore in New York, two great performances at the Boston Tea Party and more. Pridden was a technician, not an archivist and yet Townshend flew into a fit of pique when Pridden couldn’t immediately answer all of his questions regarding the ins and outs of the recordings. Townshend, impatient and unwilling to sift through the recordings to find credible album material, decided to record two additional shows instead: the celebrated Leeds and Hull shows, with a view to a final commercial LP release.

Townshend remained incredibly irritated by the lack of ‘answers’ from the unfortunate Bob Pridden so, in Townshend’s own words, “I made one of the stupidest decisions of my life.” He ordered all of the recordings to be destroyed. Townshend admits that this decision was unfair to Pridden who faithfully made a bonfire of the lot. Yea, Pete. Stupid.

The main issue I have with this book is Townshend’s love life. Not only is it relentless, it’s immature. Not only is it immature, it’s hurtful to others, his then wife for one. Townshend has a lovelorn, almost mawkish affiliation with women that borders on the childlike and reveals, not only his fawning and general teenage crush-like approach to relationships but also his general lack of control that reflects back into other parts of his life. Townshend seems like a mini-tornado of suppressed anger and primal urges, that wanders an ocean of temptation and opportunity, lacking in direction and – as his frankly (again) stupid child porn incident shows – good judgement.

That said, what I liked about this book was its honesty. In fact, it was Townshend’s honesty that triggered the negative emotions listed in the previous paragraph. But that’s a good thing. Townshend gets a reaction. The problem with many music-related books out there is their blandness. They play it safe. They are out to make money and not much more. Not Townshend. He opens his soul to you and you deal with it in whatever way you see fit. With me, that meant experiencing ups and downs, joy and frustration, delights and even anger. I have a range of ‘heroes’ in my life. All are fractured geniuses who focus and channel a talent into shining, brilliant results. They include people like John Peel, Frank Sinatra and Winston Churdchill, All have truly cocked up, all have had moments of absolute sheer bloody brilliance and all, oddly, are loved, even now. Townshend is one of those. Job done, then.