Book Review – Who I Am by Pete Townshend
I have to admit I am old enough to look back at driving around listening to 8-tracks with nostalgia (sort of). Endless hours of driving up and down the drag in West Texas, windows rolled down, arm out the window and blasting heavy rock. The only criteria that my friends and I had for the music was that it had to ‘rock’ and sound cool coming out of our car. Jesus, we played some good stuff and some total crap. Led Zeppelin (II), AC/DC (Back in Black), Riot (Narita) and our main go-to 8-track was The Who Live at Leeds. Shit, I loved that album and it sounded so good blasting in the car at ‘look at me’ volumes.
I think the first Who album I ever bought was Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy (I still have that record to this day). It was a compilation of singles and hits. I bought it because it contained My Generation and Pinball Wizard, but it was the songs I had never heard before that really caught my ear…Substitute, Pictures of Lily, I’m a Boy, Legal Matter. It was a real solid collection and it started me on the path to more Who records…it was a gateway album so to speak.
Tommy was magical, Quadrophenia baffled me, Who’s Next was majestic and beautiful, The Who By Numbers was mature and I thought they were all great.
Reading interviews with Pete Townshend were heady and hedonistic. You never knew which Townshend you would get, but whichever one showed up it was always a good interview. He would bad mouth his band-mates with no regard of the consequences. Or he would talk a concept of an upcoming project that would always seem to go over my head.
I bought the albums, Who Are You, Face Dances and It’s Hard as soon as they were released. Each album had moments of brilliance, but they didn’t captivate me as those earlier works. I still listen to those early albums today and they hold up very well. Live at Leeds is still one hell of a bombastic blast. When I found out the Pete was writing is autobiography, entitled Who I Am, is was looking forward to the read.
The story of Pete Townshend is written in a traditional linear storyline, no jumping back and forth in time for Pete. I guess I am a total sucker for rock biographies. I love reading about events that I have read about time and time again. But I also love a writer that can weave a spell with their prose. Pete goes about writing about his life just a little bit too factual. Maybe because of all the lengthy interviews he has given to major publications over the last 40 years that the details of the book just seem like old news. I wish he would have spent a few more pages espousing more on his relationship with the other members of the Who or his sublime solo albums Empty Glass and All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes. But that is just my own personal wants.
There are plenty of sordid personal tidbits to keep one interested in the narrative…being sexually abused as a child, torrid road tales, adultery, alcoholism and which boat he bought and when he bought it (what is up with rock stars and vehicles?)…but something is missing. The book just reads a little robotic, too matter of fact. The book is missing warmth.
It is safe to say Pete Townshend is a musical genius. He also comes across as arrogant, egotistical and cold. And that is okay…the guy played guitar on Live At Leeds.
Rated – 3 Stars out of 5