In his highly anticipated autobiography, Who I Am, rock icon Pete Townshend share the story of his evolution from angry young Mod to one of the defining musicians of his generation. The songwriting genius behind the music of The Who, as well as the group’s aggressively talented guitarist, Townshend has long been the thinking man’s rock star, and this introspective and candid memoir charts the musical, intellectual, and spiritual journey that has shaped his life and career. Townshend writes frankly of his constant search for meaning, while sharing stories from the wild heyday of The Who and beyond.
Born at the end of World War II, Townshend was the son of a Big Band saxophonist and a former band singer. Growing up in West London, he spent part of his childhood being shuffled between his parents and his eccentric grandmother, in whose care he was often left alone, exposed to the drunken predilections of her lovers. Pete would spend a lifetime trying to sort through his dark past.
Townshend’s talent landed him at Ealing Art College, but the lure of music was too strong. With the help of his childhood friend John Entwistle, he joined Roger Daltrey’s up-and-coming party band, The Detours, which soon incorporated the manic Keith Moon on drums and morphed into The Who (despite Townshend’s initial idea of calling the group The Hair).
Townshend soon assumed the primary songwriting duties for the band, which began releasing hit records such as My Generation and Magic Bus. While showered with fan adulation and the freewheeling opportunities for sex and drugs afforded the rock star, Townshend remained somewhat uncomfortable playing the role of 1960's guitar hero. Though he dropped acid a number of times, his experiments with drugs were far less adventurous than some of his fellow musicians – as were his sexual dalliances as he tried, though sometimes failed, to remain faithful to his wife, Karen. For Townshend, the music mattered most, and he was bored by the prospect of just churning out hit records. Instead, he began to conceive something bigger – the rock opera that became Tommy and established The Who as one of the seminal groups of all time.
Townshend’s unbridled account of touring with The Who in the 60’s and 70’s chronicles their antics onstage (the guitar smashing, the exploding drum sets, and the New York City cop whom Pete once kicked in the groin during a performance) and off of it (jumping from a hotel balcony along with Keith and nearly dying in the bargain). They played Woodstock, where Pete speared a disgruntled Abbie Hoffman in the neck with his guitar, as well as some of the great opera houses of the world. Through it all, Townshend yearned for more, and found his spiritual awakening in the teachings of the Eastern guru Meher Baba. Those teachings would shape his music, including Tommy, Quadrophenia, the long-simmering Lifehouse project, and all the music and writing that has come after.
Even as he rode the crest of his creativity, Townshend battled a long substance abuse problem, and he writes openly about that struggle. He also writes movingly of the tragic death of Keith Moon and the later passing of John Entwistle. He describes the nearly surreal ordeal of his arrest on child pornography charges, and relishes the honors, including induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and receiving the Kennedy Center Honors. An impressive post-Who solo career has led to collaboration with many of his rock contemporaries, as well as major writers and artists. Not slowing down, he is at work on a new opera, Floss.
The Boomerocity highlights of Who I Am involve the stories about his personal relationships with those people we don’t know (parents, grandma, friends, acquaintances) as well as details that Townshend shares about his spiritual journey. That all said, the book is thoughtfully and intelligently written no matter who or what subject Mr. Townshend shares within its pages.
Fans of The Who will definitely want this book as part of their private library – both for the first “read” as well as future reference, it’s that well written.