Who I Am Pete Townshend A Memoir

Do you know one of rock music's most intelligent and literary performers, Pete Townshend—guitarist, songwriter, editor—tells his closest-held stories about the origins of the preeminent twentieth-century band The Who, his own career as an artist and performer, and his restless life in and out of the public eye in this candid autobiography, Who I Am.

With eloquence, fierce intelligence, and brutal honesty, Pete Townshend has written a deeply personal book that also stands as a primary source for popular music's greatest epoch. Readers will be confronted by a man laying bare who he is, an artist who has asked for nearly sixty years: Who are you?

Pete Townshend's memoir is exactly as titled: "Who 'I' Am. In other words, it's all about Pete. That's fine - and what a memoir is normally about.  Yes, he's had solo success as a writer and artist, but is known best as a member of The Who. His greatest triumphs - "Tommy," Woodstock, "Quadrophenia" and sold-out tours were as part of a group. A very famous group that is recognizable for the "sound" they created together, sold millions of records, and is in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 

An excellent autobiography by one of Rock music's greatest songwriters. Townshend calls himself a Seeker in this book and its clear why. The book describes his childhood including a kooky aunt and some veiled hints at abuse. After that we read about how The Who was created and how it rose to fame on the back of Townshend's genius for song writing. The usual rock star excesses are described (recall Keith Moon was there...) including cars being driven into hotel swimming pools, sexual escapades, TV's and hotel rooms being destroyed and the hilarious description of an LSD experience Townshend has on an airplane with Keith Moon.

It took Pete since 1996 to finish this memoir, and he wrote it himself, without the aid of a ghost writer, a crutch which probably would have improved the dynamics of the prose, which seem a bit sodden at times. 

A music performance comment: In the book, Townsend says probably his greatest career mistake was ordering the destruction of all the tapes of the live shows in the months leading up to the two concert recordings from which Live at Leeds was mixed.

The only place in the book where this repeated abuse leitmotif resonates is in his interpretation of the real meaning of "A Quick One," which he claims was his subconscious recounting of these memories. It may be the best part of the book; unfortunately, he doesn't go to this level of analysis with any other song, either in terms of lyrical content or in terms of how the finished recordings were created.

Considering how many myths have grown around these recordings, it's a shame that Townshend doesn't address them. For example, other books have revealed that the lyrics to "Baba O'Riley" were throwaway working lyrics that Townshend never bothered to update in the final recording. He also missed the opportunity to finally confirm or dispel the story that the opening riff og Baba O'Riley was created by a Lowry organ, rather than a Moog or ARP synthesizer. Niggling details only Who fans would be interested in, but we are the primary consumers of the book, aren't we?

Not only does Townshend not discuss songs in detail, he also ignores huge chunks of his seminal work. After a decent discussion of "Can't Explain," he does straight to "My Generation" while totally skipping the Who's second single, "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere," which, while not a particularly great song, was the first single to prominently feature an extended section of feedback that came to full fruition on "My Generation." He offers no discussion of the Who's classic first album and in general barely discussions of album tracks that weren't singles. Here are there he puts some issues to rest--for example, finally clearing up the ages-old debate over the identify of "Lily" in "Pictures of Lily" (it was Lily Langtry, not Lillian Baylis), and confirming what's been rumored for years (that Townshend wrote "Pinball Wizard" to bribe Nik Cohn into giving "Tommy" a great review even before Cohn had heard the album).

He doesn't mention the "Odds and Sods" compilation at all (in spite of it containing a number of great songs) and barely touches upon the Who's post-Quadrophenia work, instead spending an inordinate amount of time recounting this struggles with the Tommy movie and soundtrack (who cares?), and far too much time discussing his lesser, later solo works such as "The Iron Man" and "Psychoderilect."

But Townshend also perpetuates myths that have long been discredited. For example, he re-tells the whole "Keith Moon driving a Rolls into a Holiday Inn pool" story which has been cemented in Who lore for decades. Over the years, other books (particularly Tony Fletcher's excellent, non-fanboy biography of Moon) have clearly shown this story to a myth perpetuated by the band.