Who I Am
Author: Pete Townshend
Release Date: October 2012
It’s no secret that my wife and I love Pete Townshend. Our son may in fact be named Cliff Townshend (which may also be Pete Townshend’s dad’s name); we’ve seen The Who in concert and have them well represented on all our musical playlists; and the first song we played at our wedding after being pronounced husband and wife was “Let My Love Open the Door.” So, all that said, I was actually pretty nervous to read this book. Pete Townshend is somewhat famous for being a moody guy who will lash out at his fans, and he also had a pretty famous legal problem that I only knew enough about to hope there wasn’t more to know. After finishing this book (and doing some followup research on my own) I breathed a sigh of relief. I still love you, Pete.
When I read a music autobiography, the stuff I really want is stories about the writing and recording of albums, and stories about other musicians. The gold standard for me is probably Duff McKagan’s “It’s So Easy (and Other Lies)” but Townshend’s book is closer to the best of the books than the other end of the spectrum. If anything, Townshend is overly modest of his own accomplishments in rock, with some of the band’s (and his own) most successful songs only mentioned in a few passing lines and then never again. The reader certainly comes away with a better idea of Townshend’s goals as a musician, as his recurring process of a connected story in every album, with aspects of theater and spirituality are much more evident when discussed here than in a critical review.
As the book progressed, I began to worry more and more about what my own son would think reading about his namesake rocker who bounced from alcoholism, to heroin addiction to crack den visitor, all while having affairs and leaving his eventual ex-wife Karen (who comes across like a saint in this book) and daughters home alone in England. The black star of the Child Pornography arrest is dealt with head on, and Townshend explains everything from his point of view. Amazingly, his eventual vindication by investigative journalist Duncan Campbell is given only a paragraph of writing, compared to several pages about Townshend’s own efforts to assist victim’s of sexual abuse prior to his arrest. (For those that don’t want to do the research, it was eventually determined that Townshend actually visited a normal adult site, not an illegal one, but like many arrested as part of Operation Ore, he was prosecuted without evidence that he actually committed the crime).
I’m generally a believer that the quality of a person and the quality of his or her work are two separate things and can be appreciated and derided as such. My fear with Townshend was that upon finishing his book, I would still admire and cherish his works but dislike him as a person. Fortunately, my view of him as a person is just that: he’s a guy who has made mistakes, been selfish, egotistical and incredible naive at times, but also loyal, generous, and candid. A “warts and all” approach just makes him seem all the more regular, which makes his rock god accomplishments as a writer and guitarist all the more amazing.