Friday, January 11, 2013

Book Review: Pete Townshend's "Who I Am"

Pete Townshend is a dauntingly intelligent man – so much so that he rightfully gained a reputation as the “go-to” interview in rock music from the time The Who exploded on the scene in 1965 to the early 90s when he released his last solo album.  His blog, before mystifyingly disappearing behind a paywall at, was an extension of his interviewing voice, a piercing intellect that’s pretentiously well aware of its place in history but tempered with an almost crippling sense of humility. In addition, starting in the mid-80s, he  spent a long period of time as an editor at Faber & Faber. All of this made me anticipate his memoir, Who I Am, released late last year, all the more. I mean, Townshend’s such an articulate thinker, his take on his own life was bound to be good.

So it came as quite a shock that he didn't devote the insight he demonstrates in other arenas to his own life.
On the whole, Who I Am follows the typical rock-star narrative of formative years, early fame, excess, and a leveling off. Dates, albums, and names (so very many names) speed by in numbing proliferation. Occasionally, the book comes alive when he takes the time to detail more specifics, like his childhood, some of gestation periods of his more famous albums, and when relating the confusion that led to his arrest on suspicion of child pornography (he was quickly exonerated). While I suspect that his publisher really cut the narrative to the bone in order to get his whole story within two hardcovers, this is a book that could have been so much more - where's the open ended musings that mark the best of his past writing?. Ah well... As Hall n’ Oates sang, “All I see are missed opportunities.”

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