October 31, 2020

2013-01-29 – Daily Press

2013 01 29 Daily_Press_Tue__Jan_29__2013_

BOOK REVIEW

Thinking man’s rock star
lays bare his erratic life

BY J 0E FLINT
Tribune Newspapers

Pete Townshend has
always been rock ’n’ roll’s
reluctant warrior.

The driving force be-
hind the legendary band
The Who, Townshend
revolutionized rock with
his guitar and pen. He
wrote numerous anthems,
including “My Genera-
tion,” “See Me, Feel Me,”
“Baba O’Riley” and “Won’t
Get Fooled Again.” And,
when he wasn’t smashing
guitars, he embraced his
role as the thinking man’s
rock star.

At the same time, Town-
shend spent much of his
life offstage trying to avoid
all that came with his fame
and fortune. While his
bandmates, particularly
the late Keith Moon and
J ohn Entwistle, enj oyed
(and ultimately died from)
sex, drugs and other ex-
cesses, Townshend sought
out a spiritual path, only to
fall short repeatedly.

In “Who I Am,” Town—
shend’s long—awaited,
deeply introspective mem-
oir, he lays out his strug-
gles with success, fidelity
and fame. He pulls few
punches in this exhaust-
ingly detailed read, even
though it doesn’t always
paint him in the most
flattering light. Like many
alcoholics, he’s an egoma-
niac with an inferiority
complex.

It’s those character
traits that drove him to
create groundbreaking
music and take rock be-
yond two—minute songs
about cars, girls and surf-
ing. It’s also what led him
to constantly question his
success and place in the
world.

Townshend traces his
insecurities back to his
childhood. Raised in post-
World War II London by
two hard- drinking mu—
sicians, Townshend was
sent to live with his de—

111—11 1 1111 FETI‘i‘Tlfl’WNSHE-Nfl'
W110 I Am’

By Pete Townshend
Harper, 544 pages, $32.50

ranged grandmother at age
6, and the scars are still
Visible.

“She was a perfect wick—
ed witch,” Townshend
writes. He details being

be aten and tormented by
her.

Although he eventually

returned to his parents, the
damage was done. Town-
shend recalls that as a child
he was most secure “in a
gang of boys, protected by
a dominant male.”

Perhaps he was fore-
shadowing his role in The
Who. He wrote the hits,
but onstage it was tough-
guy lead singer Roger
Daltrey who brought the
words to life. When The
Who started to hit it big,
Townshend’s self— doubt
and desire to do something
groundbreaking grew. “I
often felt that as a perform—
ing artist I was under-
valued. I wanted to be
serious about what I did
and wanted my work,
including smashing guitars
in concert, to be regarded
as part of a passionate
commitment to an evolv—
ing stagecraft.”

He got all that with
“Tommy,’ ’ the band’ 5 ac—
claiined rock opera about a
deaf, dumb and blind pin—
ball champ who becomes a
spiritual leader. “Tommy,”

which was inspired 1n
large part by Townshend’s
painful youth, not only
made the band rich, it gave
Townshend the confi-
dence to push the bounda—
ries of music further with
the band’s next two al-
bums, “VVho’s Next” and
“Quadrophenia.”

Inste ad of enj oying his
hard—earned success,
Townshend often felt
artistically trapped. He
had long railed against
hard drugs and tried to
play the part of good fami—
ly man. But in the end he
turned to drink, drugs and
women to escape his self-
imposed hell, which shat—
tered his marriage and
nearly cost him his life.

To his credit and the
reader’s benefit, Town-
shend doesn’t gloss over
the inconsistencies in his
life.

Ultimately, “Who I Am”
may be a disappointment
to hardcore fans of the
band, since Townshend
doesn’t spend a lot of time
on glory stories from its
heyday. Nor does he probe
as deeply as one might
hope into his love-hate
relationship with Daltrey
or his friendship with
Moon and Entwistle.

“Who I Am” often reads
like a somewhat unorgan—
ized (albeit colorful) diary
dump. For example, on the
same page that he details a
sordid story of being set
up by Moon and Entwistle
with a groupie who had
gonorrhea, he matter—of—
factly tells of marrying his
long— suffering now-eX-
wife, Karen.

In “Who Are You,” the
band’s last great song,
Townshend wrote: “I spit
out like a sewer hole yet
still receive your kiss. How
can I measure up to any-
one now after such a love
as this?” After 500 pages,
readers may be wondering
the same thing.

jflint@tribune.com