First of all, I love this book. Second, I’m only about 2/3 of the way through so this will not be a proper book review as such, but so far it is terrific.
“Who I Am: A Memoir” is the autobiography of Pete Townshend, lead guitarist and principal songwriter for legendary rock band The Who, who has also enjoyed a solo career since his first album “Who Came First” was released in 1973. Just reading the inside flap you’ll learn that he: smashed his first guitar onstage, in 1964, by accident; invented the Marshall amp stack and the concept album; stole his distinctive windmill guitar playing from Keith Richards; followed drummer Keith Moon off a hotel balcony into a pool and nearly died; is banned for life from Holiday Inns (I especially like that last one), and apparently, like “Lucy,” has some ‘splaining to do.
What sets this apart from other ‘rock star’ autobiographies (along with Keith Richards’ excellent book, “Life”) is the quality, tone, and honesty of the writing. Pete is an amazing writer – the writing is excellent throughout, full of rich details, and is the most unflinchingly honest and intimate autobiography, rock star or otherwise, I’ve come across. There’s a generosity of spirit here in the writing. If you’re familiar with The Who’s discography, reading “Who I Am” is, at times, the literary equivalent of their albums “The Who By Numbers” and “Quadrophenia” in equal parts.
The book divides itself into three acts. The triumph of the rock opera “Tommy” and their 1969 performance at Woodstock is chronicled in the chapter “Tommy: The Myths, The Music, The Mud” at the end of Act One. Act Two, entitled “A Really Desperate Man,” begins with this simple opening statement: “We were rock stars.”
The fascinating chapter, “Lifehouse and Loneliness,” details Pete’s concept for the ambitious Lifehouse project and how Lifehouse became the album we all know today as “Who’s Next.” Pete’s take on it as revealed in the following chapter:
“In July, at a happy party at Keith’s wonderfully eccentric house in Chertsey, we launched the new album. Lifehouse became the pathetically titled Who’s Next. The album cover was, in my opinion, a joke in bad taste. On the front we stood next to an obelisk against which we had been pissing. On the back we were all pissed in a dressing room after a show. The sleeve almost stank of urine.”
Sleeve design and “pathetic titling” aside, “Who’s Next” remains my favorite album of all time – as it probably is for more than a few people – since I first heard it in the summer of 1971; “The Song Is Over” from that album will undoubtedly remain my favorite song ’til the day I die.
Particularly affecting are the chapters on the deaths of his bandmates Keith Moon and John Entwistle (later, in Act Three, the chapter, “Letter to My Eight-Year-Old Self” – I skipped ahead), and the concert tragedy in Cincinnati – the way he talks about each of those events.
Enjoy “Who I Am.” It is an absolute joy to read and more often than not, has been a revelation (the sentence, “All good art cannot help but confront denial on its way to the truth…” forced me to underline it and think about it for a few days). If you like/love The Who and Pete Townshend, this is a necessary read and highly recommended. It’s rock ‘n’ roll history, but more importantly, it’s one man’s spiritual, musical “Amazing Journey.”
Nights on Venus News:
The new album is complete! 13 of the original batch of 16 songs recorded last summer made the cut; the other 3 didn’t quite fit one way or another and the album played stronger musically without them. They may reappear on a subsequent EP. Mastering should be complete by the end of March with a release date set once again for late May.
Until next time…
“In 4 the Evening” is the second and current album from Nights on Venus and is available as a digital download on CDBaby, iTunes, Amazon.mp3, Bandcamp and other fine online retailers. On CD through the NoV website. The 3rd album, “Another Day in Paradox,” is slated for release in May, 2013.