Friday, October 26, 2012

Review: 'Who I Am' by Pete Townshend

Pete Townshend may be the most literate and self-scrutinizing Rock star, so he is particularly suited to composing an autobiography. Even when writing about ostensibly fictional characters like Tommy and Jimmy the Mod, he’d essentially been telling his story in song since the earliest days of The Who.

Who I Am is important because it sets the fiction aside from the fact, and as is always his way, Townshend’s honesty drives the narrative. At times, this can be utterly enlightening, as when he pores over his childhood, his strained relationship with ex-wife Karen Astley (can she be the most patient woman in Rock & Roll history?), the ordeal of the child pornography investigation that is now an unfortunate addendum to any book about the man, and his serious difficulties with drugs and booze. Townshend’s willingness to let us in on the less savory aspects of his life can be a problem too. As The Who’s grandest years fell behind him, he immersed himself in the kind of self-destructive and promiscuous behavior that must have been harrowing to live through but feels rote when reading it in a Rock star memoir. This is how much of the ’80s and ’90s plays out in Who I Am, but hey, that was the guy’s life, clichéd or not. And Pete does skirt cliché by discussing the multitude of women in his life not as sexual conquests but as romantic obsessions. He really seemed to love them. Still, you can’t help but feel terrible for Karen.

Who I Am is not all ugly truths. Pete Townshend has a history of curmudgeonly behavior and putting his foot in his mouth. Having spent more than a decade writing this book, he comes off as more measured and kinder than he has often presented himself in the press. He doesn’t seem to have much bad to say about anyone but himself, which is heartening. There is a lot of love in Who I Am. The “acknowledgements” section of most books is usually inessential. In this one, it rounds out the narrative touchingly, as Pete retraces the major players in his story, tells us what they’re doing now, and expresses his deep feelings for these people. He saves one of his final messages of love for us, the fans. It is brief but beautiful, as well as a somewhat unnecessary gesture since he’d already given us the gift of this intimate and thorough look into his life. Thanks, old friend.

Bonus: the book ends on page 515! Does that qualify as an Easter egg?

Get Who I Am at Amazon.com here: 

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