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Who I Am

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“Raw and unsparing...as intimate and as painful as a therapy session, while chronicling the history of the band as it took shape in the Mod scene in 1960s London and became the very embodiment of adolescent rebellion and loud, anarchic rock ‘n’ roll.”   — Michiko Kakutani, New York Times One of rock music's most intelligent and literary performers, Pete Townshend—guitarist, songwriter, editor—tells his closest-held stories about the origins of the preeminent twentieth-century band The Who, his own career as an artist and performer, and his restless life in and out of the public eye in this candid autobiography, Who I Am . With eloquence, fierce intelligence, and brutal honesty, Townshend has written a deeply personal book that also stands as a primary source for popular music's greatest epoch. Readers will be confronted by a man laying bare who he is, an artist who has asked for nearly sixty years: Who are you?

538 pages, Hardcover

First published October 9, 2012

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About the author

Pete Townshend

66 books136 followers
Pete Townshend (born Peter Dennis Blandford Townshend), is an award-winning English rock guitarist, singer, songwriter, composer, and writer.

Townshend made his name as the guitarist and principal songwriter for rock band The Who. His career with them spans more than 40 years, during which time the band grew to be considered one of the greatest and most influential rock bands of all time, in addition to being "possibly the greatest live band ever." Townshend is the primary songwriter for the group, writing well over 100 songs for the band's eleven studio albums, including the rock operas Tommy and Quadrophenia, plus dozens more that appeared as non-album singles, bonus tracks on reissues, and tracks on rarities compilations such as Odds and Sods. He has also written over 100 songs for his solo albums and rarities compilations. Although known mainly for being a guitarist, he is also an accomplished singer and keyboard player, and has played many other instruments on his solo albums, and on some Who albums (such as banjo, accordian, synthesizer, piano, bass guitar, drums).

Townshend has also written newspaper and magazine articles, book reviews, essays, books, and scripts.

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5 stars
2,033 (22%)
4 stars
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3 stars
2,564 (28%)
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1 star
195 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,059 reviews
Profile Image for Jeremy.
202 reviews6 followers
November 15, 2012
I really wanted to love this book. I love the Who, and I'm a huge fan of Townshend's solo work up until sometime in the early 90s. Empty Glass and Chinese Eyes are just stellar albums...and Quadrophenia was for years my most often played album. I read Keith Richards' autobio, and loved it, and I'm a much bigger Who fan, so I was sure I'd be in love with this book too...but no. It's way too self-indulgent, self-important, and frustrating in the author's inability to make prose readable or make anecdotes dance with life. It was, at moments...boring. Oh, he's going to rework Tommy into some new format for the 5th time. I read Richards' book thinking--what a lousy husband this guy was. But the stories were amazing. Here, Townshend's infidelities are dealt with briefly, but the guilt is dealt with at length. This makes Townshend's later music much more mature than Richards' attempts to keep up with an 18 year old's libido in his songs, but it makes for draggy reading. The other subtext that builds almost from the very first page is Townshend's effort to convince you that he was innocent of viewing child porn, although he pleaded no contest. His claim, that he was a victim of child sex abuse, and was just doing research, had me 90% convinced, but it wasn't fun reading to see him carefully lay the groundwork for his last few chapters of attempted exoneration. It's not a worthless book, by far. There are great stories of the Who's greatest albums. And he is an amazingly generous evaluator of others' music, sometimes to a fawning extreme. But his shout outs to Pink Floyd and Ray Davies are surely sincere. Still, I can only recommend this book for the most obsessed of Who fans. If you are looking for a great read, steer clear, and go get Keef's book.
Profile Image for Louise.
1,672 reviews302 followers
September 15, 2013
I just don't know what to make of this. Is my tepid feeling for the book about the book or about or Townshend?

The band, as the first pages says, is Roger's thing, but everything that follows says that it's Pete's thing. Pete is not just writing music he's making personnel decisions; he's negotiating with managers, lawyers, signing rights. He's well into Quadrophenia before any mention of input from the band is mentioned. After this and more, it's amazing that on p. 346, Townsend says "Roger was the unquestionable leader...but Roger was the leader and always had been."

This is just one of many non-sequitors, large and small. There is his mother who ignores him throughout childhood only to clean his apartment at night once he moves out on his own. The Who's early period, characterized by guitar smashing and hotel wrecking, is understated as Townsend presents himself as a bread-winning workaholic dad. Yes, he's drinking a bit... but he's not taking drugs, except for this.. or that. Just after he writes of his financial uncertainty, he is buying a boat, a house (or his wife is) or refurbishing a recording studio.

On just about every page, a name is dropped. There is a lot of macho posturing, usually about women, but most strangely about eating flowers. After purchasing a number of impressive cars, and a receiving a number of moving violations he writes " ...never much interested in cars apart from their ability to transport me quickly and safely."

After 500 pages, it is still not clear "Who he is". There is more about buying boats and setting up studios than there is about how he related to his band mates (for instance the reaction to the death of Keith Moon) or why he followed Maher Baba. (I had to go to Wikipedia to learn what the religion was about.) He falls in love not just once, but often.

I come away with a number of feelings about all this. First is sadness for a lonely little boy. Then sympathy for a man with an addictive profile who buried himself in work; work was infused with the drama of the times. Then, sadness again that he lost out on warmth and love as a child, and seems unable to find connection as an adult.

Townshend has created some great art and made some technological strides in music. He is definitely a foremost artist of "his" generation. Despite all that has been written about the generation gap, not many have related it to the preceding generation's trauma of war as Townshend has. While this book does not answer his question, it may provide a blueprint for a future biographer to interpret Townshend in a more accessible way.
908 reviews
October 28, 2012
As a long time Who fan I've been looking forward to Pete Townsend's frank appraisal of life with the Who and beyond. I first saw them live in Auckland, New Zealand in the late sixties, and for many years kept a small piece of Keith Moon's drum kit which I souvenired after he demolished it at the concert's finale. Keith Richard's "Life" has pretty much been accepted as the bnenchmark for rock musician's memoirs in recent times. In my view Townsend at least matches it, if not eclipses it. Certainly, while there is some commonality between Keef and Pete on their substance intake, Townsend's biggest issue is more emotionally based, with self doubt and depression, prominent bed fellows until fairly recently. What also shines through though is his creative drive and constant quest to grow his musicality, and with no recognition of boundaries. So, yes I guess the moniker "troubled genius" is the dominant one. He's not always easy to like but he's definitely honest and sincere. And by the end of his story it's cool to see that he seems to have found peace in his life at last. This is a must-read for any rock fan. Bear in mind that many of the Who's hits, and masterpieces like Tommy and Quadrophenia wouldn't be with us without him.
Profile Image for Emma.
132 reviews53 followers
March 3, 2019
Read in the interest of fairness after Roger’s book. It’s double the length of Roger’s efforts, and is thorough and fair, as I’d expect Pete to be. He comes across these days as more humble and aware of others than he ever was in his younger years, and clearly has deep respect for Roger. He writes more kindly about John Entwhistle than Roger does too. Again, there are some laugh aloud moments and he writes well. His frustration about the Lighthouse project is clear, and I did skim read bits of the book as although I am enjoy the music, I was more interested in the relationships he had with others, and wanted to hear about his demons. Yes, he falls in love all the time, but I quite liked that about him, that despite this belligerent exterior, he’s deeply sensitive underneath.
Profile Image for Bill.
100 reviews10 followers
October 25, 2012
I must admit, I'm really waffling on whether Pete gets two or three stars. I confess that I'm a sucker for a rock book. I tend to leap into them without coming up for air until the last page is turned. This book was no different, but I can't say that it was the scintillating prose that kept me enthralled. Maybe my expectations were too great. In his work with The Who and his earlier solo efforts, Pete was often a songwriter nonpareil. His various interviews not only showed him to be an entertaining storyteller but one of the first true rock music philosophers (all apologies to Mr. Springsteen, but Pete beat you by a good five or six years).
Too much of this memoir seems to be more a perfunctory listing of facts with little exploration of what's being written. One passage that stands out is when Pete refers to having to battle heroin addiction in the 1980s, without ever previously stating that he had taken the drug. Another fault is the short shrift given to some of the music he wrote, at least in balance to the space given his various romantic entanglements (which, to give the author props for bald-faced honesty, he comes off as a bit of a self-absorbed asshole). After Quadrophenia, there's very little time spent reflecting on albums like Who Are You, Empty Glass, Chinese Eyes, and other works of that era. I guess I should take my own prejudices into account since this is the time frame in which I first became enthralled with The Who and, by extension, Mr. Townshend. At the same time, I feel like an excoriating confessional like "Somebody Saved Me" from the underrated All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes is due a fair amount of introspection.
Maybe I'm being selfish. After all, it's not like Pete asked all his fans to send him notes about how he should write his life story. Still, I can't help but think how much more this book could have been, especially given the undeniable talent Pete's shown in so many interviews and essays rhapsodizing on rock and roll as well as his role in making it a unique art form. Maybe if Pete had written it as a 500-page concept album...
Profile Image for Tania Donald.
Author 7 books20 followers
January 1, 2013
As a long-time admirer of Pete Townshend's songwriting and musicianship, both as part of The Who and as a solo artist, I was a bit nervous about reading this book. It can be very disillusioning to discover that people we look up to as inspirations are, in fact, real people, and may not correspond at all with the lofty ideals we build about them in our own minds and dreams.
Let me say that on finishing Who I Am, my admiration for Pete Townshend both as an artist and as a person has only deepened. Who I Am is an honest, unvarnished account of an artist's life - of the art he makes and the struggles he faces behind the stage curtain. Townshend, it must be said, is a spectacularly successful musician in anyone's terms - he has had all the gold records, critical acclaim, and financial success that any of us could wish for. True too, he emerged at one of the most interesting and vital moments in British music history. All of this territory is covered with enough detail to satisfy fans of 60's music/history and The Who.
What is most interesting and unexpected though, is Townshend's revelation of the personal cost of being this luminary, wind-milling rock god of legend. How can a marriage or family life be sustained when one is away touring for months on end on a regular basis? How can one reconcile the public's image of a rock star with one's own unresolved personal traumas and profound insecurities? What shocks here is the sense of loneliness, of a man always on the periphery: adored by millions, yet alone in endless hotel rooms; the supposed wild man of rock who watches his bandmates' antics from the sidelines and worries about his marriage. It is in the tension between these two worlds that Townshend reveals his humanity and vulnerability, and also the impossible position in which we place those whom we idolise and set apart from the common throng.
Townshend does not flinch from his infidelities, his addictions, his psychological struggles, and his intimate and unguarded writing style serves him well here - drawing the reader in to a sympathetic understanding of circumstances and a status that most of us would struggle to imagine. Townshend writes beautifully - and this should come as no surprise to anyone who has ever really listened to the lyrical brilliance and innovative story-telling style of his songs.
The other gem in this book is the fascinating thread of spiritual yearning and an almost mystic sense of wonder that runs through it: from Townshend's boyhood experiences of ecstasy in hearing some kind of transcendent music in nature, to his adult pursuit of spiritual fulfilment through the teachings of Meher Baba.
What I am left with is my own sense of wonder, that despite often immense difficulties, both personal and professional, Townshend has produced (and continues to produce) some of the most dynamic, thoughtful and interesting music in the popular sphere and has emerged as one of rock's great survivors and successes. I finished the book feeling a great sense of our common humanity - that it is ok to be flawed, to struggle, to sometimes fail. What matters - what can raise us above it all - is the creative spirit and the quest to make whatever art you make. In the end, Who I Am is an uplifting and triumphant memoir. I would highly recommend it.
July 1, 2013
Painful read. Thought I would never get thru it! Was very highly reviewed which led me to choosing it for my book club. Not a Who fan and found he went on endlessly about recording each and every album with details I am sure even fans would find too much.
In one breath he talked of no money, in the next bought a new house or a new boat.
He came across as extremely flawed, self-absorbed, & immature.
Would not recommend!
Profile Image for Brett C.
805 reviews181 followers
May 16, 2021
This is an interesting autobiography by one of the most talented musicians of our time. I was captivated by his early years and his taking to 'auto-destruction art' he learned while in art school. This involved destroying their instruments and equipment at the end of a concert which The Who perfected. This form of art has been mimicked by Jimi Hendrix, The Clash, Nine Inch Nails, and Nirvana.

Overall a good book about the man, where he came from, his shitty times, his good times, and how he managed to become who he is today. I always heard Pete Townshend was a strange and odd dude; this book confirms those accusations. I would recommended for anyone who likes musicians and their stories.
Profile Image for JwW White.
204 reviews
December 29, 2020
How is it possible for the lead guitarist and songwriter of one of the world's iconic rock bands to make a memoir so utterly boring? As someone who grew up listening to The Who, watching their "farewell" concert dozens of times on videotape (to my parent’s chagrin), seeing them on the "reunion" tour of the late 80s, having read and reread a book about the band, and having listened to Townshend’s “Chinese Eyes” album repeatedly, I was blown away at how vacuous and boring this book is.

Townshend spends copious amounts of time examining his "spiritual journey" which, in the end, looks not so much spiritual as it does like childish and selfish hedonism. Lots of talk about the women he bedded, the boats he bought, his quest to know Avatar Meher Baba (without ever explaining the attraction to him in a way in which the reader can relate), the "process" he went through writing songs, the myriad ways his work influenced others (he takes a good bit of credit for the sounds of Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and others), but he gives no details on the things most readers want to know about. He names virtually everyone he has ever met, but these people are--in this book--nothing more than names. They are not personalities. He spends amazingly little time talking about his bandmates, which one would think would have been a big part of his growth and his success. Keith Moon gets some attention, but then more as an eccentric and doomed annoyance than as anything else. He spends all of a page and a half on the 1979 Cincinnati concert where 11 fans died in a stampede. Less than two pages of the 400+ page book on the most tragic event in concert history. He does say he regrets having continued the tour and playing the very next night. WOW! Some reflection and introspection there Pete!

It is also interesting that Townshend scrupulously avoids his run-in with the law over child pornography. Apparently that scandal doesn’t warrant his attention (sensible, I suppose, as it would take away from his incessant claims to enlightenment).

I trudged through this book as a Who fan. I finished reading it far less of a Townshend the man fan. I'm not sure if this is his lack of insight, his terrible writing (namely in terms of organization and bad editing), or if he's simply not much of a deep thinker.
Profile Image for Tosh.
Author 13 books660 followers
November 6, 2012
Without a doubt The Who was a major band in their time and place. Also Pete Townshend surrounded himself with great eccentric figures - Keith Moon, Kit Lambert, Nic Cohn, Chris Stamp, John Entwistle,and the first Who manager and visionary Pete Meaden. How I would love to hear stories about these guys from Townsend, but what we get instead is (very) basic tales of insecurity, doubt, "woo me being a star," etc from the mouth and brains of Pete Townsend.

There is nothing wrong with that, for he is very much the engine of The Who, but what made the band great are the characters surrounding The Who. Through Townshend's writing I don't get a clear picture of the individuals around him. He touches on it, but its totally reflects on his own ego or thoughts about his role in the mess of being in The Who. On paper this sounds like an ideal book, but reading it, I find it very normal, plain, and basically not exciting. Without a doubt Townshend is a superbly talented songwriter, who in the end thinks too much about his work. It is interesting that he admires Ray Davies of The Kinks, who I think is not only a better writer, but also a much more intense individual than Pete.

Reading this book right after the Neil Young memoir is interesting. Both are legendary without a doubt, and both are egotistical to the max. I think Townshend is much more of a charmer, but still he comes from a stock where he sees the world from only his pain, pleasure, and of course the doubt that is always there. Both Neil and Pete think a lot about their role in their lives, which is perfectly normal for any man in their mid-60's. But unlike someone like Bob Dylan or Patti Smith (both books by these artists are more superior than Pete or Neil's) are basically unique figures who rock because it is in their instinct to rock.

Pete praises John Entwistle, but I feel he doesn't give him credit for the great songs he wrote for The Who. "Boris the Spider" is a great classic Who song, and maybe my favorite Who song after the High Numbers material "I am the Face" and "Zoot Suit" two brilliant (and early) Who songs. And to be honest, to me, they were a great unstoppable band from The High Numbers to The Who Sell Out album. After that, "Tommy" and so forth -not that interesting to me. Classic rock albums yes, but essential Who... No not to me.

The book is an enjoyable read, but I wished it went further into the world with the guys he worked with as well as the Mod world. There is material in this book, but not enough of it.
Profile Image for Michael .
283 reviews26 followers
February 25, 2013
Much of what I read was much the same as the tales of my other pop heroes. I did learn about his great love for and understanding of the technical chores and challanges of recording. Also to be discovered
is Pete's need to use 'big words' that chased me to seek the assistance of Webster sometimes three times on one page. Yes, I do feel mixed. I am both annoyed and challenged to better my own vocabulary......overall....you went to the thesaurus too often Pete.

It seems somehow appropriate to draw parallels of Pete and me. I am a generation younger than the bands of the British Invasion, but yet, I wanted the life that I believed they enjoyed. I had many joyful experiences in the garage band days. At some point, before it got to be too late, I came to understand that I wanted a settled family life, not the gypsy life of a touring band. And, I also admitted that I was 'pretty good'.....but, not good enough.

It is my belief that Pete and his peers were captives of the success they achieved. They coped by whatever means necessary....me, I've been happily married to the same woman for over 36 years....I've got a head full of hair....and I allow myself one bottle of Islay whisky per month.

I think Pete is going to be okay.............mgc
Profile Image for Kirk.
108 reviews22 followers
January 31, 2015
Every year is the same
And I feel it again
I'm a loser, no chance to win
Leaves start falling
Comedown is calling
Loneliness starts sinking in
But I'm one...

-I'm One

Goodbye all you punks
Stay young and stay high
Hand me my chequebook
And I'll crawl out to die

-They Are All In Love

The Beatles Were Over With Herman's Hermits

Pete Townshend has long been my favorite personality in rock music, aside from all the obvious credentials, for being the best interview in the business, Exhibit A being the concert/documentary pastiche The Kids Are Alright. I remember reading a Rolling Stone interview in the student bookstore of my university some eons ago, trying not to laugh too conspicuously while Pete held forth on various peers. The internets kindly allowed me to track it down and read it again. Kurt Loder was the interviewer, he seemed to suss out that Pete was in an unguarded, expansive mood, and dangled enough bait until Pete took it and went to town. My favorite bit:

KL: I've been listening to Tug of War, Paul McCartney's new album. It may be the best thing he's done in a while – it sounds real nice. But it seems to have virtually nothing to do with rock & roll.
PT: Do you think he ever really had anything to do with rock & roll?

KL: Well . . . .
PT: No, he never did. You know, I could sit down and have a conversation with Paul about rock & roll, and we'd be talking about two different things. He's got a couple of years on me, but it could be ten years, we're so different. If he talks about rock & roll, I think he is talking about Little Richard. Whereas I don't think Little Richard mattered, you know?

But one of the reasons I'm excited about Paul's latest project is because it's him and George Martin working together again; because he's making a conscious effort to really get into serious record-making, rather than pissin' about in home studios – which I, for one, think he's terrible at. When "Ebony and Ivory" came out, everybody was saying, "Christ, have you heard it? It's terrible." Well, I heard it, and I thought it was fuckin' amazing! I thought, "That's it, that's McCartney!" He's actually taken black and white, put a bit of tinsel around it, managed by hook or by crook to get Stevie Wonder to sing it, sit on black and white piano keys on a video . . . . It's wonderful! It's gauche! It's Paul McCartney!

I've always said that I've never been a big fan of the Beatles: to me rock was the Stones, and before that Chuck Berry, and before that, maybe a few people who lived in fields in Louisiana. But I can't really include the Beatles in that. The Beatles were over with Herman's Hermits. That's not rock & roll. I was always very confused about the American attitude of thinking that the Beatles were rock & roll. Because they were such a big pop phenomenon. I've always enjoyed some of their stuff as light music, with occasional masterpieces thrown in. But with a lot of their things, you can't dig very deep. Either you come up against Lennon's deliberately evading what it is that he's trying to say, so it's inscrutable, or Paul McCartney's self-imposed shallowness, because he sees music as being . . . I mean, he's a great believer in pop music, I think. But I wonder whether McCartney, perhaps, rests a little bit on the laurels of the Beatles.

KL: Even an ostensibly glitzy group like Abba seems to me much more tied to rock & roll.
PT: Absolutely. I remember hearing "S.O.S." on the radio in the States and realizing that it was Abba. But it was too late, because I was already transported by it. I just thought it was such a great sound, you know – great bass drum and the whole thing. They make great records. Also, what's quite interesting is that Abba was one of the first big, international bands to actually deal with sort of middle-aged problems in their songwriting. And it was quite obviously what was going on among them – that song, "Knowing Me, Knowing You."

This was 1982, the same year I finally saw The Who in concert (their "Farewell Tour" it was called; one of the lead-ons was The Clash, of which I mainly remember "London Calling" and Mick Jones wearing an orange jumpsuit, which with hindsight I'm pretty sure annoyed Joe Strummer no end; it was epic; if you want to be a jerk you could point out that Keith Moon was already four years dead, but one can't have everything). Anyway, reading the entire interview there in the student bookstore was hilarious and exhilarating. Partly because I got the joke. I intuited that this was not all to be taken at face value (various other interviews thru the years would confirm that Pete isn't actually so contemptuous of the Beatles as he was letting on), but it was even funnier knowing it would be taken that way by many and inspire a plethora of angry letters from readers in the next Rolling Stone. Which it did. The Abba bit was just icing on the cake, as I have always unapologetically liked and defended Abba.

So the short version of my 3-star rating for Who I Am is that the above isn't the Pete we get in this book.

Which isn’t to say that this memoir isn’t intensely candid, because it is. Pete scrutinizes himself unflinchingly, sometimes mercilessly, and to mostly good effect for the reader, as he’s always been one of rock & roll’s more self-aware specimens. But he eases up a bit when he surveys the musical landscape, very much in elder statesman mode. The Pete who was once quoted saying “I don’t really respect Jeff Beck or Jimmy Page” isn’t to be found here. An example: after Keith Moon died and the band didn’t know how they wanted to continue, Phil Collins offered his services as a new drummer. That’s right—Phil Collins. Pete mentions this with a completely straight face, offers no comment whatsoever. I mean, can you imagine the 1982 Pete referenced above being served such a factoid and not grabbing it with both hands? The interview would have expanded three more pages on that alone. It’s one of those might-have-been alternate universes like the one where the lead role in Casablanca went to Ronald Reagan instead of Bogart. Or, if instead of Moon it had been Roger Daltry who had an untimely demise and had been replaced with, say, Billy Joel. I’ve seen horror movies, good ones, less scary than that.

It’s not that Who I Am is disappointing exactly (well maybe a little) but it could have been so much more. One problem is there seems to be too much effort to be comprehensive, to cover everything. It’s an admirable impulse in some ways, but for readers like me who are fans but in no way musicians ourselves, just how many details of Pete’s various home studios, with seemingly every piece of equipment catalogued, do we need? Answer: a whole lot less than this. There are various boats Pete bought that get more ink than his all-too-brief comments on The Who By Numbers, an underrated album I would have loved to read much more about. At various times, discussion of a topic will be cut short and there will be a footnote at the bottom of the page advising the reader that more detailed information can be found on the Who’s website. Which, yeah ok, but…really?

However, there is a lot to like. The material on the inner workings of The Who, how these four personalities meshed, and often clashed, is generous and fascinating. Here, there is no sense of papering over past conflict. Each of them at different times comes off as petty or spiteful or selfish, except possibly John Entwistle, who at worst is sometimes misguided but appears to have been as true and steadfast a friend as Pete ever had, and he says as much. Roger Daltry emerges as the one with the truest work ethic. Pete has said over the years that they wouldn’t have broken through from their early days to the success they eventually had without Roger’s tireless insistence, and that is very apparent here. There’s also a sense of the longsuffering aspect of working with Townshend; Pete sniped at Roger in the press frequently in the band’s later years, but he seems to have arrived at a genuine appreciation for Roger’s contributions, and it’s gratifying to see that. But the clashes and differing agendas are laid out nakedly; at one point when Pete has been reluctantly persuaded to reunite for yet another tour, he comments “None of us offered that I hadn't really wanted to go deaf in order to save Roger and John from being forced to live in smaller houses.” Ouch.

It would seem one of the primary motivations in writing the book was self-analysis and catharsis, and at times Pete appears to bend over backwards to not cast himself in a favorable light. Which beats the reverse, but when it comes to recounting his various infidelities, I sometimes wanted to interject, we get it Pete, you were a shitty husband, can we move on please? Really, if you want a list of the most sympathetic figures in the book, it would begin, 1. Karen Townshend. 2. Roger Daltry… That said, it is amusing to read about one failed conquest. Pete sees the Nicolas Roeg film Bad Timing. He's vaguely acquainted with Roeg, who ended his marriage to be with the film's star, Theresa Russell. Pete tries to call Roeg on the phone (there'd been some discussion of working on a project together), Ms. Russell answers, Nic as it happens is off in Paris, and Pete instantly decides he's besotted (a recurring thing it would appear). He persuades Ms. Russell to go to a Pink Floyd concert with him, then for a few drinks after. Theresa Russell is all of 23 at the time, fully in control, and makes it utterly clear at the end of the night that Pete ain't getting to first base. "You're cute, Peeder, but Nic, he's the leader" she laughs. Pete leaves, defeated, and whines to his driver that he could really do with a line of coke right about now. In fairness, if you've seen Bad Timing, you can't entirely blame him for this one.

In this book at least, John Entwistle's death hits with a greater force, maybe because Keith Moon's story is so much more familiar, and that from this vantage point it doesn't seem like any other ending was possible. Also, I got the sense that Moon was to some extent unknowable even to the band, he always seemed 'on', always portraying the character of Keith Moon. When Keith dies, Roger calls Pete with the news, expressed in three words: "He's done it." When John dies in 2002, it's Pete who calls Roger, who shouts "What!" This was on the eve of a tour, an unenviable situation to be sure, and Pete trots out the rationale that if they cancelled, alot of people wouldn't get paid etc. (They quickly hired another bassist and the tour went on.) Undoubtedly true, but for someone as self-aware and selfconscious as Townshend, it's one of the few instances when he seems genuinely clueless how crass it came off.

Inevitably in a biography such as this, once you get a fair distance past the glory days, interest wanes a bit. As I've never listened to The Iron Man or Psychoderelict, I can't really feign an interest in reading about them. But that's me, not a flaw of the book, and Quadrophenia, Townshend's genuine masterpiece, is covered generously enough. So yeah, three stars, worth reading if you're me, it's certainly not been an unexamined life.

A Postscript About Dogs

As a boy Pete had a dog, a Springer Spaniel named Bruce. He once absentmindedly threw a stick onto railroad tracks as a train was approaching, and Bruce instinctively went to retrieve it. Somewhat miraculously, while the train seemed to run over the dog, the dog wasn’t crushed, and after a minute managed to leap free of the train, entirely unharmed. One day Pete came home and his parents told him Bruce had been sent back to the kennel he originally came from; Pete knew instinctively they were lying and that the dog had been destroyed. Now here’s the thing, this instantly recalled for me a poignant essay the film critic Roger Ebert wrote about the only dog he had had as a child (called Blackie, if memory serves). Similarly, Roger came home one day and his parents told him the dog had been hit by a car and killed. Roger also knew instinctively that his parents were lying (on a recent evening, he had overheard his parents discussing getting rid of the dog) and that the dog had been put down. And in both cases, young Pete and young Roger pretended to believe the lies so as to spare their parents a confrontation, all the while being heartbroken at the loss of their dogs. Now this is only two anecdotes, but I’m thinking—what the fuck was up with (some) mid-twentieth century parents (Pete born 1945, Roger born 1942)? Was it some hard-bitten post-war thing? What??

Profile Image for David.
21 reviews4 followers
April 2, 2015
The Who was my favorite band when I was a teenager. When I began to make the transition from records and tapes to CDs, the first longbox I bought was "Quadrophenia."

I started reading "Who I Am" in the middle, because I think Pete was most compelling when he was in his late 30s. From 1980 to 1982, he released two solo albums and the Who released two albums. None are great ("Empty Glass" and "Face Dances" come close), but all are interesting. The book adds meaning to the some of the songs from this period. "A Little Is Enough," for instance, came together after Pete asked his wife, Karen, if she still loved him. "Maybe a little," she had replied. (The couple separated in 1994 and divorced in 2009.) "Did You Steal My Money" was based on an experience he had with a fashion model and lost merchandising concessions. (These concessions, Pete writes, were "still run by ex-pirates, who paid in cash.")

One thing the book conveys really well is the pressure Pete felt to be the Who's creative force. He calls singer Roger Daltrey the band's "unquestionable leader," but no one was more responsible the Who's artistic and financial survival than Pete. He and Springsteen, I'm sure, could have a long conversation about the burdens of having so many dependents — bandmates, family members, managers, crews, etc. — while trying to maintain a creative edge. (Pete on Bruce: "He worked the stage the way I did: to complete exhaustion. He also honoured Roger's working-class approach to singing, from the heart and lungs at once.")

"Who I Am" can be frustrating in the way that Pete the artist can be frustrating. At one point, he complains to Karen that trying to explain his ideas to the other members of the Who was like "trying to explain atomic energy to a group of cavemen." But given how pretentious how some of his ideas were — he describes one project as an "exploration of the terrain between the spiritual magic of music and the march of physics" — you can understand why they would just want to scratch their armpits and make loud music.
Profile Image for David Grapka.
10 reviews
March 6, 2013
I have been a fan of Pete Townsend and the Who ever since I rode my 3 speed bike 28 miles to the BIg N in Jamestown, NY to buy the "Who Sell Out" record. I told my mom I was going to do that and I don't think she believed me. She came to get me and picked me up on the road in Dry Brook. Pulled over, put my bike in the trunk and didn't yell at me at all!

Anyway, I got this book for Christmas and just finished all 507 pages. I learned a lot about Mr. Townsend, his enormous vocabulary, and about the history of rock music from the eyes of one of its most prolific writers. Much of Pete's introspection focuses on his suspicions that he was sexually abused as a young boy by relatives and and emotionally abused by his mother who was incapable of raising him in his formative years.

Sadly, much of the book reads like an expanded list of events that occurred from a totally narrative, newspaper-y point of view. Seldom does Mr. Townsend immerse himself in his own introspection and really let loose with his feelings about what happened, is happening, or is about to happen. I was hoping for more detail and background into how he wrote Tommy and other hits. Paul McCartney's autobiography read like one, and also like a treatise or textbook on how to write a hit song. I expected as much from Mr. Townsend, but felt his book was lacking in this area.

I recommend the book to any of you who are interested in details about the life of a British Rock Star beginning in the 50s, through the turbulent 60s and Woodstock, all the way to now, but know that he lacks feeling at times when he should most display feeling and compassion toward others - his wife and children for example.
Profile Image for Ti Emme Rock.
85 reviews13 followers
May 8, 2019
Pur essendo una fan degli Who, ho trovato questa lettura poco scorrevole. Nonostante si tratti di un'autobiografia, si sofferma davvero poco sui fatti che hanno segnato, nel bene e nel male, la sua vita. Sembra una lista infinita di fatti raccontati scrupolosamente in ordine cronologico. Manca di brio e di forza (quella che troviamo nelle canzoni della band!). In alcune parti sembra quasi giustificarsi, in altre traspare la sua insofferenza verso le persone (noi), che da anni finanziano le sue barche. Tre stelle, perché lui è Pete Townshend ed io, ahimè, rimango una sua fan.
Profile Image for Anita George.
370 reviews13 followers
July 6, 2013
This reads like a list of factual data without any real insight into Townshend, his friends and the times. He's obviously a very complex man and he claims to be searching for insight, but shares little beyond the superficial details. For example, he'll mention having a terrifying dream without telling the reader what it was about or why it was so frightening to him. With all his famous friendships, he never actually describes the people he's involved with beyond the obvious. I already know that Daltrey is a great singer, but what kind of person is he? What kind of relationship did they have? Keith Moon's death is merely mentioned (he doesn't even say how he died) and he says nothing about how he felt about it. Too much telling and not enough showing. I had looked forward to reading this very much and had no preconceptions about Townshend as a person so was expecting at least to like him. I found I actually disliked him and his admitting to being selfish, self absorbed and flawed didn't make me like him any more. At times, he comes across as cold and just plain mean. Even his handling of the child pornography charge is superficial and takes only a couple of pages. He doesn't talk about the emotional impact of the charge on him, or how it affected his friendships beyond mentioning those people who supported him. I should think that as someone who believes he was sexually abused as a child (even though he does not actually recall being so abused) he would be utterly horrified to be charged with this. His explanation comes across as self serving and facile. He claims to have accidentally gone to a child porn web page as part of his ongoing "campaign" against child sex abuse, but never mentions any such campaign before this; in fact, I found nothing online about him being involved in the issue at all prior to the charge. I don't know if he is a pedophile or not, and it is not for me to judge him, but if he really was innocent why on earth would he accept a caution and being placed on the sex offender registry? Why not fight the charge?
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for John Cooper.
227 reviews11 followers
June 29, 2013
Pete Townshend is a seeker — a type of person I know very well. Seekers are sensitive, spiritually curious, emotional, and mostly gentle. They tend also to be self-involved, overly serious, and self-indulgent, and can be thoughtless to others to the point of cruelty. Townshend is at peace with his faults and details them quite openly in his admirably candid memoir. Often I read with a bit of disappointed horror — really, Pete? — but I found it possible to forgive him precisely because he described his shortcomings with neither forced regret nor inappropriate pride.

This was a particularly interesting book to me because of the intensity of my teenage identification with Pete. In the '70s I instantly recognized him as someone who was looking for the same things I was looking for, and he even appeared in my dreams as a companion and creative mentor. Those days are far gone and I can see Pete Townshend for who he is: very far from a saint but also far from the worst sinner. Pete called his first solo album "Who Came First," and the answer, in retrospect, is crystalline — Pete always comes first. To those who understand that, I'm sure he can be a warm and valuable friend.
109 reviews
June 18, 2013
I enjoyed reading this memoir, at least for a while. It moves quickly and , as a fan of the Who, captivated my interest quickly. Townsend knows how to write (this was not ghosted). In fact, he has written numerous short stories, worked as an editor at Faber and authored columns for British music magazines. While numerous major figures in the rock and roll galaxy move in and out of the discussions in the book, this is not a tell-all. Townsend's focus is on himself and he is unsparing in his descriptions of his infidelities, addictions to numerous substances, and participation in activities he now regrets.

The books shortcomings are surprisingly in its structure. While chronological, Townsend rarely spends much time or discussion on any given subject--rather, events or appraisals of others are dealt with quickly and tersely so the reader comes away having learned only that certain things happened but in many cases, not much else.

As Townsend's narrative proceeds into the post-Who timeframe, it seemed as though his life became a repetitive cycle of compositions of songs that Townsend almost always sought to develop into a movie, or a stage play and spent a tremendous amount of time, energy and money to make these grandiose plans happen, sometimes with a degree of success. His family life suffered greatly as he focused on his art at the expense of his wife and children. The book does not stint on this harsh self-appraisal and Townsend admits he was aware of what he was doing at the time but felt compelled to do so despite the costs. The repetition becomes somewhat tiresome.

Overall, it is a worthwhile read and stands as a good complement to Keith Richard's autobiography.
Profile Image for Dave Schwensen.
Author 13 books3 followers
July 15, 2013
Pete Townshend’s memoir is exactly as titled: Who ‘I’ Am. In other words, it’s all about Pete. That’s fine – and what a memoir is normally about. But Townshend has never been a major solo icon (sorry fan club members). Yes, he’s had solo success as a writer and artist, but is known best as a member of The Who. His greatest triumphs – Tommy, Woodstock, Quadrophenia and sold-out tours were as part of a group. A very famous group that is recognizable for the “sound” they created together, sold millions of records, and is in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

But in this book, his band mates are barely more than extras in the background. Townshend spends more time describing his boats and the audio equipment in his many home-based recording studios, instead of (for instance) meeting John Entwistle (a childhood friend), major disagreements with Roger Daltry (except once describing how Roger knocked him out), and more insights into the joys and frustrations that had to be daily events while working with the self-destructive Keith Moon.

Again, it is Townshend’s story and he’s very frank and honest in telling it. His mental state and musical muse always seem to be in question. He also talks about his battles with alcohol, drugs, relationships and sex. But mostly it’s about his creative process. The results were always more artistic and ambitious in comparison to projects by most of his pop / rock peers. But the leader of one of the world’s top rock bands (that position would be argued by Roger Daltry) should be expected to shine more light on the artistic and creative project – The Who – that made him famous in the first place.

Profile Image for Fred Klein.
526 reviews20 followers
December 18, 2019
This autobiography is a lot like Pete Townshend's career. The part about his childhood is ok, the part about The Who is fun and interesting, and, otherwise, his discussion of his adherence to Meher Baba (he never fully explains *WHY*), his dreadful rock operas, and his solo career is self-indulgent, excessive, and boring.

I couldn't finish this. I think this is best left to the most obsessed fans of Pete Townshend, but I think even those who are into The Who will find this pretty boring.
Profile Image for Julie.
1,573 reviews43 followers
January 19, 2013
There is always a risk when reading a memoir of a famous person you like that after you read the memoir you won't like them as much. That happened to me after reading both Ginger Rogers and Olivia De Havilland's memoirs. I've always adored their movies so I was sad to find out they were assholes. Pete's memoir has caused a similar issue with me. He's not as horrible as Ginger or Olivia but he's still not such a great human being. Oh, I still love his songwriting and his guitar playing but as a friend, husband, father & bandmate - he sucks. I should have been suspicious after reading Eric Clapton's memoir - another asshole - because Eric is friends with Pete - hmmm.

There are extenuating circumstances around Pete's douchiness. His parents were alcoholics in an unhappy marriage, he was molested when he was 6, his crazy grandmother abused him physically and emotionally, his dog was given away, he was lonely and had few friends - it's really no wonder that he is a bit of a prickly mess. Of course, out of this emotional trauma springs forth brilliant songs. Great for his audience, not so great for the people that actually know him.

I was surprised to find out that Pete didn't really party that much in the 60s & 70s when The Who were in their heyday. (He waited until the 80s when Keith had died to get really messed up on drugs & booze) Turns out it was Keith & John who were the wild ones with all the stories. Unfortunately they both died before writing memoirs. I found it telling that John & Keith pulled a "prank" on Pete wherein Pete was infected with a venereal disease by a beautiful groupie. Seems pretty malicious for a prank and gives the reader a hint about how Pete was viewed by the rest of the band & the road crew. It reminded me of Gene Simmons from KISS. Gene was even more straight-laced than Pete and didn't really click with the rest of the band & crew while on the road. Both Pete & Gene clicked more with the business/record executive/ producer side. Which is good in the long run - Pete has remained successful & wealthy for almost 50 years.

The best part of the memoir was when Pete discussed how he wrote songs and the thoughts and process behind the music. He recognizes how pretentious and affected it can sound - discussing his creativity - but really, I think it would be hard to discuss the creative process within you without sounding ridiculously self-absorbed. Reading the memoir I was struck at just how many wonderful songs he has written. I also discovered all the other parts of his career that I didn't know about. He worked at a publishing firm as an editor? He worked on that cartoon The Iron Giant? He won a Tony for writing the book for a Broadway musical? Impressive.

Still, for all his success in his career, Pete strikes me as an unhappy man. I'm glad he has recognized his issues and gotten therapy and worked on his spiritual and emotional lives but he seems to be a work in progress. I'm only giving this book 3 stars instead of 4 or 5 because I did not enjoy spending time with him - it was sometimes hard to pick up the book to read. Compared to other memoirs I have read where I am constantly entertained by the voice telling me the story and wish to be friends with the person telling his life story, I do not wish to be friends with Pete. He's not a mate-y sort of guy you want to go to the pub with. His tension comes off the page and makes the reader tense. Just be prepared to find Pete depressing and irritating at times and you won't be disappointed reading this book.
Profile Image for Tom Schulte.
2,984 reviews58 followers
June 19, 2019
Long in coming, this is a rocker autobiography well worth waiting for. (And, waiting for me to get around to it.) In this audiobook, having Pete narrate it himself makes it more personal and adds dimension as he frequently chuckles or sighs in a way adding nuance to key passages.

So, this is not a Who memoir, but a Townshend memoir. Whole Who and even solo albums can be dispensed with by a sentence or two. There is none of the detailed session notes and track-by-track minutiae that often comes with such histories. Now, I like those too. This is about Townshend's career outside of the band; solo career, (book) publishing efforts and more, including his family life, life on the road, and battle with coke and the bottle.

Also in there is him grappling with the realities of his own remembered abuse as a child, being outed as a bisexual, and his child-porn arrest. There may be a lesson for anyone confronted with criminal charges here. While he claims to have been researching for his 2002 treatise, he also decided on admitting he used his credit card to gain access to a child-porn site. The guitarist was placed on the sex offenders register for five years while apparently no proof could be found that the credit card company took the money. (Maybe tht financial insitution was more circumspect than Townshend.)

Something that jumped out at me is while The Rolling Stones get mentioned about twenty times, Led Zeppelin is only-named dropped five times and seem to be a subject that is a present absence and there seems to be a dismissive tone to the few mentions. This made my Google:

"led zeppelin" "pete townshend"

Apparently, I am not the only one suspicious that Townshend harbors ill feelings for that group. One thing that does get mentioned much is his prescient vision for the internet as it would affect music distribution and creation. He seems so spot-on in hindsight on so much it makes me wonder if he could really have had the gift of so much accurate foresight.

This makes me feel a few aspects of the Townshend personality and story could be shaded differently with the perspectives of others close to his life.

Anyway, I had no idea of his deep adherence to Meher Baba, an Indian spiritual master who said he was God in human form, and how this affected the Tommy storyline. Also, Townshend is very forthcoming on his awkward attempts to participate in the changing sounds - punk included - while his hairline receded over his boiler suits and Doc Martens. He admits to a lot of unfortunate rage, fisticuffs, and destructive behavior if not to the lengths that eventually subsumed "John" and "Moonie".
Profile Image for Deidre Dalton.
Author 23 books3 followers
January 21, 2013
I finished reading "Who I Am" by Pete Townshend last night. It was a good book from start to finish and very well-written by the author. I've always admired Pete Townshend as a composer, musician and vivid story-teller. He also has a wry sense of humor, which is just as enjoyable as his other talents.

There are three passages in his autobiography which made me laugh out loud in particular. The first was when Pete and Roger Daltrey (lead singer of The Who and an accomplished actor as well) were attending a party in the early 1960s. Roger was known to be a bit rough around the edges, to put it mildly. Pete wrote of the party and Roger et al:

We saw fighting aplenty, and I have Roger to thank for the fact that no one ever laid a hand on me. Even a nasty drunk knew better than to provoke him.

In 1965, Pete bought a 1936 Packard V12 hearse. He parked it outside his flat in Belgravia, London. One day the vehicle was missing, and he feared it had been stolen. Instead, he learned it had been towed and impounded.

Out of nowhere I received a call from a man who wanted to buy the Packard. It emerged it had been impounded at the request of the Queen Mother. She had to pass it every day, and complained that it reminded her of her late husband's funeral. The bill to recover the car was over £200, an absurdly large sum of money, but the buyer offered to pay the fee in return for ownership. I agreed, and resentfully dedicated "My Generation" to the Queen Mother.

And finally, in 1996, Peter was aboard a Concorde flight from London to New York. The plane emergency-landed in Halifax because of technical difficulties (intense shaking as he described it). Also on the airplane were Elton John and his partner David Furnish. Townshend remarked how calm he remained through the event, but then wrote:

I wanted to commiserate with Elton abut a hysterical woman who'd started screaming (during the bumpy flight).

"That was me, darling," Elton confessed.

I highly recommend "Who I Am" to anyone who enjoys reading about the same era of culture and music. I'd rank Pete Townshend's book in the top five of all-time best autobiographies I've ever read (and I've read plenty of them).

Online review:
Profile Image for Becky.
308 reviews3 followers
January 1, 2013
I was so excited to read this book, especially after seeing a number of interviews with Pete about it. In the interviews, he spoke about trying to get his mother to talk to him about his childhood for years and how he finally succeeded while writing this book. He was so candid and his answers so heartfelt, and I expected more of the same from the book. I was a little disappointed. At a number of points in the book, the topic seemed to change in the middle of a section, leaving story threads hanging. I kept expecting him to tell the story about his mother in detail, and it wasn't there at all. I've read reviews that say he deals thoroughly with his arrest for child pornography, but I thought that was one of the stories that seemed to be missing something. I felt like I learned more about the situation from "Man in a Purple Dress," a song from the Who's 2006 album Endless Wire. (I should note that Pete's not the only one who claims the charges were made up based on one $5 charge on a credit card bill for a website he's never heard of.) When I read the acknowledgements, I understood why parts seemed choppy; he thanked his editor for helping him cut 500 pages from the manuscript. Some of those cuts could have been handled more smoothly.

There's still so much good stuff, though. If you're a Pete/Who fan, you should read this book. There are great stories (many told before, but still awesome)and interesting insights into Pete's writing process and his playing.

This is how I felt about this book right after reading it, but when I happened to read Rod Stewart's autobiography next, I realized that Pete's book lacks something else. Rod's book was so much fun in comparison. I know that's to be expected; Pete's the tortured artist and Rod's the eternal playboy, but it was more than that. Rod's book (written with a "real" writer) seemed more authentic, very true to his voice. I know Pete has more of a sense of humor than came through in the book; it would have been good to get more of that side of him.

(Sorry for the inconsistent tense; I want to get this posted in 2012.)
Profile Image for Donna Thomas.
16 reviews
July 15, 2013
After waiting for this book for decades, it could probably only be a disappointment. That said, there were some particular issues:

A surprisingly flat prose authorial voice. It turns out that being able to create phrases that are deeply affecting, in fact world-changing, when sung and arranged to music does not mean that you will create equally stirring verbiage sans music. I can hardly hold this against Mr. Townshend. He's brilliant at multiple things; it just turns out that autobiographical writing isn't one of them. Maybe he heard all his prose with musical arrangement; that seems likely, given what he discusses in the book. It's just that I didn't have the benefit of being in his head, so it all felt rather flat to me.

An imbalanced mix of anecdotes. Look, it's his life, and I totally get that this was a hard book for him to write. I tracked his public comments on its development over years. And it's not like I've written an auto-bio. But, he's got a weird mix of anecdotes in this thing, and they lean toward the not-very-happy, which doesn't make for super compelling reading overall. Mind you, the anecdotal mix is nowhere near as bizarre as that in the Dylan auto-bio from a few years' back. This one is a marvel of balance and linearity compared to that one, in fact.

Tl;dr: I'm glad this book finally got published. I just wish it had been a bit more artful.
Profile Image for David Wallis.
19 reviews
March 5, 2013
Mr. Townshend's writing is friendly and accessible; I felt like a new friend who he was walking through his life, warts and all. He has the humility of a recovering person (a certain peace, serenity) mixed with bat-shit escapades, out of control ego AND insecurities, drugs/alcohol, black emotions. He never really crows about his 'victories', is tortured about balancing his work with his family, which includes the members of The Who.

You will feel you really know the man. Pete has always been at the top of my fantasy dinner party guest list-my plan would be to keep him after and keep him talking into the wee hours, and now I feel a bit like I have.

I had just finished the very good, but not excellent 'Who Are You' biography of PT, which I started in late 2012. Nearly 700 pages, it took months to read and at the end was a bit of a chore to finish. I bought 'Who I Am', at Xmas and thought it would be cool to read them back to back, to compare notes, insider vs outsider, etc. Turned out to be very Apples and Oranges. I started this on a Wednesday flight down to Florida (from Detroit) to visit grandparents and I finished it the following Monday, two(very busy)days after I returned. Its 500+ pages breeze by.

Mr. Townshend started this tome in the mid-90s. It was worth the wait. It's a keeper-I scribbled all in the margins of my hardcover copy.
Profile Image for Paula.
99 reviews2 followers
August 1, 2013
I listened to Pete Townshend read his autobiography on my MP3. I think if I had been reading this I would not have finished it. It is more of a chronology of barely related facts. He does not go into depth about his personal life. However the book is just a clue into his self centered personality. He never gets into his friendships or love lives. The people in his life are merely mentioned. Most disturbing was his lack of emotion over the deaths of Keith Moon and John Entwistle. They are merely one line in a voluminous book. If these men were such a big part of his life, I think they deserve more than a mere mention. He did not seem to evoke any emotion to their deaths. He is a very talented artist, but I think his life lacked human compassion to others. I was also disturbed how little he mentions his daughters. It appears he had no time for them as they grew up. I don't know what I was expecting, but this is one of the worst autobiographies I have read.
Profile Image for Jackie "the Librarian".
882 reviews270 followers
December 31, 2016
Townsend is a fascinating man, but he was more interested in talking about the cars, boats, and studios he had built than in his music and personal life. I get that, I don't like talking about myself much either. But I really wanted an in-depth, comprehensive accounting of Mr. Townsend's life, and I didn't truly get that here.
Profile Image for Gus Sanchez.
Author 5 books51 followers
November 16, 2012
Pete Townshend has led a seemingly contradictory life. Eloquent and empathetic one moment, crass and insensitive the next. A spiritual soul that nearly succumbed to the pleasures of the flesh. A doting family man whose extramarital affairs inevitably destroyed his marriage.

A brilliant guitar. A gifted songwriter. A lousy bandmate. A pretentious asshole. All of the above.

I wondered for a while what it would take for Pete to finally publish his memoirs. As rock stars go, Pete Townshend has staked his claim as the thinking man's rock star, and rock's thinking man, a deeply sensitive, highly creative soul who's never been shy to bear his self and his soul to his public. Who I Am is exactly what one would expect, and expect nothing less from Townshend: a warts-and-all autobiography, a mix of maudlin and praise. Modest? Hardly. Brutally honest? Very much so.

Townshend doesn't lavish much type on the Who as a band; there are countless tomes on the 'Orrible 'Oo, the best of which are Dave Marsh's Before I Get Old: The Story of the Who, and Richard Barnes' illustrated/oral history of the band, Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere. Those expecting more salacious stories and triumphant tales are advised to read elsewhere. Instead, and wisely so, Townshend gives up many a glimpse into his thinking, his emotions, his reactions to life inside the Who and as a solo artist, all the while chasing the personal demons that have haunted him throughout his adult life. He doesn't shy away from the sexual and emotional abuse he suffered as a child at the hands of his deranged grandmother and "father figures" that did not have Pete's interests at heart. One listen to Tommy, and it's clear the two Townshends are evident: the brash, articulate, spirituality-seeking man, and the frightened, anxious boy. Who I Am is the story of the two Pete Townshends, at time hilarious, other times cringe-inducing. But this is Pete Townshend we're talking here. The man's never been known for his filter, and that's what we love about him. Even at his most arrogant, or his most vulnerable, Pete Townshend has never been anything more than honest, even if it means being brutally so.

One word of warning: Who I Am is at times uncomfortably graphic, and he spares no detail in his harrowing story regarding his arrest, and acquittal, over child pornography charges. Even though Townshend was exonerated, he demonstrated great intent in exposing credit card companies too eager to approve charges made by pedophiles viewing child porn online, he also demonstrated shocking naivety in thinking he was simply doing the right thing. A massive misunderstanding - Scotland Yard was immediately convinced, upon his arrest, that Townshend was guilty of absolutely nothing - which led to his very public crucifixion. Townshend is still haunted by the incident, but his resolve is still absolute.

It's taken Pete a long time to write this memoir - something he once claimed he'd write in his early 20's - but the wait's been worth it. As eloquent and heartfelt as he's been lyrically and on stage, Who I Am is equally as eloquent, as to be expected from rock' Man of Letters.

Upon final read of Pete Townshend's well-stated memoir, you get the feeling that what Pete Townshend really needs is a hug.

Come here, you big silly.
Profile Image for Phil Ford.
Author 5 books14 followers
May 6, 2019
As I am getting ready to go see "The Who" on their "Movin' On" tour in a week, there is particular relevance to reading this now. Also, Pete Townshend and The Who has meant a lot me, since picking up the Who's Missing cassette back in 1984, when I was a teen, and delving full on into this band as my first and favorite classic rock band. Naturally I went on to enjoy my own era of music, but when you are young, you fall into some categories, and I was quite deliberate how I would approach listening to music in my life. Starting with history, and classic rock. Townshend's style of guitar playing vastly influenced mine as I developed it as well. So yes, it was probably essential reading for me to pick this up.

That being said, this is an honest memoir from a person who knew at a certain point in his young life, that rock and roll music would be his future, even if he had to destroy it.

From a musical family, we get early glimpses of things in his life that find their way into a lot of Who music, most relevantly Tommy. The writing is blunt and simple in the delivery and you can see that he has always lived with the darkness of abuse and addiction that has haunted him throughout his life and career. Even in a recent Instagram post, he is emotionally torn to perform parts of Tommy on the new tour.

There is some great Who beginnings history too, however, and it is just amazing to hear about his relationships with Keith, John and particularly Roger. Knowing each other since kids, they are like family, sometimes estranged, other times close, and even other times business partners.

He talks about his family, marriage, kids, sexuality, his troubles, addictions, spirituality and music highlights.

Some events in the book where I thought there would be some extrapolated emotional voyage, he seems surprisingly detached; the '79 Cincinnati show and Keith Moon's death for examples. Those moments are addressed, just differently than I imagined, perhaps more honest to his point of view at the time.

The book is a journey for himself as much as anyone who follows The Who, Pete Townshend, or even that heightened and amazing era of rock and roll music. From rock punk to rock "god", pauper to strangely wealthy, Townshend puts it all out there. It's a fucked up history, but a necessary tale to tell.

As a fan, I get a sincerely intimate portrait of him. I really believe that. I've seen this guy's face in my life for so long now, he feels like an Uncle. (He is in his 70s now). This portrayal, this memoir, deepens my understanding of who he may be.
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