Thursday, June 27, 2013

Pete Townshend's Autobiogaphy

I just finished reading Who I Am, almost an ideal antidote to jet lag and exhaustion following back-to-back trips to Europe. I don't usually read rock star or celebrity autobiographies. Aside from the fact that the authors are usually narcissists, if not solipsists, writing for self-serving purposes, I just am not that interested in the details of their lives.

Townshend's book is a bit of a special case, however, because I have been a huge fan of The Who, as well as his solo-work, since I bought the LP of Tommy back in 1971 - it was the second album I ever purchased (after the Mahavishnu Orchestra's Inner Mounting Flame, which I purchased that same year on the advice of my percussion teacher). To this day, I consider Quadrophenia to be among the great musical achievementes (in any genre) of the twentieth century.

I found Townshend's autobiography at once enjoyable, painful, and pathetic. The de rigueur accounts of rock-star excess and stupidity (belying Homer Simpson's belief that rock stars know everything), the book is leavened by an unusually large dose of humanity and fellow-feeling, even for those who crossed or otherwise fell-out with Townshend. In particular, I could not help empathizing with him and, especially, Karen in their long (and ultimately unsuccessful) struggle to preserve their marriage.

Throughout most of the book, Townshend's narrative was more pedestrian than I had expected; much of it seemed like day-by-day accounts taken more or less straight from a diary, without much effort at artistic rendering. Only occasionally did I come across descriptions (mostly of nature scenes) that seemed written with the more creative pen I expected to be held by such a thoughtful and creative artist.

I cannot say that it's up there with the other biographies I've read so far this summer (of Frank Ramsey and Albert Hirschman); but I never expected it to be in the same league as those, and I did find it therapeutic in a way, as well as nostalgic - bringing back fond memories of a much younger self I hardly recognize.

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