Who I Am

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Another book in my quest to understand the roots of creative genius. And also another failure at that quest. It's probably time to give up on this idea of seeking insights from celebrity memoirs. (Previous tries: Jimmy Webb; Bruce Springsteen; Donald Fagen; Eric Clapton; Tina Fey; Steve Martin; Bob Dylan.)

Pete Townshend's book is longer and probably more literate than most. It's full of introspection, but the takeaways are not that insightful.

But does it hit all the major themes of rock-god autobiographies?

Drugs? Check. A lot of cognac, but also cocaine, pot, prescription drugs, heroin, LSD, …

Sex? Check. Mostly fumbling, some unconsummated, mostly at the expense of long-suffering wife Karen. Surprising: Theresa Russell!

Psychological problems? Oh heck yes.

Weird religious beliefs? Have you ever heard of Meher Baba? Pete is is most devoted disciple. Did that keep him out of trouble? No. But maybe he'd have been in even worse shape without.

Some random observations:

  • He's admitted to the Daltrey/Entwistle band on page 46. His memory of the "audition" is Roger asking "Can you play E? Can you play B? Can you play 'Man of Mystery' by the Shadows? "Hava Nagila"? OK, then. See you for practice at Harry's."

    From such inauspicious beginnings…

  • Keith Moon gets into the band on page 67, replacing the "too old" Doug Sandom. Hey, Sandom may have been old and boring, but you know what? Unlike Moon, he's still alive.

  • It's funny how Townshend's musings about his music differ from my fanboy impressions. I liked the Who OK, but when Who's Next came out in 1971, I thought it was a masterpiece. Still do, in fact. Turned me into a lifelong fan. Mr. Townshend seems to view it as a thrown-together hackwork to appease contractual obligations after the collapse of his ambitious Lifehouse project.

  • On page 377, he refers to song he's written "for my friend, Harvey Weinstein." Wince. Wonder if he'd like to have that one back.

  • On page 107, he recalls in 1966 listening to "the Beach Boys' stereo masterpiece, Pet Sounds". I like Pet Sounds too, but it wasn't released in a stereo mix until 1997.

  • As an example of the book's introspection without insight: on pages 438-9, he mentions going to a couple sessions of couples counselling with long-suffering wife Karen. Upshot? "The first session was all right, but the second was less successful." Pete, could you have made that anecdote any less interesting? If you're not going to go into specifics, why are you telling us this at all?

Anyway, I'm glad Pete didn't die before he got old.