Pete Townshend's book was initially released, I heard on my local classic rock station that he immediately regretted writing it, and wished he didn't. One can understand this - when you put your life in a book you expose yourself to the world and risk emotional infections. I write fiction, and while I don't have a readership the size of The Who's fan base I still feel queasy every time I announce a new title. Just as with non-fiction, and even song writing, there's a piece of yourself in everything you publish. As a lyricist, Townshend no doubt shared plenty of his life through song, and Who I Am serves to deconstruct his life in music and on the fringes of the industry.
He seems - to me, anyway - to tell his story with some hesitation. When my husband saw me with the book he cast me the patented "wink-wink, nudge-nudge" smile, as though expecting something sordid like recent musician bios I've read (*cough* Mick Jagger *cough*). Even if you have casually kept track of Townshend's career over the decade you've probably caught all the juicy bits - from the mystery of his sexual preferences to the addition of his name to a sex offender registry. These instances are covered in his book, though not dwelled upon for more than a few pages. Neither are the events of his youth ostensibly connected to these later issues revealed in great tabloid detail. Perhaps Townshend's memory has failed him when it comes to recalling the abuse he claims to have suffered at the hands of his grandmother and her friends, or maybe he deliberately chose to focus more on his professional life. If you are a die-hard Who fan and concern yourself more with musicianship than gossip, you will likely appreciate how the book is structured.
For somebody who seems reluctant to write his memoir, he offers a rather large product - Who I Am checks in at 500+ pages which breeze through a tense childhood with entertainer parents and the early days of The Who, through the peak of their stardom and Townshend's struggle to balance work, family, and various vices with his growing spirituality (just as The Beatles found enlightenment with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Townshend embraced the teachings of Meher Baba). There are gossipy anecdotes as well, including same-sex flirtations and one tale putting Townshend in the awkward position of distracting George Harrison while Eric Clapton made a play for Patti. The things we do for friends.
Some reviews I've read of Townshend's book complain there isn't enough information despite the book's length. I'm neither a casual Who fan nor a die-hard - I'm in the middle somewhere, I'll watch Tommy when Palladia runs it - but I enjoyed the book, more so than many of the memoirs and bios I've read this year. Being a writer, I suppose I appreciated Townshend writing about writing, songs and fiction and rock operas. When he does open up about heartache, infidelity, and conflicts with band mates and others there is an air of honesty (and in some instances regret), and while you might not sympathize completely with him you may come away from reading Who I Am satisfied that you read a good story. I am.
Kathryn Lively is a mystery author and a book blogger.