Thursday, September 3, 2015

Pete Townshend's "Who I Am"" Audiobook Review

I heard this all the way through the acknowledgements, where Pete thanks his editors for assisting in cutting this down from 750 to 450 pages. As it is, it certainly abounds in tiny detail, drawn from Townshend's archives and journals kept for many years, as well as, I am sure, anecdotes with which he has regaled many fans for decades. I liked his genial presence, and listening to his London accent energizes what can be at times a slow narrative. He tends to chuckle or chortle a lot as he tells his tale. This can annoy sometimes, as when one sounds self-satisfied for being clever, but it also can be endearing. Over 17+ hours spent in Pete Townshend's company, not only The Who come alive, but his childhood, art school in Ealing, his schoolboy friendship with John Entwistle, and the hidden truths behind a troubled upbringing and his parents' own discontent. All this looms in his adulthood.

It's rousing to hear of Keith Moon's "liquid drumming" and John's "loquacious bass" driving the band in their Maximum R+B period, capped by Roger Daltrey's "howling like a black prisoner." Certainly, Pete loves his bandmates, and those who preceded The Who get their fair mention too. So do hundreds of others, as mentors, rivals, managers, staff, engineers, producers, friends, lovers, and fans, as Pete takes pains to credit many who made him and the band able to pursue "the best day job ever."

He shares the stories one expects. But some of the albums with the original lineup get but passing mention, such as "Sell Out" and "Who By Numbers;" much attention on the other hand is expended unsurprisingly on "Tommy" and "Quadrophrenia" in their best-known as well as subsequent iterations in concert, in film, and as musical theatre. In fact, I lost track of their variations, as on these and other solo and band projects, Townshend keeps returning to them as his skill and the technical equipment evolve, and he immerses himself perhaps like none of his peers into the possibilities of computing.

This leads him into one well-publicized run-in with the police, and he explains his side carefully. You will come away more clearly understanding what Pete set out to investigate, and the mistake he made. He also is forthright about his long addictions, his troubled marriage and affairs, family life,  and his determination to assist those less fortunate by charities and performances. This material again can weigh the telling down in its pace, but it's only fair to him that he balances his most famous period with his later life. Still, for all his enthusiasm about boats, he offers a lot of minute description.

All in all, I enjoyed hearing this, and I probably would not have if another reader recited this book. You get a truer sense of the intellectual, irascible, and introverted sides of this performer, who out of the limelight appears to have relished solitude (in his many homes), but who for the sake of his band mates and his fans (and perhaps The Who's accountants and labels), made the shows and tours go on. (Amazon US 4-21-15 and 6-26-15 to Audible.)

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