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You Couldn't Make It Up ...
on 28 January 2006
"Dear Boy" is many kinds of a book. Whilst it is of course a rock biography, it is also by turns a comedy, a romance, psychoanalysis and probably most of all, a tragedy.
Since first hearing the Who as a Mod in the 1980s during the death of the youth cult's revival that began in 1979, I have been fascinated with the life of the band that have been important for so many followers of music, mod and rocker alike. "Dear Boy" is the greatest insight into Keith - and in fact The Who - since Barnes' "Before I Get Old".
In "Dear Boy", Fletcher begins with Keith's childhood, where even then it was wondered if he suffered with some form of hyperactivity. Insights range from his life at home with his mild-mannered parents, divided from them by a curtain spanning the living-room behind which he played his drums; to his practical jokes on the streets which were the forerunner of some of his later, more famous antics.
The book follows his musical career from the Beachcombers (apparently the happiest time of his life) to The Who. It reveals the complex relationships he shared with the other band members. His practical joking he shared with John Entwistle (they bought a car together containing hidden speakers so they could alarm the public with their announcements), his destructiveness he shared with Pete Townshend (jointly responsible for the hotel smashing escapades but always happy to leave Keith with all the credit), and his see-saw relationship with Roger Daltrey, who was once almost thrown out of the band for beating Keith up whilst on tour.
But the true tragedy of his life is revealed through his friends and family. Keith, desperate to be wanted and loved, tried to be liked by everyone. As his fame grew so did his bizarre behaviour - fuelled by an increasing alcohol and drug habit - in an attempt to become even more popular. All the time however there was a frustrated and depressed man underneath it. Plagued by the death of his one-time minder for which he held himself personally responsible, the break up of his first marriage and his addiction to mind-altering substances, Keith often tried many things to rid himself of his demons - from medication to drying-out clinics and even to an unusual form of exorcism.
Fletcher writes with a genuine love and sympathy for Keith, but also with boldness and honesty, refusing to shy away from the darker side of his nature, usually manifesting itself at home. No stone is left unturned (and no hotel, it seems, is left unsmashed) as he tries hard to get inside the mind of the world's most famous drummer and to the root of his problems - in fact in my opinion trying harder than many of the quacks Keith asked help from during his life.
Fletcher adds an extra dimensions to the things commonly known. For example, I knew Keith had trashed hotels; but I had no idea of the scale of it, the sheer level of destruction that was caused. I've seen photos of Keith often dressed up as Hitler or a Jester - but I had no idea he would actually take on this persona, driving his family crazy by remaining in costume and in character for days on end.
It's a huge book; however due to its well-written and easy style, it didn't take me long to get through it. Very much recommended.