on 12 November 2012
Here's the problem with most of the reviews that you'll read here on Amazon: most people writing them are, unsurprisingly, Who fans. This means they're measuring this book (an Pete's behaviour and stories) against their own projected image and thoughts on him. He is, after all, just another bloke and the result is the sound of hundreds of Pete projections crashing from their respective pedestals.
Objectively, this appears to be a clear, well written book. It's honest and surprisingly self-deprecating. Pete is clearly a man who has battled and continues to battle his demons. Demons from his childhood. Demons in the form of mental illness and compulsive behaviour. Demons in trying to find order in the chaos of his life and the excess and premature deaths of those in his circle. Demons in searching for that 'ultimate' project that would somehow, somewhere capture the visions, sounds and ideas he has in his head. All the major events of his life from a troubled childhood, through the formation of The Who, their rise to greatness and eventual self-destruct are all described in satisfying detail. If I had to level a criticism I would say I wanted to know more about the inter-band dynamics and characters. What were John, Keith and Roger like? I felt by the end of the book that I knew Pete reasonably well - or as well as you can from a book - but that the other band members felt like shadows, cardboard cut-outs and distant from the action. But it may just have been me. The writing is direct and very factual. Sometimes slightly too much so and some more humour would be welcome. Overall, I would say it was a solid, honest and interesting ride with a man not ashamed to open himself up and let everyone see him, warts n' all. Thanks Pete.
From a personal point of view, as a Who fan, Pete fell slightly from the pedestal I'd put him on. That's neither a good or bad thing. It's just the truth and often a consequence of reading an autobiography. A bit like watching the behind-the-scenes extras on a DVD. Once you know how the magic is done it can often make you appreciate something more - even if some of the mystical magic is taken off. Pete comes over as troubled most of time, spinning the plates of his various projects, band commitments and family life often at the expense of his health. Usually it ends with Pete falling off the wagon and into drugs of some description and/or emotionally 'lashing out'. This cyclical process that despite being now in his mid-60's he has yet to break. Maybe he never will. That's not a criticism of the man, more of an observation. It also seemed odd to me that someone who is clearly so intelligent can (still) be a follower of Meher Baba and be so superstitious in his outlook in some respects. Deciding things on the flip of a coin, assigning meaning to random events, buying placebos, seeing 'signs' in the nothingness etc - A child-like belief in destiny and the after-life or spirit at odds with his clear intellect (labelling it 'spiritual'). I can only suppose that this child-like longing may be related to his unconventional and sometimes harrowing childhood - it may be responsible for some of his wonderful and moving music. He comes over as a man in combat with the various aspects of his personality; on the one hand with high morals and prepared to go to extraordinary lengths in loyalty to friends, then on the other happy to cheat on his wife, feeding the self-loathing aspect of his pysche. But, most of all, he comes over as someone very honest, searching for something that I hope he finds one day.
I'm now off to listen to Quadrophenia extremely loud!....:)
on 16 October 2012
I had been looking forward to reading this book since it was first announced. It's entertaining, but also strangely disappointing in terms of not living up to high expectations - those expectations having been raised simply by the highly intelligent and articulate nature of the author. The tone of the text is rather academic and sedate and it rather lacks the passion and wit that has typically been present in the author's interviews, articles and letters. It is as if it is the product of a therapist coaxing the facts of a story out of a patient for a clinical document. Much of the story has been documented elsewhere in detail, drawing upon interviews and texts, but there are a number of personal insights and revelations that do expand upon it. I do think that the book suffers from being too condensed and edited. Many key milestones in the author's career and development flash by in only a few lines when they warrant far more detail and exploration. In fact, the book could well have been twice the length and split into two volumes to do its subject greater justice. The style of the narrative is to a degree confessional in its accounts of the largely self-destructive lifestyle that the author has frequently led and of the strain that he subjected his wife, family and friends too. However, the emphasis is on documenting that lifestyle and not really clarifying or exploring the motivation or reasons for it. The portrait the author paints of himself is at times quite uncomfortable. Whilst his audience eagerly awaited his and The Who's recordings and performances, the flipside of producing and maintaining those triumphs seems to have taken a very heavy toll on his relationships with those closest to him and the question that is left hanging is really one of whether the artistic and commercial successes have truly been worth the cost of the damage that he has inflicted on himself and others. Given the author's tendency to recycle and revisit his work, I hope that this work will one day be revisited and expanded in such a way as to give more of an insight into what makes him tick and what motivated him to do his best work. Until then this is the book to read.
on 3 June 2014
This is a big long listen, about a big long life in music, and in short, it's brilliant.
Pete Townshend reads his own life story across 70 years and 15 CDs, and frequently amuses himself with his past indiscretions, errors of judgement and false-steps. He also manages to pronounce his first wife's name (Karen) differently every time he reads it, which seems to tie-in with the old maxim that if you can remember the 60s you weren't there. That human touch to the narration is one of the many charms of this audio-book, along with the sheer fascination of listening to the unfolding career one of BritRock's true champions, from 60s Mod pioneer to hard rocker, to co-conceiver of concept rock, and finally as stadium hell-raiser. There must be something for every music fan somewhere in that range of musical generations. As you would expect from someone who initially made his name smashing guitars on stage long before it was fashionable, Townshend pulls no punches in telling his life story - sexual inhibitions, sexual indiscretions, sexual accusations are all worked-through carefully and thoughtfully with the benefit of hindsight, and by the end, who he is has been answered in full. A star. After 10 of the discs I had to consciously slow down my rate of listening as the end was approaching just too quickly.
on 10 November 2012
I agree with many of the rather varied comments already written. Overall I also found it depressing that a richly talented man is so self pitying in his outlook. he describes himself as a loner, and i have seldom read a book so unsympathetic to, or uninterested in, his fellow human beings. I too think his musical legacy is very much in the string of hit singles in the 60's. if he had only written My Generation that would have been enough to ensure his legacy. (Personally I found Tommy a load of pretentious twaddle) So, the book is well worth reading, offering an insight into a man who could never be described as your average rock star!
This is the book that we Who/PT fans have longed for. We knew that Pete's account of his life would be very different to how his story has been retold through the decades, but nothing prepares the reader for the blunt, unselfpitying voice emerging here. As a songwriter, Pete has expressed his muddled and sometimes tortured self and we've always accepted his flaws. His honesty transfers uncomfortably to memoir; not in terms of writing quality, but in the sad revelations of infidelity and drug use. I've always respected Pete for never denying his flaws and weaknesses, but I never suspected that the roots lay in a chillingly sad chapter of his childhood - a mad, often cruel grandmother and her frightening male friends - that seems to have blighted his entire life.
There is the unfortunate aspect of why many readers of tabloids will buy this book, specifically Pete's arrest in 2003. He took his punishment and lived out his five-year penance, but still has his disastrous mistake hanging over him. I still feel shock and sadness about this whole saga, but reading Pete's unflinchingly clear account I accept that he meant to do good. His heart ruled his head, in an emotionally crazed mouse-click.
Disappointingly, Pete talks little of the background, the triggers perhaps, behind many songs. Some are mentioned in detail ('Seeker' and 'Pure and Easy', for example), but I've always wondered how 'Naked Eye', 'Slit Skirts', 'Blue Red and Grey' (among many personal favourites) came about.
Of course, life in the Who and the major projects such as 'Tommy', 'Lifehouse' and 'Quadrophenia' are exhaustively covered, as are the turkeys 'White City', 'Iron Man' and 'Psychoderelict'. There are occasional hints as to what may have inspired a song, such as an adolescent fantasy about owning a fleet of beautifully decorated buses. Umm, I wonder...
Karen Townshend emerges as a reluctant heroine, a remarkably resiliant and great-hearted wife. Roger Daltrey started out as a tough, somewhat one-dimensional bruiser, but he has been Pete's most reliable friend. It is really touching to read Pete's feelings for these two amazing, long-suffering backers.
Pete's memoir has been a long time coming, but worth the wait. 'Can You See the Real Me', he had Daltrey wail, and now we have this amazing guy's life finally told in Pete's own voice. An amazing journey, indeed.
on 7 February 2013
I was looking forward to this. Pete Townshend has always seemed the most intelligent, the most academic and the most intellectual of that wonderful cohort of Sixties Rockers. His application of Pop Art to Pop Music was inspired, his ambition to see popular music as something way more than just a 3 minute single or a collection of unrelated, disparate tracks collected together to form an "album", proved that rock wasn't just the preserve of the boorish, ignorant and drug addled, though it was that too. He was a visiting editor at Faber & Faber in the mid 80's, he's written some wonderful songs, operettas; he's stood for the redemptive and positive force of rock. He's led a wild, obsessive, creative, destructive, fascinating life ... and he's succeeded in writing an extremely boring and amateurish book about it.
Despite all that he's created, all he's seen, lived through, won, lost, done, spent, used & used up ... he cannot, by the evidence of this book, tell its story. And therein lies the problem ... he is just not a raconteur. His written insight doesn't go much beyond "what do you expect from a rock star", his attempts at humour are risible and he says nothing about the creative processes that have defined his work: composition and recording. His intended Magnum Opus, the Lifehouse Project, itself the subject of one half of a book (Won't Get Fooled Again: The Who From Lifehouse to Quadrophenia by Richie Unterberger) is dismissed in a couple of pages. He doesn't seem to have researched his subject deeply enough (except 2 obvious lifts from Dave Marsh's Before I Get Old), which is odd, considering the subject in question is his life. The style is reminiscent of those facile 30p paperback biogs by George Tremlett you used to get in the 1970's.
Pete played The Goldhawk, Monterey, Woodstock, Madison Square, The Rock n Roll Circus ... from this book, you get no sense of his having done so ... he might just as well have written about walking down to the newsagent to pick up a Sunday paper and 20 Rothmans.
Story telling is about making the mundane magical ... not the other way round, but if this book succeeds at anything, it succeeds at that.
on 13 November 2012
If ever anyone was going to write something other than the clichéd laddish `rock star' autobiography then Townshend's the man. Sure enough he's gone and proved it here. Through degrees of sometimes painful honesty and equally painful pretence he tells us more about himself than perhaps the average reader might want to know. His wholeheartedness has to be admired, but his commitment to ART (the capitals really apply in his case) is more than a little wearing, just as his weakness for spending copious amounts of money is.
This is a book reflective of the idea of life as a journey, so no surprise there. Townshend is particularly good on the sense of salvation that music can bring to a young -particularly perhaps male- life even while he makes no reference to it as such, and he's a writer gifted to the point where the reader gets a sense of the north-west London milieu he grew up in.
As a child and young adult he was undoubtedly precocious in some respects; his claim to have heard `the music of the spheres' at a young age is an obvious and pretentious manifestation of this, while in others he was self-conscious. In a way that's been a strength -very few `rock stars' have shown self-awareness sufficient to realise that playing the role might in fact be quite at odds with them as individuals.
There is however only a heavily veiled sense of Townshend's gratitude for the wealth he's enjoyed as a consequence of fans' commitment to his music. He blithely discusses buying homes, boats and recording studios as though it was the kind of thing the average multi-drop delivery driver does every day, and for all of his grasp of the cocoon he consequently lives in he displays little appreciation for how he's managed to come by such privilege. The amount of names he drops and the frequency he drops them with suggests that for all his angst he still wouldn't be able to function outside of it.
All of this said his dedication of the book `to the artist in all of us' is touching. Such a simple act might have the effect of giving hope to those who struggle with artistic endeavour -I guess he'd refer to it as a muse- even while the drudgery of day-to-day life gets them down. He deserves thanks for the hope and aspiration this might inspire, but it's still necessary to blank out his obvious self-absorption if you're going to get through this book.
on 18 November 2012
I bought this as it was heavily discounted and I didn't want to use my American (with quite different sleeve, thickness and paper size) copy which was signed by Pete in Philadelphia. Having read about half way (interrupted by a trip to Florida to see The Who in Miami and Orlando) I an savouring every page and taking my time. Much of the history is already well documented, but Pete's position on events is predictably different and in parts disturbing. As Pete is probably the most enigmatic of the significant pop musicians surviving from the 60s, I would commend this book to anyone (over 18!) whether they are interested in Pete, The Who, music, history, popular culture, art, or whatever. Fascinating.
on 15 December 2012
I made the mistake of reading reviews of this book before buying: the reviewer was slightly disappointed at Townsend's lack of the mouthiness you'd expect, based on his interviews.
I didn't expect that, but I see what the reviewer meant: I wanted to hear his views on music, the world, drugs and rock 'n' roll. What you got, basically, was his views about himself: ranging from self-loathing (drink, drugs, women) to a clearly high opinion of his value to music and The Arts in general (rather a lot of name-dropping in this respect). But then I guess it is an autobiography! Even the honest accounts of his self-hating behaviours and paranoias seem to be documented so as to gain our respect and sympathy.
Having said all that, it does give us some glimpses into the world of the rock star in the sixties and seventies - in particular, the story of The Who, who - it would appear - still provide Townsend with his main source of funds and pleasure. Long may that continue.
on 19 June 2013
It's taken me a while to read this book. It was given to me for Xmas as a hardback edition and being used to Kindle I found it weighty. However, it was well worth the achy wrists. Pete's own story, at last. I've read all previous books about The Who over the last forty years so it was good to get Pete's own take on things. Other reviewers have criticized the fact that there are not enough Who facts in here. Well the thing is - this is Pete's story - about Pete. Hence the title. It's good to get new stuff and not read the same old facts over and over. If you want old facts, then buy something else. There are plenty of titles available. Who By Numbers, The Who and Anyway, Anywhere, Anyhow (Complete Chronicles) To name but a few and if it's Keith Moon stuff you're looking for try and find an old copy of Moon the Loon!