A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
The Who is one of the bands I clearly remember streaming from my sister’s perpetually running radio in the 1970’s. Included in the British Invasion and Woodstock and then into the arena shows so popular in the 70’s and 80’s, their music bridged the decades. Seeing the titles of their songs in this book, I was surprised to note how many I liked. Before reading this memoir, I didn’t know anything about the individuals in the band other than their names, so I definitely learned a lot. It rose above most rock bios with it’s philosophical leanings and depth, there was more than the expected multitudes of drug and women.
Townshend’s background made it inevitable that he’d lead an artistic life. His dad was a Swing musician and his mom a singer, though it was a troubled marriage, with many separations and infidelities on both sides. For a time, a very young Pete lived with his grandmother who was sliding into dementia and her bizarre lifestyle left deep scars in his psyche. He went to Ealing Art College as a teen, at the same time he was becoming a professional musician, eventually one had to go and he chose the band which later became The Who. Though decades later he was using his own paintings and stories as creative fuel for albums. He did try to meld arty ideas with music, such as the “auto-destruction” of their instruments, which was also a political statement. Personally, I always felt that was wasteful, more than anything else. Townshend wrote the majority of The Who’s songs, experimenting with symphonic themes and opera, as early as the 1960’s long before Tommy. The anecdotes and impressions of rock stars in their heyday was intriguing, such as his attraction towards Mick Jagger or his deep admiration of Jimi Hendrix as a performer and musician.
I hesitate to use the word riveting about this book, yet the feeling was something akin to that. The author has been a lifelong diarist, so accounts of the past have an immediacy, even the details of the 60’s are vivid. That is not to say it was flawless. The sexism, for someone of that generation, was astonishing. Not only did he tell a female friend that she would not be fulfilled until she had a child, but the difference in his attitudes towards his own children was sharply noticeable. While he didn’t seem to dislike his two daughters, he certainly didn’t go into the raptures as he did when his youngest, a son, was born. The difference was startling for someone of that age.
And numerous times he would go on for pages about the shaky state of his finances, only to decide in the end to buy another boat. But he is honest about his flaws and doesn’t glorify stupid actions such as diving into a hotel pool from a balcony or drug and alcohol use. He is very introspective and occasionally uses some of the terms from therapy. And though it’s it’s a book by a musician, the technical jargon is kept brief, which is good for those of us who know nothing about that side of things.
So this book is not only a self-portrait of a multi-dimensional artist, but also a snapshot of a time and a person who influenced it and what it all meant to him.
Harper 2012 544 pp. ISBN-13:978-0062127242 available in ebook and traditional formats