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Who I Am: A Memoir
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Who I Am: A Memoir

3.5 53
by Pete Townshend

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Long acknowledged as one of rock music’s most intelligent and literary performers, Pete Townshend—guitarist, songwriter, singer and founding member of The Who—at last tells his wild story in this candid and immersive autobiography.

Raised in west London by an eccentric grandmother, while his parents were off living the early post-war, rock


Long acknowledged as one of rock music’s most intelligent and literary performers, Pete Townshend—guitarist, songwriter, singer and founding member of The Who—at last tells his wild story in this candid and immersive autobiography.

Raised in west London by an eccentric grandmother, while his parents were off living the early post-war, rock ’n’ roll lifestyle, Townshend describes a frenetic childhood of displacement and abuse. Then, in high school, everything changed when he met Roger Daltrey and formed a band that would travel the world, earning fame, fortune and critical acclaim. In Who I Am, Townshend brings us from the inner sanctum of Eric Clapton’s drug-ridden hotel rooms to the feet of Jimi Hendrix and his electric kool-aid guitar; from the first trial performance of Townshend’s rock opera, Tommy, in a London bar to his infamous arrest (and acquittal) on child pornography charges.

With his trademark eloquence, fierce intelligence and brutal honesty, Pete Townshend has created a work of literature that stands as a primary source for popular music’s greatest epoch. Readers will be confronted by a man laying bare who he is, an artist who has asked for nearly sixty years: who are you?

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
Who I Am is an earnest, tortured, searching book—by turns eloquent and long-winded, revealing and oddly elliptical…Mr. Townshend's self-portrait is raw and unsparing…What Mr. Townshend…manage[s] to do here with insight, verve and sometimes grandiosity is describe how the Who and its music evolved: how the group "set out to articulate the joy and rage" of the generation that came of age in the "teenage wasteland" that was post-World War II Britain, under the shadow of the atomic bomb and deeply alienated from the established class system.
—Michiko Kakutani
Rolling Stone (Four 1/2 Stars!)
“Intensely intimate…candid to the point of self-laceration…[Townshend’s] tone is less lofty than anyone would have expected, just as this book is more honest than any fan would have hoped.”
The Guardian (UK)
“Unusually frank and moving…[Who I Am] isn’t one of those rock memoirs that puts the what before the why. His past is a puzzle Mr. Townshend is sweating to decipher.”
Rolling Stone (Four and a half star review)
“Intensely intimate…candid to the point of self-laceration…[Townshend’s] tone is less lofty than anyone would have expected, just as this book is more honest than any fan would have hoped.”
Library Journal
Townshend—principal songwriter and guitarist for boundary-pushing, hard-living British rock band The Who—lays his life bare in this candid and entertaining autobiography, reflecting on both his personal life and his career as the brains behind one of rock’s most successful and influential groups. Townshend details the band’s early years as a trendy 1960s Mod outfit, the creative and commercial peaks of the 1970s, and the changes forced by the sudden deaths of drummer Keith Moon (in 1978) and bassist John Entwistle (in 2002). But he also gets personal, tracing his troubled youth, a difficult and affair-ridden marriage, relationships with family members and bandmates, various scandals and legal troubles, and decades-long struggles with alcohol and overwork. Townshend covers a lot of ground and is admirably forthcoming in addressing controversies and personal mistakes, but there is frustratingly little insight into his creative process or songwriting and recording methods. Verdict The lack of perspective into the influential musician’s blending of experimental artistry and raw rock ’n’ roll power will frustrate some readers, but Townshend’s long-awaited memoir is easily recommended to anyone interested in this true rock icon’s amazing journey.—Douglas King, Univ. of South Carolina Lib., Columbia

(c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Reviews
The soul-searching of a deeply conflicted rock star will likely draw a mixed response from readers. As the creative force driving the Who, one of the most explosive and ambitious rock bands in history, guitarist/composer Townshend (Horse's Neck, 1985) has shown himself offstage to be an uncommonly articulate and reflective musical celebrity. For those who want to go deep into his psyche, from the Dickensian childhood in which he believed he was sexually abused (and was unquestionably mistreated) through the marital fidelity that he tried to sustain and the depression, anxiety attacks, alcoholism and other conditions he has successfully battled, Townshend bares his soul and is tougher on himself than most readers are likely to be. (Even those readers aware of the scandal in regard to his accessing child pornography are likely to agree that it was a careless mistake.) Along the way, he lets Who fans know just what inspired and influenced audacious achievements such as Tommy and intriguing hits such as "I Can See for Miles" and "Pictures of Lily." He's remarkably generous in the credit he gives other musicians, particularly the Kinks' Ray Davies and a whole lot of jazz artists (he idolizes pianist Keith Jarrett). Yet the narrative falls surprisingly flat in its surfeit of details (on houses, boats and much younger women who seemed to attract and torture him mainly because of their beauty), while adding little understanding to the unique dynamics of the Who. Jimi Hendrix comes alive in these pages, but ex-wife Karen Townshend does not. Regarding the "odd couple" relationship he has sustained with singer Roger Daltrey, Townshend doesn't seem to understand it any better than readers will. Fans will find plenty of revelation; others may be overwhelmed or just confused.
Michiko Kakutani
“Mr. Townshend’s self-portrait is raw and unsparing...as intimate and as painful as a therapy session, while chronicling the history of the band as it took shape in the Mod scene in 1960s London and became the very embodiment of adolescent rebellion and loud, anarchic rock ‘n’ roll.”
The Guardian(UK)
"Unusually frank and moving…[Who I Am] isn’t one of those rock memoirs that puts the what before the why. His past is a puzzle Mr. Townshend is sweating to decipher."
(Four 1/2 Stars!) - Rolling Stone
"Intensely intimate…candid to the point of self-laceration…[Townshend’s] tone is less lofty than anyone would have expected, just as this book is more honest than any fan would have hoped."

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.50(d)

Read an Excerpt

Who I Am

By Peter Townshend

HarperCollins Publishers

Copyright © 2012 Peter Townshend
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-06-212724-2




It's extraordinary, magical, surreal, watching them all dance to my feedback guitar solos; in the audience my art school chums stand straight backed among the slouching West and North London Mods, that army of teenagers who have arrived astride their fabulous scooters in short hair and good shoes, hopped up on pills. I can't speak for what's in the heads of my fellow band mates, Roger Daltrey, Keith Moon or John Entwistle. Usually I'd be feeling like a loner, even in the middle of the band, but tonight, in June 1964, at The Who's first show at the Railway Hotel in Harrow, West London, I am invincible.

We're playing R&B: 'Smokestack Lightning', 'I'm a Man', 'Road Runner' and other heavy classics. I scrape the howling Rickenbacker guitar up and down my microphone stand, then flip the special switch I recently fitted so the guitar sputters and sprays the front row with bullets of sound. I violently thrust my guitar into the air – and feel a terrible shudder as the sound goes from a roar to a rattling growl; I look up to see my guitar's broken head as I pull it away from the hole I've punched in the low ceiling.

It is at this moment that I make a split-second decision – and in a mad frenzy I thrust the damaged guitar up into the ceiling over and over again. What had been a clean break becomes a splintered mess. I hold the guitar up to the crowd triumphantly. I haven't smashed it: I've sculpted it for them. I throw the shattered guitar carelessly to the ground, pick up my brand-new Rickenbacker twelve-string and continue the show.

That Tuesday night I stumbled upon something more powerful than words, far more emotive than my white-boy attempts to play the blues. And in response I received the full-throated salute of the crowd. A week or so later, at the same venue, I ran out of guitars and toppled the stack of Marshall amplifiers. Not one to be upstaged, our drummer Keith Moon joined in by kicking over his drum kit. Roger started to scrape his microphone on Keith's cracked cymbals. Some people viewed the destruction as a gimmick, but I knew the world was changing and a message was being conveyed. The old, conventional way of making music would never be the same.

I had no idea what the first smashing of my guitar would lead to, but I had a good idea where it all came from. As the son of a clarinettist and saxophonist in the Squadronaires, the prototypical British Swing band, I had been nourished by my love for that music, a love I would betray for a new passion: rock 'n' roll, the music that came to destroy it.

I am British. I am a Londoner. I was born in West London just as the devastating Second World War came to a close. As a working artist I have been significantly shaped by these three facts, just as the lives of my grandparents and parents were shaped by the darkness of war. I was brought up in a period when war still cast shadows, though in my life the weather changed so rapidly it was impossible to know what was in store. War had been a real threat or a fact for three generations of my family. In 1945 popular music had a serious purpose: to defy post-war depression and revitalize the romantic and hopeful aspirations of an exhausted people. My infancy was steeped in awareness of the mystery and romance of my father's music, which was so important to him and Mum that it seemed the centre of the universe. There was laughter and optimism; the war was over. The musics Dad played was called Swing. It was what people wanted to hear.

I was there.

Excerpted from Who I Am by Peter Townshend. Copyright © 2012 by Peter Townshend. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.


Meet the Author

Pete Townshend is the legendary lead guitarist and principal songwriter for The Who, one of the most influential rock-and-roll bands of all time. Townshend is responsible for having written over 100 songs and rock operas in the band's important catalogue. He is one of Rolling Stone's "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time" and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. He resides in West London, where he was raised.

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Who I Am 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 53 reviews.
TucsonTommy More than 1 year ago
Just finished the book, "Who I Am" by Pete Townshend, 2012, Harper Collins books, New York, 500p. For those of you who may not remember, Pete Townshend is one of the founding members of the band, The Who. The book is not really an autobiography; it's more a memoir. I was big fan of The Who during my younger days, from about 1967 on into the days of "Tommy" and "Quadrophenia." I was fortunate enough to have seen them perform in concert, twice. Pete was born in 1945. His mother was a singer in swing bands and his father was a musician (clarinet and sax) in the swing band era in London shortly after WWII. He is 5 years older than me, he's 67, the same age as Eric Clapton, and a bit younger than George Harrison and the rest of the Beatles. He has 2 younger brothers, Paul (1957-) and Simon (1960-). He has 3 children, Emma(1969-), Minta (1971-), and Joseph (1989-). He is a grandfather of a boy as of this book's publishing. Both Keith Moon and John Entwisrle, original members of The Who, are deceased. He is barred for life from Holiday Inns. I was impressed by all the artistic endeavors of Pete Townshend over the years. He was the main songwriter of nearly all the material performed by The Who. He was heavily involved in the management of The Who, as well as all their financial affairs. He experimented early on with multi-track recording, digital recording, synthesized music, and theatrical and musical production. He was a publisher, a promoter, and a producer. He was a sailor and owned several boats. He owned (or owns) several houses. He was the quintessential rock star and has lived the life in all its gory details as covered in the book. He has been an addict and he has been in therapy for years. He is partially deaf. He invented "the Marshall stack" made famous by many bands in the 60's and 70's, including Jimi Hendrix. He is a follower of Meher Baba ( I'm not sure who Baba was or what following him means.) My take on the book is that Pete Townshend has presented a memoir describing who he is, and from his perspective, who is The Who. Pete Townshend is an artist in the sense a musician creates and performs his art. But he is also much more, especially in the realm of writing, recording, and producing music. If that interests you, so will reading the book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am enjoying this book. There are many references to other top stars of his genre and I particularly reading about his upbringing and personal life. Kind of the behind the scenes influences. I always believed he was the brains behind the great music and this has solidified that opinion. There are times when the book is kind of slow going, but these seem to coincide with very busy times in my schedule, so may just not be too strong a pull to keep my attention. When I have the time, I am very much enjoying reading and have sought out other biographies from this genre of musicians to read next.
Frostillicus More than 1 year ago
Good, not great. It certainly lives up to its title as it is very introspective. I think that Townshend wants the reader to understand that he is first and foremost, an artist. I appreciate this, but I was hoping for more information about his songwriting. He does convey just how personal most of his songs are, but most of us already knew that. The most interesting theme of the book is his strange relationship with his wife. I don't believe I've ever heard of such a disconnected and public marriage lasting so long. I'm still trying to figure out if it is a testament to a strong family or patience for a really mixed up and stressed-out workaholic. Regardless, Karen Townshend comes across as a saint. I imagine that was the author's intention. I also enjoyed the fact that him and Daltrey were always friends and fierce co-workers. A much different perspective than that which we got through media outlets.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This memoir is both awful and good. Townshend is completely full of himself; so much so that it distracts from his stories. But it's his memoir, his story, his life.
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KNSerrano More than 1 year ago
I am a long time Townsend and Who fan and was eager to read Who I Am. Overall I found the book enjoyable and educational. At times the writing felt tangential and disconnected and I had higher expectations for the quality of writing than was delivered. That being said, I am grateful for the opportunity to read Townsend's thoughts and experiences. Who I Am inspired me to read other Rock Bio/Autobios. Thank you Pete!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am a huge Who fan. Pete was fine but I really liked John and Keith's playing but still interested in what the guitarist would say about his life. Well, I now know way too much about his houses, girlfriends, silly religious views, sexual interests, boats, boring books, films, and musicals, and drinking. I wanted a real musicians take on song construction, the Who's compositional and musical approach, and a more philosophical read on the role of music, and the Who, in larger social contexts. I got just a touch of these, however. Pete pretends like he doesn't think he's deity in this book but I am pretty sure he thinks he is one. Pass on this one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
missbeverlyann More than 1 year ago
So very often we really never know the person behind the tunes we all love. What makes them tick. How did life treat them during their career. What really happened back then!!! Well now you will know. Great read.
Bookie-Book More than 1 year ago
Ok so, full disclosure; I love The Who. That said, I love this book. It gives a keen insight into the genius that is Pete Townshend. He comes across as honest and almost apologetic for his life of stardom and indulgence. His love of music and art. As well as his love, respect and frustrations of his fellow band members. I've heard many give comments on his thoughts on Mick Jagger however this has simply gotten too much press as being sensational. This book is so much more. It's charming and sophisticated. Even if your a casual fan of this genre you'll get something from this man's prospective.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
SnookieB More than 1 year ago
What more can I say that hasn't already been said about Pete's book? He's honest, truthful, gut-spilling, evasive and at times, pompous. He sounds pretty human --just like the rest of us. Celebrity does not make you perfect. Reading this book and listening to the audio-book made me pull out some of my old vinyl and CDs to listen to and I am struck by the depth and brilliance of Pete's writing and composing. I love how he can say what so many of us have felt at so many stages in our lives. Pure and easy,this book has some great stories and leaves you wanting more.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Its a good book, but too dark for my tastes. His depression followed him through life. Not my cup of tea, but to its credit there are a lot of musical tidbits in the book that i really enjoyed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
He is interesting, and the book reads easily enough. But the man is quite an egotist and self absorbed...
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Ronniegirl More than 1 year ago
Pete Townshend speaks to his generation and beyond. Magical insight into the mind of one of the greatest musicians who ever graced the Earth. From his boyhood as a post WWII Londoner, to the profound success of The Who, to today, a living legend among us who&rsquo;s music is the chronicle of so many lives. I thoroughly appreciated his honesty, emotions, stories of the past and narrative in this memoir. Thank you Pete for being Who you Are!
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