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 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.”
“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.”
"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."
Townshend has been working on this memoir for a decade—without the help of a ghostwriter. (It says something that this fact is emphasized.) Here he is as a child, raised by a mentally incapacitated grandmother as his parents led an early version of countercultural life; an adolescent, founding the forerunner of the Who with buddy Roger Daltrey; and a full-fledged rock star wrestling (as rock stars do) with drugs, sex, fame, fortune, and notoriety. With a one-day laydown on October 8 and a 400,000-copy first printing.
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.
Read an Excerpt
Who I Am
By Peter Townshend
HarperCollins Publishers Copyright © 2012 Peter Townshend
All rights reserved.
I WAS THERE
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.
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