by Bob Wilson
Pete Townsend chose the title “Who I Am”, which leads us to expect hearty anecdotes regarding the band. Instead it seems that Pete has been bitten by Freud, as the only in-depth insights we gain are those regarding his sexuality. A skeptic would wonder if Townsend’s fixation stems from the case of his downloading child pornography. His explanation was that he was researching the site to understand his own childhood abuse. Townsend was cleared with this explanation, but it seemed a strange way to go about this task. We wonder if the focus on abuse is meant to deflect from the escapade Townsend went through in this painful matter.
Townsend’s parents were musicians of some note, and his father Clifford had his own “swing” record released in 1955. Being raised in the world of show business seems to have taught Townsend about the profession by osmosis, as his parents do not seem to have encouraged his musical leanings in any significant way. In any event, what he did glean was obviously enough to help to mold one of the premiere guitarist songwriters to come out of England in the sixties.
Pete relates that he joined Roger Daltrey’s band after an unexpected invitation, as the two had not initially hit it off. John Entwistle joined the fray, and the band made a name for themselves on the local circuit. Keith Moon was the last to join, completing one of the finest rhythm sections known in rock and roll. Townsend elaborates on his sexual insecurities and his slow start with women. It may seem fascinating to have such an opportunity to peek into the sexual psyche of a rock star, yet the opportunity to view the inner workings and nuances within the Who would be more fulfilling to see. The title implies that the musings herein would be more focused on Pete’s relationships within the band rather than those within the bedroom.
We learn little more of the spectacle of Keith Moon’s 21st Holiday Inn birthday party than even casual fans already did. A car wound up half in the pool, and Keith knocked his teeth out, residing in the dentist’s chair while the police searched for him. As we eagerly await more details of the event, they maddeningly never emerge. We are also made aware that Roger was the original leading force within the band, and that he saved Pete from many a physical altercation and scrape. Yet we here little nuance of the depth of their personal relationship. Nearly every such anecdote that the author relates ignores the opportunity to delve into Pete’s unique viewpoint, any more than a serious fan of the band could probably relate.
The Rolling Stones often seem to be given more focus than does the Who herein, as we learn of Pete’s “Mick-Crush”. Pete took his trademark guitar “windmill” from Keith Richards after seeing his second Stones show. And Pete relates that the death of Brian Jones soon after the taping of the “Rock and Roll Circus” was described from the outset as having details that will never fully be explained.
A concert bill with The Doors yields us little insight, other than a girl was cut when rushing the stage to reach Jim Morrison. Pete and company consoled the girl backstage, but we learn little else. The mention of Jim Morrison drunk, yet polite, seemed to potentially offer more than the half page it receives actually produces. John Lennon is said to have had “close friends” that would elaborate on Lennon’s bi-sexual experiences. Yet we never become privy to who these friends or their anecdotes are, or receive more than that unsubstantiated salacious tidbit.
Pete nearly drove into a tree while under the influence of alcohol, en route to participate in a heroin intervention for Eric Clapton. While an ironic twist, once again, no first person insight enhances things much. A “roadie” or boyhood chum may have told us as much as Pete does. The banner of the story has us move closer to the edge of our seat in anticipation, while little is actually fleshed out to satiate the reader’s quest for “rockstar dish”. At Woodstock, Pete booted Abbie Hoffman off of the stage, as he pled for relief for the one joint conviction of his friend John Sinclaire. Pete took offense at Hoffman’s territorial seizure of the stage, and Hoffman suffered a cut while receiving Townsend’s unexpected “boot”. If you are hoping for more than you have most probably already heard for the price of admission, think again.
Jimi Hendrix was one of the most fantastic players Townsend had ever seen, and not much else is served. Jimi sarcastically asked Pete if he wanted an autograph on a guitar shard, but that’s about as good as it gets.
We learn of the financial struggles that plagued the band further into their career than one would expect, and the frustration Pete felt at being a rock star, instead of a more serious musician. “Tommy”, “Quadrophenia”, “Live at Leeds” and the major Who milestones all get mention; they just do not get as much mention as Pete’s rather pedestrian sexual hang-ups. So, after great expectation of an insider’s account of the inner workings of the band, we are still left asking, “Who are you?”