Sunday, September 7, 2014

Who is he?

Picked up a cheap copy of Pete Townshend's autobiography WHO I AM (2012) at Goodwill last week, and I'm so glad I didn't pay the outrageous $35 cover price for the hardback, because this book is barely worth $2.99.
This is disappointing. I'm a big fan of Pete's, a big fan of The Who, and I was hoping Pete's autobiog would give me more insight into the band, where his songs came from, a peek behind the scenes.
Nope. I had a much better time and learned a lot more with Richie Unterberger's WON'T GET FOOLED AGAIN and Dave Marsh's BEFORE I GET OLD.
Townshend knows how to write. Over his career he's done pieces for ROLLING STONE and the British rock tabloids -- his review of The Who's early best-of MEATY, BEATY, BIG AND BOUNCY in RS was one of the funniest album reviews EVER. He's had a book of short stories published, and he was an editor at England's Faber publishing house.
So what happened? Don't know. I think a better editor could have dug some better stories out of Pete. He just doesn't seem to dig very deep here. I wanted some anger, some raw emotion, some SOUL. I wanted to know where those great anthemic songs CAME from -- and the quieter, haunting ones, too
If you want the dirt, there's plenty of that here -- lots about Pete's drinking and drugging, and his cures. Lots about touring. Lots about Pete's stress, little about his breakdowns. Not as much as I'd hoped for about recording albums.
There's a LOT here about TOMMY -- especially the movie version and the Broadway show. There's little to nothing about tensions surrounding QUADROPHENIA -- I thought it increased tensions between Pete and Roger, Roger was disappointed with how the mix made his vocals sound ... John re-did his horn parts in the 1980 movie-soundtrack remix, etc.
I learned a little about WHO'S NEXT and LIFEHOUSE -- didn't realize (or forgot) there were sessions for those songs in New York, with Kit Lambert producing. But those sessions were abandoned quick Oh, and Pete hated NEXT's cover....
There's a little on SELL OUT and "I Can See for Miles." Not much on BY NUMBERS. A little on WHO ARE YOU. Keith Moon's death at least brings more feeling from Pete. There's some on why Kenney Jones was the perfect drummer to replace Moon, a little on FACE DANCES -- which I thought was half of a great comeback album. Pete thinks IT'S HARD was "a pretty strong album." Millions disagree. Course he also thought "Eminence Front" was "the most radio-friendly song on the album." Has everyone forgotten "Athena," which was an actual hit? It's not even on The Who's best-of box. Course the lyrics are pretty embarrassing, but....
There's a bit on EMPTY GLASS and the contracts Pete signed around that time that required six Who albums and five solo albums within 10 years. How could he do it? Well, of course, he couldn't.
There's a bit about CHINESE EYES, on which production was halted halfway through due to Pete's stress and health problems -- but then he never finishes the story. We never find out why some of those songs are so danged WORDY and the others are the usual Who-type anthems. A definite change in style that goes unexplained.
Happy to see there was quite a bit on the underrated PSYCHODERELICT, which I liked a lot. And there's more on trying to bring LIFEHOUSE to some kind of finished form....
There's a lot about the many women Pete slept with, the houses he bought, the studios he set up, the boats he purchased. You may feel sorry for his long-suffering wife by the time they get divorced.
But if you want to know where all those great songs came from, and what they mean to their creator -- you won't find it here.
This is another book to add to the pile that proves that rock stars are their own worst subjects for books. Pete covers a lot of events, but he doesn't say much about them.
Ghod help us, would this book have been better if it was LONGER? It turned out to be 500 pages -- cut down from a thousand, Pete says at the end.
Maybe he was just too old to do it justice. I would have preferred to see a series of memoirs about various periods in his career -- something with some DEPTH to it. But you guys know me -- I always want to know MORE....

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