Some thoughts on Pete Townshend and ‘Who I Am’
I recently read the Pete Townshend autobiography Who I Am after acquiring a nice hard backed copy surprisingly cheaply brand new from Amazon – a life story I’d long looked forward to reading. As heroes go, Townshend and The Who have been a part of my life for around forty years with their albums being some of the earliest vinyl records I ever bought. I was interested therefore to understand what makes this erudite insightful and intelligent man tick. The book was certainly a page-turner and left me with some conflicting thoughts about a man who’s body of work I’d long admired.
The Who and Townshend need no introduction, indeed they are still current to many it seems as their on-going Quadrophenia and More tour of the US presently is seeing them receive rave reviews still after all these years. It’s clear then that the scope of Townshend’s conceptual writing transcends decades and fashions in music whilst the legendary past live performances of the original four members of the group, Townshend, Daltrey, Entwhistle and Moon are perhaps without equal. An absolute powerhouse of a band with a genius writer driving the band forward. So what do we make of this man?
A friend in the States, an original Who fan dating back to early Mod days in 1965 also read the book and asked me what I thought about it and about Townshend and I got to thinking about the character and nature of this legendary writer and performer.
Whilst reading Who I Am I found myself at times not liking my long-time ‘hero’ very much at all. I then compared that to my (hopefully) compassionate side and, as I always try to, attempted to understand (as opposed to excuse) some of his behaviours and the reasons for them.
Of course the apparent abuse he appeared to be dealt as a young person has to be considered. This is not to trot out the hoary old (and incorrect) theory that the abused are more likely to become abusers in some form. He seemed to have little stability or feelings of security in his young life – far from it – and I would suggest that influenced some of his behaviours as an adult.
I see a little of the ‘George Best syndrome’ here. Pop stars and famous young people of the 1960s blazed something of a trail which had not been travelled before. Many didn’t appear to know or understand the ‘correct’ way to react to their fame, they were young and were carried along with it. It’s interesting that Townshend’s failings are often self-admitted, talking of himself disparagingly as having a ‘big rock star ego’ etc.
I’m not sure why I was surprised but I took the casual way he talked of some of his philandering with some discomfort. He seemed a little blasé at times about his involvement with other women while he had a wife and young children at home, though not always was this the case in fairness. Again, part of the famous sixties pop star trip maybe.
I liked and was intrigued by his creative will and that shone through; people like Pete are important to society in that way.
The child pornography issue? Well he gave a good and thorough explanation in the closing pages. Who will ever really know but I tend to believe his story. The only point I couldn’t get my head around was that for such an intelligent man he really was naive clicking on the link to the pornographic site. A bad mistake though I think and maybe nothing more nor less.
Another curiosity about the man was his well-known following of Meher Baba. This faith seemed a juxtaposition with the way a lot of his other life was led. He was obviously looking for something though. Maybe he was simply looking in the wrong place.