Feature

Who I Am by Pete Townshend

In his candid and searching memoir, Townshend lets go of more secrets than even Who fans might want to know.

(Harper, $33)

“Maybe nobody knows what it’s like to be the bad man, to be the sad man, behind blue eyes,” said Rob Sheffield in Rolling Stone. But Pete Townshend’s “candid to the point of self-lacerating” new memoir gets us pretty close. After years of exorcising his angst in his songs and destructive stage performances, the legendary guitarist and prime creative force behind the Who apparently “still has secrets to get off his chest,” and he does so, providing more than even many fans might want to know. If you’re looking for stories about the Who’s days of hotel-trashing, they’re here too. Mostly, though, Townshend seems intent on “exploring his defects and contradictions.”

The pain runs deep, said Michiko Kakutani in The New York Times. Townshend’s “earnest, tortured, searching book” vividly conveys the lifelong anguish he’s suffered as a result of being sexually abused as a child. Townshend also details his struggles in adulthood with drugs, and reports having considered suicide in 2003 before he was cleared of a child pornography possession charge. His stories about the Who in their heyday feel, in comparison, “like rote recitations.” But there are a couple of confessions involving the Rolling Stones to liven things up: Townshend writes that Mick Jagger is the only man he’s ever “seriously” wanted to sleep with. And Pete’s signature windmill move? That was cadged from fellow guitarist Keith Richards.

Townshend can at times seem pretentious in his ambitions, said Dorian Lynskey in The Guardian (U.K.). When he’s not “sweating to decipher” his past, he’s waxing about how the bouncy 1965 single “The Kids Are Alright”was inspired by Henry Purcell’s Gordian Knot Untied. But Townshend apologizes for his intellectualism, and he’s actually at his best when explaining how the Who’s propulsive sound was rooted in trauma, including the cultural trauma of growing up in the shadow of nuclear annihilation. Whatever works. Townshend’s highbrow ideas, after all, are “what propelled him to the dizzying ambition” of his most enduring contributions to rock.

Recommended

Internal report blames Johnson, senior leadership for lockdown parties
Boris Johnson
partygate

Internal report blames Johnson, senior leadership for lockdown parties

Biden's promise to defend Taiwan
President Biden.
Picture of Harold MaassHarold Maass

Biden's promise to defend Taiwan

No time to evacuate as Russian forces close in on a pair of Ukrainian cities
Ukrainian tank in Sievierodonetsk
encirclement in luhansk

No time to evacuate as Russian forces close in on a pair of Ukrainian cities

Would the U.S. really defend Taiwan from a Chinese invasion?
President Biden and Xi Jinping.
Briefing

Would the U.S. really defend Taiwan from a Chinese invasion?

Most Popular

Trump loses his grip on a Trumpified GOP
Donald Trump.
Opinion

Trump loses his grip on a Trumpified GOP

21 dead in shooting at Texas elementary school
A Texas State Police officer at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
tragedy strikes

21 dead in shooting at Texas elementary school

'Why are we willing to live with this carnage?'
Uvalde, Texas.
Briefing

'Why are we willing to live with this carnage?'