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« December 7, 2012

Who I Am

The Who's heart and soul for 500 pages.
Review by Michael Toland

Who I Am: A Memoir

by Pete Townshend
HarperCollins, 544 pp., $32.50

For a man who admits, "I loved the sound of my own prattling," Pete Townshend keeps his prose concise. His long-gestating autobiography Who I Am covers 67 years in barely over 500 pages. The Who's primary composer hits nearly every topic you'd want, from peak creative achievement Quadrophenia and his solo albums to addiction issues and his ambivalence with the continuation of the band. Rock's first opera, 1969's Tommy, gets lots of play, as do ongoing attempts to bring his vision to the theatre, which seems to be the medium in which he's most happy creatively. The decades-long development of his doomed multimedia concept Lifehouse becomes a recurring theme, as does his devotion to, and struggles with his faith in, Indian mystic Meher Baba. The longest thread chronicles the effects of abuse Townshend suffered as a child, effects which he claims led him to develop a White Knight syndrome (his own helpfully-footnoted words) and got him arrested for accessing child pornography, an incident on which he spends a fair amount of time. Other topics include his habit of establishing recording studios in seemingly every corner of London, his work as an editor at Faber and Faber, and his love of the water. He digs into some of his most famous songs, but overall avoids territory he's covered in the thousands of interviews he's given over the years or on the Who's website, which he often footnotes. If there's a theme, it's self absorption. He's not proud of this trait, mind you; Townshend's well aware of the ways his self-conscious artistic bubble has affected his work, family, and collaborators. Nonetheless, balanced by both his brutal honesty and his straightforward prose, Who I Am becomes part and parcel of the Who canon.

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