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Who Are You: The Life of Pete Townshend

Mark Wilkerson

Reviewed by Austin Powell, Fri., Dec. 5, 2008

Rock & Roll Books

Who Are You: The Life of Pete Townshend

by Mark Ian Wilkerson
Omnibus Press, 642 pp., $29.95 (paper)

As Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder astutely posits in the foreword, Pete Townshend is perhaps the most introspective and insightful songwriter of his generation, channeling his spiritual and musical devotion through destructive R&B and high-concept rock operas. In his first biography, Mark Wilkerson exhaustively details the life of the Who composer, documenting his encounters in London's swinging mod scene of the late 1960s through his keynote address at the 2007 South by Southwest Music Festival. The author draws on an incredibly wide range of sources (references span 26 pages), including Townshend's interview with the Chronicle on his collaboration with the Faces' Ronnie Lane, but he relies too heavily on the insight of others, particularly Dave Marsh's essential Who handbook, Before I Get Old, and Townshend's own The Story of Tommy, oftentimes getting bogged down with lengthy quotes. The tome would also benefit from the inclusion of you-are-there scenes, such as the Who at the Monterey International Pop Festival, to help break up the chronological trudge, while more background on the teachings of Meher Baba is necessary to understand the transformative effect they had on Townshend's writing. All things considered, however, Who Are You remains a worthwhile and thorough look behind blue eyes.

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