Book review: Pete Townshend: Who I am

Living our future out: brilliant insights

Pete TownshendThis is a situation where I’m delighted to admit to bias: I have loved The Who and their music since they exploded into my life in the Sixties. I have regarded Pete Townshend as a genius since Tommy, and his book, Who I am provides ample support for my view.

One of my favourite verses in Quadrophenia runs:

I have to be careful not to preach,

I can’t pretend that I can teach,

And yet I’ve lived your future out

By pounding stages like a clown.

Peter Townshend really has lived out many of the major issues around resilience, and this book is a superb description of his shipwrecks and re-inventions, embodying many of the insights and approaches offered in my book, Out of the Woods: A Guide to Life for Men Beyond 50.

I’ve recently become intrigued by the extreme pressures which hit successful pop musicians, as a result of seeing the brilliant film about the Congolese group Benda Bellili – but that’s for another blog. Pop stars need even more resilience than the rest of us: we may not want them as role models, but we can learn from them.

Pete describes these pressures vividly: the abundant booze and drugs, and the gorgeous women throwing themselves at him. Plus the pressure on him, as the songwriter in the group, to keep creating fresh hits. And the chaos in a quartet of half-crazy personalities, on tour for weeks on end.

He writes very honestly of his heavy drinking, of his underlying ongoing anger, and his work addiction “I was a workaholic, running away from the present, and probably the past … I was myself a really desperate man”. These shipwrecks forced him to dig deep to find his own resilience: “To mature properly, I needed to reach back to my lost youth, the eight-year-old I still carried within me”.

The WhoSome people suggest that the underlying crisis of resilience is a spiritual one, and this is echoed by Pete describing his own “deep, nauseating spiritual desperation”. He describes the profound benefits he has found through the teachings of Meher Baba. Overall, I’d rate Pete as  pretty resilient, mature operator in a context that sends many pop musicians crazy. Another fascinating aspect of Who I am is the range of Pete’s musical influences: For example, he writes about Purcell’s use of elongated suspensions, which he used himself in ‘The Kids are Alright’, and how one of my Sufi inspirations, Inayat Kahn, gave him ideas for Lifehouse.

The stories of Pete Townshend and The Who are interwoven with many other great groups and musicians, including The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. This book has plenty of vivid scenes, involving all these and more. I rate it as a must-buy!

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