News Column

See him, read him, and try to figure him

May 5, 2013


May 05--JUST WHO IS Pete Townshend? In his 67 years on this planet, he's been:

a reflective-of-the-times songwriter who could regularly pen shallow ditties;

an expressive guitarist whose ritualistic "windmill" strums foretold the eventual smashing of the instrument;

an artist who's low self-esteem hijacked the grandiosity of his endeavors;

a conscientious family man who sought refuge in drink, drugs, women and rants;

a compassionate man who routinely turned on those he needed the most.

It quickly becomes clear a third of the way through "Who I Am," the 16-years-in-the-making memoir from the frontman of the legendary British rock band The Who, that Townshend spent the bulk of his life as a walking contradiction. Proud one moment, self-loathing the next, Townshend simultaneously pursued artistic challenges while privately questioning the wisdom of doing such.

The quest for creativity took its toll. Family life nearly becomes out of the question as he succumbs to the all-too-usual temptations that haunt famous rock stars.

But Townshend isn't seeking forgiveness the Brit is writing this for himself, attempting to redeem and restore the young boy whose innocence was violated by a neglectful family situation. Townshend seeks to expunge his personal torment while also atoning for his later boorish behavior.

Townshend is wise to avoid rehashing the well-worn yarns of the band's era. He keeps the focus on himself; fans can take satisfaction in the glimpses of his life that shaped his composing, playing and performing.

He pulls no punches in showing the artist as a man. He wants people to see the complete Pete, warts and all.

What's missing in "Who I Am" is what shaped the man into the artist. Townshend is hardly the only entertainer who's battled inner demons. Yet while his contemporaries are categorized as a disposable product of their era, Townshend's work which includes "Tommy," "Quadrophenia" and dozens of songs stands the test of time nearly a half-century later. Why is he one of the few artists to do that? In his 1977 composition "New Song," one lyric suggests the purpose of the memoir:

"Whenever you see me, You treat me like I'm some kind of perfect man..."

" "Who I Am" proves Townshend is far from that. It's a shame he can't explain why he's also exceptional.

Jeff Schulze is a sports content editor at The Free Lance Star.

WHO I AM: A Memoir

By Pete Townshend

(HarperCollins, $32.50, 554 pp.)


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