Who Are You – The Life Of Pete Townshend
By Mark Wilkerson
Omnibus Press – 19.95
”And so, once more, to bed… the cask of grief that cracks as I lie back always brings tears…”
Not the happiest of souls was/is Pete Towshend, and this utterly compelling, absorbing and veritable tomb like thesis, substantiates this fact throughout: ”The only way I could face the work was by destroying myself.”’
Both brutally and beautifully honest, Mark Wilkerson’s Who Are You: The Life of Pete Townshend
is as open and reflective as its subject matter, which is (just one of the many reasons) why it, along with the man who wrote: ” Hope I die before I get old,” deserves our utmost attention. For just as Townshend has always been an intelligent and articulate interviewee, Wilkerson has ensured that no stone has remained unturned, in what can only be described as a kaleidoscopic and chaotic lust for life – even if it hasn’t always been the happiest.
From the subject’s early West London days, right up to last year’s charity concert at London’s Roundhouse celebrating the life of Traffic’s Jim Capaldi (alongside Paul Weller, Steve Winwood and Joe Walsh), it’s all here: the inspiration behind Tommy, the making of Quadrophenia, the adulation of Meher Baba, the marriage to Karen Astley, the controversial management team of Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, the amp attacks, the alcohol and drug abuse following the death of Keith Moon, the humiliation of being cautioned by police in 2002 for supposedly downloading child pornography, and of course, the ever tempestuous relationship between Townshend and Roger Daltry: ”Pete should never try to be a fighter. But when he was being held back by two roadies and he’s spitting and calling me a dirty little cunt and hits me with his guitar I become angry. And I was forced to lay one on him. But it was only one… One punch was all Daltry needed, as it knocked Pete out. He was taken to hospital and reportedly suffered amnesia. The rift between the two men ran unchecked for two years before the pair showed any signs of burying their differences.”
Is it any wonder that some of the aforementioned unhappiness, might have been brought to bear by songwriter’s inexorable quest for acceptance and understanding – especially from those around him? A trait, perhaps, profoundly influenced by Meher Baba, who in 1950 stated: ‘We must lose ourselves in order to find ourselves.’
Lest it be said that Townshend has adhered to the above dictum for much of his adult life; the manifestation of which, has been some of the most influential, cathartic and thankfully, violent rock’n'roll ever written and performed: As Jon Landau (now Bruce Springsteen’s manager) wrote in 1967: ”They’re sharp sarcastic, cynical, but never weighed down with their own self-importance. They are a life-force on a rock scene in which too many people are hiding behind facile, slogan songs about how all the world needs is for everyone to love everyone else [...] The Who don’t pretend. Their music is them and they don’t have to defend it by coming on too arrogantly, or freaky, within the context of the music itself. They say what they have to say in a manner that is perfectly natural for them, and therein lies their magic and their charm. We would all do well to listen, and to learn.”
And we would all do well to read this book, even if only to momentarily understand the true meaning of artistry (through anguish), as opposed to appalling artistry (through stars in their thighs).