Who I Am by Pete Townshend

Who I Am by Pete TownshendBook Review
Title: Who I Am
Author:  Pete Townshend
Publisher: HarperCollins Canada
Released: October 9, 2012
Pages: 538
ISBN-10: 1443418919
ISBN-13: 978-1443418911
Stars:  3.5

I’ve never been a big fan of Pete Townshend or The Who although I do appreciate most of their hits and of course, Tommy, but I thought that Townshend’s memoirs would be pretty interesting.  However, although he’s a brilliant artist, Townshend is not an easy man to like.  He comes off as a manic-depressive, self-absorbed, adulterous prick most of the time, but once in a while he can actually make you feel sorry for him as he is brutally honest, even about his own short-comings.  This is a man who loves the sound of his own voice.

Surprisingly, Who I Am is a sober, humourless, 500+ page confessional of Pete Townshend’s experiences.  It focuses more on his songwriting than guitar playing, even though he’s been given the honour of being No. 10 on Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.  Not one of the greatest vocalists or collaborators of all time, Townshend is an emotionally stultified loner.  He couldn’t manage co-writing because it’s out of his emotional range.  At the height of The Who’s popularity in 1970, he couldn’t really enjoy himself, and instead “felt ashamed about being an adulterer, and oddly guilty about my professional success.”  So let’s find out why.

Born May 19, 1945 in West London, neither Pete’s maternal grandparents nor his parents were positive role models.  His father Clifford played in a swing band and his mum performed with him as a vocalist for a while.  Pete’s early years were happily spent in the company of his best buddy “Jimpy” but in 1951, Pete was sent to live with his mentally disturbed maternal grandmother, Denny, for a year.  Denny, who left her husband of 11 years for a wealthy man who kept her as his mistress, possessed “Victorian domestic notions”, and was often cruel and neglected Pete when she busy with her own affairs.  Pete suffered both physical and emotional abuse at the hands of his grandmother, while his mother Betty was off having an affair on his father.  She had 5 self-induced abortions before ending her affair and reuniting with Cliff and also battled the bottle for many years.  Pete says this was the darkest part of his life and it will likely take him the rest of it to try to find closure on the abuse he suffered as a six and seven year old boy.  For that, I truly feel sorry for him.

Pete’s parents did eventually reunite which resulted in the birth of Pete’s brothers Paul and Simon who were born over 15 years after him and whom he barely mentions.

He does go over all the facts about The Who’s career but we don’t end up knowing much about his true relationship with the guys, other than he revealed that John and Keith were very close and as long as he let Roger have his way when it came to The Who, everything was fine.

Pete started his musical career by playing harmonica and then took up banjo and guitar.  He went to school with John Entwistle and his first band with him was called The Confederates.  Roger Daltrey also knew John and asked him and Pete to join his party band, The Detours, in early 1962.  The Detours supported The Rolling Stones a couple of times in late ’63/early ’64, as well as The Kinks.  When Entwistle found out that another band had the same name, the band became The Who on Valentine’s Day 1964.  Pete was only 18 when the original line-up was formed: Townshend, Daltry, Entwistle and Doug Sandom on drums, soon to be replaced by Keith Moon.

After four years of attending Ealing Art College and playing lots of shows at the same time, an exhausted Townshend dropped out of school.

For those of you who don’t know, The Who’s style and image was influenced by Pete’s art school studies and The Mod movement, which was “based on trendsetting fashion statements and dance moves.”  Pete, who was friends with Jim Marshall, the inventor of the Marshall stack, was possibly the first person to create the Marshall wall of sound (feedback) which became The Who’s trademark.  They also claim to be “the first stage act in the world to employ high-powered lasers for dramatic lighting effects.”

Tommy (1969) was The Who’s masterpiece although Live at Leeds and Quadrophenia were almost as impressive.  A rock opera about a deaf, dumb & blind pinball wizard who exists in a world of vibrations, has been reincarnated as a movie and various successful stage productions over the years, and along with the band’s constant touring has kept Townshend in luxurious houses, studios and boats.

Looking for a spiritual connection, Pete became interested in the teachings of Meher Baba whom he followed for many years, but it isn’t apparent that he actually learned anything meaningful from him.

Townshend recounts The Who’s illustrious sex, drugs & rock ‘n’ roll history but says little about the deaths of Moon and Entwistle except to state that they occurred.  He had no way of processing or dealing with his grief and comes off as a man with a significant personality disorder.  By the time The Who Sell Out was released, Pete was already going deaf, was in a perpetually foul mood, and Roger was unhappy on stage too.  Pete felt that as a performance artist he was undervalued and that his performances were being misread: “I wanted to be serious about what I did, and wanted my work – including smashing guitars in concert – to be regarded as part of a passionate commitment to an evolving stagecraft.”

Though fairly pretentious about his craft, Pete was shy and awkward with girls and didn’t have sex until he was in college.  He addresses his bisexuality and states that he “suffered from a deep sexual shame” over his dealings with Denny, although he’d “managed to push the details out of memory’s reach.”  Townshend coped with his shame over the years with drugs and alcohol, although booze proved to be the heavier monkey on his back.

He married his long time girlfriend Karen Astley on May 20, 1968 and together they had three children, Emma, Minta and many years later, after several separations, Joseph.  While Pete mentions his children, he doesn’t devote any time to describing his relationship with his daughters and it was obvious that Karen did most of the parenting as he was a workaholic who could rarely relax.  “I had always wanted to be there for my wife and children in a way that my parents were not always there for me.  But the childish, devlish, selfish-sod-bastard artist deep inside me didn’t give a toss for fatherhood – he needed freedom.”  Pete and Karen finally ended their 25+ year marriage in the mid-nineties (they didn’t divorce until 2009) and Townshend has been with Rachel Fuller ever since.

While not touring with The Who, Townshend has worked as a solo artist, producer, writer, editor at Faber & Faber, and a philanthropist, and he introduces us to those who were the most influential in his life (including friend Richard “Barney” Barnes, managers Kit Lambert & Chris Stamp, and various paramours including Louise Reay & Lisa Marsh) while name dropping many of his famous friends and acquaintances, none of whom he appears to have a very close friendship with.  He discusses his Lifehouse, Psychoderelict & Iron Man (a.k.a. Iron Giant) projects at length – which sections were frankly, pretty boring – and also comes clean about his conviction as a sex offender and the events that led up to it because he naively clicked on a child pornography site while doing research for ways to help young boys in Russian orphanages.

Pete Townshend is a truly complex figure who has made a significant impact on rock ‘n’ roll history, and while I admire his candidness in Who I Am, I’m still not a fan of the man.

Acoustic Duo Cherry Suede – Up Close And Personal!

Randy Scott & Randy Young of Cherry Suede

Last week, I was pretty active on Twitter and I came across an Ottawa music duo called Cherry Suede. I love the name and I really like their sound too! Twitter, being what it is, immediately connected me to Randy Young (one half of the Suede) who told me about their new live acoustic web series, Up Close and Personal. We both agreed that it should be of significant interest to local musicians who may be looking for a potential tour stop in the Nation’s Capital!

Our channel is about 3 weeks old – we are #8 most subscribed in Canada this month and continuing to grow steadily. We feature the feed on cherrysuede.com – and we will include interview footage – stories behind the songs. ~ Randy Young

What I really appreciate about Cherry Suede is the fact that they are two guys who are not only accomplished musicians and singer-songwriters (“If Keith Urban and Bon Jovi had a baby – it’d be Cherry Suede”), but who are also true blue music fans, and that I can relate to! When I asked Randy Young if they were going to invite acoustic artists to perform on their web series, he replied, “We are indeed inviting artists – the format will include casual interviews – stories behind the songs and we (Cherry Suede) will play on our guests’ songs and vice versa.” This is something that I won’t miss checking out!

So, what I want to know is how many people that I know in Kingston would be interested in attending a Cherry Suede show if I host one here? Email me at scullylove@cogeco.ca!

Here’s more from Cherry Suede in their own words on their new, exciting and innovative online music series!


The concept of audience – artist interaction is certainly not new. For years, Bruce Springsteen has been pulling hand written signs out of his audience to play song requests. Pete Townshend went so far as to film shows as an experiment in artist-audience feedback during The Who’s songwriting and recording process in his abandoned “Lifehouse” project. But at no other time in history, has it been possible for any independent band or artist to broadcast live and interact with their audience on both a local and global scale.

Cherry Suede: Up Close and Personal is a new live acoustic event and web series that aims to bridge the audience – artist gap, on both a local and global level. You can see the band and special guests rework their songs, and select cover songs into intimate acoustic performances – both in person and online at http://upcloseandpersonal.cherrysuede.com. So far, in it’s first month, the YouTube channel for the series is one of the top ten most subscribed in Canada for musicians.


Typically, artists perform in front of a live audience, or more recently, post a song online and after an initial response (applause or a series of online comments) the interaction fades – and both the artist and audience move on. Cherry Suede: Up Close and Personal goes far beyond that point. The band and the guests tell stories about their music and music they love, songwriting experiences and memories. Requests are taken at the show and from various online social networks. Select performances are recorded, filmed and made available quickly after the event for free higher quality online viewing and sharing – and soon the shows will be streamed live. The goal is to perform multiple songs and multiple versions of songs that are adapted to reflect the personalities of the audience, guests and the mood of the night.

Randy Young says, “no matter what technology or fancy new tool comes our way, it’s always been and always will be about making great music and connecting with people. There’s a precious and undeniable relationship between an artist, a song and an audience – and nowadays this audience can be right in front of you – or halfway across the world.” Randy Scott continues, “Make no mistake. There’s no substitute for being there. But technology now allows us to involve our global audience in our local shows – that’s an amazing thing. Add this to the fact that we’ve made this an acoustic project, simply allows us the freedom to focus on the intimacy of any given moment or inspiration.”

Although the first Cherry Suede: Up Close and Personal live series has started in their hometown of Ottawa, – every Wednesday night at 9 pm EST – the band will be taking this show on the road in 2011.