Book Review: Who I Am by Pete Townshend ✭✭✭✭

Review by Emma Curry

If you’re counting down the days to The Who’s UK Tour dates and need something to keep you busy, why not grab yourself a copy of Pete Townshend’s autobiography, the rather punnily-titled Who I Am? Whether you’re a fan or not, this book provides a fascinating insight into the rollercoaster world of drink-and-drug-fuelled, guitar-smashing rock star antics in the ’60s and ’70s, with some truly mind-blowing anecdotes and amazing photos thrown in to boot.

Townshend starts from the very beginning (very Julie Andrews), charting his childhood growing up in the shadow of the Second World War, suffering the militant discipline of an eccentric grandmother, and gradually discovering a love of music through his dad’s saxophone- and clarinet-playing in a swing band called the Squadronaires. It’s always a pleasure to read about legendary names in their pre-fame days, and casual lines such as ‘Roger Daltrey had been expelled for smoking, but was still impudently showing up on campus to visit his various cronies’ continually provide the reader with a wry smile as the narrative progresses. Once the band properly form and begin to take off, however, events become more familiar (notorious, even), although Townshend’s narration remains interesting and thoughtful throughout.

At times this autobiography can be a rather sobering affair, however. Townshend is very honest about the downs as well as the ups: occasionally painfully so, meaning that the book can make for a rather difficult read. In addition to his struggles with drug and alcohol addiction, Townshend is very candid about his infamous brush with the law in 2003 in Operation Ore, when his research into the availability of child pornography online led to him being cautioned by the police. This candour at times becomes a little too anguished, meaning the book can be a less enjoyable read than other, albeit more sanitised, star autobiographies.

Nevertheless, this is an interesting read for anyone keen to relive the musical zeniths of the 1960s, as well as find out more about Townshend’s continuing creative projects. Packed full of fascinating snippets (did you know, for example, that his first guitar-smashing episode was actually an accident?), it’s a great addition to any music lovers’ collection.

Four stars ✭✭✭✭