The creative mind behind most of The Who’s music pens his autobiography, a project he admits took sixteen years. He also says he decided to write this book when he was 21. Ego? I don’t think Townshend is denying that. All rock stars, he posits, are a bit narcissistic, and while he doesn’t say it directly, he believes he is more narcissistic than Who lead singer Roger Daltrey. If you know anything about lead singers, narcissism is part of the job description.
And this is one of the amazing parts of Townshend’s autobiography. Here is the man who created Tommy, the aborted Lifehouse (which spawned the classic Who’s Next), and Quadrophenia. His solo albums, when taken as a whole instead of a collection of songs, each are organized like novels. He has one of the most ambitious imaginations in rock, perhaps exceeding the flights of fancy of Roger Waters. And yet he seems to look up to Roger Daltrey. He even says, “I hope he writes his version of The Who’s story someday.” Daltrey is a rare island of stability in his life.
Townshend hides none of his vices. He admits to being a horrible husband to former wife Kathy and worrying how leaving her might affect her. At the same time, he worries about others. The Keith Moon we have been treated to over the years was a whimsical man, the lost Monty Python member, and someone for whom being seriously was glaringly missing from his skill set. And yet, Townshend fretted over Moon’s emotional state and his bad habits, which ultimately killed him.
We’re also treated to a dismal childhood that went into much of The Who’s music, his parents contentious and adulterous relationship, probable sexual abuse at the hands of an increasingly demented grandmother, and the friends he ran with in postwar Acton, part of London. It’s all there.
Townshend’s recollection of his life is refreshingly honest and self-deprecating. I listened it on Audible, which let me hear him read what he’d written. I highly recommend doing this book on audio as his lyrical prose really comes to life.