This is a situation where I’m delighted to admit to bias: I have loved The Who and their music since they exploded into my life in the Sixties. I have regarded Pete Townshend as a genius since Tommy, and his book provides ample support for my view.
One of my favourite verses in Quadrophenia runs:
I have to be careful not to preach,
I can’t pretend that I can teach,
And yet I’ve lived your future out
By pounding stages like a clown.
Peter Townshend really has lived out many of the major issues of maturing men, and this book is a superb description of his shipwrecks and re-inventions, embodying many of the insights and approaches offered in my forthcoming book, Out of the Woods: A Guide to life for men beyond 50 ..
I’ve recently become intrigued by the extreme pressures which it successful pop musicians, as a result of seeing the brilliant film about the Congolese group Benda Bellili – but that’s for another blog.
Pete describes these pressures vividly: the abundant booze and drugs, and the gorgeous women throwing themselves at him. These pressures meant that Pete hit many of the classic crises of midlife men in his thirties or forties.
He writes very honestly of his heavy drinking, of his underlying ongoing anger, and his work addiction “I was a workaholic, running away from the present, and probably the past … I was myself a really desperate man”. These shipwrecks forced him into one of the key moves advocated in my book: “To mature properly, I needed to reach back to my lost youth, the eight-year-old I still carried within me”.
In my book, I suggest that the underlying crisis for men beyond 50 is a spiritual one, which is echoed by Pete describing his own “deep, nauseating spiritual desperation”. He describes the profound benefits he has found through the teachings of Meher Baba. Another fascinating aspect of Who I am is the range of Pete’s musical influences: For example, he writes about Purcell’s use of elongated suspensions, which he used himself in ‘The Kids are Alright’, and how one of my Sufi inspirations, Inayat Kahn, gave him ideas for Lifehouse.
The stories of Pete Townshend and The Who are interwoven with many other great groups and musicians, including The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. This book has plenty of vivid scenes, involving all these and more. I rate it as a must-buy!