In July 1952 Mum came to collect me from Westgate on the train — not with Dad, but with Dennis Bowman and Jimpy, whom I was delighted to see. On the way hack on the train, though, it was clear my mother hadn't prepared herself for having me back. My fidgeting irritated her, and so did my runny nose. Nothing I did seemed right. Dennis Bowman said quietly to her, ‘That's a really dear little boy you've got there. Why don't you leave him alone?’I have to admit that I am not a fan of The Who at all and know very little of their music. But there is no harm in exploring celebrity culture, even of celebrities who I’m not all that familiar with. In fact, I found this a really interesting book; Townshend has clearly given his life and his art a lot of thought, and I was frankly impressed by his account of working up the electronic synthesis of The Who’s music recordings, and later his own. He is clear about his struggles with addiction and dependency on alcohol, drugs and sex, and explained both how he overcame those problems but also how he failed to do so. He is also clear about the burdens that come with earning and having stupidly large amounts of money, starting at a comparatively young age, and does not seek readers’ sympathy on this point. He is less clear on a couple of points that surprised me. There is no character sketch of any of the other three members of The Who, who sometimes seem just to be incidental to Townshend’s creative process (though he rates them strongly as performers). Also his mother is not named, even in the index; it’s clear that there is a lot going on there, including unspeakable abuse to which Townshend was subjected while in the care of his grandmother. This in turn motivated him to commendable social action, using his wealth to help other survivors.
What I found most interesting was the continuity of creativity that Townshend sees himself in. The Who’s music was of its time, and he respects other music and art that was of different times. He is thrilled at an early stage to receive a complimentary note from Sir William Walton (who was godfather to one of his associates) and has a blast collaborating with Ted Hughes on The Iron Giant. At the other end, he is encouraging of newer musicians, and writes enthusiastically of the next generation. (He also writes enthusiastically but less comprehensibly about his faith in the Indian guru Meher Baba.)
I enjoyed this more than I had expected. You can get it here.
This was my top unread book acquired in 2015 and my top unread non-fiction book. Next on those lists respectively are Fanny Hill by John Cleland and Factfulness by Hans Rosling.