The soul-searching of a deeply conflicted rock star will likely draw a mixed response from readers.
As the creative force driving the Who, one of the most explosive and ambitious rock bands in history, guitarist/composer Townshend (Horse’s Neck, 1985) has shown himself offstage to be an uncommonly articulate and reflective musical celebrity. For those who want to go deep into his psyche, from the Dickensian childhood in which he believed he was sexually abused (and was unquestionably mistreated) through the marital fidelity that he tried to sustain and the depression, anxiety attacks, alcoholism and other conditions he has successfully battled, Townshend bares his soul and is tougher on himself than most readers are likely to be. (Even those readers aware of the scandal in regard to his accessing child pornography are likely to agree that it was a careless mistake.) Along the way, he lets Who fans know just what inspired and influenced audacious achievements such as Tommy and intriguing hits such as “I Can See for Miles” and “Pictures of Lily.” He’s remarkably generous in the credit he gives other musicians, particularly the Kinks’ Ray Davies and a whole lot of jazz artists (he idolizes pianist Keith Jarrett). Yet the narrative falls surprisingly flat in its surfeit of details (on houses, boats and much younger women who seemed to attract and torture him mainly because of their beauty), while adding little understanding to the unique dynamics of the Who. Jimi Hendrix comes alive in these pages, but ex-wife Karen Townshend does not. Regarding the “odd couple” relationship he has sustained with singer Roger Daltrey, Townshend doesn’t seem to understand it any better than readers will.
Fans will find plenty of revelation; others may be overwhelmed or just confused.