Anyone familiar with the Who’s 1969 rock opera Tommy, about a boy who overcomes a childhood trauma that renders him ”deaf, dumb, and blind” and goes on to become a messianic figure, already has a pretty good handle on its composer’s life story. Like Tommy, the young Pete Townshend experienced family drama, suffered sexual abuse, took drugs to gain enlightenment, and went on to become his generation’s equivalent of a god — a rock star.
But as Townshend writes in his doorstop of an autobiography, Who I Am, there’s much more to who he is. What that more actually is, however, can be a little hazy. Townshend has said that he compiled the book using notes on scraps of paper he’d kept over the years, and many of the details read as such. Yes, there are indeed many revelations about good old sex, drugs, and rock & roll, including this vivid gem: ”Mick [Jagger] is the only man I’ve ever seriously wanted to f—. He was wearing loose pyjama-style pants without underwear; as he leaned back I couldn’t help noticing the lines of his c— laying against the inside of his leg, long and plump.” But some accounts seem tossed off and perfunctory, variations on them told with greater exposition and enthusiasm elsewhere over the years by Townshend himself (see: the Who rock doc The Kids Are Alright). Others are confusingly conflated (in the matter of a few paragraphs, he goes from boozing and snorting coke to freebasing and using heroin — a pattern of drug abuse that certainly would have taken more than an afternoon for anyone other than Keith Richards).
And yes, tabloid ghouls, he directly and thoroughly addresses the accusations of possessing child pornography that — unjustly, we learn — came his way in 2003. At least when it comes to emotional honesty, Townshend is, thankfully, anything but deaf, dumb, and blind. B