I’ve been reading this a little at a time over the last week or two. It’s a strange one. Unlike, say Dylan or Keith Richard’s autobiographies, there’s no flamboyant writerly style in this book. The prose is almost mundane in places, which is surprising given the skill and dedication of its author. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it. The story of the Who, which dominates the first half of the book and never quite lets go during the second, is a great story. What differentiates it, I think, from those other two books is that unlike Dylan and Richards, Townshend is struggling with his own story.
There are two big conflicts that run through it : how do you live a rock star lifestyle and still keep a strong and lasting marriage and family life? How do you cope as an artist when your greatest achievements were in your twenties but the big project you thought would be your masterpiece – Lifehouse – never quite gets off the ground? We read of Pete’s struggle with these questions but at the same time we get the feeling that he’s struggling with them in the act of writing; in fact writing the book is a form of self examination which feels very uncomfortable at times.
These themes are dominant to the exclusion of much that you might want to know about. You’ll find little here about the writing of My Generation, Won’t Get Fooled Again or Baba O’Riley (although there’s a good bit about Pinball Wizard). If you’re a fan of Tommy or Quadrophenia there’s more about them, and I was delighted that the album he did with Ronnie Lane, Rough Mix, which is one of my favourites, gets a couple of pages.
There are strangely unsatisfying moments – he’s so open about his feelings in some places, but the death of Keith Moon is a closed book, as is the end of his marriage which is surprising given that he’s writing about it on every second page. Strangest of all is when he actually dies – for a short time – in hospital:
I took Krissy out to a trendy club in Baker St where I was having a very good time – until I woke up in a Chelsea hospital with a six inch adrenalin needle sticking out my chest … I was technically dead, but luckily for me I’d been resuscitated in time.
‘Luckily for me’ Is that just understatement or … I don’t know. Anyway despite this he certainly comes over as man of great honesty and decency (and NOT a paedophile – his arrest, innocence and despair is well documented). You’ll find out a lot about Tommy, Quadrophenia, Woodstock, his tense friendship with Roger Daltrey and his life after most of us stopped following him closely: editorship at Faber, friendship and collaboration with Ted Hughes, and a love of boats and the sea. And I hope that, like me, you’ll go back to listening to the music and not just the ones you know.
(But why is the Kindle version dearer than the hardback and paperback?)
Listening again and again to the Beatles Love. I thought it would be good but not that good. As others have said it makes songs you’ve grown up with and examined to death sound fresh and vibrant. The ‘mashing’ of bits of one song into another is done with care and, in most cases, restraint. (The only one I don’t agree with is the outro to Strawberry Fields which is a bit like ‘let’s throw lots of samples in – ooh here’s a good one!’) That’s small criticism compared with the overwhelming success of the project. I was choked at Eleanor Rigby, thrilled by Within You Without You and amazed at While My Guitar Gently Weeps. But even the relatively untouched songs come to new life, especially in the accompanying surround sound DVD-audio. The power of I Want to Hold Your Hand and Come Together is astonishing.
Drove into Edinburgh with Madame and came away with new coats and a shirt. This is my annual buying clothes session. I usually have to be cajoled to part with money for tailorware but always enjoy it in the end. In fact it’s getting easier and I’m really pleased with the swish suit I bought before Christmas and the lovely black wool coat I bought today.
Also used some Waterstones gift vouchers to get the new book by my favourite religious writer Karen Armstrong, The Great Transformation: The World in the Time of Buddha, Socrates, Confucius and Jeremiah, about the so-called Axial Age when city civilisation had come into its own and the pillars of the belief systems that have sustained (and plagued) us for the last 5000 years came into being. But this is in the queue for reading behind Sham and the Derren Brown book.
I’m on holiday so I can do this …
One of those strange paper chases you do on the web. It started with a post in Dave Pollard’s blog about a time-planning method he liked in a book called Getting Things Done by David Allen. That sent me over a series of links to different people’s applications of the ideas, whereupon I decided to organise my Palm (a fairly old Sony Clie actually but invaluable to me) differently. So I started changing the categories of To-Dos, referring back to some of the articles I’d read, having to print them off to read them easily, then realising I needed the manual for the organiser software I use (Iambic Agendus Pro so I was about to set off to find that, when I realised I’d spent almost 90 minutes! Will it result in a leaner, fitter, more organised Norman, or just one cluttered with more ways to procrastinate? Time will tell…
Last night, laid down a nice backing track for Crying in the Street, of which I’ve only ever put out live versions, but which is now a contender for the first Romantic Fiction CD, and also got some better guitar tracks onto IOU which is beginning to sound quite acceptable. Left the computer about 10.30 to watch Minority Report, which I enjoyed for its versions of everyday life in 2053.
Today this diary switches from GreyMatter to TypePad which won’t make much difference to readers but makes some things easier for me.