Monday 2 July 2018

The Who Essay: Who Are You? And Who Am I? Identity In The Songs Of Pete Townshend

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I really having a ‘eureka!’ moment early on in creating Alan’s Album Archives when I suddenly realised what The Who ‘were’. Musicologists tend to put them as a rougher, rawer version of bad boys ‘The Rolling Stones’ and figures they must be permanently ‘angry’ what with all that windmilling guitar and exploding drumkits. There was a time, too, when people realised just how big and bold and beautiful and complex Pete Townshend’s music was and figured he must be another Brian Wilson or Lennon-McCartney, maybe both in the same body. Surely, then, The Who were a secretly uplifting band – after all, didn’t the audience always feel better after Tommy came to the [120] ‘See Me, Feel Me’ bit? Ray Davies added to the hysteria by claiming that he’d seen the High Numbers up close when they shared a bill with The Kinks and that by the end of the tour the fledgling Who sounded more like them than the Davies brothers did! In their heads, of course, The Who were ‘pretending’ to be hip young mods – The Small Faces if you will, but in slightly less sharp suits.
Perhaps none of that is true though. For I don’t think The Who ever quite knew who they were and everything Pete Townshend wrote is to some extent an attempt to discovery identity. I really should have seen it – I mean it’s in the band’s bloody name for a start, a perfectly chosen band name full of confusion and uncertainty. ‘They’re The Who?’ Said the parents, not realising the joke, ‘They sound awful’. ‘That’s right’ said The Kids. Not to the awful bit obviously. ‘They’re The Who – and they understand what it means to be a confused kid trying to make his way in a world that doesn’t want him there’. You see even though The Who themselves wrote a song about being referred to the [44] ‘Substitute Stones’ they didn’t have any of Mick Jagger’s certainty and poise. They didn’t have the self-belief of The Beatles. They didn’t have the quirky characters of The Kinkis, busy doing their own thing in a world that was going the other way. And they certainly didn’t have the magnetic charisma of The Small Faces. Instead they were a lost little boy and his mates trying to work out who they were and how they fit in, appealing to a generation of music listeners who were also lost and trying to work out how they fit in.
I love The Who because they work in an entirely different way to any other band out there. A search for identity is after all a major part of music and a major part of this website – but not done like this. Usually when bands are lost and confused they sound small and humble, unwilling to make their voices heard (The Moody Blues sound like this to some extent, Simon and Garfunkel too). Other bands that are lost and searching don’t have Roger Daltrey as their frontman. Roger, you see, doesn’t sound lost or vulnerable at all. He sounds as if he knows exactly what he wants – and if you have what he wants then he won’t mind stepping on your toes to get it. Though the elder adult mature Roger is a true gentleman of rock and roll, the face of the teenage cancer charity trust that does so much to help young people and eager to help out friends, fans and strangers alike, that wasn’t the way when he was first in The Who. Roger was the school bully everyone was afraid of, growing up in the ‘wrong’ end of London, skiving school every chance he got, getting teenage girlfriends pregnant at will and addicted to cigarettes and alcohol early on. Everyone was afraid of him – especially his younger classmate Pete Townshend (other classmate John Entwistle never showed any emotion one way or another). In any other band Roger would be the dominating presence – confident, cool and fully in charge.
However Roger wasn’t the writer for The Who – barring two or three actually quite promising songs. Pete Townshend was. The moment when The Who truly became The Who wasn’t when the band started as a James Brown covers band or even as a quirky writer of pop singles, it was when they started having ginormous hits with Pete’s songs. Till then he had been an uneasy presence in the group, unsure as to why he was really there. Townshend was nervy and vulnerable in the early days, fully aware that his gangly height and his beak nose made him an unlikely role model for impressionable kids. However without knowing it Pete held the keys to the band’s fortunes: back in 1965 there were a million kids out there who could cover the latest American R and B songs. However few if any wrote their own songs, even in the wake of The Beatles. For Pete the songs came easily. For a time he tried to write for The Who through the eyes of Roger and pretend to be confident and it didn’t always work (though second single [6] ‘Anyway Anyhow Anywhere’, written with Roger’s help, was a rare exception). However Pete soon hit upon a style that really did work for him: he was angry, frustrated, misunderstood, confused, frightened, vulnerable, scared by a world that was bigger than he was and unsure how he would ever survive it. The songs pour out of him expressing the unexpressable that he felt from his audience and himself: [4] ‘I Can’t Explain’, for instance, is the perfect debut single (The Who are the only 1960s band still performing their first single a half century on rather than outgrowing it and pretending it doesn’t exist) the perfect three minute pop song about not being able to write a three minute pop song because there’s too much to say and no easy way to say it. Without knowing it Pete tapped into the parts of a generation who hadn’t found a niche with the confident Beatles and sexy Stones and quirky Kinks because they didn’t know who they were and they couldn’t explain it either. That’s why, I think, Who fans have a particular bond with ‘their’ band that even other obsessed fanbases (such as The Beatles or Pink Floyd fanatics) can’t approach. This is a band who ‘get’ how it feels to be weak and vulnerable.
However the genius of The Who is that Pete Townshend is not their lead singer, Roger Daltrey is. Suddenly the bullied weird nerdy kid in the playground whose forever losing his front teeth can use the voice of the school bully to sing with. A year or so in, when things calm down and The Who is clearly Townshend’s band, Pete really makes the most of this gift, which is what every quivering wreck every wanted: to stand up for what they want to say with the voice of someone who knows how to say it and the results sound HUGE! There’s something about Roger’s confident sexy swagger singing those lines about vulnerability and neediness that adds an extra layer to Who recordings that you don’t get from Pete’s demo recordings alone (however great and under-rated they are) and which Roger has no hpe of finding on his solo albums (however enjoyable parts of them may be). A roaring voice screaming ‘I’m scared and vulnerable!’ is so much more effective than Mick Jagger purring ‘I’m fully in command’ or Simon and Garfunkel whispering ‘I feel sick with nerves’ (and I say that as a huge fan of both. Sometimes, a few albums in, these pair of opposites even get to sing together and its no coincidence that many people’s favourite Who songs ([122] ‘Baba O’Riley [123] ‘Bargain’ [130] ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’, large sections of Tommy, at a push [188] ‘Music Must Change’) feature Pete singing the kernel of the ‘real’ song quietly in the middle of Roger’s shout. ‘Don’t cry, don’t raise your eyes, it’s only teenage wasteland’. ‘I look at myself in the mirror, I know I’m worth nothing without you’. ‘Is this song so different, am I doing it all again?...’, a sudden switch to Tommy crying out ‘See Me, Feel Me’, even a simple ‘Do ya?!?’ hidden in the middle of ‘Fooled Again’ – they’re what the song is ‘really’ about behind the brave front Roger is putting on to the world as it throws everything at the narrator.
Pete, though, is not fooled again – he’s only acting, using Roger as a human shield against the mayhem and might of a world who can’t resist throwing everything it can at him and his kind. Backed up by John Entwistle’s bass (the loudest in rock when it’s recorded right) and Keith Moon’s drums (the loudest in rock even if he’s playing across the room in another studio!) and The Who suddenly sound HUGE and completely unstoppable. However they never ever lose touch with the vulnerability in the lyrics. So many Who songs can be boiled down to roughly the same thing. ‘Why are you hurting me? Why is everything so hard? You just wait until I’m strong enough to fight you back!’ It’s the sound every bullied kid has ever longed for – the sound of a bully speaking up for them. Seeing Pete grow in confidence to the point where he becomes one of the world’s greatest frontman, big on sarcasm and high on banter with the crowd, in no way negates the fact that he remains the band’s scared and vulnerable voice. He is after all in front of ‘his’ people.
So much for the sound, then, but what about the songs? Well, many seem to deal with identity directly. Fifth single [55] ‘Substitute’ is a key Who song, written for a world who assume – in the wake of [22] ‘My Generation’ – that The Who have all the answers. In their shoes every other band would be celebrating being accepted and accept it as a confidence boost, but Pete had a life-long phobia of yes-men who thought everything he did was perfect and he cuts away all our perceptions of him on this very clever single. It’s not so much a song about who the band are (compare to any period Beatles song except ‘Help!’ and every single Stones song) as what they’re not. The character sounds as if he knows what he’s doing – people tell him he ‘looks good’ with his girlfriend and that he’s tall, with the walk of someone who is ‘simple’ and direct, that he walks in posh leather shoes so must be ‘rich’, even that he’s ‘white’ (and therefore given what people would now term ‘white privilige’). But it’s all a myth: he feels hopelessly lost next to this pretty girl, he walks around in heels so he only gives the impression of being tall, he was born not with a silver but a ‘plastic spoon in my mouth’ and he knows he’s so complicated. He even throws in that ‘my dad was black’ (itself a line substituted with ‘I walk forward but my feet walk back’ on personal appearances on radio and TV stations afraid of mentioning race or colour on air). On ‘Substitute’ appearances can be deceptive and Pete doesn’t feel any more confident with a #2 UK hit single behind him than he did before.
Other Who songs follow: [46] ‘I’m A Boy’ is another deeply confused narrator, but this time confused over his gender. In the original idea for the song (which, naturally for Pete, was intended to be an entire concept album that sadly got whittled down to a mere three minute single) we are living in a future where children aren’t born through pro-creation but ordered, so that a family can have exactly what they want. A family think that four girls would be nice but when the order arrives they end up with three girls and a grumpy boy named Bill. The family don’t want to send back their order so poor Bill is stuck being treated as a girl for all eternity, yearning to break free of his dresses and scrape his knees and play in the mud, singing ‘I’m a boy!’ over and over to a world that doesn’t want to hear it because they’ve pigeon-holed him. Society – maybe even God – doesn’t make mistakes about gender so he must be mistaken; I’ve always been surprised that this song wasn’t picked up on by the ‘trans’ movement (one half of it at least) because it’s the perfect song about being a boy born in a girl’s body and your confusion at being treated differently to how you perceive yourself. Bill is a lone voice in the wilderness trying to re-claim his identity, even though identity is such a personal thing no one has a right to tell you who you are except yourself.
One key album track of the period is [59] ‘I Can’t Reach You’, a rare track entirely sung by Pete from ‘Who Sell Out’. In this song the narrator isn’t struggling to be himself but struggling to project that to other people. This is one of the 1960s’ most messed up love songs of them all – the couple both love each other and want to be with each other. But they can’t connect at all – they’re apart in time and space, seperated by a million miles and a million years (and a million pounds). They long to be together, they yearn to be together, but society says they can’t be (because they belong to different cultures, different classes – and if the lyrics are literal they are never alive when the other is anyway). The ‘real’ them goes together so well when Pete catches a ‘glimpse of your unguarded untouched heart’ and sees the real person he loves so much. But he’s too ‘late’ – society has made his loved one feel she has to act as a different person altogether, guarded and controlled in the face of a cruel world. He isn’t prepared to act and she isn’t prepared to drop her act, so they can never ever be. It’s a heartbreaking song, filled with such loss and heartbreak and devestation, so unlike the other unusually confident songs on ‘Who Sell Out’ with the memorable image of the couple running towards each other with outstretched arms (and missing).
You can hear this search for identity in 1970 standalone single [118] ‘The Seeker’ too. Pete is desperate to find out who he is, but rather than search within himself he latches on to other people, hoping that they will tell him who he is. However all Bob Dylan and The Beatles can tell him is who they are and that doesn’t really help him much. Pete realises with a sigh that actually the only way he’s going to know who he really is and what he’s searching for is when he dies. Only of course he’s impatient to know the answer now. There’s a development of sorts, though. All Pete knows on this song is who he is at different moments, when different emotions run through his heart – ‘I’m happy when life’s good and when it’s bad I cry’. He only knows who he is in any one moment though, not who he is for any stretch of time.
This puzzle over identity is there in the whole of ‘Tommy’ too, a work which is more autobiographical than perhaps most fans realised. It took Pete a long time to come out and say it, but he was forever warped by his parent’s decision to briefly split up and palm Pete out to one of his aunts. The last person who should be taking care of a lonely culnerable child, she was more interested in the stream of steady boyfriends who came through the door and poor Pete had to call ‘uncle’ (like Uncle Ernie). Building up a wall around himself, Pete found that his mind blocked out what happened next but figured that involved something sexual he was too young to understand. An already shy child lost his ability to speak about what happened, he closed his eyes to seeing the world around him and he closed to his ears to what people told him – like many abuse victims he was encouraged to play up to a fantasy world so that nobody got into trouble, too small to speak up for himself and unlikely to ever be believed if he did. Thankfully his ‘story’ will right itself – Pete’s family will get back together, he ends up back home and even has a beloved and much younger (by fifteen years) brother Simon (who still plays in The Who to this day, or at least whenever the last reunion gig happened to be). What, though, if that hadn’t happened? He’d have ended up like poor Tommy, who in the concept album sees his mother having sex with her new boyfriend when his father, long thought lost in the war, walks in on them and shoots the new man (other variations of this story have the lover killing the husband, which is more plausible if people think the father is dead already). Tommy witnesses this but is told to keep quiet, losing his ability to navigate between the ‘real’ world and the fantasy he’s been given in the process. He turns inward, isolating himself because nobody around him understands him and he can’t trust anyone, his only companion being his mirror image – the only person who re-acts in a way he understands. Throughout the record we hear Tommy’s name repeated over and over like a talisman too – the only link he has to his own identity separate form other people. Other people know exactly who they are, even when that person is awful and can easily switch personalities depending on what people need to hear (Uncle Ernie and Cousin Kevin). Poor Tommy, though, doesn’t know how to be anyone but himself and doesn’t know who that is anymore, unable to ‘act’ and live a lie. Everyone around Tommy tries to cure him with sex, drugs and rock and roll but none of it works, only love as Tommy’s mother becomes so infuriated with her son’s suffering that she loses control and smashes the mirror, at last caring more for him than for herself. This changes Tommy and it all rather goes to his head, but by Tommy’s final act everyone whose desperate to hear what he says for himself figures its all a great con and he really isn’t ‘the new Messiah’ (but a very naughty boy). They all move on to the next big thing, but Tommy never can – because this isn’t some new fad but his real true self.
Another important Townshend track sadly got relegated to mnere B-side status even though from the title alone it’s the most Who-ish song ever! [131] ‘I Don’t Even Know Myself’ is Pete’s statement to the outside world who think they can pigeon-hole him. How can they know who he is when even he is confused by himself? An update og ‘Substitute’, Pete admits his words can’t give him away because he just makes them up, his dress can’t give him away because it’s just what he wears and his walk can’t tell us where he’s going because he himself is lost. Pete is trapped in a ‘dream’, fighting to hold on to his real self and afraid that he’s lost it. ‘I see Tommy is the way I’m staying’ he sighs too, hemmed in and pigeon-holed by his most famous work even though ‘Tommy’ is itself a whopping great search for identity. There’s even one of the single greatest Who-ish lines in this entire book: ‘Don’t shiver as you pass me by – because I’m the one whose frightened’. Pete’s identity here is that he doesn’t know who he is, even years on from his first success.
‘Lifehouse’ is sketchier, given that we never did get a fully finished version of that story, but it is too about identity. Pete’s original unweidly idea was that The Who would play in front of a select audience every night and would gradually get to know everyone in the crowd. Eventually their personalities would be ‘fed’ into his synthesiser and would be turned into new songs (in the end the only two people to ever be ‘fed’ into the machine were Mehere Baba and synth inventor Terry Riley – see [122] ‘Baba O’Riley’ if you hadn’t guessed already). Set against this was a future totalitarian society that said people couldn’t intermingle and had to be separated into their homes, without any communication to the outside world. Inevitably some people escape this regime and eke out an existence in the outer worlds; better yet they broadcast an illegal radio station and have something known as ‘the grid’ where they can communicate their real and personal thoughts – every fan coming to this work since the 1990s immediately recognises this as an early version of the internet and indeed Pete used the internet a lot when he returned to this work around then, turning it into a radio play and a pricey box set full of odds and ends from the work. If ‘Tommy’ is about discovering yourself, then ‘Lifehouse’ is about discovering who you are in relation to other people – there’s a love story, of course, but the real heart of this story is central character Mary’s discovery that she is a ‘different person’ depending on who she is with – at work, with friends, with her new rebellious boyfriend. This leads to a further discovery that society is wicked and awful and should be destroyed ([130] ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’) but the really identifiable identity song is [123] ‘Bargain’. I’d gladly lose me to find you!’ snarls Roger on Pete’s behalf. ‘I look in the mirror’ rejoins Pete, ‘I know I’m worth nothing without you, in life one and one don’t make two one and one make one…I’m loking for you!’
Next epic ‘Quadrophenia’  takes elements of both. Jimmy the Mod seems at first to have his shit together. He has a gang, he has a girlfriend, he has a scooter, he’s a hit down at the local club scene, he has access to a stash of drugs, he even has a job which he doesn’t much care for but helps pay for the stuff he does need. In short, he’s a mod, one who could have been any of the kids in The Who’s audience in the mid-1960s (even if, technically, any true mod would be more likely to be watching The Small Faces than The Who). However he’s not like the other mods who are eager to move onto the next big thing (folk-rock or psychedelia, take your pick) and who were only wearing sharp suits and listening to mod records because it was in fashion. Everyone else is in it for ‘fun’ but for Jimmy mod is a lifestyle, an identity he can’t take off like a coat. He loses his girlfriend to a kid whose much cooler than he is. He loses his scooter in a freak accident. His mother discovers his drug stash and kicks him out. He loses his job. He doesn’t know who he is anymore and he’s hurting, confused, vulnerable for the first time in his life. He decides to return to the scene of the last time he was happy (the mods versus rockers riots of Brighton) when he had a gang around him, but alas he sees the ‘ace Face’ (the kid every mod looked up to) reduced to working as a bell-hop for a living, under the thumb of ther grown-ups. What’s worse is the Ace Face (who sounds oddly like Keith Moon) doesn’t see this as a comedown – he was always going to have to knbuckle down and get a job as that’s how the real world works, but it was fun being a mod while it lasted. Jimmy is devastated: he doesn’t want to give up the only identity he’s ever had and flees to the sea in a boat drugged up to the eyeballs and working out what to do next. This album, much more than the others, is Pete’s message to ‘us’ the fans and everyone in a similar boat about having to forge their own identity beyond their anorak music obsession. Jimmy has an ambiguous ending and may either drown or be re-born in the sea, realising that he has to be loved for who he is and find people he can love for who they are in turn. Finale [161] ‘Love Reign O’er Me’ isn’t just about finding love but about finding identity too, while songs like [153] ‘Is It In My Head?’ are about Jimmy’s low self-esteem and [150] ‘I’m One’ about how he feels lost alone but feels like he has an identity as part of a ‘gang’, with his fellow mods. The piece is also named, of course, for Jimmy’s split personality – other people can become schizophrenic when they are confused who they are, their characters split into two, but Jimmy is bleeding quadraphonic, four separate people living in the same body and unable to work out who he really is. ‘Can you see [146] the real me?’ is the painful opening cry of the entire work, but we only find out at the end when Jimmy is frightened, vulnerable and alone.
This leads into an interesting sub-culture of Townshend songs, the link between band and fans. There’s a whole great pile of them as Pete reaches out to the Who’s audience and tries to give his struggling fans the identity they lack. They are ‘Who fans’, nothing more nothing less, and have identity simply by being part of something bigger than themselves. [135] ‘Join Together’, at one stage a key part of ‘Lifehouse’ is an under-rated Who single and a key moment in their discography. Other songs by other AAA bands urge their fans to ‘come together’ with them, but only The Who make it sounds like a matter of life and death. It doesn’t matter who you are either – everybody is welcome, no matter how hopeless, hapless or how much of a misfit you are. We can follow or lead the way, we don’t have to pay money to belong, we are part of something bigger than ourselves. Pete also, you see, gets something out of this ‘bargain’, for by giving him a mandate to speak on behalf of ourselves we provide him with an identity, a chance to show who he is at last. That’s why, too, the finale to Tommy is so moving: Pete gains his identity along with Tommy, not because of any sudden thing he says or realises but because he gets it from ‘us’. ‘Listening to you I hear the music, following you I climb the mountain, from you I get the story’. That’s especially true of Quadrophenia, of course, which is the story of so very many Who fans. However as early as the band’s third and most famous single [22] ‘My Generation’ they were listening to ‘us’ and reflecting our hopes and dreams and fears. The Who weren’t singing ‘hope I die before I get old’ for themselves but for everyone who had only just discovered their identity through music – and had to then give it up to join the ‘adult world’.
Music, too, is the one salvation for The Who that continues to give Pete an identity. There are many glorious Who songs that are about nothing more than the glory of songs to lift you up and put you back together again when you’re feeling miserable, that songs can express the inexpressible that you can never say. A song like [144] ‘Long Live Rock!’ says this simply and joyously, a tongue-in-cheek piece about the gulf between the reality and premise of the world of performing that nevertheless still makes it sound like the best job in the world communicating with people. [162] ‘We Close Tonight’, a Townshend song cut from Quadrophenia at the eleventh hour, fills in the only real bit of character for Jimmy we ever get – he’s a jazz fan, an anorak who defines himself through the records he owns. A more complex song like [190] ‘Guitar and Pen’ is probably close to the truth though – Pete thinks he has something to say, gets it wrongt, flings his guitar and pen away in digust and vows never to write again – but something makes him pick them both up and start writing again, his desperate hunger to express what’s in his soul. [188] ‘Music Must Change’ too is his heartfelt plea that music has become too up itself and caught up with character by 1978 (ironically it was probably written in early 1976 a few months before punk came along to do just that, but it is one of the most prog-rock and un-punk like pieces The Who ever made). Perhaps the truest take on music though is [149] ‘The Punk and the Godfather’. Audiences know when the performer in front of them is a ‘fake’ and is no longer speaking directly to the ordinary people from the heart as one of them. And that’s inevitable when a performer is hailed and celebrated and adored and his head becomes so big that he no longer feels ordinary at all. It’s the great dilemma all successful bands haver to face – when do you stop writing for the people you represent and are now only writing for yourself/ And who is the ‘real’ you anyway?
By 1975, though, even Pete Townshend has to join the adult world. ‘Who By Numbers’ is a scared, paranoid album where nothing works anymore. Pete’s band is disintegrating, his marriage is cracking under the strain, he’s no longer being true to himself but living a life of lies, using ‘brandy’ as a front to be the person everyone wants him to be. On this astonishing and under-rated album he goes back to writing for the self, stripping away every possible crutch to show us what his identity really is. And the result doesn’t make for pleasant listening: Pete is a mess, suicidal, aware that he ‘got old’ and broke his promise of ten years before by reaching the tipe old age of thirty with so much of the world still suffering, dreaming of a time when he can be true to his principles and ‘lose control’, sarcastically denouncing all of his so-called friends for never loving him for who he is and pitying the tramps who look through his dustbins not for souveniers but for food, starved of even the basic necessities to live. Suddenly all his pontificating and deep-thinking seem for nought and he has no more idea of who he is then he did when he started. Yet again he’s envious: everyone is in ‘love’ except him and he hates himself and who he really is. ‘Who By Numbers’ is an extraordinary album coming after so much hard work by pete building himself up to be something but at least its ‘real’ again, without the artifice or characters of the recent Who albums.
From then on until the end in 1982 Pete is in an uneasy situation. He needs to be true to himself but is aware that he doesn’t like who he is anymore; equally The Who are a bloated middle-aged band still singing about teenage identity crisis and drustration. By their mid thirties most people (supposedly) know who they are with careers and families (not sure I do) – The Who aren’t singing to their target audience anymore. So more and more Pete writes for himself; [192] ‘Who Are You?’ is one last great outpouring as Pete tries to work out who he is and who is audience are. He recounts the real-life tale of meeting The Sex Pistols in a club and pleading with them to be real this time, to stay true to their principles and finish off bands like The Who which he now sees as artificial and false. When they say that they are Who fans he’s disgusted and goes off to get drunk, ashamed when his celebrity status means a policeman recognises him slumped in a Soho doorway and sends him home. But even if the policeman knows who he is, Pete doesn’t anymore – the fact that Roger is barking this song with the cool confident control of a man who knows exactly who he is doesn’t undercut the uncertainty at the heart of this troubled song at all.
Even John Entwistle gets into the act, taking up more album room as Pete’s confidence stutters and stalls, writing his own rock opera about identity condensed into a three minute pop song in [186] ‘905’, a song so Townshendesque John even gets his friend to sing half of it. Like ‘I’m A Boy’ identity has been reduced to mail order, but this song goes further by having humans bred with special characteristics in test-tubes. Usually in Who songs a name is something that ‘belongs’ to you and you wear like a talisman until you find a personality to go with it, but here John even takes that away. His character doesn’t have a name but a number and reflects that, born fully aware into a world he isn’t ready for, ‘something deep inside is missing’. He isn’t ready to be the person he is programmed to be.
By and large Pete keeps his personal songs for himself and his solo records from now on, Roger struggling to sing such nakedly openly vulnerable songs as ‘I Am An Animal’ with his usual force. There’s one great exception though and its saved till last. [217] ‘Cry If You Want’ puzzles many fans as the last track on the last Who studio album (‘It’s Hard’) – shouldn’t the end go out with a bang not a whimper and why is it all so miserable? But for me this is Pete’s great coming of age song as he realises that he’ll have to live the rest of his life without the band (he doesn’t know about John Entwistle’s desperate need for money and the endless reunions just yet). He turns on himself like never before, pointing out all the things ‘wrong’ with him – his imability to get close to anyone except his teddy bear, his pretence at being a ‘famous star’ when he doesn’t feel special at all, his endless affairs that were putting strain on his marriage to his teenage sweetheart, the ‘innocence, fresh ideas and insolence’ that have given way to artifice, the fact that he became the rich distant rockstar he once hated, his general paranoia, the fact that for all his life achievements he still feels like a miserable nobody. However for the first time in his life, after seventeen years of using Roger as his human shield to fight the rest of the world with, Pete turns his best friend on himself. Roger is let loose on his bandmate, tearing him to shreds, pointing out his mistakes and vulnerabilities and everything he got wrong and for the first time Pete is brave enough to listen. After seventeen years of acting tough and hiding behind the sheer noiuse of The Who he can now affiord to be who he really is – a scared and lost little boy. A moving middle eight literally lets the tears flow, Pete allowing himself to truly feel for the first time in years, even his bully giving him permission to cry – something he’s never been granted before in a world that demands he act ‘tough’. The Who surely had many other great albums in them after this (and unlike most fans I’m rather fond of the last trio of albums, even if they arebn’t as multi-dimensional as the run that came before them) but the band just has to end here, the moment that Pete has been building up to the band’s whole career wrong.
Does Pete have an identity now? You would hope so. The Post-Who Pete Townshend may not be anywhere near as creative as he used to be (his solo albums get further and further apart until stopping for good in 1993). His autobiography (titled, of course ‘Who I Am’ although I still say ‘Who Am I?’ would have been a better title) However Pete now seems so much happier in his own skin than he ever was before. He does a ridiculous amount for good causes, be they for his beloved guru Meher Baba, disabled children or world peace, he continues to stick up for those who don’t have a voice, is a humble and gracious man with fans (when he’s in the right mood) and he found true love with his second wife Rachel – the fact that he started seeming much more comfortable from almost the minute he met her in the early 1990s speaks volumes to me. Pete knows who he is now – a good kind spiritual emotional man (the two aren’t as opposite as some people think), desperate to connect with people and make the world better for them. You sense that, in the last twenty years, he no longer finds that he can’t explain the unexplainable (and indeed no longer feels the need to write to discover how the world works as much as he did). Pete, you could argue, has found more peace at the end of his life than John or Keith ever did. Funnily enough one of the few musicians who also found an inner peace that makes his younger self seem unrecognisable these days is…Roger Daltrey, who (particularly after Tommy made him a star in 1969) found the success and contentment he had been searching for all those years, self-identifying as ‘Peaceful Perc’ after a youth spent lashing out at people for not having what they had. The Who, against the odds, seems to have a happy ending – for half the band at least.
A complete collection of Who reviews:

'The Who Sing My Generation' (1965)

'Sell Out' (1967)

‘Tommy’ (1969)

'Live At Leeds' (1970)

'Lifehouse' (As It Might Have Been) (1971)

'Who's Next' ('Lifehouse' As It Became) (1971)

'Quadrophenia' (1973)

'The Who By Numbers' (1975)

'Who Are You' (1978)

'Face Dances' (1979)

'Empty Glass' (Townshend solo 1980)

'It's Hard' (1982)

Surviving Who TV Clips 1965-2015

Non-Album Recordings Part One 1964-1967

Non-Album Recordings Part Two 1968-2014

Pete Townshend “Scoop” 1-3

The Best Unreleased Who Recordings

Live/Solo/Rarities/Competition Albums Part One 1965-1972

Live/Solo/Rarities/Competition Albums Part Two 1972-1975

Live/Solo/Rarities/Compilation Albums Part Three 1976-1982

Live/Solo/Rarities/Compilation Albums Part Four 1983-1990

Live/Solo/Rarities/Compilation Albums Part Five 1991-2000

Essay: Who Are You And Who Am I?:

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