One of the most gifted rock guitarists of the last 50 years — and the main songwriter and creative force behind The Who — Pete Townshend spent decades touring the globe and writing rock operas like Tommy and Quadrophenia. He helped define rock ‘n’ roll for his generation and many to follow.
Townshend tells NPR’s Jacki Lyden that he never set out to have such a significant cultural impact. “I definitely, in the early days of The Who, knew that I wanted, more than anything — more than being a performer, more than being a songwriter, more than providing any service for the audience — I wanted to be an artist. And I was teased about that.”
In his memoir, Who I Am, Townshend composes the story of his life in more than 500 pages. The book is a compendium of conflict — between the private man and public performer, between the rock legend and an all-too-human husband and father, between addiction and sobriety, and between longing and belief.
On viewing himself as an artist and a journalist
“It’s interesting that being in a pop band in the ’60s, for me, my role was not just entertaining. It was also slightly journalistic. … I would talk to people. I would find out what’s going on in their heads. I would observe them very, very closely. I will try to find things about them that would enrich not only my craft, but that would touch them.
“And Quadrophenia grew out of the fact that … for a lot of the time, I didn’t have that kind of access to the audience. I had to just look at the four guys in the band … I had to measure our audience through looking at them. And there were four very, including myself, four very eccentric characters … I still like to think of myself as, above everything else, as an artist with a stroke of journalism.”
Listen to the NPR interview here.