Bookshelf: Author interview: Mark Wilkerson, "Who Are You"

"Who Are You: The Life Of Pete Townshend": Mark Wilkerson’s biography of The Who’s Pete Townshend is a detailed look at the life and work of one of rock’s legendary figures. Put out by Omnibus Press (www.omnibuspress.com), the book has been hailed as one of the most detailed and exhaustive studies of the driving force behind The Who. Wilkerson talked about his book and Townshend in a recent interview:

You describe in great detail Pete’s rocky relationship with his mother, and she comes off as pretty heartless and superficial. Are there aspects of her personality in Pete that even he would admit to, and how did her parenting, specifically, shape Pete Townshend the artist?

 Mark Wilkerson: I didn’t get the impression that Pete’s mother is necessarily heartless or superficial, but more possessing a fiery, sometimes vicious disposition, which can certainly be said of Pete, too.

In 1989, Pete described his mother as a “very fiery, exciting, stimulating character, and she can hurt you very badly if she wants to. And I find myself doing the same back to her.” Pete’s brother Simon told me that his mother and father were just like the antagonistic and bitter couple portrayed in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

 But Simon was careful to add that Betty Townshend was a very loving mother, too, and there’s a great deal of evidence that she was very supportive of Pete during his formative years. She took Pete to see “Rock Around The Clock” back in 1956, which fueled Pete’s interest in rock ’n’ roll. She allowed Pete’s early band, the Detours, to store their equipment at her house, drove them to gigs in her van and used her music-business savvy to secure several auditions.

 Since Pete’s parents were both working musicians, he was steeped in a musical culture from birth, practically, and received exceptional support from both parents.

It’s interesting how Roger Daltrey starts off as this brawling, impossible-to-get-along-with character who’s on the verge of getting kicked out of The Who and how he completely, and almost immediately, transforms into, as it says in the book, this peaceful presence. What was the final wake-up call, and how close did Daltrey come to being fired?

 MW: The final wake-up call took place in Aahus, Denmark, in September 1965, where Roger beat Keith [Moon] up backstage between two shows. That second show must have been interesting, given what had just happened in the dressing room. Upon their return to the U.K., the other three members of The Who — along with co-manager Chris Stamp — wanted Daltrey out. However, Daltrey’s increasingly tenuous position was strengthened greatly by the release of “My Generation” the following month, which shot up the charts to number two. It’s hard to promote your hit record when you don’t have a singer!

 With Who manager Kit Lambert’s mediation, Stamp, Townshend, Moon and Entwistle were persuaded to let Daltrey stay. For his part, Daltrey agreed to curb his violent tendencies, undergoing what Pete later called “an amazing sort of transformation.”

What perhaps has gotten lost in the history of The Who and the band’s rise to power is how Pete’s love of Pop Art affected the band’s look and logo and, really, its identity, and Pete talks about that early in the book. Would The Who have been as iconic without the artistic sensibilities Pete had beyond music?

MW: I don’t think that they would have been as iconic, as there was an important visual component to their early image. Art school proved hugely influential to Townshend, far beyond the

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