Five things you probably didn't know about the legendary Who guitarist, from his new memoir, Who I Am: A Memoir.
1. He had it rough as a kid. Really rough
Life was tough for most kids growing up in post-war Britain, but Townshend had it worse than most. What Townshend calls "the darkest part of my life" occurred when he was sent to live with his grandmother at age five. Not only was grandma crazy – delusional, cruel, violent - she also had a habit of taking in "men from the bus garage and the railway station opposite her flat", one of whom apparently molested young Pete. And that wasn't the end of it. Several years later, on a "sea scout" trip (like a watery version of the Boy Scouts) the two program leaders "initiated" him with a cold, naked shower, with the two men "wanking." These events scarred Townshend throughout his life.
2. He considers Roger Daltrey the "unquestionable leader" of the Who
Sure, Daltrey started The Detours, the band which eventually became the Who. And yes, as the blonde, sex-symbol singer, he was front and center. But most fans of the Who may be surprised to hear that Townshend considers Daltrey the band's leader, seeing as how Pete wrote the songs, and could sing in his own right. In fact, there are those who feel the Who could have been the best power trio in rock history had they just dropped their lead singer.
3. He had an…interesting relationship with the Rolling Stones
Townshend admits that he stole his iconic "windmill" guitar move from watching Keith Richards warming up backstage before a Rolling Stones gig. Along with the Kinks, the Stones were a major influence on the Who in the fledgling London rock scene, where all the bands hung out and played together. Townshend actually calls Mick Jagger "the only man I've ever seriously wanted to fuck," and disputes Keith's description of Mick's "tiny todger," writing "I couldn't help noticing the lines of his cock, laying on the inside of his leg, long and plump." Um.
4. He could get pretty violent (on stage at least)
Townshend's guitar destroying antics started by accident, but soon became a staple of the Who's live show. But it wasn't just his equipment that he abused. At Woodstock, Townshend knocked Abbie Hoffman upside the head with his guitar when the notorious Yippie leader tried to commandeer the mike. Soon after, when the Who debuted their rock opera "Tommy" at the Fillmore East in New York, Townshend kicked another stage intruder in the balls, only to discover that his victim was an off-duty member of New York's Tactical Police Force. The guitarist was promptly locked up and threatened with deportation.
5. Dude couldn't handle his drugs
Like any self-respecting rock star in the sixties, Townshend experimented with all manner of drugs, but sometimes they got the better of him. In what he describes as "the most disturbing experience I've ever had", Townshend dropped acid while on a cross country plane. Who drummer Keith Moon had decided to trip, and Townshend and his then-girlfriend didn't want him to be alone. Cue the snorting pigs and disembodiment. Soon after, Townshend heard "the voice of God" while listening to Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Pet Sounds - and smoking weed - in a Holiday Inn in Illinois. He called it a "singular, momentous epiphany." We think it was probably just strong weed.
Who I Am: A Memoir is out now.
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