This past Thursday, I was lucky enough to attend the Pete Townshend book event at Indigo’s Manulife center in Toronto for his recently-released memoir Who I Am. This was only my third author event and by far the biggest in terms of both size and profile; I mean, come on— it’s Pete Townshend! Although I was at the event in an official “intern helper” capacity, I would have been right alongside those waiting in line for a wristband anyway. I’m a big music fan and Pete Townshend is a living legend. If you aren’t familiar with him, let me give you a quick rundown: Townshend is the guitarist and songwriter for The Who, “possibly the greatest live band ever” (according to Eddie Vedder). His career with The Who spans more than four decades and they are widely considered to be one of the most influential bands of the 60s and 70s. Townshend has been included in countless ‘top guitarists’ lists, coming in at #10 in the 2011 issue of Rolling Stone’s 100 greatest guitarists of all time. The Who have released 11 albums full of quintessential rock anthems including My Generation, Won’t Get Fooled Again, I Can See for Miles, Magic Bus… and I could go on and on. Equal parts mod, punk, pop, and rock, The Who blasted out of England and became a global music phenomenon whose songs still resonate to this day. Case in point: the hundreds of people lined up at Indigo on Thursday night.
Apart from music, Townshend has lived a very full and interesting life. He’s been extensively involved in the literary world and has written and edited scripts, novels, essays, articles and book reviews as acquisitions editor at London publisher Faber and Faber. Who I Am—released in October—is his first autobiography. It took him many years to finish it. As Townshend says, “it’s not an easy read.” Who I Am is an extremely honest and unflinching look into the life of a rock star, but it’s also an eloquent and intelligent work of literature from someone who’s come out the other side in one piece.
Going in to the event, I didn’t know what to expect. There was a huge crowd of fans waiting patiently to meet Townshend, books in hand. Of course The Who was playing over the loudspeakers, and I could tell it was getting everyone pumped up—the air was thick with anticipation and excitement. All of a sudden, I felt butterflies; it was like waiting for a rock concert to start! When Pete Townshend came out, it really was like a rock concert: people were hollering, clapping, and screaming. I definitely let out a little squeal, despite my best efforts to appear calm and professional.
To begin the evening, famed radio personality and music writer Alan Cross sat down with Townshend for a short interview. For me, this was the best part of the event. Townshend is intelligent and very funny. Alan Cross is a seasoned professional, and he asked Townshend great questions about music, writing, technology, politics, and sailing (one of Townshend’s many hobbies). Townshend is definitely not shy about sharing his opinions, and he was very casual and talkative onstage. You could see the rock ‘n’ roll star come out when he would tell a joke or say something a little naughty (like, ahem, a few four letter words). He had the audience in hysterics more than once.
After the interview, people lined up to get their books signed. There were so many people snaked around the store and many of them had 3, 4, or 5 books each; I thought we would be there all night! But Townshend is a true professional. He was friendly and warm and took a little time with each fan that had waited to see him. I was snipping off wristbands as people left, and I saw them right after they’d had their books signed. Many of them were shaking with excitement. One lady was in tears. It was clear that Townshend’s music has really made a difference in their lives. They were true fans who would remember that night forever. I know I will!
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