Monday, August 15, 2016

Book: Pretend You're in a War: The Who and the 1960's by Mark Blake (Aurum Press, 2015)

This is an extremely comprehensive look at the great rock 'n' roll band The Who and their activities in the 1960's as they moved from a scrappy mod band to a group of pop music superstars. The book begins with an overview of the childhoods of each of the four principal members of the band as well as a deep dive into the lives of their managers Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp. There is a description of London in the 1950's and early 1960's as a grey place, all stiff upper lip and steady on. The introduction of rock 'n' roll via records, film and radio was a clarion call to the young people of the country to look for something different. The members of the band came together like many rock 'n' roll bands through the art schools and colleges that were a magnet to those young students who were outsiders either by nature or by choice. They adopted the mod style of fashion early/mid 1960's and were able to get a devoted following of like minded youths to come to their gigs in sweaty clubs across London. Coalescing as The Who in 1965 they began to release a series of popular singles and slowly built a larger following that stretched beyond their mod beginnings. The book really catches fire here, describing a band that was at each other's throats, but still managing to thrive on the chaos to grow ever larger. Their managers would pull stunts to draw attention to the band and guitarist and principal songwriter Peter Townshend could not keep his mouth shut, delivering audacious commentary to any journalist that would listen. The fascinating thing is that everything was on the verge of falling apart at every moment: members would quit, brood and then rejoin, money was always in flux, and Townshend was a nervous wreck trying to bridge the gap from mod to psychedelia while having a spiritual awakening and pledging allegiance to an Indian guru who hadn't spoken to his followers in decades. Somehow it all started to snowball, and the idea of a "rock opera" was floated to managers, band members and journalists. Taking his spiritual awakening and melding it with long repressed sexual trauma Pete Townshend gradually pulled together music that would become the double-LP concept album Tommy, an album that would launch the band into the stratosphere for good and for ill. This was a very well written book, although it was an exhausting read at times, because of the sheer depth of the narrative. Blake delves deep into each member of the band and their managers, and shows how the personal, the political, the poetic and the insane came together to make this incredible band. Pretend You're In A War: The Who and the Sixties - amazon.com

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