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Great band deserves better
on June 6, 2002
Nobody would mistake the warring personalities of The Who with, say, the unified (pre-White Album) Beatles. But the group was one of the best British outfits of all time, and Dave Marsh's book, although lengthier and more involved than other books on the band, still manages to miss the drama. Would that Philip Norman could turn his sights on this magnificent band!
Most of the trouble Marsh has with the subject is the emphasis on Pete Townshend's natterings about pop music. Townshend was (and is, if he gets the chance) a voluble man when it comes to music. It's certain that, if he didn't possess an ounce of musical talent, he would've become a first-rate novelist or journalist. But Marsh's own extended forays into pop culture theory bog down the reader. Fans of The Who are not stupid types. They understand where the band came from, much as Beatle fans know about that band's origins. But, history aside, it's the telling of the tale that counts. Having read Marsh's book several times over twenty years, I've come to like it less and less.
The author seems to take a subconsciously perverse delight in skewering the band's foibles, whether it's their reliance on staged ritual drama/violence for a few years longer than deemed acceptable (by Marsh), or Townshend's complexes and frustrations in getting his grandiose ideas across to the other band members. These were part of the band's core identity and they wrestled for years with the image of the angry upstart Mods and, later, bona-fide rock legends who pounded stage after stage until Moon's untimely end. Another writer would perhaps come across as sympathetic while still taking a critical view of the group's history. By the book's end (in 1982, when Kenney Jones filled in for Moon), the band are seen as nothing more than an exhausted assembly of sell-outs going through one more corporate-sponsored mega-tour. What would Marsh later make of U2, Springsteen, Oasis and a dozen reunited 60s bands? Such a disappointing book for the group that gave us The Who Sell Out, Tommy, Who's Next and Quadrophenia.