Saturday, June 13, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: Roger Daltrey: The Biography


He's one of the most iconic and legendary singers and front men in all of rock music and has been the face and voice of the Who for over fifty years. However, while his more wild and eccentric bandmates Keith Moon, John Entwistle, and Pete Townshend have been the subject of numerous books, articles, and awards over the years, both for their antics and their revolutionary approaches to their instruments (and in Pete's case, songwriting), Roger's life has gone largely unexplored. This has always seemed a shame to me since, as the most stable and down-to-earth member of the band and someone who has had an interesting career both in and out of music, I've always wanted to know more about him. Thus, it was with a healthy amount of excitement and anticipation that I finally got around to reading what, at least to my knowledge, is the only dedicated biography on Daltrey that has been published.

***special thanks to Clara at Piatkus Books for sending me a copy of the book to review!***



Originally published in 2004, the book was reprinted in 2010 and it's this edition which is the subject of the present review. The two authors, Tim Ewbank and Stafford Hildred, have both known and interviewed Roger over the years and mention in their introduction that the book draws from numerous interviews and discussions with Roger and his family and friends, the other three members of the Who, and other sources. Reading this, I was very excited to see what new information would be brought to light regarding his life and career and after reading the first few chapters detailing his birth, childhood, and school years I wasn't disappointed. There were several new bits of information for even a diehard Who fanatic like me, such as the fact that Roger's mother wasn't even supposed to be able to have children due to a kidney disorder she'd suffered from. Roger was a surprise baby born in the middle of World War II and at one point, when his father Harry was off fighting in Europe, his mother Irene evacuated with him to Scotland where they lived in an isolated rural cabin and subsisted mainly on potatoes. Roger developed rickets and the distinctive bow legged walk he's had ever since due to this unvaried diet. After the war ended they moved back to Shepherds Bush, London, where he grew up and was joined several years later by two sisters. Roger was a very good student until he went to East Acton Grammar School, which was run by more posh, upper class teachers than his prior institute. Acutely feeling aware of his working class Cockney roots and accent, he had several run-ins with the authority figures at the school and, combined with his burgeoning love of rock and roll music, became the school tough guy and rebel. He eventually left school, built his own guitar, and started a band called the Detours. Shortly thereafter he recruited two of his former classmates at East Acton, John Entwistle and Pete Townshend, and the nucleus of what would become the Who was born. A teenage marriage to a young girlfriend whom he got pregnant didn't last long and for one stretch of six months Roger was homeless and living in the Who's van. Deciding to give up his spot as a guitarist in the band due to his hands being bloodied and bruised from metal working, Roger took over lead vocal duties and left Townshend as the sole guitarist. Bringing Keith Moon into the fold to be their drummer in early 1964 the rest, as they say, is history.



In fact, from this point on, the book is more a history of the Who than a biography on the life and times of Roger Daltrey. While it's a quite good little history of the Who, there wasn't too much new for a veteran Who fan such as myself, although there were two interesting bits I wasn't previously aware of: Roger going to a seance in late 1978 so that he could ask Keith if the band should continue after his death, and the fact that he and Pete had been concerned enough about John's health to ask him to see a doctor (which he refused to do) several years before Entwistle's sudden death in 2001.  However, there were a handful of inexcusable errors, such as claiming Eddie Cochran's "C'mon Everybody" was on Live at Leeds (it was his "Summertime Blues") and that their original farewell tour was in 1983 (it was in 1982). It did a good job of capturing the entirety of the Who's career although there were repeated instances of labeling Roger as a "wild man" when elsewhere in the book there were multiple instances where Roger, the other Who members, and various associates all mentioned how Roger was the least wild and most stable member of the band! Indeed, apart from early dalliances with pot, Roger eschewed drugs and alcohol and stuck to a strict fitness regime to preserve both his body and voice. There were also a couple of instances where the authors unbelievably claimed that Townshend was the rare rock star who wasn't very comfortable expounding on his work and the state of music around him, which as any Who or serious rock fan knows is the complete polar opposite of what Pete is like. The best parts of the book, which happen to be the only ones focusing solely on Roger (the main reason I was interested in reading this book in the first place) dealt with his early life (as previously described), the circumstances around how he met his longtime wife Heather and their home life, his side career as an actor, and his exemplary work raising money for the Teenage Cancer Trust (TCT). Indeed, the circumstances of each of these was very interesting. He met Heather in the late 1960s while touring America, where she was raised; however, she was born in London only a few streets away from where Roger grew up and their marriage has proven to be the rare showbiz union that has lasted (forty-four years and counting). In concert with their wedding, Roger gave up city life for a rural existence on his farmland estate and is most happy working around the property with his bare hands. Regarding his acting career, what started out as an obvious role in the movie adaptation of Tommy in 1975 launched Roger into an interesting side career as an actor and television presenter. He's appeared in almost one hundred roles ranging from film to television, plays to musicals. Lastly, the personal experience of his sister dying from breast cancer at the age of thirty-two inspired Roger to get involved with the TCT and he's raised a huge amount of money for the charity and remains actively involved in it to this day.



While I did enjoy this book, I have to say that overall I was a bit disappointed with it. There was very little, if any, of what felt like direct input from Roger himself. For the level of access both authors claim to have had to the Who over the years, the book could have been so much better. They acknowledge all members of the Who at the beginning of the book and even mention times when one or both of them were present with the band at certain events (such as one of the authors being at the same party as Keith on the night he died). Yet so many of the quotes were quite recognizable, sourced directly from magazines, newspapers, documentaries, and in the case of the discussion about the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival, CD liner notes. The book just had a faint feeling of a cut-and-paste job, taking numerous quotes from other sources and fleshing out the story around them. The only people who seemed to come across as if they were interviewed specifically for the book were Keith Altham (former publicist and music writer) and Kit Lambert (former Who manager) and in the case of Lambert this clearly wasn't the case as he died in 1981. It's a shame because the parts that focused solely on Roger and his life were quite interesting and I wanted more of them, which I don't think is an unreasonable expectation for a book that is supposed to be his biography. The history of the Who interwoven with the book was fine but I would have liked to have seen it told from Roger's perspective, spending more time on how Roger fit into it all. In any event, Who fans will enjoy this book and should come away learning a few new things about Daltrey, as I did, which makes it worth the read. His sense of humor, his essential character, and how he generally fit into the puzzle that was the Who definitely shine through and for those reasons alone, the book achieves its goal of helping readers get to know the him a bit better.

MY RATING: 6.5/10

4 comments:

  1. Good review. The Who as a band seem a mixed bag in retrospect, not so much as a unified band (they came together great in that aspect), but more of the components. Keith Moon's extroverted behavior seemed to balance out Entwhistle's understated stage personae. To me it didn't seem like Roger fit in quite as well as perhaps the others, or do you think they all got on pretty well? I have a few other lurking questions about Peter too. I know he wrote his own auto bio, but I wondered about his accusation of dealing child porn (or whatever that was many years ago). I've also seen some internet content where he referred to his sexuality as bisexual--which leads me to wonder if he was sexually molested as a child.

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    1. They definitely were four guys who couldn't stand each other offstage (for the most part...Keith and John were friendly, as were Keith and Pete...Roger was the odd man out). Roger, John, and Pete grew up together but unlike the Beatles or Jagger and Richards, or the Davies brothers and Pete Quaife, that didn't mean anything in terms of closeness. I think Roger said it best when he once said that onstage, the Who were a gang that would kick anyone's ass who messed with them, but offstage they never socialized. Ever.

      As for Pete's arrest, I've read his book when it came out (planning on re-reading and reviewing it soon) and he did NOT access it to look, he was doing research trying to help catch the folks who peddle that garbage, as it's a cause near to his heart since he's an abuse victim himself. But the way the British law is written is that he had to admit guilt, even though the police and courts knew he wasn't guilty, in order to avoid a trial. A shame because it's become an urban legend that's hung around his neck now.

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  2. Thanks for clearing up the Pete thing. Weird Brit law.

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    1. Yeah it didn't really make sense when I read it and it still doesn't. When I re-read it and write up my review, I'll make sure to clarify it because it was weird.

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