Classic Rock Review

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Before I Get Old: The Story Of The Who by Dave Marsh (1983)


Review Dave Marsh can be an arrogant, snotty, and belligerent writer. Which is fitting as The Who often shared the same faults. Marsh does everything he possibly can to don the cloak of The Who and write as though he was one of them.
I agree with other reviewers in criticising the book’s overall veracity. But that really is a small matter as “Before I Get Old” frequently is as entertaining as the group it documents.

Pete Townsend certainly is one of the few geniuses Rock music has produced. “Before I Get Old” certainly works extremely hard at presenting Townsend as Rock’s All Father, a mantel Townsend himself worked very hard to develop. As a result, Townsend often comes off a real pretentious jerk. But God, what great music he and his band mates produced out of their many disputes.

Marsh works hard at praising the contributions of Daltrey, Entwhistle and of course the incomparable Moon the Loon in producing some of the finest music Rock could ever hope to produce (boy, that was an arrogant statement- see the book rubs off. Marsh also never loses the fact that he is first and foremost a rabid fan. Maybe that is the book’s biggest weakness, maybe it is the book’s biggest strength. Marsh builds the case that The Who were the greatest Rock and Roll group of all time. An opinion I share (The Beatles are in a class all by them selves). He also makes the case that The Who really died with Keith Moon.

“Before I Get Old” is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it will do until we get the definitive work. As is, this is a blast to read.

Review 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.

Review This book is not badly written, but it is not the story of The Who, as the title suggests. It is a book by a man fascinated by Pete Townshend, who writes a bit about the other band members only when he has to.

For example, we read early on that Roger Daltrey got married to his pregnant girlfriend. Almost a hundred pages later we read that he was divorced and paying child support. No mention of anything in between, nothing about whether he had a son or a daughter or even if the child is in his life. We’re told at one point that John Entwhistle is on his honeymoon, without anything leading up to it. In fact, we only hear this because we’re told that Pete had to get hold of him on board the yacht the newly-married couple were on. But in those pages there is no end to the detail about every aspect of Pete’s life.

Worst of all, important musical facts are left out. Half-way through the book, while talking about a 1968 U.S. tour, Marsh mentions that the Who were intimately involved with the creation of Marshall amplifiers during the early- to mid-sixties. I knew that, and I was looking for some details on it, but in all the pages he devoted to Townshend’s life in that period, he never once mentioned it.

I didn’t find a single factual error (that’s good), but there was nothing in here that I didn’t already know about the band (and I didn’t know all that much), making it kind of a pointless read. All the well-known facts are simply arranged here to pump up Pete’s image and make his band-mates look like hangers-on. I can see why Pete liked the book, but I can’t imagine why the others did.

April 20, 2013 Posted by | Book Before I Get Old: The Story Of The Who by Dave Marsh | , | Leave a comment