Say something about yourself!
Absolutely without guile; open, frank, visual. What a life, what a legacy, and what a g-g-generation!
To put my 5* rating in perspective: as a very young teen, I was indifferent about The Who, couldn't name more than 3 songs they performed, wasn't a fan of the on-stage performance art-ish antics, and thought Tommy was mildly entertaining thanks to Elton John and Tina Turner; I'd rather have been listening to my Hendrix or Zeppelin LPs. So, my interest in this book surprised me; it was purely from seeing this very recognizable man recently on TV, promoting his bio, and being struck by his level of sincerity and vulnerability -- an almost apologetic demeanor without any of the ususal celeb braggadocio and self-aggrandizement that ruined some of the music celeb bios I've tried to get through (because yeah, we know, you're a bad A$$). Could that possibly be that rock star that used to do that windmill thing, smash his guitar, and strut with the royals of British rock, long live sex drugs and rock and roll? I was not some former fan, hoping to read Townshend's bio and flash-back to the glorious days when *I'd walk over you to see The Who.*
That perceived candor was accurate; I doubt it's possible to lay yourself so bare, as Townshend has done here, and be duplicitous. The history is fascinating and it reads like a grand timeline of rock and roll (which he calls *the absolute vehicle for self-destruction*). Townshend can probably go head to head with Keith Richards and his stories, but you don't get the sense that you are gathered around a pub table being regaled with wild rock star adventures -- though there are plenty of tales included. Instead, there is a kind of tolerance and wisdom that distances Townshend from being led by his talent to mastering his talent. His insecurities and self-doubts are bravely admitted, his love of family and friends obvious. I liked that he spoke about his achievements without bragging, aware of his talent as a gift--not a free pass to be an arse.
Once in a while an author connects to the reader and invites them into his life, it becomes intimate and real, like a confessional, and that connection is a gift borne of talent. Townshend's writing, and choice to narrate the book himself, put this book in that category. If I'd paid attention to those lyrics years ago, I probably wouldn't have been so surprised by his depth and talent. Like the man, this book is the real thing, and the product of a life lived hard...and well. The best celeb bio I've read to date (including the great Steve Jobs bio)--and remember, this is a man I had no interest in before. I'll have to go back and listen to The Who (with my *mature* ears) to see if I am yet a fan of the music, but I can say without any doubt I sure like Pete Townshend the man.
This story focuses on 'netsuke', tiny Japanese carvings which were fashionable in Paris during La Belle Epoque. The narrative wanders among the lives of the family who owned a particular collection of netsuke through Paris, Vienna and Tokyo with a few stops in other cities for background. Because the family was one of the wealthy Jewish banking families of the late 19th century and early 20th century, the story of the 'netsuke' illuminates some of the significant political, economic and cultural trends in which the family was involved,. In particular the role of the first Effrusi owner of the 'bibelots' in the high culture of Paris at the turn of the century is examined in letters and novels of the period. The story then travels to the transformation of Vienna from the capital of a splendid empire to the forefront of National Socialism, and makes a stop in the postwar period in Japan. The role of the objects we own and value is examined from multiple planes, much like through different sides of a prism.
I found the book very satisfying but found the performance frustrating at times. It was well read in terms of speed but the tone was at times overly dramatic. Also, the accent of the narrator was very pleasing and upper class (which matched the narrative) but he gets a bit carried away with the sound of his own voice and this sometimes distracted from the story. I have actually purchased a copy of the book because I would just like to read the story without the dramatic intonation. And despite sounding like he has an ear for languages, the narrator misprounounces a LOT of the foreign words, including 'netsuke'. If you listen to the podcast interview that follows the book, the pronunciation by the author and the interviewer makes it clear that it is mispronounced throughout the book. That was my only complaint with this recording. HIghly recommended book otherwise, especially for anyone interested in turn of the century culture and art.