A more responsible Daltrey emerges during his musical career, forever playing the straight man to his more rambunctious bandmates, and the overwhelming sense is of a man on the outside looking in. His autobiography is vivid, atmospheric and funny, and, because of his aversion to mind-altering substances, it’s probably one of the more reliable accounts of life in one of the world’s biggest rock bands.
An Elephant in Rome
" January 1, 2021 Read this issue IN THIS REVIEW AN ELEPHANT IN ROME Bernini, the Pope and the making of the Eternal City 224pp. Pallas Athene. £19.99. Loyd Grossman Acheerful bricolage of biography, art history, trivia and travelogue..."
— Times Literary Supplement
Moon dies; Entwistle dies. Daltrey and Townshend endure. “Years passed.” It takes a robust lack of vanity to include that sentence in your own autobiography. But Daltrey’s peculiar swaggering selflessness is the key to this book, and a key (one of four) to the Who. “Most of those songs were written from a place of pain, as well as spirit. I struggled at first to find that place and you can hear the struggle. But then I inhabited it.” Cripes, as Daltrey might say. Cor blimey. How many rock memoirs actually have a meaning?
Roger Daltrey’s engagingly chatty memoir reads like a series of battles: some physical, some psychological, some financial. During his rags-to-riches rise from working-class west London war baby to mansion-dwelling singer with one of Britain’s loudest and most enduring rock supergroups, the Who frontman has had to square up to school bullies, hostile teachers, domineering bandmates, money-grabbing managers and more...The skimpy, rushed feel of Thanks a Lot Mr Kibblewhite is partly redeemed by Daltrey’s warm, humane, easygoing manner and flashes of self-deprecating humour. But any Who fans expecting fresh in-depth revelations will find little new in these hazy accounts of half-remembered battles fought long ago on faraway fields.
Daltrey was a child of a keep-calm-and-carry-on era, and this stocky, muscular narrative reveals a no-nonsense approach to his life and work.
Unlike guitarist Pete Townshend, he wasn’t a sensitive art student with a thirst for the conceptual; unlike drummer Keith Moon, he wasn’t a rampaging idiot. (Bassist John Entwistle, who died in 2002, is largely characterised as “spiteful”.) Townshend once described the band as “three geniuses and just the singer”, a jibe Daltrey reports with mild umbrage (“Thanks, Pete”), but he also argues that they were more than the sum of their parts. Townshend created the songs and destroyed the guitars (an accident with a low ceiling the first time, reports Daltrey wryly, not deliberate Gustav Metzger-like art), but the singer’s meaty vocal energy and charisma also drove the Who’s evolution from pop-art mods to rock-opera pioneers.
His is a candour rarely seen in a memoir, as is his obvious contempt for the drugginess backstage at Woodstock in 1969.
‘Everything was laced with LSD . . . even the ice cubes . . . I was fine right up until the moment I decided to have a cup of tea. That’s how they got me. A nice cup of hallucinogenic tea!’