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Book Review: ‘The Who FAQ’ by Mike Segretto

This is the second book in the FAQ series I have reviewed, and it is no less extensive and intriguing. If you thought you knew all you needed to know about one of the most legendary rock bands in musical history, you are sorely mistaken, and Mr. Segretto will tell you why. The Who FAQ tackles the immense challenge of chronicling a band that blazed a path through the world of rock n' roll unlike any before or since. There are other names that deservedly rank in the halls of musical pioneers (Led Zepplin, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and more),…

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This is the second book in the FAQ series I have reviewed, and it is no less extensive and intriguing. If you thought you knew all you needed to know about one of the most legendary rock bands in musical history, you are sorely mistaken, and Mr. Segretto will tell you why.

The Who FAQThe Who FAQ tackles the immense challenge of chronicling a band that blazed a path through the world of rock n’ roll unlike any before or since. There are other names that deservedly rank in the halls of musical pioneers (Led Zepplin, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and more), but you will see why The Who can go toe-to-toe with all of them. Raucous, rambunctious, and many times rowdy, this band of British bad boys pummeled their way to the title of “one of the greatest bands in history.”

Segretto writes this book as it would absolutely need to be done, with the passion and no-holds barred language of true fandom.  At times academic in the breakdown of musical notation and ability, the book overflows with the heart of a true “wholigan.”

The litany of tidbits and factoids revealed in The Who FAQ would take pages and pages to even paraphrase, but I’ll try to let you in on some of the more fascinating ones, beginning with the most obvious thing, their name. Originally called The High Numbers, this brash and brawling quartet didn’t get their feet underneath them until a change in management and a change in name. “The Who” was actually suggested by Richard Barnes, guitarist Pete Townshend’s friend and roommate.

As The Who stomped their way through the years they become iconic for any number of things. Ranging from their fashion (Townshend’s Union Jack blazer or singer Roger Daltery’s love of tassles), to their on-stage antics (Townshend’s chord smashing windmill maneuver or drummer Keith Moon’s immediate eagerness to destroy his drum kit), The Who left an indelible impression on anyone with the good fortune to see them live. Even the history behind how their bombastic presence came about is fascinating. Townshend admitted later in life that his clothes, his limb-swinging guitar playing, and all the glam was initially meant only as a distraction from his rather prominent nose, which he felt some embarrassment about. Yet try to think back on a Who performance without those elements, and you find a much less memorable event. We should thank the genetics that provided Townshend with his most notable nose.

The book also sheds some light on things still very relevant today. Townshend has very publicly battled with hearing issues and to this day has had to step down from touring with his only living bandmate, Daltrey, because the excessive volume of being on stage could finally complete his hearing loss altogether. Yet it wasn’t until reading this book I found out the links to the beginning of his issues from a prank gone wrong pulled by none other than Keith Moon. While performing on the famous US variety show hosted by The Smothers Brothers, Moon paid a backstage tech in alcohol to stuff his bass drum full of flash powder far beyond a safe capacity. The resulting explosion left Moon with drum kit shrapnel in his arm and Townshend completely deaf for a number of minutes. It was a downward crawl for the famous guitarist after that.

Also, as many bands do, The Who went through their share of rotating members for any variety of reasons (in the recent years being the death of original members). At one point the human tornado Keith Moon was replaced on the skins by none other than Zak Starkey, son of equally legendary drummer Ringo Starr. Pete Townshend’s family also popped in, both at the drums and on guitar.

In a purely random connection of two of my favorite things, artist Ralph Steadman (famously known for the work he did with gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson) also created a cover for the vinyl single of “Happy Jack.” Now I have a new piece of musical memorabilia to hunt down and treasure.

Not to be left out, the intimidating and brooding bassist, John Entwistle, also known as “The Ox,” has so much more behind that deep voice than many people know. He went through incredibly heavy periods of partying, drug abuse, drinking and an addiction to spending money which weighed on him until his very last day. The Who’s final tour while he was alive was in large part only mounted in order to earn Entwistle money in order to pay off his mountain of debt.

The Who, a foursome born and bred to scream and yell for the blue collar masses of the time, forged a unified public image, while at the same time dealing with intense internal struggles. Daltrey and Townshend battled for leadership. The singer wanted to be more than the pretty face on the album cover, while the guitarist held tightly to musical control of the band. Entwistle long felt sidelined by Daltrey, but he found his partner-in-crime in the Tazmanian devil, Keith Moon, who on numerous occasions drew the ire of the entire band by not being sober enough to play at shows.

Through all this, The Who stamped their emblem on the pages of rock, and their influence still reverberates in the halls and walls of music, radio and entertainment today.

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About Luke Goldstein

A writer, movie junkie and political nerd. Basically anything that tells a good story is enthralling to me.