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Thanks a Lot Mr Kibblewhite by Roger Daltrey

Roger Daltrey occupies a strange place in musical history. He grew up idolising Elvis, who didn’t write his own songs. No one expected any different from pop icons back then. But by the time Daltrey’s band, The Who, found fame, that had changed. John Lennon and Paul McCartney were writing their own music, and all the other great frontmen of the day – Mick Jagger, Ray Davies – followed suit.

All except Daltrey. He had the mixed blessing of throwing in his lot with guitarist and songwriter Pete Townshend, who seized almost complete creative control of the band from day one. Daltrey’s voice was a crucial ingredient, but he’s been somewhat looked down upon for the past 50-plus years, seen as the brawn to Townshend’s formidable brain.

Thanks a Lot Mr Kibblewhite is, in part, Daltrey’s attempt to assert his own importance. Fair enough. The portrait that emerges is of a decidedly normal bloke, a working-class Londoner who started out in a sheet-metal factory and never had an appetite for rock’n’roll indulgence (except when it came to women – more on that later).

He scoffs at Townshend’s art-school days, “lying about in bed all day smoking dope, turning up at the occasional lecture to imagine the world from the point of view of a sponge”. He wonders why people can’t get their kicks by having “a bit of a singalong” instead of taking drugs. He shares some priceless stories about late drummer Keith Moon but sensibly points out that there was always someone in the background suffering for Moon’s hijinks.

And, yes, he proves it wasn’t just the Townshend Show. Although Daltrey is generally affable, he can’t abide laziness or flakiness, and he’s not averse to starting a fight if he thinks the quality of the band’s work is being compromised. It’s clear The Who would have self-destructed if not for his relentless efforts to keep everyone in line.

Often, the most interesting part of a memoir is what’s left unsaid. In this case, Daltrey can’t muster a kind word about bassist John Entwistle, who died in 2002. He writes with deep fondness and sensitivity about Moon and clearly loves and respects Townshend, exasperating though he is. But of Entwistle we hear almost nothing except that he had a “mean streak” and a “spiteful side” – oh, and that he played too loud.

The other eyebrow-raising moment is Daltrey’s offhand revelation, almost 300 pages into the book, that he has a bevy of “surprise children” thanks to his on-tour escapades. Only one is even named here; he devotes fewer words to them than he does to the black wood stain in his Jacobean mansion (very hard to remove, apparently).

Anyhow, back to the music. Daltrey has a lot to say about performing and not much about the songs themselves, so if you want a line-by-line dissection, you’re out of luck. But there’s still plenty to recommend this autobiography. It’s a well-told, entertaining, thoughtful account of the life of a band. And it’s the story of an unlikely rock star who, despite his powerful voice, has sometimes struggled to make himself heard.

Reviewer: India Lopez

Allen & Unwin, RRP $39.99