Before I Get Old – The Story Of The Who (Dave Marsh) – Book Review

by Emilio Pérez Miguel on July 14, 2009

The Original Cover

The Original Cover

Published in 1983, this book covers the story of The Who from the very inception of the band to their farewell tour of 1982. It is a lengthy book (it has 546 pages), and many criticisms were leveled at it owing to that – it was claimed the story was not balanced, since the book has 36 chapters and only one deals with the post-Moon Who. The Kenny Jones albums barely get a paragraph each, whereas the “classic” Who records are covered from every angle to the point that the descriptions become too exhaustive (and even exhausting) for some people.

That was the way the book was perceived for a long time. Now, flash forward to the present date. A biopic was released in the year 2007, and it was named “Amazing Journey”. If you place it side by side with this book, the exact structure is employed: the emphasis is on the band with Moon sitting on the drum stool. What happened afterwards is more or less rushed through. And there are good reasons for that. The musicianship still remained, but the fire was gone. The band found some cinders eventually that produced the “Endless Wire” album in 2006, but the plain truth is that The Who without Moon were not simply “not as funny as we used to be” as Daltrey put it once – they were nowhere as inspiring or motivating as they were before. So if those two albums are barely mentioned, so be it. I prefer a 20-page study of “Quadrophenia” and a paragraph about “It’s Hard” than 10 pages regarding the famous opera and 10 pages devoted to their final album with Kenney. I would have loved a little more coverage as regards Face Dances because I love it, but the same analogy applies. There was no reason to make a lengthy book even longer, and if it would have meant curtailing any of the previous episodes then the choice Marsh made was the correct one.

Marsh did a colossal research and he gives Who fans new and old all the facts – how the music was confected, how it was perceived, why the band connected so deeply with fans, and all the minor and major events that eventually cracked it beyond repair. The life of every single person who played a part in the story of The Who is detailed – from those who performed managerial duties (like Helmut Gorden, Pete Meaden, Chris Stamp and Kit Lambert) to mega-fans (like Irish Jack) and associates (including session hands and producers), it is all here.

The "New" Cover. Terrific!

The "New" Cover. Terrific!

Some fans take umbrage at the criticism Marsh piles upon certain albums. When it comes to “Sell Out” I feel he is completely right. The same goes for “A Quick One”. However, he focuses too much on the despondency of “By Numbers” and makes thing stand darker than they actually are (quite a feat if you ask me).

I believe the book has stood the test of time admirably, and I dare say that knowing the order of events as we know them now, and what happened to The Who, one can but admire Marsh’s fine eye and understanding of the band.

In finishing, this book is a must for any person who likes The Who, as knowing where that music came from and where it intended to take listeners to is the key for becoming an eternal lover of the band and not just a fan. The book shows them as flawed diamonds that shone even in the darkest circumstances, illuminating the lives of so many. It showcases them as people who were able to turn their faults into valuable experience for every single person within hearing range. That is The Who I will always remember.

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