The Who's Pete Townshend, a reluctant rock star

The Who's Pete Townshend. CBS News

(CBS News) "My Generation" was a huge hit for The Who back in 1966. Now, lead guitarist Pete Townshend is telling all about the highs and lows of life as a rock star. Here's Anthony Mason with our Sunday Profile:

It's one of the signature moves in rock & roll: Pete Townshend's windmill wind-up. But he now admits he stole it from the Rolling Stones' Keith Richards.

"We were doing a show supporting the Stones, first time I ever played with them. Anyway, as they went on the curtain got in the way of Keith Richards and he was kind of limbering up. He was kind of going like that."

It was London, late 1963. And the next time The Who played with the Stones, Richards wasn't windmilling anymore.

"I went up to him afterwards and I said, 'Don't you do that arm swing thing?' And he went, 'What?'" Townshend laughed. "So I decided to own it, yeah. And now I can do it with such force that I can break all six strings, just downwards BANG. So that's how I started. I'm showing off!"

The Who would ascend to rock's mountain top, of course. Their incendiary performances became legendary, and the band has gone on to sell more than 100 million records.

But in his new autobiography, "Who I Am," Townshend paints himself a reluctant rock star.

"I wish sometimes I had just been a composer," he told Mason.

Always happier at home in his studio ("The engine room of my work"), playing and experimenting with sounds ("If I just throw my fingers somewhere, something interesting will happen").

It's a short walk from Townshend's London home to the River Thames,

He wanted to take us on a cruise aboard the Zephyr, a boat he'd built himself. He's spent much of his life near the river.

The Who's Pete Townshend on the River Thames with Anthony Mason.
CBS News

He's used it for some rowdy rock & roll behavior, like tossing empty champagne bottles at the Houses of Parliament.

"So we'd get the bottles and we'd throw them up on the terrace, in a kind of rebellious way. And you'd hear them land," he said. "One day we're coming back, and somebody threw three or four bottles back at us!"

But he also found inspiration along its embankments. The song "I Can See For Miles" was conceived there. "So for me this is very familiar ground. I wrote 'Tommy' here, 'Quadrophenia' here . . . "

As The Who's main songwriter, Townshend's music would give voice to Britain's post-war generation. His songs about teenage disaffection were rooted in his own troubled childhood:

Born into a musical family - his father was a saxophone player, his mother a singer - Townshend was just six when his parents sent him away for two years to live with his mentally ill grandmother. He described it as the darkest part of his life.

"Yeah it was. I don't remember much about it. What I can remember was extremely disturbing."

"In some ways you seem kind of haunted by this whole period," Mason said.

"Oh no, definitely I am."

Haunted, Townshend says, by the feeling that he was an "inconvenience" to his parents.

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