Don Henze 2022
Looking behind blue eyes to see his own reflection, New York rocker embarks on a journey of self-discovery and stardom that never happened.
“I smelled the smell of burnt popcorn in dreamland”: the final sentence of this story’s penultimate chapter may feel like the gist of what went on in the author’s life for a year before bitterness marred his positive outlook, and like a last element of a full circle that began on the day Don’s girlfriend, the pre-fame Vonda Shepard, whose surname’s never spelled here yet can be easily guessed, broke up with him and a certain singer entered the plane of his existence. Of course, such turn of events and the absence of photos on the pages should leave the reader wondering whether they were real or just fantasy, but a quick search for “Don Henze” in Roger Daltrey’s discography will return the non-fictitious result in the musicians’ list for an album whose title, “Rocks In The Head” from 1992, is introduced near the tome’s end, even though the writer’s role in its creation doesn’t get properly described in the text per se. Henze was a facilitator of sorts, a mover of much more import than his self-conscious – or, rather, self-deprecating – yarn gives him credit for, a talented New Yorker invited to play on THE WHO warbler’s solo record and almost having the English legend produce his ensemble, RADIO STUPID, with a lot of twists between the two points of Don’s autobiography.
Yes, his biography, not his hero’s, because this book documents, in Henze’s words, his “quest for truth and authenticity and of breaking through to new levels of awareness” and tells of his out-of-scope days – required to understand many of the artist’s motives – mostly through conversation with Daltrey’s wife, Heather, and his journal entries. It’s a gripping piece of prose, in which the phrase “for all intensive purposes” – yes, the volume is in dire need of an editor, although grammatical errors never get in the way of alluring narrative – seems to sum up Don’s adventures on the margin of Roger’s inner circle, the aforementioned full circle to an extent. The adventures take the young American not only to England, to Abbey Road and his quasi-employer’s country mansion, but also to the stage of Carnegie Hall, where Henze eventually have the chance to drum for Daltrey – the multi-part chapter about the charity concert might be the most riveting part of the story – and to the meetings with quite a few famous characters. Not that he hadn’t met celebrities earlier – Don had dinner with a person Roger dreamed of meeting, and there’s a lot of small episodes revealing the vocalist’s vulnerabilities and other arresting traits, and seeing them through a relative outsider’s eyes can give Henze’s reader a deeper insight into Roger’s soul than his and Pete Townshend’s books.
Don details his host’s domestic demeanor and his delicate dalliances, purely platonic, with Daltrey’s daughters, and recounts his own travails that could lead to Roger managing Henze yet resulted in disappointment which was, in hindsight and despite all hopes, somewhat predetermined. He thought “there was no such impurity in dreams as having to be a cutthroat asshole to make them come true” – and Don wasn’t so cruel as to mar his reverie… until the tome’s last chapter and his final act of defiance which will have everybody wondering again, this time about the author’s further existence. Apparently, Henze didn’t become a star he, in Dalrey’s view, deserved to be, yet his literary opus should turn into the Bright Shiny Object: it’s simply, humanly great.