Fire chief O'Reilly reporting for duty!

jimthewhofan at jimthewhofan at
Fri Jan 2 04:39:57 UTC 2009


>>Here' why. Baba 


 Nice story, but diminished by what is so often a ubiquitous misspelling of the song's title.


-----Original Message-----
From: Brian Cady <brianinatlanta2001 at>
To: oddsandsods <oddsandsods at>; Relayers <Relayers at>; thewho at; thewho at
Sent: Thu, 1 Jan 2009 9:46 pm
Subject: Fire chief O'Reilly reporting for duty!

>From Michael Tomasky's blog in The Guardian:

Fire chief O'Reilly reporting for duty!

Last night, the annual Kennedy Center Awards were broadcast on American 
television. The awards pay tribute annually to a selected group of artists and 
entertainers who've contributed to American culture, and honorees need not be 
American by birth. So last night's group – which featured Barbra Streisand, 
Morgan Freeman, George Jones and Twyla Tharp – also included Pete Townshend and 
Roger Daltrey.

It's fashionable to dismiss these shows as so much corn, and of the course the 
scripted encomia are weighted to death with clichés and other dross, but I also 
find these events pretty moving. All of the honorees may or may not be my cup of 
tea, but they're all amazingly talented people who've given the world a lot of 

And it's pretty great also that we've definitively reached the point where the 
distinctions between genres mean almost nothing. When I was a kid, there were 
clear walls between roc
k and Broadway and country and jazz and, of course, 
classical. I bet Streisand, back in the mid-60s, barely knew who The Who were, 
and to the extent that she did know, she probably just thought they made a 
terrible racket. Last night, they showed real admiration for each other, Yitzhak 
Perlman applauded enthusiastically for Townshend and Daltrey, and Randy Travis 
did the same for Streisand. So why am I writing about this? Here' why. Baba 

You may be only dimly aware of this in England, but in America, one of The Who's 
most memorable performances is their set at the McCartney-assembled post-9-11 
concert at Madison Square Garden. It was a short-ish set, maybe five or six 
songs, but they clearly put everything into it. They were old, and you could 
tell they were tired. Daltrey strained for some notes, but they didn't cheat by, 
say, dropping Baba down a couple of keys, which would've made it easier on him. 
They were pros – and incredibly moving.

New York firefighters and cops were given the best orchestra seats. The cameras 
cut away to shots of various cops and (much more often) firemen screaming 
ecstatically as the band played, madly pumping their fists into the air, yelling 
"it's only teenage wasteland" at the top of their lungs, retracing steps back to 
their youth, a journey rendered all the more poignant in light of the recent 
events. Baba O'Reilly, even more that night than Won't Get Fooled Again, was the 
apex of their set, and their s
et was the apex of the show.

Now, as many of you probably know, Baba O'Reilly was written as part of 
Townshend's aborted Lifehouse rock opera, which was to be the follow-up to 
Tommy. Baba refers to Meher Baba, an Indian mystic who died in 1969 and who was 
influencing Townshend's thinking at the time. The O'Reilly part refers to the 
minimalist composer Terry Riley, whose work with then-new synthesizers Townshend 
was emulating.

But the song qua song has a very specific intent, as it was one of the opening 
numbers of Lifehouse, which was about a future society in which people's 
emotional lives were programmed by a central totalitarian system. The only 
challenge to the system comes from, of course, rock'n'roll, still played by some 
rebel groups, who are planning a big concert in London to try to break the 
system's power, or something like that. Ray, the singer of Baba O'Reilly, is a 
Scottish farmer who is coming down to London for the concert with his wife, 
Sally (hence, "Sally, take my hand/we'll travel south 'cross land").

That's the literal meaning, which is more or less reflected in what I've taken 
to be the song's cultural meaning over the decades: personal freedom, liberation 
from convention ("I don't need to be forgiven," and so forth); personal purity, 
in a way, or the state of being reborn into a higher and freer consciousness. I 
assume that the famous bridge ("it's only teenage wasteland") was intended as 
counterpoint, and a disapproving one, to Ray a
nd Sally's sought-after pure state 
(Baba was anti-drug, and I think I've read that Townshend largely eschewed 
substances at the time; he went wild in the mid-70s).

But such were the times that the mere mention of the words "wasteland" and 
"wasted" seemed like an affirmation of getting wasted, so I think for most 
people the lyric boiled down to, achieve a liberated state by getting f---d up 
while listening to Who's Next.

And that's what Baba O'Reilly was about, until September 2001, evidently. 
Because last night (the show was actually recorded December 7), Rob Thomas 
performed Baba O'Reilly, and pretty lamely I must say – he couldn't begin to hit 
the notes Daltrey hit and must've dropped the key down three steps, which made 
the song lose much of its anthemic power (you can switch keys around all over 
the place in standards, but in rock'n'roll, the key matters a lot).

But toward the end, the curtain behind the musicians lifted, and there stood 
about 50 or 60 New York firefighters and cops! With an American flag-influenced 
image behind them. And they repeated the "teenage wasteland" refrain over and 
over, and they screamed "They're all wasted!" The crowd went wild. And Townshend 
and Daltrey stood and clapped and even saluted—Daltrey more enthusiastically, 
but both of them for sure! I couldn't help but laugh. Surely Pete was thinking: 
"Well, this wasn't quite what I had in mind at the time, but…okay."

So I guess this is what Baba O'Reilly is a
bout now. Firefighters and cops 
remembering their carefree, alcohol-fueled youthful reveries. Some would say a 
time of innocence, but I wouldn't, because for me that automatically raises 
geopolitical questions. The United States hardly existed in a state of innocence 
before 9-11.Anyway, it was kinda moving but it was also pretty weird. What does 
Baba O'Reilly mean to you? By the way it's certainly, for me, one of the 20 or 
so greatest rock songs ever, for reasons Icould spend another 800 words 

 -Brian in Atlanta
The Who This Month!


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