Emma Townshend on Baba O' Riley

Scott Keller shkeller55 at yahoo.com
Wed Feb 27 01:05:30 UTC 2013

Hmm... it never felt melancholy to me at all.  Interesting reading her thoughts though.  Thanks, Lauren.
Scott H. Keller
shkeller55 at yahoo.com

 From: "nakedeye10 at aol.com" <nakedeye10 at aol.com>
To: oddsandsods at thewho.net 
Cc: thewho at igtc.com 
Sent: Tuesday, February 26, 2013 8:38 AM
Subject: Emma Townshend on Baba O' Riley
Emma Townshend on Baba O'Riley.....

the perfect song for a big crowd in a field. The whole song reminds me of being tiny, when my dad was in his home studio working out a lot of the weird streams of noise that appear on the song. I can remember hearing these very first synthesised patterns floating up from downstairs, and the strange garbled music of a huge rewinding 24-track tape player that lived for a while on the landing outside my bedroom, squeezed in next to the washing machine.

When Roger Daltrey starts singing, the first line is plaintive: "Out here in the fields". The tune stays anchored on just a few notes, lifting and falling. The melody is suspended above the huge chords of the song, giving it a strange touch of melancholy. This May, I have spent a lot of time driving through the English countryside, and although in the past I have mostly heard this song in darkness at rock concerts, it somehow seemed this summer to connect to the cow parsley and the red campion filling the lanes, the pylons and oak trees running next to the motorway. There is something pastoral about the song.

And now I know why. For most of my life, I have only known snatches of lyrics from "Baba O'Riley": "We don't need to be forgiven." But it turns out to be a song about farming for a living, finding forage in the lanes and hedges, after some sort of disaster. However, the point at which people really throw their hearts into singing along is the famous refrain, "Teenage wasteland, it's only teenage wasteland". And the crowd sings the word "wasteland" with such fury, so fiercely, knowing what a wasteland teenage years can be; but at the same time with a kind of savage joy.

What does it mean, that this is the bit people go crazy for? Well, I don't think you will find short stories about modern city life in the Who's music, as you might get from Joni Mitchell. I don't think you will find the drama and sadness of love affairs, as you would from Abba, or the sticky sexual stuff you get from Prince. What you get is a whole crowd of people who were all teenagers once, for whom that song brings back all the feeling of it. The sense of it being May or June - the sap rising, the flowers budding, the birds courting. The wild sense of wanting to try everything. The raw sense of heartbreak when it happens for the first time, when you don't understand how anyone could ever have survived the pain. The way the tune rises and then falls, to a more adult, anchored place, suggests the journey that teenagers all make.

But, for the moment, while you are yelling your head off, out in the middle of a field somewhere, you are getting back all of what you've lost; all the fierceness and foolishness of being 17, all over again, as if it had never been gone. ~ Emma Townshend
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