Monday, October 31, 2016

I'll Get On My Knees and Pray...We Don't Get Fooled Again

If you read this blog, you know that The Who are one of my all-time favorite bands...I put them just slightly behind the Beatles for both their music and the indelible impact it has had on my life, and in many ways I rate Pete Townshend slightly ahead of Lennon and McCartney as my absolute favorite songwriter. 

One of my favorite Who songs, if not THE favorite, is "Won't Get Fooled Again," the epic closing track from their classic 1971 album Who's Next. According to Pete Townshend, he wrote it as a song warning about revolutions, especially revolutions just for the sake of change, positing that in the end, nothing ever really changes: the people who clamored for change end up being just as flawed as those they replaced, dooming the cycle to repeat itself.

Before I continue on, I am going to state right now that I am NOT turning this into a political post in terms of taking sides or arguing one way is better than the other. This isn't because I don't have strongly held convictions (I do), but rather because A) I don't want it to devolve into that sort of argument, especially since in 2016 barely anyone seems able to have a coherent discussion with someone holding opposing viewpoints, and B) both sides are equally flawed and need to be torn down and replaced. That's neither here nor there, however, and will be the extent of how political I get. Rather, I intend to analyze the lyrics and show how they apply to our current situation. Since Pete wrote this in 1971, my initial reaction over the years has always been to marvel at how prescient he was, but as I've gotten older I've realized more and more that the same problems and cycles of voting in change only to get none in the aftermath have been around for decades and will continue to be for decades to come. Instead than predicting the future, Pete instead chronicled a fundamental flaw of the human condition and couched his warning in an absolutely kick-ass rock song.

(As an American, I'm obviously applying this solely to our current political climate, but I'm sure the parallels are equally valid in the UK, and any other number of democratic/free countries where frequent elections take place). 

The song seems to take on extra significance every four years when we have a presidential election in this country, and none more so than in 2016. For the last eight years, everyone on both sides has campaigned on "change" and "progress," but a quick look around will show that nothing has changed and most of us are exactly where we were eight, ten, fifteen years ago, if not worse off. While the verses are frighteningly accurate every election cycle, it's the chorus that really clinches it for me:

"I'll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I'll get on my knees and pray
We don't get fooled again"

Granted, we don't undergo revolution when we elect a new president and congress, but we always seem to vote in sweeping change every ~20 years or so before realizing things didn't end up the way we wanted them to...we then overreact in the other direction and repeat the cycle again and again. It was George Santayana who said that "those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it," and even in the age of instant information at everyone's fingertips, we seem condemned to live this endless feedback loop.

First, here's the song in its entirety...please play at top volume in order to maximize the impact and enjoyment.



Listened to it? Great! Now, let's get down to brass tacks and look at these lyrics:

"Won't Get Fooled Again"
Written by Peter Townshend, recorded and performed by The Who
 
We'll be fighting in the streets
With our children at our feet
And the morals that they worship will be gone
And the men who spurred us on
Sit in judgment of all wrong
They decide and the shotgun sings the song

(Revolution will be no-holds barred, yet the very people who stoked the flames at the beginning will position themselves to sit back, stay unaffected, and be the final arbiters of those who did the dirty work once the dust settles. This is exactly what politicians on both sides have done over the last twenty years or so whenever there's been a big disagreement between citizens over any number of social and economic issues)

I'll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I'll get on my knees and pray
We don't get fooled again

(As stated above...in the grand scheme of things, nothing is going to really change and the issues are going to still be there festering for the next upheaval. The only thing left to do is pray that cooler heads prevail next time and that society isn't duped again)

The change, it had to come
We knew it all along
We were liberated from the fold, that's all
And the world looks just the same
And history ain't changed
'Cause the banners, they are flown in the next war

(The crux of this stanza is that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Nothing has changed, the past is still the past, and the tin can (i.e. the issues that were the root causes of the revolution) is just kicked down the road to be dealt with again in the same fruitless way next time)

I'll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I'll get on my knees and pray
We don't get fooled again
No, no

I'll move myself and my family aside
If we happen to be left half alive
I'll get all my papers and smile at the sky
Though I know that the hypnotized never lie
Do ya?
 
(As is usual in these situations, it's everyone out for themselves...the narrator takes care of his family while making a wry observation that those blinded by the cause (i.e. "hypnotized") and their followers think they never lie and are on the side of truth, even if they obviously aren't)

There's nothing in the streets
Looks any different to me
And the slogans are replaced, by-the-bye
And the parting on the left
Are now parting on the right
And the beards have all grown longer overnight

(Nothing has changed, new slogans and buzzwords replace the old ones [this is VERY prescient for how discourse in the 2000s goes], and the problems of one side are the same as the other. We've all gotten older but no one has gotten any wiser)

I'll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I'll get on my knees and pray
We don't get fooled again
Don't get fooled again

Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss

(Pretty self-explanatory...Nothing. Ever. Changes. The people who were thought of to be terrible and needed replacing have been replaced be equally loathsome people. Sounds a lot like the Republican and Democratic parties, doesn't it?)

So there it is, the theme song for every US Presidential election since the early 1970s, and none more so than the looming 2016 contest.

And just because the song is so great and Keith Moon was a drumming legend, here are his isolated drums for the song...

 

3 comments:

  1. I disagree, no change? You mean on a personal level or as a national one? I see a change for the better in both.

    8 years ago: 1st black president who turned out economy around. Side note, I was working long hours.

    15 years ago: 2001 9/11 happened

    You can go back in time and things have changed, mostly for the better though I understand to some degree what you are saying (we still have to eat, raise kids, work, etc. plus no flying cars or jet packs yet), but even on a standard of living level. Give me A/C, automobiles, modern medicine, indoor plumbing, electricity, music, movies, and what have you. We are far better off now. As far as life: It's a long and winding road.

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  2. But to go back a bit to your post, do things change that drastically or are things that change drastically tied solely to a president--probably not, or maybe. It's a tough call, mostly it's just the human race moving onward or forward. If you are waiting for a president or congress to create miracles and improve your life incredibly well, you are backing up. You are much better off getting off your backsides and getting busy and getting things done.

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  3. For me, when I say "no change" I'm talking about all of these touchy-feely, feel-good movements that people latch on to every decade or so. They clamor for massive changes to the status quo and to society, and while there's incremental change over time, I find life now not to be much different than it was a decade ago, i.e. still a struggle to find and keep a good job, pay the bills, try to save money, raise your kids, and still have a bit left over for leisure. Society seems to have gotten drastically worse in terms of civility and quality of the overall culture over the last 10-15 years...I dunno. I'm a cynical guy by nature although I've mellowed a lot in recent years. Maybe it's just me, but I was talking more about life in America and the intangible things, not so much about the material or technological things you touched on (about which, I agree).

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