Monday, November 14, 2011

27. Who, "My Generation" (1965)


This one surprises me still every time I encounter it again. It never made the radio where I was, though I recall hearing it show up on oldies stations now and again, always fresh and exciting and sudden. I'd known about it from reading Nik Cohn's Rock From the Beginning when I was 15, which made it absolutely one thing I was intent on tracking down immediately. Cohn wrote: " ... the Mod was trying to justify himself, wanted to lash back at everyone who'd ever put him down, but he'd taken too many pills and couldn't concentrate right. He only stammered. He was mad, frustrated, but he wasn't articulate; he couldn't say why. The harder he tried, the worse he stammered, the more he got confused. In the end, he got nowhere: 'People try to put us down / Just because we get around, / Things they do look awful cold, / Hope I die before I get old.'" Cohn got that all about right, and certainly it did the job of setting me into action, which is the effect that the best rock criticism should have. Even in 1969 it wasn't easy to recognize the staying power of one of the great lines of rock 'n' roll, "Hope I die before I get old," which we can see now will likely survive all of us (even as we think we are clever by turning it around and hoping now that we get old first, as many of us have). Cohn also neglected to talk about how brash and galvanizing it sounds. It's not exactly noisy, there's plenty of open spaces in and around the racket, and the guitar even sounds acoustic, at least in the early going. But the way they're playing, as if abusing and beating up their instruments, hitting everything so hard—it really gets your attention.

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