Was Woodstock A Teenage Wasteland? The Who's 'Baba O'Riley'

By | May 17, 2019

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Left: Meher Baba in 1925. Right: Pete Townshend on stage circa 1971 at the Fillmore East Theater, New York City. Sources: (Wikimedia Commons; Jeffrey Mayer WireImage)

It's one of the riddles of classic rock: who is 'Baba O'Riley' and what is this "teenage wasteland" we keep hearing about? For Pete Townshend, songwriter of The Who, the oddly-titled song is a meditation on the controversial ending of the '60s, as well as a fragment of Lifehouse, an unfinished rock opera. 

For the artist who'd once touted the potential and solidarity of "My Generation," it may be an admission that things hadn't gone so well.

This 1971 single by The Who has transcended its original stadium rock origins and integrated itself into our lives. "Baba O’Riley" can be heard on TV shows and commercials, and whenever you think it’s gone it pops back up. The song seems omnipresent, but there are still people who think it’s called “Teenage Wasteland.” The song has a tricky history, and its backstory is just as twisty as the song’s syncopated backing track. 

Don’t Cry, Don’t Raise Your Eye, It’s Only Teenage Wasteland

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The cover of 'Who's Next,' the album that features 'Baba O'Riley' as its opening track. Source: Pinterest

The phrase “teenage wasteland” has a few different meanings. The entirety of “Baba O’Riley” is a pivot from an earlier work of Townsend’s called Lifehouse, a science fiction rock opera that took place in a dystopian future where rock 'n roll no longer exists. The “teenage wasteland” of the song is describing a group of people in Townsend’s story who are seen as “scum.” He explained:

It's mainly young people who are either farmer's kids whose parents can't afford to buy them experience suits; then there's just scum, like these two geezers who ride around in a battered-up old Cadillac limousine and they play old Who records on the tape deck... I call them Track fans.