Who is Baba O’Riley and where is Teenage Wasteland?

By J. William DeMarco

Sitting in the all too warm classroom….staring at the clock…wondering if sixth period English was ever going to end…glancing to my left… I notice Scott’s Pee Chee folder with 6000 doodles on it…and a massive Union Jack labeled Teenage Wasteland in thick black Sharpie.

A great song to be sure… but in 1982… I just could not seem to find it anywhere.  Searched all The Who albums I could find…until one day… listening to The Who’s Next…Baba O’Riley came on…ah, yes…the song I had been waiting for was not called Teenage Wasteland but Baba O’Riley… in my 15 year old mind…this made  the song EVEN cooler.

So why the name… and who is Baba?

Baba comes from Meher Baba, who was Pete Townshend’s spiritual guru. The second part comes from Terry Riley, an experimental, minimalist composer Pete admired – many of the keyboard riffs and sound effects on Who’s Next were a result of Riley’s influence. According to the Who’s Next liner notes, Townshend wrote it as his vision of what would happen if the spirit of Meher Baba was fed into a computer and transformed into music. The result would be Baba in the style of Terry Riley, or “Baba O’Riley.”….dude, that’s so cool!

Townshend originally wrote “Baba O’Riley” for his Lifehouse project, a rock opera that was to be the follow-up to The Who’s 1969 opera,Tommy. The song was derived from a nine minute demo, which the band reconstructed. “Baba O’Riley” was going to be used in the Lifehouse project as a song sung by Ray, the Scottish farmer at the beginning of the album as he gathers his family to begin their exodus to London.

Lifehouse is set in a time where most of England is a polluted wasteland. Townshend described it as: “A self-sufficient drop-out family group farming in a remote part of Scotland decide to return South to investigate rumors of a subversive concert event that promises to shake and wake up apathetic, fearful British society. Ray is married to Sally, they hope to link up with their daughter Mary who has run away from home to attend the concert. They travel through the scarred wasteland of middle England in a motor caravan, running an air conditioner they hope will protect them from pollution.”

As for the “teenage” bit of the wasteland, Townshend said: “They are regular people, but they’re the scum off the surface; there’s a few farmers there, that’s where the thing from ‘Baba O’Riley’ comes in. 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.” So basically, teenagers traveling across the wasteland to attend this concert.

Pete Townshend later claimed in an another interview that, at least in part, “Baba O’Riley” was also about what he witnessed during the Who’s performance at Woodstock. He stated that “‘Baba O’ Riley’ is about the absolute desolation of teenagers at Woodstock, where everyone was smacked out on acid and 20 people, or whatever, had brain damage. The contradiction was that it became a celebration: “Teenage Wasteland’, yes! We’re all wasted!'”

When Lifehouse was scrapped, many of the songs were released on The Who’s 1971 albumWho’s Next. “Baba O’Riley” became the first track on Who’s Next. The song was released as a single in several European countries, but in the United States and the United Kingdom was only released as part of the album.

And now I know…

Amazing video…The Who and Pete at their finest…NOTE:  The violin solo in the coda of the song is based on Indian classical music as homage to Meher Baba.  In concert (the video below), Roger Daltrey replaces the violin solo with a harmonica solo.

Out here in the fields
I farm for my meals
I get my back into my living.
I don’t need to fight
To prove I’m right
I don’t need to be forgiven.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeahDon’t cry
Don’t raise your eye
It’s only teenage wasteland

Sally, take my hand
We’ll travel south cross land
Put out the fire
And don’t look past my shoulder.
The exodus is here
The happy ones are near
Let’s get together
Before we get much older.

Teenage wasteland
It’s only teenage wasteland.
Teenage wasteland
Oh, yeah
Teenage wasteland
They’re all wasted!

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