Though I had anticipated its arrival, I dreaded this day. The exact hour when the desire to experience something thrilling had effervesced within me for so long, it expired. Cognitive reservoirs of gumption, drive, purposefulness were stagnant. I surrendered to apathy.
Thankfully the pain wasn't too bad. I was scarred by listlessness more than anything else, a suffering that was only inhibited momentarily by the aural cure that I found in Roger Daltrey's voice, a voice whose blustery inflections alluded to my search for escape, identity, and impunity.
The Who's 1971 album, Who's Next, became the soundtrack for days when I felt as though I could disappear into that bright white fuzzy space that snaps me into wakefulness each morning, the ambient noise in Pete Townshend's extended pieces resonating with the same timbre of the stifled inner scream piercing my consciousness. I've always seen "Baba O' Riley" as the anthem of 20-somethings everywhere who find themselves suspended in limbo; too young to be taken seriously, and too old to not know any better, approaching adulthood with trepidation, the onset of the now-what-the-hell-am-I-going-to-do-with-my-life syndrome having befallen them.
A glimpse at the album's song titles, "Who Are You?" "I Don't Even Know Myself," and "Too Much of Anything," seem to respond to my dilemma, though there is none so striking as "Baba O'Riley." Daltrey's gruff inflections open the song with the lines "Out here in the fields/I fight 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." For me, he is speaking to a legion of young people too exhausted from spending 40+ hours a week dedicated to selling, stocking, cleaning, cooking, or serving to verbalize these thoughts. The beauty of this song is the fluidity of its lyricism. In ten years, these same words will probably speak to me in a very different way. I'll let you know, but presently, when Daltrey sings, "The exodus is here/the happy ones are near/let's get together/before we get much older," it's as if to say that it's not too late to opt out of the next four decades of servitude to the 40-hour workweek for the ephemeral retraction into the teenage wasteland that you secretly long for.
Fear of living a purposeless existence is not something that easily fades at any age, but what to do? Maybe claw my way to the top in a professional career and encounter the same individuals on my way down some years later. Or take the road less traveled and dedicate my life to some charitable cause or needy individual. Perhaps resign from society entirely and begin a hermetic contemplation of these very conundrums. Needless to say, it is doubtful that I could make a decision like this today. Daltrey and Townshend were able to channel the unspoken but understood torrent of emotion that rages beneath the surface of human insecurity, and they did it with tact and grace, nothing like the bellicose wailing of the Scorpions or the unmistakable twang of defiance in Mick Jagger's songs. Granted, each of these is appealing in its own right, but the Who managed to weave riotous apprehension into a cohesive whole. Maybe it was the turbulent era from which it came, or the fact that it was probably ingrained in the collective musical knowledge I gained at an early age. I mostly attribute it to artistic daring, when rock songs defied brevity's sake, negating the constraints of a three-minute power ballad, and addressing some higher purpose.
As in life, one's perceptions are as reliant upon the ambient noise in the background as are Townshend's power chords. A baritone yeeeeaaaahhhhh! pierces through the trippy ethereal synergy, and the volatility in Daltrey's vocals strike a chord as he sings "I'd gladly lose me to find you," saying so much in so little. Similarly, I find myself intending so much, but doing so little in terms of following through with my grandiose schemes to take on the world, my resignation eclipsed by preventative indecision. I'm sure I'll feel up to it tomorrow.