Won’t Get Fooled Again

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

Won’t Get Fooled Again (Pete Townshend) The Who, 1971

I was born in 1957. Which meant that most of my growing up happened in the Sixties and Seventies: my taste in music, as some of you no doubt have figured out, is deeply influenced by the musicians of the time. As I grow older, my appreciation for that privilege grows.

Childhood is a time for heroes, and I drew on the pantheon of the time for my choices. Some are no more: I never got the chance to see John Lennon in person, nor Janis Joplin, nor Jim Morrison, nor Jimi Hendrix, nor Jim Croce, amongst others. But that didn’t stop me eating at Threadgill’s, and meeting Ingrid Croce and having a meal at Croce’s, or visiting Père Lachaise and Strawberry Fields to pay my respects. [I haven’t yet made it to Greenwood].

I’ve stayed true to the music I grew up with, and over the years I’ve been able to see Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead, John Mayall, the Who (but without Keith Moon), Led Zeppelin (but without John Bonham), Steve Winwood, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Cream, Queen, Eric Clapton, Simon and Garfunkel, John Martyn, Joe Cocker, Leonard Cohen, Jethro Tull, Crosby Stills and Nash, Neil Young, Don McLean, Donovan, Stevie Wonder, Cat Stevens, Van Morrison, the Moody Blues, and a few more besides. This year alone, I hope to see Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Ian Anderson/Jethro Tull and Crosby Stills and Nash.

I knew I was deeply into Sixties and Seventies music. I never thought it would mean I’d become a regular at concerts given by musicians in their sixties and seventies. It’s been an incredible privilege to hear and watch so many of my boyhood heroes, even more so because I’ve even been able to meet, and converse with, a few of them. Which brings me to the point of this post.

Pete Townshend.


I had the pleasure of meeting Pete a few days ago, as I travelled back from Toronto. He’s a quiet, charming man, someone who is careful and measured in what he says. Our paths crossed serendipitously a few times over the trip and in Heathrow, and a few things stood out for me. While he wasn’t really into Twitter or Facebook as yet, he spoke about how music was changing as a result of empowered people connected through networks, how the performance and the audience were becoming more intertwined, less separable. While he concentrated on the meaning of what he was trying to say through his music (his writing has often been based on, and reflective of, his experiences), he was acutely aware of the technology underpinning the music, and how it was changing. He spoke about how primitive the recording equipment was for Live At Leeds, which to this day remains one of the best live albums ever produced; how today’s DJs produced quite elaborate sets, unthinkable a few decades ago, and earned money comparable to today’s top artists as a result; and he spoke about how performances were themselves becoming more holistic, more encompassing of diverse talents and disciplines, richer in the context of the instruments and media used. All of which means we can look forward to a real masterpiece when he unveils Floss.

I’d read his autobiography, but meeting the man did something for me and to me. I felt I understood something more about who he was, his humility, his humanity.

The words he used to describe Won’t Get Fooled Again, as quoted in Pete’s Diaries in May 2006, took on a fuller meaning for me as a result.

Of course the song has no party-allied political message at all. It is not precisely a song that decries revolution — it suggests that we will indeed fight in the streets — but that revolution, like all action, can have results we cannot predict. Don’t expect to see what you expect to see. Expect nothing and you might gain everything.

The way he ends the post is also important:

Spike Lee told my manager that he…. “deeply understood Who music”… what he understood was what he himself — like so many others — had made it. He saw an outrage and a frustration, even a judgment or empty indictment in the song that wasn’t there. What is there is a prayer.

After meeting Pete, I understood a little more about that prayer.

We live in times of tremendous change, of real turbulence in society globally. Some of those changes reflect economic challenges, some are environmental in nature, some are driven by political turmoil. Some of the new technologies may seem to exacerbate those tensions; and there’s a new generation out there, a generation that contains my children, our children, and those that will follow them.

And when I think about the world we have prepared for them, I realise the need for prayer is even greater.

Won’t Get Fooled Again. A song that marked and influenced a generation, with each of us making of it what we will.

A song. And a prayer.

4 thoughts on “Won’t Get Fooled Again”

  1. Firstly – what a wonderful expression of pure joy on your face! I know that feeling, of meeting a childhood hero. I have had a few chance encounters with a couple that have left me feeling how you look in this photo.

    “Revolution, like all action, can have results we cannot predict.”

    Perhaps not quite what this post is speaking to, but still relevant: I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the need to leave room in our lives for serendipity and happy accidents. It’s very easy to try to schedule and shape every moment of our lives (and there are a million apps to help us do this) but it’s in these unexpected spaces in between that some of the best magic happens.

    Designer Colin Raney has been doing some interesting writing on this: http://colinraney.com/2013/02/luck-the-network/

  2. JP, thank you for a beautiful, personal and insightful post, you capture so well something I feel frequently. I think that few people appreciate that revolutions are like earthquakes. Proponents do their seismic analysis, try to make the plates shift where they want them by exerting force on the system. However, man generally fools himself most of all because he begins believing that he knows what will happen. Because people, especially those that try to force change, screen out information that disagrees, then they forget that they are screening. Then they get surprised. In undergrad, I majored in history and thought at the time it was silly to study a subject seemingly impractical!.. but I studied revolutions and today specialize in adoption ;^)

    Pete had it right, even though “expect nothing” isn’t really an option for people trying to lead/force change. I might amend it to “expect variables that, in the extreme, may lead to an outcome diametrically opposed to your desired goal.”

    Have you read “Everything Is Obvious* Once You Know the Answer”? Watts ingeniously captures the complexity of large systems and how our brains are wholly insufficient to deal with complexity the way we want to. In effect, we “dumb down” reality to deal with it with common sense approaches, and you can imagine how well that works. I think you’d find it resonates strongly with the ethos of this post.

    You can read my review here: http://tinyurl.com/EvthingObvious

Let me know what you think

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