Two weeks later and I’m still trying to puzzle out The Who’s flaccid performance at the Super Bowl.
It’s no wonder they didn’t play their first hit, My Generation, with it’s tagline, “Hope I die before I get old.” I didn’t expect them to play it… but I didn’t expect them to get seriously old, either.
“Things They Do Look Awful Cold”
The Who on stage were one of the most electric bands of the 60s, led by their two surviving members, Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey. I had the good fortune to see them numerous times, including the famous Singer Bowl New York concert that gave rise to the song Sally Simpson. (The reality was more shocking than the song suggests.) Their energy was a force of nature.
Lead singer Daltrey would stalk his area of the stage, twirling the mic by the cord, whirling it around only to grab it just in time for the next lyric. Guitarist Townshend, often dressed in a white jumpsuit, would leap high in the air, legs tucked behind him, timing his landing with the next slashing power chord. He’d windmill his right arm in huge circles, hitting the guitar strings full speed with each circle. And they’d keep this up for a 90-minute show.
The Super Bowl performance was a regulated 12 minutes. Was that the best they could do for 12 minutes?
“This Is My Generation”
I’m about five years younger than Daltrey and Townshend, about to turn 60, in decent health other than somewhat elevated LDL (cholesterol) level. Perhaps it will all change in five years, but I don’t feel tired. I don’t see myself as old, though of course I recognize a bit of sagging skin, see the veins in my hand becoming more prominent, wince every time my daughter mocks my mildly thinning hair. But those minor changes have nothing to do with who I am.
I refuse to act my age.
I refuse, more specifically, to act the way 60-year-olds used to act. I will not slow down, I will not give up, I will not give in to the way others see aging.
And I see the same from many of my friends. We are not going gentle into that not-so-good night.
This is my generation.
“Hope I Die Before I Get Old”
There are two overt reasons The Who did not play My Generation. First, they’re famous for smashing their instruments when they close the set with this song, a reputation they’ve worked hard to shed — but that still lingers with their fans. That would have been inappropriate at the Super Bowl, misunderstood by too many people would might have seen it as somehow anti-American or anti-football or something. Second, of course, is the key lyric, “Hope I die before I get old.” Can you sing that at age 64?
To which I answer, “Depends. Are you old?”
I, for one, am not old.
Older, perhaps. Wiser, I hope. I’ve clearly been worn a bit, no longer fresh off the rack. But I’m not worn out, and I am not old.
As long as I am reasonably healthy, it is my choice as to whether to be old or not, and I choose not.
I urge everyone of my generation to choose the same. Old is an attitude, not an age. It’s how much living you do, not how many liver spots you have.
If you get the chance to play at the Super Bowl, jump around! Make some noise! Twirl the microphone, windmill the guitar, reach for the sky.
And when you sing “Hope I die before I get old,” put the emphasis not on the first clause but the second — before I get old. You can’t control the dying part, but you can have a big say in getting old. If you never get old, the line that defined my generation — and My Generation — will resonate still.