Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Who: Won’t Get Fooled Again (1971)

Music & Democracy

From a 1971 concert, shortly after the song’s release. There is another fine, more rocky version, here.

Written by: Pete Townsend
Recorded: April–May 1971: Rolling Stones Mobile Studio, Stargroves, Berkshire, England, and Olympic Studios, London, England
Released: June 25, 1971
Album: Who's Next: August 14, 1971
Label: Polydor (UK); MCA (USA)
A song, perhaps an anthem, for the Jasmine Revolution, where peoples around the world are revolting against censorship, tyranny and injustice and for freedom, justice and democracy, some paying the ultimate price with their lives. The autocrats, the dictators, the tyrants, the elites hate democracy and do not want to give up power they have seized easily.

They cite the need for law and order. But the only order they truly care about is ordering people about like servants, while they take more and more for themselves and their entourage. Their insatiable appetite for power can be summed up by one word: More. But the street won't be fooled any longer.

The street sees now first-hand that the anti-democratic elites care little about their own people. This is evident, wherever that story of needless violence and death plays out. The good news is that they are now on the wrong side of history, dinosaurs from another age.

And like dinosaurs, they face extinction. Democracy is not for sale, and cannot be bought or sold. Democracy is not for the few. It's not for the rich. It's not for the West. It's for Everyone. All Peoples Everywhere. May democracy take hold everywhere.

The Who: Cover of the 45 rpm single, 1971
As for the song's message or meaning, it's that revolutions often have unexpected results, and although we ought to fight, we do so without any expectation, or expect the worst and hope for the best:
Townshend stated in 2006 that: "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 song was meant to let politicians and revolutionaries alike know that what lay in the centre of my life was not for sale, and could not be co-opted into any obvious cause. [...] From 1971 – when I wrote Won't Get Fooled Again – to 1985, there was a transition in me from refusal to be co-opted by activists, to a refusal to be judged by people I found jaded and compliant in Thatcher's Britain."
Sometimes, perhaps too often, the unexpected results go against democracy and freedom, which gives credence to the line:
Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss
This was the general outcome in the Russian Revolution (1917), the Iranian Revolution (1979) and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine (2004). But sometimes the results are good for democracy, and the new boss differs from the old boss, as was the case in the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia (1989).

The American Revolution (1776) and French Revolution (1789) were in the end successful transitions to democracy, although both took time to establish. The ideals enshrined in many of the documents of this age can act as ideals today.

As for today, whether revolutions are successful or not are hard to really predict. And the so-called experts are only guessing or posturing what their hopes are—either the status quo or change. There are too many factors to accurately predict an outcome of mass demonstrations, and calls for change from the old regime. Even so, one thing is certain. It all depends on who the political leaders are, and whether they really want democracy, or more of the same, but under their leadership.

A true democrat, like Vaclav Havel, wanted democracy and achieved it for his people in Czechoslovakia. It is noteworthy that he was not a born politician, but a poet and playwright, a man of letters, and an artist.

Won't Get Fooled Again 
Pete Townsend/The Who

We'll be fighting in the streets
With our children at our feet
And the morals that they worship will be gone
And the men who spurred us on
Sit in judgement of all wrong
They decide and the shotgun sings the song

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
Then I'll get on my knees and pray
We don't get fooled again,
No, no!

I'll move myself and my family aside
If we happen to be left half alive
I'll get all my papers and smile at the sky
For I know that the hypnotized never lie


There's nothing in the street
Looks any different to me
And the slogans are replaced, by-the-bye
And the parting on the left
Is now the parting on the right
And the beards have all grown longer overnight

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
Then I'll get on my knees and pray


Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss

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