May 28, 2006

Is "Won't Get Fooled Again" conservative?

Pete Townshend responds to the selection of "Won't Get Fooled Again" as the number 1 conservative rock song.
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... I am just a song-writer.... Won't Get Fooled Again - then - was a song that pleaded '….leave me alone with my family to live my life, so I can work for change in my own way….'.
A lot of conservatives will say that's precisely what is conservative.

Related post: "The 50 greatest conservative rock songs."

UPDATE: Stephen Bainbridge agrees with my statement about "precisely what is conservative" and says:
[N]ote (1) the emphasis on there being an aspect of life which is not for sale, which echoes Edmund Burke's references to "the unbought grace of life," and (2) the desire to be left alone by both politicians and revolutionaries, so as to work for change individually, which echoes Burke's references to the "little platoons" of society, of which the family is first and foremost.


Jazz Bass said...

The best part was the end paragraph and the last sentence.

Now that's the truth. Roger's scream transformed that song into the anthem of all anthems in my little world.

So of course it is a conservative song. it's a libertarian song too. One thing we can definitely say is that both literally and metaphorically the song is NOT modern-ly liberal or socialist.

tm said...

With its Althusserian concern over resistance to interpellation into the system (ha!), and with its cynicism regarding the difference between the official left and the official right, a radical leftist could easily claim it.

But that's the thing about most rock: it's so banal it can be claimed by anyone.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...
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Seven Machos said...

Meet the new quxxo. Same as the old quxxo.

Can't something be done about this? I want Sippican Cottage back.

Ann Althouse said...

7: Just stop feeding him. I will destroy.

knox said...

A radical leftist couldn't claim it because of its disdain for activists. But other than that, I'd say its "leave me alone" aethetic is more libertarian than conservative.

Conservatives are kind of pathetic in their eternal struggle to claim something cool for their own: Steven Colbert, this (relatively) miniscule collection of rock songs, etc.

They need to just be happy with the only "cool" ground they CAN claim: not caring that they're not cool! That's the best place to be anyhow. Most people representing liberal cool nowadays are total d*ucheb*gs.

Anonymous said...

Yet again, Knoxgirl is correct. The pursuit of cool is an affliction of the young and immature (and is in fact counter-cool). Conservatism is supposed to be about being a grown-up.

My guess about this recent conservative-cool business is that Gen-X conservatives grew-up in a world in which "cool" had become part of the Establishment and the concept of cool was hammered into their brains by the Fonz. Philosophically they may be old fogies, but their points of reference, by nature of the culture in which they were raised, are necessarily "cool".

Ann Althouse said...

The TV point of reference for coolness for us Boomers is Kookie... and those guys on "Route 66."

Anonymous said...

I feel as dumb as a New York Times film writer right now because I don't know who Kookie is.

Just googled him.


"77 Sunset Strip Tidbits
The prototype for the suave Private Eye show!

Their offices were at 77 Sunset Strip in Hollywood. Next door was the posh restaurant, Dino's Lodge at number 79, where the "ginchiest" carpark of all time, Kookie (Brynes) worked and gabbed. (For more Kookie-isms, click here.) The dreamboat Brynes became a heartthrob and recorded "Kookie, Kookie, Lend Me Your Comb" with Connie Stevens.

Now if you are the hippest character on TV, naturally you ask for more money, more screen time. Oddly, the producers said no and poof, it was like Kookie had never existed. Brynes walked. In the 4/22/1960 story "Stranger Than Fiction" they needed a parking lot attendant and Craig Curtis appeared as Joey. Kookie, it was decided, was in finger printing school."

Poor Kookie. It seems he went to the George Lazenby school of career management.

Jazz Bass said...

oh, ann, lend ME your comb!

What about us tail end boomers? i'd say herman munster was way cooler than ed brynes. maybe i'll give you your george maharis though since you're a woman and he was a pretty man. ;)

as the rep for the generation of little brothers of the big boomers, i'll say this: fonzie was not cool. nostalgia for something 20 years ago does not lend itself to cool. 30 somethings that long for more 80's music is just as sad as me wishing Parker and Coltrane were still around. you miss what's happening that way.

too bad being left or right wing is anathema to either side these days. ah, civil debate and calm points being made. those days are gone!

do people really try to claim colbert? er.....he's an actor and a writer and came out of second city to work on tv. of course he's liberal! he's "one of them". heh.

conservative means to conserve, not to grow up. no one has to stop having fun just because they are responsibile.

what's more sad than some list from an editor at NRO? the inherent socialism that's the fabric of the american left these days. they don't teach the difference between self reliance and nanny state-isms anymore. not since they changed history to "social studies" and removed civics from jr high curricula

Ann, you have some experience with this business because of your support for the administration's handling of iraq. don't people yell "PNAC lackey" at you just for having common sense and being able to read the news and draw sane conclusions? i mean, come on, like the bushies are anything near conservative? bleh!

and rock and roll will never be as banal as "modern art" wherein people hang urinals on the wall and other doofuses buy it for big bucks. with that you don't even get a good beat you can dance to!

Wickedpinto said...

The "conservative cool" thing being lame I totaly agree with.

The coolest thing I find about conservatives, or individuals with various conservative opinions that somewhat match my own, is how completely un stuffed their shirts are in other ways. Ace, rocks, cuz he is conservative but a jerky for the purposes of fun, Cold Fury rocks cuz they are smart guy stuffed shirts who are filled with this random not stuffed shirt attitude.

It ain't your dad's conservative movement.

Anonymous said...

"conservative means to conserve, not to grow up. no one has to stop having fun just because they are responsibile."

Good point, Jazzbass, though the fun actually begins when you are a grown-up. Being a kid kind of sucks. When you are a kid you are short and stupid.

Responsibility kind of sucks, too, but that's the price you pay for booze and sex.

(Years ago, this point was made in a piece in Spy magazine. Remember Spy? When Kurt Anderson was the editor it was the funniest magazine of all time. I don't think he was editor when that piece came out, but it was still funny. Fun fact: the name of the magazine was an homage the The Philadelphia Story. Feel like a good movie? Go rent The Philadelphia Story.)

Joan said...

I second Johnny's recommendation. Avoid at all costs, however, the ghastly remake High Society.

Unknown said...

Which conservatives would say that? I can't think of one.

Conservatives love to micro-manage people's lives. They want to make sure we are not using drugs. They want to make sure gay people are not having sex. They want to make sure that kids wait until they are married before having sex. They want to ban birth control. They want to ban abortion.

They even want to control what movies and TV shows we can see. Brokeback Mountain should be boycotted along with the Da Vinci Code. They don't want us to learn about evolution in schools.

I wish conservatives would leave us alone, but they never do. They are more in favor of big government than the democrats.

The song is Libertarian. Please don't confuse the two. As an avid libertarian, it's an insult to be called conservative.

Irene Done said...

Does anyone remember the post-9/11 all-star concert from NYC? David Bowie sang "We Could Be Heroes," James Taylor sang "I've Seen Fire and I've Seen Rain," and suddenly a lot of songs took on a new meaning. If I remember correctly, The Who performed "Won't Get Fooled Again." For that particular audience on that night anyway, that song most definitely served an obvious cause -- a rallying cry. And Townshend had to have known it would have that effect. So sometimes? Maybe he isn't as powerless and misunderstood as his post would have us believe.

Irene Done said...
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Unknown said...

Irene - Are you implying that only conservatives rallied around the country after 9/11?

Bush and the Republicans might try and frame it that way ("you're either with us or against us"), and that's probably one of the most despicable, divisive things ever done to this country by a President.

Ann Althouse said...

Downtownlad: Why are you conceding all that ground? Dammit! (Insert Roger Daltrey yell...) The people you are talking about should not get to use the word "conservative," unmodified. They are social conservatives. You should claim the term "conservative" and argue that it means small government, government only where government is needed. If that definition sticks, "Won't Get Fooled Again" fits the category.

Ann Althouse said...

Irene: I don't think the post-9/11 concert was about conservatism. It was about supporting the defense of the United States. That is different from the usual liberal/conservative politics -- or at least it was then.

Irene Done said...

Downtownlad -- No, not at all. Maybe just the opposite. My point is that by performing that song, The Who was saying something. Most people, regardless of political alignment, were rallying around the country at that point and The Who chose an anthem that reflected that mood. They weren't simply performing a song that had a good beat and everyone could dance to.

Jazz Bass said...

i got yer avid libertarianism right here.

my buddy and i started our campus libertarian chapter. now i'm an independent and he's an anarchist

to be fiscally conservative and socially liberal is very common.

to be socially conservative and fiscally liberal is also very common.

to make a stand for yourself and your family and vow to not get fooled again is to conserve, nes pa?

no one wants to end abortion except radicals. those that would overturn roe v. wade would do so in the hope that the end to this made up right to privacy would get the feds out of your lives and let the states deal with it like they did before.

"conservatives" would prefer women to have the babies and give them up rather than murder them in the womb.

ooh,hot button issues! ;)

and no, irene is not implying that. good lord, son, get a clue! presidents set policy and do those illegal executive orders but if you want to blame anyone for the screwed up state of this country you need to look at those 535 elected do-nothings called the Congress.

here, i'll piss everyone off: Wolfowitz was RIGHT! Rumsfield is the best man for the job. Cheney is a dedicated public servant. Bush is not an idiot, he just plays one on tv.

and by god, pete townshend knows his wares. you wouldn't pull out "pinball wizard" when you have "won't get fooled again" in your bag of tricks/

what people are missing about the NRO list of "conservative" tunes is the specious reasonings behind the listings.

but it goes to show how "precious" our perceptions about "music that matters to me" are, doesn't it?

plus it is the best, most emotion packed ANTHEM of the entire history of white people rock and roll. bingo, 9/11 concert.

thanks, ann, for making the point and the post. ah, salon althouse, still enjoyable after all these years.

Unknown said...

Downtownlad: Why are you conceding all that ground? Dammit! (Insert Roger Daltrey yell...) The people you are talking about should not get to use the word "conservative," unmodified. They are social conservatives. You should claim the term "conservative" and argue that it means small government, government only where government is needed. If that definition sticks, "Won't Get Fooled Again" fits the category.

I've given up that fight Ann. I used to claim to be a conservative, but then I was told that you can't favor gay rights and still claim to be a conservative. Now I'm reading (just the other day actually) that you can't favor immigration and still claim to be a conservative. The term conservative has now been hijacked by the xenophobic, intolerant right. Fine. They can have that term. "Conservative" is now doomed to have the same negative connotations as the term "liberal".

So I AM going to claim a term back. And that's "liberal". I am a liberal in the classical sense, such as that championed by von Hayek. I believe in the individual, not the state.

So if I'm going to take back a term, I might as well take back the correct one. :)

Jazz Bass said...

hot diggity! way to go, downtown lad! classical liberal values rock!!

hayek, mises, and rothbard are smiling on you tonight.

Craig Ranapia said...

Our Hostess wrote:
The people you are talking about should not get to use the word "conservative," unmodified. They are social conservatives.

Nope - they don't even get to call themselves social conservatives in my book. I can understand Downtownlad's frustration but these panty-sniffing, government-worshipping theocrats in bad conservative drag take my party, my church, my country and the great tradition of conservatism from my country from my cold dead hands. I'd like to think one hallmark of the real concervative tradition is that we know the past, will keep it for the future, and while our enemies bluff and bluster we can - and will - grind the theo-cons down however long it takes.

dave said...
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Craig said...

Taking the given definition, "[t]he lyrics must convey a conservative idea or sentiment, such as skepticism of government or support for traditional values," I'm going to say that just about every single rock song suggesting any judgment at all (right, wrong, good, bad, etc., etc.) is one way or the other conservative.

For example,
* Marilyn Manson - sure, he definitely expresses skepticism of government (e.g., as if it is needed, The Love Song).
* NWA - yes, they're also conservative (e.g., again, as if it is needed, "police think they have the authority to kill a minority").
* 2 Live Crew - of course ("Corrupted politicians playing games,Bringing us down to boost their fame").

The merits of those artists and their positions notwithstanding, I will hazard that the overwhelming majority of American voters who identify as conservative would not agree that those three embody conservative values.

Likewise, I'm going to say that every politician is one way or the other conservative under that definition. Find one politician who neither campaigns in terms of being not-part-of-DC-and-mere-politics and who abjures all conservative values. "I've been in venal DC forever, and what I like is immorality, pain, and corruption. Vote for me or not -- I've already bought this election!"

Obviously, this exercise is mostly just for fun. It does seem, however, like it would be "more fun" if the distinctions were meaningful -- which would require a more honest definition of conservative.

That said, coming to the honest definition does not necessarily mean fighting here and now the uphill battle for a new definition of conservative, as Ms. Althouse requests. And I insist that it would be a new definition, as the quasi-libertarians that would populate the new definition are but a slight proportion of the self-identifying conservatives in this country.

Seven Machos said...

I would suggest that, on social issues, most conservatives merely want to be able to govern themselves, and to them that means enforcing majority-approved community norms. It is liberals who seem to me to want nationalized codes of conduct, and to enforce values at a national, and international, level.

When you say that landlords must rent to homosexuals, and the State must fund Piss Christ, and high school football players cannot pray to their God in the locker room, and high school football fans cannot pray to their God before a game, and no one can picket near an abortion clinic -- when you command these things nationally, you are pushing values down peoples' throats just as surely as any social conservatives are.

If the good people of the Upper West Side want Piss Christ and every landlord to rent to gay people, and the good people of Lubbock want to pray at high school football games, what's really the problem with that? In my opinion, at least in the last 60 years, it is conservatives who want Lubbock to be Lubbock and the Upper West Side to be the Upper West Side. It is liberals who want the entire nation to be the Upper West Side.

Craig Ranapia said...


Well, I'd personally not have a lot of problems with that scenario you've just painted - but do you think that's really the theo-con agenda? Hey, they want the state out of their lives - but they're quite happy to use the maximum power of the big Nanny State, congenial "judicial activists", and tell State's Rights and the Constitution to go frack itself when it comes to imposing their values on the whole nation. And that's not "conservatism" - social or otherwise - but socialism with a Bible tucked under its arm.

somefeller said...

"In my opinion, at least in the last 60 years, it is conservatives who want Lubbock to be Lubbock and the Upper West Side to be the Upper West Side. It is liberals who want the entire nation to be the Upper West Side."

Speaking as a Texan, I have to say that I have no desire to live in a country that homogenously looks like the Upper West Side, or California, or Texas for that matter. Diversity of regions and cultures is one of the many things that makes America great and interesting. That having been said, however, I'm glad that the Upper West Siders (together with their socially liberal collaborators here in the Red States, of which I am proudly a member) have been successful in pushing national standards for the past 60 years on everything from desegregation, women's rights to gay rights. Civil rights shouldn't vary based on what state you live in, and the Federal Government has every right and obligation to enforce some national rules on that sort of thing. If that means some retrograde people get bent out of shape, tough. I'm happy to see "liberal cultural elitists" kick Bull Connor decades ago or James Dobson now into the dustbin of history, and be unapologetic in doing so. Plus, as has been pointed out earlier, social conservatives are no friends of federalism when the opportunity presents itself for them to use the Federal Government to get their way. The only reason that social conservatism and federalism/localism have somewhat gone hand-in-hand has been for tactical reasons on the part of social conservatives, not out of any principled love of federalism amongst the theocon crowd.

And as far as Lubbock goes, as Mac Davis said in his classic song:

I guess happiness was Lubbock Texas in my rear view mirror
But now happiness is Lubbock Texas growing nearer and dearer
and the vision is gettin' clearer in my dreams
And I think finally I know what it means
And when I die you can bury me in Lubbock Texas in my jeans

lindsey said...

And whose fault is it that these things are decided at a national level instead of a local level? That's not the fault of conservatives. We're just trying to fight back on the battle field you built and designed. It's the only one we've got. I'd be perfectly happy with a court that said such descisions are the business of the states and not the federal government, but someone designed it so such decisions are now taken at the federal level. Some social conservatives get a taste of the power you've had to yourself exclusively, and now they want to go national the same way you did? Should anyone be shocked? This is why they created federalism. Humans are humans and all humans no matter their political persuasion love power.

You wouldn't be in this predicament if you hadn't gone there in the first place. I guess this means you're just getting back what you did to everyone else? Sucks, huh?

lindsey said...

"Civil rights shouldn't vary based on what state you live in, and the Federal Government has every right and obligation to enforce some national rules on that sort of thing. If that means some retrograde people get bent out of shape, tough."

Yeah, but what happens when there are enough "retrograde" people to vote out the people who've made the rules you prefer and to change the rules you prefer? This is exactly why these things shouldn't be the province of the federal government. You've made these rules, not immutable as they should be, but subject to voting patterns. A living constitution indeed. In the end, rights are violated.

Seven Machos said...

Yes. Someone who champions a court that finds for the whole country a virtually unfettered but thentofore invisible right in the Constitution to abortion should not be surprised when the same court, under a different regime, proclaims that the invisible right isn't there for anyone.

Had the issue of abortion not been nationalized and instead had been left to states and local communities, abortion advocates would not now be (irrationally, in my opinion) all scared about losing this part of the blessed Penumbra that only six liberals in the early 1970s could see.

The same goes for any number of issues. Any time you nationalize power for short-term gain, you risk losing the gain when the balance of power nationally shifts against you.

somefeller said...

"And whose fault is it that these things are decided at a national level instead of a local level? That's not the fault of conservatives."

Actually, it is the fault of conservatives (and for purposes of this discussion, when I refer to "conservatives" I mean social conservatives, not libertarians or socially progressive moderate Republican types). If conservatives were willing to vote at the state level in favor of desegregation, reproductive rights, the abolition of anti-gay sodomy laws, etc., then the Federal Government wouldn't have had to step in at various times to deal with such matters. Grassroots tyranny, as it were, tends to encourage Federal action (or at least it used to, and hopefully will again) to protect and liberate the people whose rights are being suppressed by their conservative neighbors. There wouldn't have been a need for Brown, Griswold, Roe, Lawrence, etc., if conservatives weren't busily stomping all over people's rights at the state and local level.

Admittedly, the sword can cut the other way if the Federal Government is taken over by the bad guys, but that's a risk I'm willing to take. No system is perfect, and there's enough socially liberal folks in key positions around the country (including at the upper levels of the GOP, though they are too often silent these days) for me to be optimistic in the long run, though pessimistic in the short run, that the Feds will side with the angels on these types of issues, even if some state and local governments won't. After all, it seems to me that conservatives have more to worry about GOP leaders going too far to the left on these issues than liberals have to worry about the Democrats moving too far to the right on them...

John in Nashville said...

Wanting to be left alone by politicians is a "conservative" position?

Ann, Estelle T. Griswold is on line one; John Geddes Lawrence (of v. Texas fame) is on line two, Samuel Roth and David Alberts are on line three, and Michael Schiavo is on line four.

Wendy said...

First, when discussing "Won't Get Fooled Again" it is worth putting the song in historical context. It came out during the Nixon administration and the height of the Vietnam War, a time when people were having their mail opened and phones tapped, when the federal government was frighteningly monarchicial. It was a battle cry and also a warning.

Second, I have a surprise for all of you who are busy splitting microscopically thin hairs in your obsession with what is "liberal" and what is "conservative." It is possible to be both, depending on the context.

I am social liberal. I do not believe the government has a right to intrude in my personal life, control my medical decisions, force religion down my throat, or tap my phone.

Isn't that the "conservative" position?

However, I also do not believe the government has the right to give huge tax breaks to the rich, which therefore skews the balance of power away from the "little guy" and puts us into a fiscal crisis that will devastate future generations.

I do not believe the government has the right to ignore the environmental health of the planet in favor of big business, which further lines the pockets of a wealthy few and screws the rest of us, possibly permanently (see Al Gore's movie, please).

I believe in public education, so that all citizens have a chance at a productive and independent life. Maybe a few of them will learn to think along the way.

I believe in national health care, so that all citizens have a chance to get their basic medical needs met without having to go into bankruptcy.

And I believe in free speech, which is often represented by art that the government would be all to happy to ban.

So ... can we dispense with all the stupid buzzwords and generalizations, and have a serious discussion, please?

Chris said...

The song is anti-authoritarian and is rebellious. In that sense, it's not conservative in the least. It's liberal, or possibly libertarian. The idea of "meet the new boss; same as the old boss" is something my liberal buddies would have said while growing up.