Sunday, January 25, 2015

Self-Reflection: Pete Townshend,
"I Am an Animal"

Click and listen: I Am An Animal

[Purchase "Empty Glass"]

When I first started thinking about this theme, the second song that popped into my head was “I Am an Animal,” by Pete Townshend, from his 1980 album, Empty Glass. (The first one was “I Am a Scientist,” by Guided by Voices, in case you were curious.) Odd that this song should pop into my head that quickly, since I think it has been a number of years since I listened to that album all the way through and heard the song, but it now seems like an apropos choice: of the 47 lines in the song (as counted from the song's page on a song lyric website), 40 of those lines contain the words “I,” “me,” or “my.” Now THAT is introspection. Or narcissism.

Musically, the song feels to me like it could have been an outtake from Quadrophenia — although “outtake” implies that it didn’t make the cut, and the melody of “I Am an Animal” is equal in caliber to many of the quieter, more introspective songs on Quadrophenia (I think I’m making a connection to “Dr. Jimmy”: “Is it me, for a moment?”).

Lyrically, the song deals with . . . well, it’s about . . . um . . . uh . . . hm. You know, I don’t really know — not exactly. But Pete is searching. He seems uncertain of the future, unsure of his memories of the past, and speculates a bit about what his current state is: animal? vegetable? angel? king? queen ("of the fucking universe,” no less)? It’s all going by in a blur, that’s for sure.

I'm looking back

 And I can't see the past anymore, so hazy

 I'm on a track and I'm traveling so fast

Oh, for sure I'm crazy

I am a human being

 And I don't believe all the things I'm seeing

I got nowhere to hide anymore

I'm losing my way

Ultimately, Pete settles on “animal,” and who can argue with that? Aren’t we all, after all?