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Once More Out of the Cave

Back in the early 90s I went to see a staging of the Broadway version of the Who’s Tommy—a soundtrack for my childhood—and the lyrics seemed radically revised. Freedom didn’t just taste of reality, it tasted of “normality.” Tommy, the deaf dumb and blind kid, tells Sally “The point is not for you to be more like me. The point is . . . I’m finally more like you.”


I think I was about 24 at the time, and Pete Townshend would have been in his mid to late 40s when he revised the old lyrics for a new show. I thought then, “Wow, that must be what it is to get old. To make this music relevant for him now, it has to be a story about conforming rather than about liberation.”

(Or maybe about it was drugs. The plot never made much sense.)

(ps you really have to watch that. It will probably explain a lot about your parents.)

May God grant that I age as well as Pete Townshend, obviously, who probably still has more stamina than me. And who knows what he did to make a show that would sell on Broadway.

I haven’t swung quite so far as Tommy did, but lately when I hear new music on the radio, I try to compare my response to it now to how I might have responded to it then. Just as when I hear a song from the 80s, sometimes I think, “Wow, that song sounds so different to me now.”

It’s fitting that I heard of Mumford and Sons from my high school nephew. I love the song “The Cave”: I can imagine myself as a young woman listening while trying to make a decision about leaving college as a sophomore (I did go back), or taking a leave of absence from grad school (ditto), or leaving a job search behind and committing to freelancing full-time (it stuck).

I listen to this song and I see a young woman in a tiny apartment on the phone, trying to convince a well-meaning friend or family member that despite the risks, everything will be OK. I see a desk covered in dorky affirmations—”You will. . . because you can!”—and a brutal 24-hours-solid of crying after a particularly epic failure.

My life lacks that level of drama now, but the song still speaks to me as I think it would have then. Crawling out of the cave of high school, of sadness, and now out of those early high-contact years of parenting: it’s all another chance to rise up and walk out into the light. I love that this song threads those moments together and connects me to that restless, excited, fearless energy of the young me.

I also love cute boys with English accents and long hair. Some things never change.

Do listen now to what you did then? Does it sound the same?