The Who, “The Seeker”

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When you’ve got a catalog as vast and impressive as that of The Who, some noteworthy songs can get lost in the shuffle. “The Seeker” feels like one of those songs, in part because it was a non-album single recorded and released in 1970 between the twin triumphs of Tommy and Who’s Next. As a matter of fact, it was the first thing that Pete Townshend wrote for the band following Tommy, a project which gained him endless accolades as one of the preeminent rock songwriters.

If you read between the lines of “The Seeker,” you can hear Townshend trying to square that success with his constant restlessness. At the time of the song’s release, he talked about it with Rolling Stone: “Quite loosely, “The Seeker” was just a thing about what I call Divine Desperation, or just Desperation. And what it does to people. It just kind of covers a whole area where the guy’s being fantastically tough and ruthlessly nasty and he’s being incredibly selfish and he’s hurting people, wrecking people’s homes, abusing his heroes, he’s accusing everyone of doing nothing for him and yet at the same time he’s making a fairly valid statement, he’s getting nowhere, he’s doing nothing and the only thing he really can’t be sure of is his death, and that at least dead, he’s going to get what he wants. He thinks!”

One of the ingenious things about the song is how Townshend married those downbeat themes to a typically bruising Who rock arrangement. Roger Daltrey sounds like the toughest S.O.B. on two feet as he bellows above the relentless rhythm section of John Entwistle and Keth Moon. When he sings, “I won’t get to get what I’m after ‘til the day I die,” there’s not an ounce of hesitation or fear as he barrels toward that certain fate.

The narrator’s admission that Bob Dylan, The Beatles, and Timothy Leary have all failed to help him seems to be a sly admission that nobody has all the answers, not even profound songwriters like Townshend. As a result, the narrator takes out his frustration on all those around him, trying to feel something by inflicting pain on others.

Yet the façade cracks a bit when Daltrey sings, “I’m a seeker/I’m a really desperate man.” When the narrator tries to make a connection, his efforts are thwarted by the fact that those he meets seem to be having the same problems: “I’m looking for me/You’re looking for you/We’re looking in at each other/And we don’t know what to do.”

If you haven’t checked out “The Seeker” in a while, be prepared to be impressed all over again by its power and profundity. It may have slipped between the cracks a bit in contrast to other classics by The Who, but you’ll never hear a tougher ode to desperation in your life.

“The Seeker”

I’ve looked under chairs
I’ve looked under tables
I’ve tried to find the key
To fifty million fables
They call me The Seeker
I’ve been searching low and high
I won’t get to get what I’m after
Till the day I die

I asked Bobby Dylan
I asked The Beatles
I asked Timothy Leary
But he couldn’t help me either
They call me The Seeker
I’ve been searching low and high
I won’t get to get what I’m after
Till the day I die

People tend to hate me
‘Cause I never smile
As I ransack their homes
They want to shake my hand

Focusing on nowhere
Investigating miles
I’m a seeker
I’m a really desperate man
I won’t get to get what I’m after
Till the day I die

I learned how to raise my voice in anger
Yeah, but look at my face, ain’t this a smile?
I’m happy when life’s good
And when it’s bad I cry
I’ve got values but I don’t know how or why

I’m looking for me
You’re looking for you
We’re looking in at other
And we don’t know what to do
They call me The Seeker
I’ve been searching low and high
I won’t get to get what I’m after
Till the day I die

Written by Pete Townshend

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