What, exactly, is the "teenage wasteland
"? In many ways, it seems odd that a band spawn
ed by the rollicking
1960s should seem so defeatist
One must remember that this song was originally composed, quite likely, in 1970 for Pete Townshend's Lifehouse project. This was a year after Tommy, which itself does not praise the counterculture, but instead suggests that there are answers to be found in introspection, rather than in the cut and paste creeds of contemporary groups. This was also a time, post-Woodstock, when many of the hippie generation were abandoning the cities and taking to the countryside in search of a simpler life.
I think this is the proper context for this song. In the first stanza, for example, the phrase which is so often transcribed as "I fight for my meals" is instead almost certainly "I farm for my meals." And "Don't cry/Don't raise your eye" is, again, almost certainly "Don't raise your ire," Pete's indication that violence is also counterproductive in this regard.
I think the teenage wasteland he is referring to is the countercultural movement itself. This is the man, after all, who threw Abbie Hoffman off the stage at Woodstock by hittin him with his guitar. Pete, at this stage anyway, was clearly not a man with much sympathy for how the hippie movement had evolved.
Think of Tommy, Who's Next, and Quadrophenia in this respective context: alienation, alienation-er, alienation-est. The banjo music in The Who by Numbers must have been a refreshing change for Pete.
Props to Uberfetus for his excellent writeup on the subject, and I more than concur with his remarks. Who's Next, apart from its sheer musical and lyrical power, is a clear work of genius, an unflawed gem with great internal coherence and a fantastic power to move. If you don't own it, go out and BUY IT NOW. End of story.
PPS: This song is often, wrongly, identified as "Teenage Wasteland."