Media Life: The Who’s Super Bowl show spotlights tribute to Colfax composer

Minimalist composer Terry Riley’s Pete Townshend connectivity lives on in “Baba O’Riley;” So does legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., lunch counter sit-ins and, sadly, William Shockley; Auburn’s 49 Fire story goes national again; Auburn’s Al Hendrix now ha
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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You may know it as “Teenage Wasteland.” But the name of rock band The Who’s most timeless hit is actually “Baba O’Riley.” With CSI playing the heck out of it at the start of each episode and classic rock stations inserting it in their playlists for, oh, perhaps the last 30 years, those crashing guitar chords and anthemic crescendos have been tattooed onto the eardrums of at least three generations. Little known even in these parts, however, is the link between the song title and the Placer County community of Colfax. It’s a little complicated. So let’s start by breaking down the title. Pete Townshend, The Who’s principal songwriter, dubbed the song “Baba O’Riley” as a tribute to two important influences of his during the time he was writing what would be the album “Who’s Next” in the early 1970s. The “Baba” of the title is Meher Baba, an Indian mystic who died in 1969. Townshend took up his teachings and dedicated the album “Tommy” to him. Colfax connection More importantly for Colfaxians who are keeping count on local claims to fame, the “O’Riley” is a reference to one of the community’s own. Minimalist classical composer Terry Riley was born in Colfax in 1935 and went on to become a ground-breaking writer and musician, pioneering tape-delay and lengthy improvisational works in the 1960s and beyond. Townshend recently announced The Who’s set list for the Super Bowl half-time show and – no surprise here – it will include a bit of “Baba O’Riley.” Now you know. So feel free to use it at your leisure when you’re looking for some offbeat trivia to throw at fellow bowl viewers as you watch the big game Feb. 7. The Who’s medley of “Baba O’Riley,” “Pinball Wizard,” the close of “Tommy,” “Who Are You,” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” will provide some fist-pumping fun – and a nod to a Placer County native. How cool is that? Local lessons Media Life has finally made the “big time” in the Big Apple, albeit circa 1960. Saturday and Sunday mark the 50th anniversary of some very important dates in U.S. civil rights history. On Jan. 31, 1960, Joseph McNeil, an African-American from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College, was refused service at a “whites only” luncheonette in Greensboro, N.C. Feb. 1, 1960, was the date he and three friends decided to do something about it. They staged a “sit-in” to protest “Whites only” rules and press for change. Media Life – in no small part because of its role in bringing to light the Auburn Recreation District’s move this past year to name a park after racist William Shockley – will be part of a community event Saturday in Auburn celebrating the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. I’m honored to play a bit part at the event as a New York Times reporter in a short play that commemorates events 50 years ago that helped push the civil rights movement forward. The event starts at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Sierra Foothills Unitarian Universalists building at 190 Finley St., across from Placer High School. The gospel choir from Sacramento’s New Home Baptist Church will provide music and Placer County supervisors Jim Holmes and Jennifer Montgomery will have a few words of wisdom. New Home church was destroyed about a decade ago in an arson fire and since rebuilt. It’s a reminder – just like the legacy of Shockley – that the shadows of hate continue to lurk around us. Saturday’s celebration helps shed a little more light on those dark corners. Aerosmith in the family Al Hendrix, Auburn’s Lost Rocker, continues to seek that elusive hit record with the release last month of “Rockabilly Lovin’" on his own Hummingbird Records label. But Hendrix informs Media Life that he’s also found himself the uncle through marriage of a member of rock royalty. His youngest sister’s youngest daughter, Linda, recently married Joey Kramer, the drummer for Aerosmith. Hendrix said he wouldn’t be surprised if the Boston-based Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame inductee is in the audience when Hendrix makes his Las Vegas debut at age 75 on March 31 at the Hard Rock Casino. All fired up Journal General Manager/Editor Deric Rothe earned some ink in the latest edition of PubAux, a journalism trade publication based out of Columbia, Mo. The monthly picked up Rothe’s column from the Journal on the 49 Fire after it ran on the California Newspaper Publishers Association Web site. He reports getting feedback from friends and strangers as far away as Florida and Texas. Media Life’s Gus Thomson can be reached at 530-852-0232 or Also hear Thomson at 4:30 p.m. most Fridays on KAHI 950’s “Afternoon Report.”