Who Are You – Unveiling the Identity Crisis Anthem


You can view the lyrics, alternate interprations and sheet music for The Who's Who Are You at Lyrics.org.
Article Contents:
  1. Music Video
  2. Lyrics
  3. Song Meaning
  4. The Drunken Revelations of an Icon
  5. A Carousel of Identity: Who’s Asking Who?
  6. The Poetic Despair of Fame’s Labyrinth
  7. From Profanity to Epiphany: The Hidden Meaning
  8. The Quest for Self in the Final Verse’s Conundrum

Lyrics

Who are you?
Who, who, who, who?
Who are you?
Who, who, who, who?
Who are you?
Who, who, who, who?
Who are you?
Who, who, who, who?

I woke up in a Soho doorway
A policeman knew my name
He said, “You can go sleep at home tonight
If you can get up and walk away”
I staggered back to the underground
And the breeze blew back my hair
I remember throwin’ punches around
And preachin’ from my chair

Well, who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
I really wanna know (who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
Tell me, who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
‘Cause I really wanna know (who are you? Who, who, who, who?)

I took the tube back out of town
Back to the Rollin’ Pin
I felt a little like a dying clown
With a streak of Rin Tin Tin
I stretched back and I hiccupped
And looked back on my busy day
Eleven hours in the tin pan
God, there’s got to be another way

Well, who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
Oh, who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
Come on and tell me, who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
Oh, who the fuck are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)

Who are you?
(Ooh wa, ooh wa, ooh wa, ooh wa, ooh wa, ooh)
(Ooh wa, ooh wa, ooh wa, ooh wa, ooh wa, ooh)
(Ooh wa, ooh wa, ooh wa, ooh wa, ooh wa, ooh)
(Ooh wa, ooh wa, ooh wa, ooh wa, ooh wa, ooh)
(Ooh wa, ooh wa, ooh wa, ooh wa, ooh wa, ooh)
(Ooh wa, ooh wa, ooh wa, ooh wa, ooh wa, ooh)

Who are you?
Who, who, who, who?
Who are you?
Who, who, who, who?
Who are you?
Who, who, who, who?
Who are you?
Who, who, who, who?

I really wanna know (who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
I really wanna know (who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
Come on, tell me, who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
‘Cause I really wanna know (who are you? Who, who, who, who?)

I know there’s a place you walked
Where love falls from the trees
My heart is like a broken cup
I only feel right on my knees
I spit out like a sewer hole
Yet still receive your kiss
How can I measure up to anyone now
After such a love as this?

Well, who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
Oh, tell me, who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
Oh, I really wanna know (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
Tell, tell me, who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
Come on, come on, who? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
Ah, who the fuck are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
Who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
Oh, tell me, who are you? (Who are you? Ooh)
I really wanna know
Oh, I really wanna know
Come on, tell me, who are you, you, you, ah, you? (Yeah)

Full Lyrics

The year was 1978. Punk rock was on the rise, disco was at its peak, and amidst it all, ‘Who Are You’ by The Who thundered into existence. This song, laden with its defiant chords and piercing lyrics, is more than just a rock tune—it’s a psychological odyssey.

What begins with an apparent self-questioning chant, spirals into a narrative of self-discovery, life’s excesses, and the complexity of personal identity. The journey of ‘Who Are You’ is intricate, wrapped in the cacophony of life’s chaotic tapestry and the solitude of introspection.

The Drunken Revelations of an Icon

The opening verse of ‘Who Are You’ introduces us to a protagonist in a distressing state—waking up in a Soho doorway, known to the police. This imagery paints a portrait of a life spiraling out of control, a rock star’s decadence that leads to nights lost in the blur of excess and oblivion.

It’s a rock-bottom moment that becomes a wake-up call. The police officer’s intervention, informing the fallen star that he can go home, is a moment of unexpected mercy, a sliver of humanity in the chaos. It’s a stark reminder of the thin line that fame walks—a line between adoration and self-destruction.

A Carousel of Identity: Who’s Asking Who?

The persistent question ‘Who are you?’ is asked with a thunderous demand, and it resonates far beyond the song’s literalness. Each refrain of the titular question serves as an echo chamber, bouncing back at the singer, the listener, and the society at large.

This four-word interrogation becomes a metaphorical mirror, reflecting the fragmentation of self that comes with the pressures of identity. In a world that incessantly demands us to label ourselves, The Who fiercely throws the question back, leaving it hanging in the air like a challenge.

The Poetic Despair of Fame’s Labyrinth

There’s a painful self-awareness in the lyrics ‘I felt a little like a dying clown, with a streak of Rin Tin Tin.’ It’s the acknowledgement of the performative aspect of stardom—the mask that entertainers wear, smiling on the outside but slowly withering on the inside.

With this, Pete Townshend, the songwriter, draws on the duality of public perception and private struggle. The ‘dying clown’ trope speaks to the emptiness found in the pursuit of fame, and the ‘streak of Rin Tin Tin’ suggests a vain attempt to find a hero within oneself.

From Profanity to Epiphany: The Hidden Meaning

The switch from polite inquiry to the expletive-laden ‘Who the fuck are you?’ is jarring, but intentional. It represents a tipping point, an emotional crescendo. Here, we witness the crumbling of facades, the ultimate stripping down to raw, unfiltered human emotion.

But within these brash outbursts lies a profound hidden meaning. It’s a call to strip away the pretenses, to ask ourselves sincerely, without the trappings of society’s labels, who we are at our core. The profanity is not just about shock value—it’s about urgency and authenticity.

The Quest for Self in the Final Verse’s Conundrum

In the ethereal final verse, The Who reveals a soul searching for more than fame can offer: ‘I know there’s a place you walked where love falls from the trees.’ Here, the song transcends into a story of love’s redemptive power, even as it contrasts with the earlier hedonistic lines.

This resolution doesn’t provide a neat answer to the song’s central query. Instead, it lays bare the profound humanity of the quest. It proclaims that even after ‘a love like this,’ even when left on our knees, we still seek to understand ourselves, to stand up and define our true selves in the face of life’s relentless inquiry.

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