One of the most famous lines in rock and roll, songwriter Pete Townsend has been pressed repeatedly to explain it—especially as he has grown older.
Considered in context with other lines in the song, the meaning of this line seems clear enough: aging deadens people, leaving them cold and incapable of understanding young people, who are more vital.
This philosophy was compatible with England's "mod" youth culture of the late 1950s to mid-1960s. Known for shooting around London on their Lambretta scooters, sporting tab collars and Italian shoes, and being hyped on amphetamines, mods preached experiential indulgence before age sapped them of their ability to enjoy life.
In a 1989 interview, however, Townshend argued that his line had never been an explicit reference to age. Old, he said, had always meant rich; an "old" person was "somebody who had achieved everything and looked to anybody who was on the ladder up, you know, with an eye to kick in the mouth."
Whether Townshend truly always felt this way is questionable, but his eventual belief that the qualities of age could not be oversimplified leans toward the conclusions reached by researchers on aging. Contrary to widespread belief, people tend to grow happier as they age. A 2006 University of Michigan study revealed that people exaggerate the happiness of youth—even their own—and they err in believing that people grow unhappier as they approach old age. Happiness has far less to do with age than it does the ability to manage one's emotional state, the report concludes. As time goes on, they "get better at managing life's ups and downs, and the result is that as they age, they become happier — even though their objective circumstances, such as their health, decline."