In the wake of this new "Who Are You?" comes the final track, "My Degeneration." Slowed to a quarter of the speed of the original "My Generation" and produced with a trip-hop sensibility that layers eerie atmospherics over sampled Keith Moon drums, this version is a masterpiece -- at once clever and terrifying. The lyrics of "My Degeneration" capture the hopelessness of aging just as the lyrics of "My Generation" captured the heedlessness of youth. And when Townshend takes over the song to sing the final verse ("People try to put us down/Just because we can't get around/Things they do look awful cold/Hope I die soon 'cause I got old"), it's genuinely affecting.
Because the Who's most popular songs still bring in big money from radio play and catalogue sales, it's likely that these new versions could be perceived as a way of tipping the classic-rock cash cow. As a result, they may never see the light of day.
Even without an official release, the notion of authorized parodies is a fascinating one, a strategy for at once deflating anthems that have become meaningless to their composers and reviving powerful melodies and sentiments. It's hard to listen to "My Degeneration" without wishing that the Who -- or the Stones, or Led Zeppelin, or the Eagles, or Bob Dylan -- had hit upon this self-cannibalizing method of rejuvenation much earlier.
The Who performs Saturday, August 16, at 8:00 p.m. at the Coral Sky Amphitheatre, 601 Sansbury Way, West Palm Beach, 561-795-8883. Tickets are $20.75.