6.19-I CAN'T REACH YOU (The Who)

The Who


I'm a billion ages past you
A million years behind you too
A thousand miles up in the air
A trillion times I've seen you there.

Your hair is golden, mine is grey.
You walk on grass, it turns to hay.
Your blood is blue and your eyes are red.
My body strains, but the nerves are dead.

     I can't reach you;
     I've strained my eyes.
     I can't reach you;
     I've split my sides.

          I can't reach
          Tryin' to get on you
          See, feel or hear from you.

The distances grow greater now.
You drink champagne and past me plow.
You fly your plane right over my head.
You're so alive and I'm nearly dead!

     I can't reach you
     With arms outstretched.
     I can't reach you;
     I crane my neck.


               Once I caught a glimpse
               Of your unguarded, untouched heart.
               Our fingertips touched and then
               My mind tore us apart.

     [Repeat second B verse]



     [Repeat second B verse]


Pete Townshend has admitted that I Can’t Reach You expresses a spiritual frustration at not being able to be in close communication with God. Looking back, the poet tells us in thewho.net that he believes the song records his longing to meet with the spiritual guru Meher Baba. It describes an experience of “seeing the face of God”, a common subjective experience among LSD users, “but my mind blew us apart” with self-consciousness. George Harrison expressed similar frustrations in My Sweet Lord. Harrison and Townshend were among the first to use popular music to express religious yearnings outside of the Christian tradition, a subject for expression that would gain in popularity during the next couple of years. Among others in the psychedelic tradition, see especially Wear Your Love Like Heaven by Donovan (1967), Om by the Moody Blues (1968), A Very Cellular Song by the Incredible String Band (1968) and Can’t Find My Way Home (1969) by Blind Faith.

An LSD vision could frustrate the seeker forever after, as if a one night stand with a woman one had fallen in love with, but could never find again. There are a few cues that I Can't Reach You lyric is about a romantic frustration with a woman: the champagne seems inappropriate for a holy occasion, there’s a suggestion of drunkenness, and the glimpse of an unguarded untouched heart seems more virginal than godlike.

The chorus of I Can't Reach You is a lovely cascade of melody that later resurfaces in the Who’s rock opera Tommy, slightly altered in lyric but completely changed in melodic line. Unfortunately the break in I Can’t Reach You is little more than a backup track and desperately needs some lead guitar. Reportedly this was the first song that Pete Townshend wrote on piano.