October 28, 2020

1994-03-05 – The Los Angeles Times

1994 03 05 The_Los_Angeles_Times_Sat__Mar_5__1994_

Documenting the
Life of ‘Tommy’

o to the adding machine, boy:

No work of modern art has
enjoyed a trajectory quite like
“Tommy’s”—from hit pop record
album to motion picture to Broad-
way musical, with lesser stops as
ballet and symphony production in
between, and nearly a quarter-
century separating its first and last
major incarnations.

An hour almost doesn’t seem
quite long enough, then, for “The
Who’s Tommy: The Amazing
Journey," a first-rate special that
does a—no pun intended—smash-
ing job of documenting Pete Town-
shend's rock opera in all its vari-
ations. (It airs Sunday at 9 pm. on
the Disney Channel; this being a
“free preview” weekend, it's avail-
able to all cable subscribers.)

“The Who were a singles band,"
says Townshend, figuring “it was
my inability to come up with a song
that was better than ‘I Can See for
Miles’ that stopped me in my
tracks" and triggered him to at-
tempt writing a full-length narra-
tive. It proved one of rock’s most
brilliantly conceived and executed

albums, both for its enduring
wealth of memorable individual
melodies and its concepts. Psycho-
logical denial and memory repres-
sion, fleeting messianism both pop
and religious—these are themes
( and tunes) that don't date.

The hour has as much fatuous-
ness as you’d expect, but also a
good amount of anecdotes and
cheek—like Townshend remem-
bering his strenuous objection to
casting Jack Nicholson in the mov-
1e.

Toward the end, ‘Elton John
proclaims a “culmination" for
Townshend’s work. saying: “After
25 years he's finally found the
perfect vehicle fonit, which is the
stage." That’s extremely arguable
for rock fans who may find a
certain amount of hokum in the
latest adaptation, yet its success
bodes inarguably well for interac-
tivity between the arts and pop as
potentially indisposable after all.

. —CHRIS WILLMAN