October 22, 2020

1994-04-15 – Austin American Statesman

1994 04 15 Austin_American_Statesman_Fri__Apr_15__1994_

:1 ill *

In 1969, The Who broke musical groun

ete Townshend says what worried

him most about the Broadway produc-

tion of The Who’s Tommy was that “if
it failed, it would be finished as a commercial
property for the next decade or so.”

He’s not kidding. Each new incarnation of
Tommy during the past 25 years has gener-
ated albums, videos, books and other materi-
als. The stage version has added T-shirts,
key chains, baseball caps and other totems.

So the Who’s “deaf, dumb and blind kid”
has grown into a cash cow, though the pas-
ture of product has its share of divots. Here’s
a critical guide to Tommy-related products:


I Tommy, The Who (1969): The original and
still champion. In 1969 this was a work of
unimaginable scope and ambition for a four-
piece rock band. Appropriately trippy and
oblique for psychedelic times, it was musical-
ly sound -— complete with an overture,
underture and an enduring hit in Pinball
Wizard. And the digital age has improved

; ,Hfi Thissectionisrecyclable

d with its recording of Pete Townshend's Tommy.

,‘Tommy’ merchandise abounds:
lfrom the good to the bad to the ugly

the soft production that burdened the origi-
nal release. (Note: Completists should seek
out the Mobile Fidelity CD version, which
includes an alternative, bluesier version of
the song Eyesight to the Blind.)

I Tommy, Various Artists and the Lon-
don Symphony Orchestra (1972): Rod Stew-
art, Steve Winwood and Richard Burton are
among those performing the opera on this
Townshend-approved project. Elizabeth
Taylor never mentioned this leaden effort as

a reason for divorcing Burton, but we
wouldn’t have blamed her.

I Tommy, Original Motion Picture
Soundtrack (1975): Elton John revived Pin-
ball Wizard on the charts, and Tina Tumer
shined as The Acid Queen. But the actors —
Ann-Margret, Oliver Reed and Jack Nichol-
son — couldn’t sing, which made for a mock-
ery of the Who’s original

I The Kids are Alright, The Who (1979):
Culled from the documentary of the same

See ‘Tommy', Page 16

. Friday.Apri| 15, 1994

Austin American-Statesman 1 5

Townshend’s revamping '
of ‘Tommy’ reflects Changes
in his attitude about family

By Gary Graft
Knight-Ridder Newspapers

‘ t’s a pretty far-out thing; actually.”
Pete Townshend’s 1967 assessment
of his idea for the rock opera Tommy

doesn’t come close to realizing how far it

would actually go.
And how domestic it would eventually

Tommy, The Who’s album about Town-
shend’s deaf, dumb and blind character,
emerged in 1969 as an ethereal rock ’n’ roll

And later, in a drastic rewriting of the
show’s finale, Tommy tells them, “You don’t
needtoclaim ashare ofmy pain. You’re
normal after all.”

“It really felt to me that I was faced with
an inevitability that I had to end Tommy, to
close the loop,” explains Townshend, 48, who
wrote the music and lyrics for all but three of
Tommy’s songs. “I had to remove the meta—
physical stuff from the show because there’s
no basis for it anymore; there’s no authentic

and decent strain of it happening right now.
What we have is David Koresh in Waco and

wonder. Dubbed an other manifestations of
opera, it was a song cycle that kind of metaphysical
about the stricken boy. It bunkum.
was trippy enough to fit “It’s very different
the times and oblique from the time I started to
enough to invite inter- write Tommy. Back then,
pretation. there was real hope for
Was it a parable about metaphysical bunkum. In
spiritual quest? A study California, you had your
of celebrity? A celebra- choice of 200 what looked
tion of individuality? A ,like very smart gurus.
statement of rebellion? A Where are they now? We
metaphor for the late- don’t know, do we?”
’60s generational It’s not surprising that
schism? Yes — and no — Townshend would now
to all of those. Tommy’s seek to celebrate family
meaning has been mal- values with Tommy.
leable; even Town- Long a ponderer of great
shend’s explanations issues, Townshend leans
have changed over time heavily on his life for

as Tommy has become a ‘ Pete certainly has inspiration. His most

symphonic work and a
feature film.

recent solo album, Psy-

the right to return to choderelicl, was about an

’ ' ' k d
Toqunfiffinilzsslzylfe'l‘bvdbyis hls work and d0 ms Elf): etldlreil/ive
winning stage produc- eas his career. Then with its
tion. Now it has a clearly What he pl 38' ’ fleshed-out script and
stated and wholly unex- _ M De. W softened musical bite, the
pected meaning. From on 7W3 W staged Tommy can be
the haze of the rock In «me Who’s Tm seen as a venting of
opera, Townshend and lessons learned during
director Des McAnuff Townshend’s youth. His
have created a musical parents separated when
that celebrates the normality of daily exis— they were young — sending Townshend to
tence and the sanctity of family life. live with a strict grandmother — only to

This message is handed to the audience
near the end of Tommy. Until that point
mom of the story is the same as Townshend
and his Who mates originally came up with.
Tommy's father, a fighter pilot, is shot down
and presumed missing during World War II.
lover and kills the man. Tommy witnesses
the murder, but when his parents tell him
“you didn’t see it/you didn’t hear it/you
won’t say nothing to no one," he becomes
deaf, dumb and blind.

Despite his disabilities, Tommy proves
adept at pinball. When he finally emerges
from his autistic state, his local celebrity
explodes into a messianic cult. But the stage
Tommy switches gears when the title charac-
ter tries to explain to his followers that he
offers neither great insights nor philosophies

“Why would you want to be more like
me?” he sings. “For 15 years I was waiting
for what you’ve already got. ... Those are the
true miracles, and you have them already.”

At another point he exclaims “I’m free -
I’m free! And freedom lies here in normality.”

reunite, have more children and live what
Townshend calls a “normal family life.”

Or it can be seen as a reflection of Town—
shend’s own domestic situation. He’s been
married 25 years and has three children.
Intoxicated by Tommy’s stage success, Town-
shend says he’s “pulled by the siren song of
show biz,” though he loathes the separation
from his family.

“I don’t see myselfas a good father or even
a decent man,” he told Rolling Stone. “When
I talk about the importance of family (in
Tommy), I’m just saying, ‘I wish I could do
that.’ ”

Ultimately, McAnuff says, Townshend’s
involvement in recasting the opera validates
any of the changes — and the musical’s mes-
sage. “There are people who really feel like
they own this and they don’t want any-
thing to change," McAnufl‘ says. “But Pete
work and do what he pleases. And what I
think happens to those folks who are open to
Tommy is they get completely caught up in
the theater and the music.