David Frownfelder relistens to Tommy
brianinatlanta2001 at yahoo.com
Mon Jan 31 14:11:10 CST 2005
>From the Lenawee (MI) Daily Telegraph at:
Tommy, can you hear me?
Commentary by David Frownfelder
"See me. Feel me. Touch me. Heal me." Almost anyone
over the age of 40 will probably recognize those
sentences as the plea a deaf, dumb and blind pinball
wizard makes in The Who's 1969 rock opera "Tommy."
On a cold, blustery Sunday a week ago, I was in the
mood to do something different than shovel snow and
watch television. So I hauled out my compact disc copy
of "Tommy," slapped on my headphones, closed my eyes
and was taken on a musical journey through the bizarre
world of a young boy who may have witnessed the murder
of his mother's lover by his parents and then
retreated into himself. It was a journey I hadn't
taken in a while.
Pete Townsend had dabbled in shorter opuses on
previous Who records. But this time, spurred on by
producer Kit Lambert and the other members of The Who,
Townsend took young Tommy on a journey that included
an uncle who molested him, a sadistic cousin who
tortured him, a gypsy queen who did who knows what to
him and eventually a doctor who found the boy had all
of his senses, but was choosing not to use them.
As Tommy stared at his reflection in a mirror, his
mother smashed it in anger, shocking the boy's senses
into action. Tommy turned his awakening into a
near-religious experience, forming a cult that
eventually turned on him.
That is a brief synopsis of the tale. But it doesn't
begin to tell the story that touches on a journey of
self-awareness, spirituality and the double-edged
sword of celebrity.
"Tommy" has been made into a movie, a symphonic album
and a Broadway musical. However, none can match the
power of the original.
When it first came out, "Tommy" was a two-record set
that necessitated manually changing the record to
continue the story, sometimes breaking the mood for a
few moments. On compact disc, the remastered music is
seamless and has a more powerful and lasting impact.
The Who used very few overdubs in recording the opera,
which allowed them to play it live in its entirety --
an experience that was breathtaking at times. The
album showed the incredible power and talent of the
four members: Roger Daltry having to sing the parts of
many different characters, Townsend's guitar
histrionics and his keyboard subtleties, and the
formidability of the rhythm section of the late John
Entwhistle on bass and vocals and the legendary Keith
Moon on drums and lunacy.
I followed my "Tommy" listening with Townsend's
"Quadrophenia" rock opera just for a comparison.
Individually, the songs on "Quadrophenia" were
actually stronger than the songs on "Tommy." They can
stand on their own, while only some of the songs on
But, for sheer power, "Tommy" overwhelmed
"Quadrophenia." It was audacious, risky and
mesmerizing. When it came out in 1969, it was one of
the landmark signals that rock music was indeed an art
form, something that The Beatles had shown three years
earlier with "Rubber Soul" and carried through till
Editor in Chief Dave Clark, News Editor Michael Miller
and I recently briefly chatted about the lack of
concept albums lately. I think this is probably the
result of the music business changing its focus from
promoting artists to hyping hit songs.
Society's tastes have also changed. We try to cram a
lot of things into shorter periods of time, limiting
our attention span to a series of sound bites. We just
don't take the time very often to sit down and really
listen to music. I found the experience last Sunday to
David Frownfelder is a staff writer for The Daily
Telegram. He can be contacted at 265-5111, ext. 258,
or via e-mail at frownfelder at lenconnect.com.
-Brian in Atlanta
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