51 years to the pretentious and brilliant rock opera “Tommy” by “Who” changed the world of rock
By 1969 the Who – an English band that included apart from Pete Townsend, the giant singer Roger Daltry, the mythical drummer Keith Moon and the amazing bassist John Antwissel – was already a super successful band. Their “My Generation” was perceived as the anthem of an entire generation, the first three albums the Who released became hits, and the Who gained popularity even in the most important place, economically at least – the United States. Townsend was even invited to be the first interviewee of Rolling Stone magazine, which was just founded. And in that interview, he revealed that the band is working on a new rock opera. Here’s “Tommy”.
When I say rock opera, you’re probably expecting a grandiose show, with a huge backdrop and sound and a wonderfully inflated general approach. Thank you so much, Roger Waters, for that, too. But in the section where you will watch you will discover a distinctly muscular, lean, and powerful rock. And that’s exactly the secret of Tommy’s beauty.
This is, in general, also what can be said about the man behind all this noise, Pete Townsend. The main creator of Who and one of the greatest musicians in history, who was both a curious graduate and hungry for the knowledge of an art school and also a true nihilist. One who found in music an almost violent outlet for his private troubles. The man read books of Indian philosophy and mythology during the day, and broke guitars on stage at night, drinking and sniffing everything that happened in his way.
The ambition of Townsend and his friends led them to produce something that today was perceived as trivial, but was a revolutionary innovation. A rock creation built around a central character and an ongoing plot and built as an opera for everything. Tommy was written by Townsend when he was only 23 years old.
Two years later “Tommy” was adapted into a film by British director Ken Russell. The star of the film was the lead singer of the band, Roger Daltry, who played Tommy, and the other members also played alongside him.
The film, which included spectacular guest appearances by artists such as Eric Clapton, Tina Turner, Jack Nicholson, Elton John and others, was roughly based on the album’s plot.
Tommy – opens with an overture, that is, a piece of instrument that is an introduction to the entire work and includes melodies that will be repeated extensively later in the plot; Includes musical motifs that are repeated throughout the entire album;
The first half ends with an underture – another long instrument section, which sums up the protagonist’s feelings up to this point; And it ends with a song that is a kind of string of musical elements included in the opera.
The story of “Tommy” is also saturated with autobiographical motifs from Townsend’s difficult adolescence. The plot, by and large, is as follows: Captain Walker, an English soldier in World War I, is declared missing. Surprisingly, he discovers the lover, kills him in a fit of rage and everything in front of his little boy. The parents demand that Tommy believe he has not seen, heard or said anything about what happened, and he becomes psychosomatically deaf, mute and blind.
Tommy is almost completely passive throughout his childhood and his adolescence, and various adults abuse and exploit him.
One of them is the Acid Queen played live in Woodstock by the Who….
and the great Tina Turner from the movie…..
Then it turns out that he has a rare talent for the pinball game and he becomes a kind of idol, with a trail of fans.
and Sir Elton John the pinball wizard from the movie…..
He is cured, when a doctor forces him to stand in front of a mirror.
smashing the mirror and became free…
Tommy returns to normal functioning, is attacked with great feelings, and demands that his pinball believers embark on a spiritual journey with him to reach redemption. But these rebel against him, at the end, when he does not improve their material condition.
For example, Townsend himself was sexually abused at a young age, suffered severe emotional neglect from his mother, and adopted the motif of silence from the philosophy of the Indian guru Mayhar Baba, who imposed silence on himself in the 1920s. Baba’s Torah, which was very popular in the psychedelic age, is a version that you have to lose yourself in order to find God and your inner self. That’s exactly what happened to Tommy. And apparently, Townsend, too.
Despite the hysterical success of “Tommy” in 1969, the band’s real highlight that year was its performance at the Woodstock Festival. The band performed on the second night of the festival at three in the morning on Saturday, and was the band with the longest show at the festival, which included 24 songs, most of them from “Tommy”. Their performance at the festival lasted about four hours and was proof of the high status the band had reached.
It was an amazing night, including a sunrise that peaked at the show and caused band bassist John Antwisel to declare that “God was our lighting.”
Daltrey’s particularly charismatic performance, showed his rise from Townsend’s song performance in the band, to superstar status. A most memorable incident during the performance was human rights activist Avi Hoffman breaking into the stage, trying to excite the audience with slogans for peace and condemnation of the Vietnam War, but Pete Townsend hit him with his guitar and threw him off the stage.
In 1970, the band released the live album “Live at Leeds”. The album was a success and many considered it to be the best rock album of all time (as reported in the New York Times), and the best gig ever held in Leeds. The performance is remembered, among other things, due to the special and especially long 15-minute performance of the song “My Generation”. This album symbolized the band’s continued success from the 1960s to the 1970s, despite the changes that had taken place in the music. In August of that year, the band performed at the Isle of Wight Festival. Their performance is considered one of the highlights of the first huge festival of the 1970s, and in it, as in Woodstock, the rock opera Tommy captured a significant share of it. Their performance at the festival has definitively and unquestionably established the status of the Who as one of the best rock and rhythm and blues bands of all time.
For me personally (Israel), Tommy and the Who change my life by introducing to me the kind of music I immediately connected to (as a teenager, till today at the age of 64).