Released in 1969, ‘Tommy’ is a rock opera that follows a “deaf, blind, and dumb boy” who has an impeccable pinball game. He is a literary manifestation of guitarist and songwriter Pete Townshend, who may have gone through childhood without the knowledge that there may be greater forces at work in the universe than the human mind can comprehend. Lacking this understanding, he made his way through life by following the vibrations of the world.
I got into Tommy over 10 years ago, and was instantly mesmerized by the sound of Pete Townshend’s guitar. It’s bold, melodic, and adventurous.The intro sets the tone for the urban epic that is to come, in a city overlooking bright, rolling hills where life has gone stagnant. That is until Tommy is born, and nothing is ever the same again.
The Who bassist John Entwistle is representative of Tommy’s subconscious desires. The bass is the deepest part of the music, and I think it embodies who Tommy is at his core. While everything around him is humming along to nature’s rhythm, his internal music is moving in its own direction. He has his own idea of what the world should be like, and he’s bringing that forth through his pinball prowess, influencing people at a subconscious level.
The drummer is madman Keith Moon, an eccentric personality who once filled the inside of his drum set with dynamite in live TV that exploded and left Townshend deaf in one ear. His 21st birthday is also the stuff of legend. In Tommy, Keith ramps up the tempo and takes the music “outside the box” while still respecting the natural structure of the box. A form of controlled chaos that pushes the other musicians to step up their game, adding color to the sleeping town (a la Pleasantville)through Tommy’s dreams.
Roger Daltrey is the singer. Every instrument is building up to a message, and Daltrey is the voice that delivers it. He is the energy that emits out of Tommy and into the world, sending vibrations to everyone around him, igniting the inner light inherent in every bedazzled spectator of Tommy’s pinball game. Soon enough, he has a following who are marveled by his talents, which Tommy developed out of necessity. He was born without the ability to see, hear, or use his intellect, so he created his own way of connecting with the world in order to survive. And Daltrey’s voice delivers that innocence, power, and desire to feel something.
- Standout Song: Pinball Wizard:
He stands like a statue,
Becomes part of the machine
Feeling all the bumpers
Always playing clean
He plays by intuition,
The digit counters fall
That deaf dumb and blind kid
Sure plays a mean pin ball!
The most iconic song from this album is “Pinball Wizard.” Word has gotten around about Tommy’s talents and how never loses at pinball. His mastery of the game has sent shockwaves throughout the town, building a buzz over the talent that this child possesses. I think Pinball Wizard is a reminder to never count someone out if they don’t fit the mold of what society deems to be a “normal” person. We all have a gift within us, and surrounding ourselves with those who nurture that talent is how we become the happiest version of ourselves.
Tommy sought to create a world where people got in touch with their emotional core, which he believed was a fundamental element of the human experience; an element that many of us had forgotten in the hubbub of civic life where moneymaking and materialism are king. However, one cannot exist on emotion alone, so Tommy needed everyone else as much as they needed him.
A certain degree of pragmatism is needed to “make it” in life, which is why we live in a world where we work to earn money, which we use to buy nourishment, shelter, and luxuries. But that world is not enough without the and spiritual fulfillment of human emotion, and therein lies the beauty in Townshend’s Tommy.
The album serves as a spiritual complement to modern society, as well as a possible pathway for those who have yet to discover their authentic self. And in my own life, Tommy was the album that ignited that light within me.