Friday, April 01, 2005


[I originally posted this back in July, 2004 when this blog was less than a week old and had one reader: me. Now, resurrected for your enjoyment and submitted for your approval...]

Stratford High School’s production of Tommy, 1997.

It’s early 1997 and Baby Boom Dad savors the evening...home from a hard day of winning bread...getting ready for the sacramental moment of the dinner hour (Hey, kids, what time is it?) and Elder Daughter is helping to set the table. As happens frequently, a tune is wafting about the room. A familiar tune. BBD has heard it, sung it to himself — what? — hundreds? — thousands of times? One of those generational anthems...“He’s a pinball wizard, there has to be a twist / A pinball wizard, got such a supple wrist...”

Only he’s not singing / humming / thinking it. Elder Daughter is singing it. And it’s twenty-eight years since that song — those songs — blew into the overheated late-Sixties scene.

Amazing Journey. Cousin Kevin. Pinball Wizard. Sally Simpson. We’re Not Gonna Take It. Sensation. And of course, the Overture...the first six guitar chords slamming down. An Overture!!! Just like a Broadway show...or an Opera! This was clearly something different — not your average two-LP “double album,” this was a work with a unified theme...a story that (somewhat haphazardly) held together a variegated collection of songs. This was — yes, they even called it — Rock Opera...brought to us by that British band whose catchphrase was “Maximum R&B” and who routinely smashed their musical instruments at the conclusion of every show...The Who! The band that captured the angst of “My Generation” and said, in Pete Townshend’s words, “hope I die before I get old...” And here they were with a story — a story of a boy who, having witnessed his mother’s lover’s death at the hands of his prisoner-of-war father, walls himself off from the world and survives abuse, torment, and his parents’ desperate attempts to find a cure, by developing an inner life rich in mental imagery. A boy who shatters the wall between that inner life and the rest of the world, becoming a messiah-figure in the process. A boy whose followers rage out of control...eerily foreshadowing a horrible 1979 day in Cincinnati when eleven Who fans are fatally trampled at an oversold concert. BBD has listened to this music until — literally — the grooves of his ancient twin-LP set have been gouged smooth.

And his kid is singing the songs!

It’s all new to her, of course. Tommy has survived these past twenty-eight years. He has survived Ken Russell’s misguided attempt to lay the story onto celluloid. He has survived numerous bombastic cover versions — Elton John! Tina Turner! — of his songs. And he has glided triumphantly into the — finally! — a stage adaptation that, thanks to the guiding vision of Pete Townshend (who, thankfully, did not die before he got...older) and the talent of Des McAnuff, is faithful to the music of the original, while resolving some of the storyline issues that were left as conundrums back in 1969. It’s incandescent...the Tommy that BBD always hoped would be — someday.

And his kid is singing the songs!

And he’s singing along with her...and he is young again.

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