Tommy, the Rock Opera, is set against the backdrop of London during World War II. A young pregnant woman, Mrs. Walker, learns that her brand new husband is presumed dead in the war Soon after she finds out this news, she gives birth to their only son, Tommy.

Four years later, Captain Walker is found and freed from a POW camp. He goes home, only to find out that his wife has a new lover. He walks in while they are celebrating her twenty-first birthday. The Lover assumes that Captain Walker is an intruder and attacks him. During this, Tommy is watching this through a reflection in a mirror. Unaware of that fact, Captain Walker shoots the lover in self-defense and kills him.

Captain and Mrs. Walker tell Tommy, "you didn't hear it, you didn't see it, you won't say nothing to no one ever in your life..." All the while, Tommy sinks into his own world within himself, becoming "deaf, dumb and blind" to the rest of the world.

Captain Walker is found innocent, but Tommy is too shocked by what happened. Throughout his life, he goes on his own "Amazing Jouney" that involves many people. His Uncle Ernie who molests him, his heartless and savage cousin Kevin who treats him like a punching bag, and a prostitute called "The Gypsy" or "Acid Queen". Ultimately, Tommy is brought to a pinball arcade where he learns how to play the beautiful machines; becoming an overnight "Sensation" or "Pinball Wizard"

As Tommy grows into a famous pinball champion, his parents keep believing that there is a cure for their son. Finally, Mrs. Walker gets frustrated and fed up with the fact that he is always looking into the mirror. So she breaks it, and he is freed. After he is "freed" the press finds out about it and is basically hailed as a new messiah. Everyone falls in love with him, and want to "follow" him and become like him.

But, after they ask him how they can be more like him, he tells them that they shouldn't be more like him, he's happy that he's finally like them.--able to hear, talk and see. Enraged and confused at his answer, and the fact that he cannot provide them with exact answers on how to live their own lives, they abandon him. Tommy is left alone with his family.

Hearing himself saying "See me, feel me, touch me, heal me." He realizes that he finally has what he's always wanted, and that is to be normal. He forgives his uncle, cousin, and parents for everything that they've done, and they live on....and on

“Tommy”: the rock opera originating from the marathon-concert by The Who. Performed with no pauses between songs and recorded on 4 sides of vinyl, this 1969 piece of rock was an absolute hit. But it wasn’t just the high-energy, hard rock music that made Tommy the legendary album that it is today. It was the story.

There’s no denying the plot of “Tommy” has a very evil atmosphere. Tommy Walker witnesses his father murdering his mothers’ lover at the tender age of five. Threatened by his parents, he mentions no word of this event to anyone. Nor does he mention any word of any event for a very long time. He becomes trapped in his own world: blind, deaf, and dumb. No communication goes out, and no communication comes in.

And life gets worse. His cousin beats him, his uncle rapes him, and his father takes him to a prostitute (in a desperate attempt to cure him) who simply injects Tommy with LSD as an alternative to intercourse. Tommys’ life is hell, total darkness and isolation. Until one day he breaks free of his boundaries and can see, hear, and speak. He is beaming with joy and happiness, reacting to the world around him, and glad to be alive. He is a miracle, a sensation, and everyone knows it.

Tommy becomes a star, a role model for all who are discriminated against. Such is the craze created by his awakening that he soon has a following, a religious group of fans that feel the warmth and love being radiated from him, a warmth which soon turns to greed as fame becomes an obsession.

Tommy is used as a generic term for a British soldier, in much the same way that 'Fritz' is used for Germans. This is of course extremely closed minded racial prejudice, which I do not support, blah, blah, blah...

It comes from the first ever entry in the first ever paybook in the British army, where the Duke of Wellington filled in as an example the name 'Thomas Atkins'. The name was used mainly in WWI, where it was also used generically for any Commonwealth soldier, despite the fact that ANZAC soldiers would have felt marginalised and left out. In fact, they did anyway, believing their contribution to the war was undervalued. It wasn't. Although Gallipoli was a failure, it remains one of the most famous battles of the war.

Many try to explain this story of the deaf, dumb, and blind boy that The Who so mesmerizingly brought to life in 1969.

The concept seems simple and broken down enough-a boy named Tommy, thought to be fatherless-is rendered deaf, dumb, and blind by the traumatic experience of seeing his father-alive after all-murder his mother's lover.

He is raised this way-oblivious to the world. Yet his void of senses causes another stir in him-that of spirituality and inner conquest.

Pete Townshend was the main composer and creator of the Who's Tommy-a rock opera first in the line of three. Townshend had toyed with the idea of narrative before, telling stories in songs such as "A Quick One, While He's Away" , "Rael", and "Glow Girl" (the latter two of which musical themes would resurface in Tommy's instrumentals).

The Tommy project was majorly influenced by Townshend's rejection of drugs (he found he was more creative without them) and his spiritual awakening, claiming guru Meher Baba as his personal avatar. The project went through many changes, working titles ranging from The Brain Opera to Amazing Journey.

Some songs included in Tommy weren't even intended for it in the first place. Songs like "Sally Simpson"- Townshend wrote this after witnessing a girl being beaten up at a Doors concert-with no apology or acknowledgement from lead singer Jim Morrison.

The song "Sensation" was written after Pete met a girl in Australia. It went something like "She overwhelms as she approaches....". The song in its intended form can be heard on Townshend's Live at LaJolla.

"Eyesight to the Blind (The Hawker)" was a 1951 song written by bluesman Sonny Boy Williamson and popularised by Mose Allison, an idol of Townshend's.

The first song written intended specifically for Tommy was the root song-"Amazing Journey"-adapted from an extremely long poem Pete had composed. The seeming disorder doesn't seem to matter. As Pete wrote in The Story of Tommy, all the songs just "fell into place."

The most famous of all the Tommy songs- "Pinball Wizard"- barely scratches the surface of the wonder that is the Tommy album. It was written simply to please music critic Nic Cohn, who was a pinball fanatic. The Who needed a rave review and lots of press-they hadn't released an album in over a year-something you didn't do in the 60s if you were to remain on top.

With this noted, it is safe to say that the Tommy we hear today is not in its complete or raw form. It was commercialised and rushed, lots of this having to do with Kit Lambert, the group's manager. So, "Pinball Wizard" was inserted by Townshend, written very quickly one night. To Townshend, it was crap, "the most clumsy thing" he had ever written. Everyone else thought not.

So it was placed in the album, after the pedophilic composition by bassist John Entwistle, "Fiddle About". Townshend slotted a few more references to pinball in "Christmas" and "We're Not Gonna Take It" to even things out. Otherwise, pinball has nothing to do with Tommy. Actually, it has nothing to do with the real Tommy at all. Tommy was being commercialised-for The Who's own good, perhaps.

Kit Lambert was also worried that it was turning more into a religious album-which is sort of how it was intended. Lambert began to write a film script to clarify the plot, and these librettos were included in the first UK pressing of the album as a limited edition release.

Adding extra quirk, at the very last minute-two Entwistle compositions-"Fiddle About" and "Cousin Kevin"-about abuse-were added to Tommy. The fourth "non-Townshend" composition came at the suggestion of drummer Keith Moon. He suggested that Tommy's spiritual centre be at a Holiday Camp-instead of, say, a church. "Keith got the credit for it because it was his idea," says Townshend. "Tommy's Holiday Camp"-credited to Moon, was actually ghostwritten by Townshend. "And also I felt it turned out just as he himself would have written it."

Despite the effort, the story was still confusing. Entwistle admits that "it wasn't until Ken Russel did (The Tommy Film) that (he) understood what the story was...and (Russel) was wrong."

(Here's a heads up: don't watch the film. It's bad. Really bad.)

It's not even clear why Tommy is deaf, dumb, and blind in the first place. What did he hear and see that he wasn't supposed to tell a soul about? Only by looking inside the album sleeve at the libretto do we realise that the lover is suddenly absent, and the father is back. So we assume that the father killed the lover, believing he was an intruder, or in a jealous rage. Who knows?

The recording was tumultuous. Townshend was under extreme stress, as any writer would be. Like I said, The Who hadn't released an album in over a year, and they had to do something. They gigged whilst recording, making it difficult to keep the emotion and sound going. Also, they were, as Townshend put it, "in dire fucking straits." Tommy was recorded on an 8-track in London's IBC studios. It was very long and drawn out, and cost the group a lot of money. However the problems, Tommy was recorded beautifully and cleanly-no overdubs besides Entwistle's horns and Townshend's keyboards. This made it relativley easy to play onstage (Entwistle could play the horns onstage as well-having the incredible talent he did)-and it was.

When Tommy was released 23 May, 1969 in the UK, and on the 31st of the same month in the US, it was a,well, sensation. Reaching #2 in the UK and #4 in the states, Tommy changed everything for The Who. No longer were they the ace face mods popping out singles (albeit great ones) about love and girls. They were an album band now. They were rock gods.

The Who first performed the entire Tommy song cycle-the cantata, as I call it-2 May, 1969 at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club, a few weeks before the album was released. They played Tommy over 100 times, the last being at London's Roundhouse on 20 December, 1970. Unless you count the 1989 "reunion" tour-which I don't.

Townshend and the Who took Tommy across Europe and the US, Townshend proclaiming "assemble the musicians" before every performance of his beloved "Thomas". Keith Moon, always looking for a laugh, would sometimes bang his drumstick on the side of the snare drum, saying "Stop laughing! This is serious! It's a fucking opera, ain't it?"

The best example of Tommy-pure, raw, and live is on the newly issued remaster of the classic Live at Leeds. If you need an introduction to Tommy or the Who, pick it up. Performed 14 February, 1970, Tommy was caught in its prime.

Woodstock, more than anything else, propelled Roger Daltrey into the position of rock's premier frontman. With his chest-bearing fringed jacket, powerhouse vocals and golden curls, he was transformed from London mod into the reflection of a Greek god. Not only that, but suddenly, Tommy was Roger-and Roger was Tommy. This was only further confirmed in Ken Russel's 1975 film with Daltrey as the title role.

Tommy was a rock phenomenon. The Who were bound to it, it was inescapable. Surely, the Melody Maker sums up the feeling of the time:

"the Who are now the group against which all others are to be judged."

No wonder Townshend had a nervous breakdown. Trying another "rock opera", Lifehouse, proved futile, and it failed. The "scraps" of the Lifehouse project are what we all now know as the seminal rock album Who's Next.

Quadrophenia followed. And although it was critically acclaimed, it never reached, unfairly so, the success level and legend of Tommy.

Tommy takes us all on an "amazing journey", from the first note of "Overture" to the last bars of "Listening to You." With the latter, Tommy realises-as do the listeners-that it's all inside, and-as is the feeling with most 60s records-that all you need is love. "Listening to You" connects us with the band, and us with each other. It seems appropriate that Townshend and Daltrey continue to perform it to this day. Because the spirit of Entwistle and Moon is in that music. We all are.


thanks: The Story of Tommy by Pete Townshend, Maximum Who, Moon: the Life and Death of a Rock Legend by Tony Fletcher, and the Tommy and Live at Leeds liner notes.

Also a rather famous poem by Rudyard Kipling, written in 1892. It's a British soldier's cynical account how the public treats him.

As stated above, Thomas Atkins (AKA Tommy Atkins, AKA Tommy) was the name for a generic British soldier.

I went into a public-'ouse to get a pint o' beer,
The publican 'e up an' sez, "We serve no red-coats here."
The girls be'ind the bar they laughed an' giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an' to myself sez I:

O it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, go away";
But it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins", when the band begins to play,
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
O it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins", when the band begins to play.

I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
They gave a drunk civilian room, but 'adn't none for me;
They sent me to the gallery or round the music-'alls,
But when it comes to fightin', Lord! they'll shove me in the stalls!

For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, wait outside";
But it's "Special train for Atkins" when the trooper's on the tide,
The troopship's on the tide, my boys, the troopship's on the tide,
O it's "Special train for Atkins" when the trooper's on the tide.

Yes, makin' mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an' they're starvation cheap;
An' hustlin' drunken soldiers when they're goin' large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin' in full kit.

Then it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, 'ow's yer soul?"
But it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll,
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll.

We aren't no thin red 'eroes, nor we aren't no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An' if sometimes our conduck isn't all your fancy paints,
Why, single men in barricks don't grow into plaster saints;

While it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, fall be'ind",
But it's "Please to walk in front, sir", when there's trouble in the wind,
There's trouble in the wind, my boys, there's trouble in the wind,
O it's "Please to walk in front, sir", when there's trouble in the wind.

You talk o' better food for us, an' schools, an' fires, an' all:
We'll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don't mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow's Uniform is not the soldier-man's disgrace.

For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
But it's "Saviour of 'is country" when the guns begin to shoot;
An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please;
An' Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool -- you bet that Tommy sees!

tommy

Soft Tommy, or white Tommy ; bread is so called by sailors, to distinguish it from biscuit.

Brown Tommy : ammunition bread for soldiers; or brown bread given to convicts at the hulks.

The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.

Tom"my (?), n.

1.

Bread, -- generally a penny roll; the supply of food carried by workmen as their daily allowance.

[Slang,Eng.]

2.

A truck, or barter; the exchange of labor for goods, not money.

[Slang, Eng.]

Tommy is used adjectively or in compounds; as, tommy master, tommy-store,tommy-shop,etc.

 

© Webster 1913.

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