In honor of the Who releasing their groundbreaking rock opera, Tommy, 50 years ago today, I am republishing my blog post from 5 years ago when we attended a theatrical production at he Zachary Scott Theater back in Austin.
Originally published Aug 24, 2014.
I am excited today to get to go to see an old friend today, Tommy.
I first met the lad when he was just a new release by the Who in 1969. Walking to the closest “record store” (second-floor record department in nearby Sears in relatively new Memorial City Mall), I asked if they had the new album by the Who.
“You mean, ‘Tommy’?”
“It’s called ‘Tommy’.”
“I don’t know what it’s called. It’s the new Who album, and it’s a rock opera about a deaf, dumb and blind boy who plays pinball.”
And Tommy & I have been friends now for 45 years. I can still recall opening the triple gateway artwork (by Mike McInnery) and listening to those 2 albums over & over & over. Between the music and the storytelling and the grand sweeping vision, I had never experienced anything quite like Tommy. My brother & I shared it with all his garage band friends, and I can still remember one drummer’s jaw dropping repeatedly as he listened. “He’s playing the melody!” he shook his head at Moon’s amazing drum runs. “He’s playing the f___ing melody!”
I saw the “real Who” (the original 4, Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, John Entshistle and Keith Moon) perform it twice before I got out of high school. The first time came just 2 weeks after a widely publicized quote from Townshend that they would never play it again. I was devastated — then relieved and excited when they played it anyway, saying, “We don’t have anything else to play.” The next year, they performed what Daltrey called, “the shorter, 2-week version” again, and of course, would reprise the story through selected songs for years to come.
I saw Ken Russell’s absurdly over-the-top movie with Jack Nicholson acting at singing and Ann-Margaret swimming around in baked beans as soon as it came out. I bought special edition recordings featuring guest stars performing different songs (think Tina Turner as the Acid Queen). I probably have at least 3-4 different vinyl versions somewhere around here even today.
My son may not have picked up all my musical tastes, but he caught Who fever from me early on, so we saw them when he was 13, and of course, the “Who 2” (Pete & Roger) included an abbreviated set of Tommy songs once again, so he got to hear the Real Thing. So when his high school, MacCallum Fine Arts Academy, chose “The Who’s Tommy” as their big musical (performed in steampunk style!) of the year, Lucas was the costume designer. I dearly enjoyed watching another generation enjoying their time visiting my old friend. They did him right well by their production.
And just 3 years ago, I got to see Roger Daltrey perform it as the Who never had: in its entirety, all the songs from the record played in sequence. Backed by an incredible band including Pete’s brother, Simon Townshend, Roger’s amazing performance anchored the piece back to its original roots.
This afternoon, we’ll be watching the closing performance at our local theater, Zach Scott. I’ve heard good reviews and this will be our first time at Zach Scott since their renovation, so it’s a combination plate of old & new for our Sunday matinee.
I can’t wait to see how my old friend has grown!
“Come on the Amazing Journey, and learn all you should know…”